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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – St. Louis Cardinals

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by St. Louis in 2016

5 – Delvin Perez
19 – Dakota Hudson
70 – Connor Jones
79 – Jeremy Martinez
151 – Dylan Carlson
160 – Zac Gallen
165 – Walker Robbins
179 – John Kilichowski
245 – Tyler Lancaster
347 – Vincent Jackson
386 – Austin Sexton
419 – Spencer Trayner
467 – Andrew Knizner

Complete List of 2016 St. Louis Cardinals Draftees

This is the twelfth published draft review. Beyond that, I’ve more or less finished about half of the league’s draft reviews that should see the light of day sooner rather than later. In other words, while I don’t have a complete in-depth idea of what every team in baseball did this past draft, I think we’re now far enough along this process to start making some overarching observations about the 2016 MLB Draft as a whole. That in mind, it’s safe to now point out that the gap between what the Cardinals managed to do with their 2016 draft and what the rest of the league did is substantial. There are a lot of “it” teams in baseball these days — many of which are plenty deserving of the mantle, the most recent World Series champions being at or near the top of the list for most observers — but I still think that the Cards deserve the top spot as the best run team in the sport. All other candidates have enough advantages (terrible seasons that have led to high picks, crazy international spending and financial freedom to make personnel mistakes, big dollar free agents to supplement their core), but the Cardinals track record over the past decade plus is pristine. They just keep chugging along without little to no dip in overall output along the way.

This high praise got me thinking about how I’d go about justifying that claim to a neutral third party who loves baseball but doesn’t much care for the draft or long-term player development minutiae. To test how strongly I felt about the Cardinals’s recent track record of excellence, I fired off a quick email to a big baseball fan friend who literally knows nothing about the MLB Draft. My attempt to sum up what the Cardinals did as succinctly as possible…

Their first two picks were high school hitters who won’t turn 18-years-old until October and November respectively. Both hit really well in the GCL. Then they took a pair of college pitchers. I love one and like the other, but the important thing here is the plan they clearly had: combined the two got 56 ground balls, 9 line drives, and 6 fly balls in their debuts. That’s a 79% GB-rate on batted balls. They took up-the-middle college hitters in the fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. Let me throw some lines at you. First, there’s a .325/.419/.433 with 32 BB/16 K in 235 PA. Then we have a .286/.400/.427 with 48 BB/29 K in 310 PA. Finally we get a .319/.423/.492 with 21 BB/21 K in 222 PA. Those ain’t college numbers, those are the pro debuts of those three picks. Their eighth round selection was a Tommy John recovery gamble that could pay off big.

They took a college hitter with this career line: .374/.446/.600 with 64 BB/32 K. They took a college player who did this in his draft year: .444/.502/.639 with 25 BB/15 K and 30/32 SB. Their tenth and eleventh round picks look like rock solid long-time big league contributors. They went with intriguing upside guys in the twelfth (HS), fourteenth (college), and sixteenth (JUCO) rounds, and did so by getting talent from everywhere.

And on and on and on I could have gone. This is a great draft. Don’t believe me? Read on…

1.23 – SS Delvin Perez

I love Delvin Perez (5). A few words from May 2016…

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

The Perez supporters – myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor.

I like his scouting capsule quite a bit…

SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico): plus bat speed; plus range; plus raw power; easy plus to plus-plus speed; above-average to plus arm; good athlete; good approach; lots of tools, lots of skills, lots of question marks developmentally and off-field; RHH; 6-3, 165 pounds

That’s a lot of pluses. A sampling of names I’ve personally heard when asking around about Perez over the past few months…

Jonathan Villar, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Crawford

Comps are hardly the be-all-end-all, but, hey, not a bad outcome among the group. Probably my favorite comp — and one I’m kicking myself for not thinking of pre-draft — is Jose Reyes minus the switch-hitting. I think Perez is a superstar in the making. Writing about him is difficult at this point because he’s so talented and so young that coming up with any kind of concrete analysis would feel like little more than guesswork as of now, especially in light of his pre-draft PED issues. My short version — “superstar in the making” — is about all I can come up with based on what I’ve seen, heard, read, and intuitively feel. The rare bit of brevity here will be more than made up for with some longer reads below…

1.33 – OF Dylan Carlson

This may change by the time you read this, but if you Google Dylan Carlson (151) then you get the list of Dylan Carlson information one might expect when you Google Dylan Carlson along with a surprise Wikipedia link for Michael Ohlman on the sidebar. I guess technically if you click that link it isn’t really about Ohlman, but it’s still funny to me. One day Carlson will take back over his sidebar. That’s the kind of fearless prediction you can only get on this website. Cherish it.

That preemptive diversion was meant largely to distract from the fact that I don’t have a whole lot to say at this point about Dylan Carlson than you probably already know. Carlson is a really easy player to fall in love with and the Cardinals picking him earlier than many (like me!) expected — he signed an underslot bonus, to be fair — has many (like me!) falling into the “well, if a smart team like the Cardinals liked him then he must be better than we thought…” trap that can often infiltrate post-draft analysis. I can admit that I’m a little bit guilty of that here, but St. Louis putting a first round stamp of approval on the “second round version of Kirilloff” (my pre-draft note from a team official) was far from the only reason this pick looks like a winner as we sit back and reflect on November 7th.

Carlson is a hitter first and foremost, but his well-rounded skill set gives him a chance to be a major asset both offensively (average speed, solid athleticism) and defensively (average arm, impressive instincts and first-step quickness) beyond what he should hopefully do in the batter’s box. Carlson as a first base prospect is plenty interesting, but, like Alex Kirilloff, his value as an all-around ballplayer jumps way up if he can play an average or better left or right field. The fact that the Cardinals have aggressively pushed him as a center fielder at the onset of his pro career seems to be a good sign about his early defensive progress as an outfielder. All of this non-bat talk is just icing on the cake. It’s Carlson’s ability as a hitter that will make or break him in the pros. St. Louis clearly believes it’ll make him and I’m in no position to disagree. Carlson is one of those young guys that gives off the simultaneous vibe that, yes, he was put on this planet to hit and doing so comes natural to him in a way that teammates are secretly jealous of while ALSO being one of those clearly dedicated athletes that will work both hard and smart to accomplish seemingly any goal set before him. Carlson is both a natural and a grinder. That’s a heck of a combination. I didn’t poll enough people to make this a scientifically significant study, but the next person I talk to that doesn’t think Carlson will hit his way to a starting big league role will be the first. Kid can hit.

Of course, the kid isn’t really a kid; in fact, Carlson is the old man of the Cardinals first two high school picks. The Cardinals first first round pick Delvin Perez won’t be 18-years-old until the end of November; Grandpa Carlson just turned the big one-eight last week (10/23). Sometimes a team drafting super young for their class early round prospects means something and sometimes it’s a coincidence. I have a strong hunch that the former is true in the case of the St. Louis front office knowing what’s up, but can’t say that for sure just yet. A trend of two isn’t really a trend at all, especially when you look at last year’s Cardinals first round pick, Nick Plummer, and his slightly older than his peer group age. But then there’s Bryce Denton, another early round high school pick from last year, who becomes yet another point in favor of the young for his class trend being an actual trend. Inconclusive, is the only real conclusion I have right now. Makes me wonder why this paragraph is even seeing the light of day…

1.34 – RHP Dakota Hudson

Asked a fairly simple Dakota Hudson (19) question back in April 2016…

Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country?

Ask a simple question, get a simple answer. College pitchers ranked ahead of Hudson come draft day: one. Only AJ Puk stood in the way of Hudson finishing his junior season as the best college pitching prospect in the country. That might not seem that interesting or impressive, but consider where Hudson started the year. From October 2015…

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

The strapping righthander from Mississippi State came into his junior year coming off a sophomore season spent exclusively in the bullpen and with a grand total of 33.0 college innings under his belt. My point here isn’t to highlight the fact that Hudson was some out-of-nowhere unknown nobody (he wasn’t), but rather the kind of precocious talent who survived and then thrived the as he learned how to be a major college starting pitcher in the SEC on the fly. As such, I think we’ve only scratched the surface as to how good he can really be. Check out this man’s stuff: explosive fastball (90-96, 98 peak), breaking ball with legit plus upside, a hard 86-92 cut-slider that’s already a plus pitch, and a nascent mid-80s changeup with the chance to be a fine pitch in its own right. His current flaws (fastball command, occasionally wonky mechanics, some inconsistency with the breaking ball) are all likely fixable with some clever coaching, something he’s sure to get with the Cardinals. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s ace upside. How many pitchers in this class can you really say that about?

On top of that, Hudson’s batted ball profile is a thing of beauty to fans of democracy. MLB Farm has him giving up 21 ground balls, 3 fly balls, and 2 line drives in his first 13.1 innings of professional baseball. That’s incredible. I put him on the Jeff Samardzija/Taijuan Walker/Jake Arrieta spectrum before the draft (FWIW heard absolute worst case scenario Blake Treinen after the draft), and I don’t see why he can’t at least achieve the minimum outcome (competent big league starting pitcher like Walker, who I still very much believe in as something more than that) as of now. If that’s the “downside,” then what’s the upside? I’ll stand by the Cy Young kind of upside that Arrieta has shown as being a very real potential outcome for Hudson. If we look at that comparison more literally, that would put Hudson in High-A (like Arrieta in 2008) to start his first full pro season next year. Considering that’s the same level that Hudson finished his 2016 season, I think that’s a very safe bet. The bar at A+ is 113.0 innings worth of 9.56 K/9, 4.06 BB/9, and 2.87 ERA ball. I’d say that’s very doable as well. Arrieta’s career has taken its fair share of twists and turns — development is nonlinear, development is nonlinear, development is nonlinear — so the literal career path comparison thing we’re doing here isn’t ideal, but it’s baseball and prospects and it’s supposed to be fun. Imagine Hudson as the next Arrieta (minus the Baltimore drama) is a lot of fun. I think he reaches those peaks and becomes the biggest steal of the draft.

2.70 – RHP Connor Jones

If you liked Dakota Hudson’s batted ball profile, then you’ll probably also get a kick out of what Connor Jones (70) did in his debut. How does a mix of 35 ground balls, 7 line drives, and 3 fly balls sound? Think the Cardinals might have a type? As if Cardinals fans needed another reason to like the picks of Dakota Hudson and Jones, one could very easily imagine a Chicago Cubs draft room filled with front office types milling about anxiously hoping, wishing, and praying for either guy to fall to them with their first pick. Neither guy made it to the third round, so the ground ball loving Cubs had to settle for Thomas Hatch instead. Interestingly enough (to me at least), my quick math had the junior season version of Jones (68.90%) and Hudson (68.57%) as two of the three (along with TJ Zeuch) most ground ball-y (I wanted to say “groundballingest,” but it just doesn’t look right) pitching prospects in the 2016 college class. If I had expanded that list to include more top pitching prospects, I surely would have thrown Hatch’s name into the mix. As it happens, I did the math on Hatch’s college GB% after the draft when I did the Cubs draft review. Wouldn’t you know it was almost identical (68.3%) to Jones and Hudson? Not only are the Cubs and Cardinals heated rivals on the field, but they also seem to be in direct competition for the same type of pitchers on the amateur market. Pretty cool.

The above gets at Connor Jones as an idea. What about Connor Jones the actual real life living, breathing pitcher? Since the Virginia righthander has been a pretty big deal for a long time now, we’ve got a pretty long history with the Cavaliers star to draw from. Let’s start way back in high school with his quick scouting capsule. From June 2013…

RHP Connor Jones (Great Bridge HS, Virginia): 88-92 FB with true plus sink, 93-95 peak; average 77-82 SL flashes plus; above-average upside with 78-82 CU; everything sinks; ground ball machine; plus command; 2013: 90-94; FAVORITE; 6-3, 190 pounds

If we fast-forward all the way to the present day, we can compare the Jones of three years ago to the Jones the Cardinals selected this past June. Here is the decluttered version of his most recent scouting snapshot…

Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones: 87-94 FB with crazy movement and plus sink, 96 peak; above-average 82-86 cut-SL, flashes plus; average 76-82 CB, doesn’t throw it often; 83-88 split-CU, flashes plus; complete four-pitch mix; good athlete; holds velocity well; 6-3, 200 pounds

The evolution of Jones was impressive, even when accounting for his already physically and emotionally mature start. Fastball ticked up a bit, but retained the same insane movement. Slider firmed up some as well and added some cutter action. Change morphed into a truer splitter, but continued to serve the same purpose. Added a curve that he rarely used as much more than a show-me pitch. Command, pitchability, and athleticism remained strong points. What’s not to like about this guy? Let’s keep digging. Next step, March 2015…

Connor Jones might now be the front-runner for me. Jones can get it up to the mid-90s with some of the craziest movement you’ll see, plus he can mix in three offspeed pitches (slider flashes plus, solid curve, and a hard splitter that acts as a potential plus changeup) with the know-how and ability to command everything effectively. Comps I’ve heard run the gamut from Jeff Samardzija to Dan Haren to Homer Bailey, but I’m partial to one that hit me when viewing his second start this season: Masahiro Tanaka.

Very optimistic! And such generous comps, too. Things are rolling now. How were things in October 2015…

Jones, the number one guy on a list designed to serve the same purpose as the one created over seven months ago, hasn’t actually done anything to slip this far down the board; competition at the top this year is just that fierce. I like guys with fastballs that move every which way but straight, so Jones’s future looks bright from here. His mid-80s splitter has looked so good at times that he’s gotten one of my all-time favorite cross-culture comps: Masahiro Tanaka.

Some acknowledgment that the college pitching class was crowded at the top with a lot of good but not great options, but still generally positive about Jones’s outlook. Who wants to bet I keep pounding that Masahiro Tanaka comp into the ground in February 2016…

I’m 100% buying what Connor Jones — the Virginia one, not Tyler’s lefthanded Georgia teammate — is selling. I’ve mentioned it before, but I get an unusually high number of comps on him from enthusiastic scouts. My hunch is that it has something to do with his exciting mix of ceiling (number two starter?) and certainty (very polished, very professional) that gets those guys going. I still love the cross-cultural Masahiro Tanaka comp for him.

I’m so predictable. More of the same in April 2016…

Connor Jones represents the best cross-section of upside and safety in this year’s college pitching class. Assuming non-catastrophic injury, I’d be stunned if he doesn’t wind up at least somewhere around a big league starter. That’s about where I’d put his reasonable upside as well: solid big league starting pitcher. There’s a chance for more, of course, due in large part to his dynamic one-two offspeed combo of an upper-80s splitter and a low- to mid-80s slider. I’ve comped him to Masahiro Tanaka at the highest of high ceiling projections, so, yeah, I like him. Future mid-rotation arms are tremendous real life assets, but fairly boring in fantasy land.

At least past-me gets more to the point about Jones’s value being tied heavily to his unique blend of upside and safety. It was hard at this point in the process to see Jones as anything but a useful big league starter down the line with the upside being a mid-rotation or better type. Some, however, were starting to get a little stuck on the first part there: “anything but a useful big league starter.” Everybody loves (or should love) a useful big league starter, but there’s plenty of room for those of us who want more than useful. Depending on your contextual expectations, useful can either be a compliment or an insult. It’s meant as a compliment here, but could very easily be spun as a negative by those who question Jones’s upside. In fact, later in the month we kind of went there…

I’ve gone back and forth on Jones a few times throughout the draft process. For as much as I like him, there’s something about his game doesn’t quite add up just yet. He checks every box you’d want in a near-ML ready starting pitching prospect, but it’s hard to get too excited about a pitcher who has never truly dominated at the college level. My big question about Jones is whether or not he has that second gear that will allow him to consistently put away big league hitters in times of trouble. His stuff is perfectly suited to killing worms; in fact, his sinker, slider, and splitter combination has resulted in an impressive 65.25 GB% in 2016. But he’ll have to miss more bats to be more than a back of the rotation starter at the highest level. His K/9 year-by-year at Virginia: 6.55, 8.77, and 6.79. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect out of a guy being talked up in some circles as a potential top ten pick and first college pitcher selected in the draft. This evaluation of Jones is a little bit like the scattered thoughts on Corey Ray shared above in that it highlights how tough it can be when you’re one of the top prospects in the country. Potential top half of the first round prospects get nitpicked in a way that mid-round players never will. Jones, like Ray, is an excellent prospect, but because a) everybody already knows the top two dozen or so “name” draft prospects are excellent and continuously talking about how great they are is tired, and b) the greater investment in top prospects necessitates a more thorough examination of their total game, getting picked apart more than most comes with the territory.

There it is. The K/9 bomb was finally dropped. I’m way too lazy to do the work myself and far too unimportant to crowdsource the information otherwise, but I have a pretty strong hunch from doing this for years that not too many college starter pitchers who enter pro ball coming off a full (103.2 IP) junior season with a K/9 as low as 6.25 have had much sustained success in big league rotations. Strikeouts aren’t everything and Jones’s ability to generate ground ball outs by the bushel need not be ignored, but it’s hardly controversial to suggest that good big league starting pitchers universally share the ability to consistently get swings and misses in key situations. If Jones wants to be a “good” big league starting pitcher (i.e., more than an up-and-down four or five), then he’s almost certainly going to have to miss more bats. We’re admittedly setting a high bar to illustrate a point, but of the top twenty starting pitchers (by FIP) with at least 50 IP in 2016, only six did it without striking out a batter per inning. The lowest K/9 of any pitcher in the top thirty was Matt Harvey at 7.38. Second lowest? Masahiro Tanaka at 7.44. Hmm…

I don’t doubt that a guy with Jones’s stuff, smarts, and work ethic can keep improving as a professional and reach the modest version of his ceiling (back-end starter) sooner rather than later. I also wouldn’t dare shut the door on him fulfilling the higher end of those earliest projections (number two, maybe a three) with continued progress. Real upside with a very high floor. That’s a heck of a pick late in the second round.

3.106 – RHP Zac Gallen

Zac Gallen (160), sick of all the attention paid to Hudson and Jones by certain batted ball enthusiasts who shall remain nameless, went out in his pro debut and struck out 15 batters in 9.2 innings pitched. Who needs ground balls when you’re sitting people down at that clip, right? Gallen isn’t quite that kind of pitcher — to be fair, THAT kind of pitcher doesn’t really exist outside of Aroldis Chapman — but he did see his K/9 increase every season while in Chapel Hill. From 6.54 to 7.93 to 9.44, Gallen’s steady improvement as a strikeout pitcher was reflected by his improved out-pitch (cut-slider) and consistently awesome command. Gallen is pretty much the low-upside/high-floor college starting pitcher straight out of Central Casting. His fastball won’t wow anybody velocity-wise at 88-92 MPH (though I swear I’ve personally seen it up to 94 as a starter and even higher than that as a reliever…can’t confirm either peak and my exact notes have turned to dust), but he commands it exceptionally well. Between the fastball, cut-slider (a deadly offering that can hit any number on the radar beginning with 8), and a pair of average softer pitches (mid-70s curve, low-80s change), Gallen can roll through even the toughest lineups multiple times when he’s hitting his spots. A few older notes on Gallen, first from March 2016…

It’ll be really interesting to see how high Gallen will rise in the real draft come June. He’s the kind of relatively safe, high-floor starting pitching prospect who either sticks in the rotation for a decade or tops out as a sixth starter better served moving to the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up there. This aggressive (pretend) pick by Boston should point to what side of that debate I side with. Gallen doesn’t do any one thing particularly well — stellar fastball command and a willingness to keep pounding in cutters stand out — but he throws five (FB, cutter, truer SL, CB, CU) pitches for strikes and competes deep into just about every start. There’s serious value in that.

And then from April 2016…

Gallen’s profile seems like the type who gets overlooked during the draft, overlooked in the minors, and overlooked until he’s run through a few big league lineups before people begin to get wise. That’s all entirely anecdotal, but sometimes you’ve got to run with a hunch.

One thing that strikes me as potentially notable — though I suppose technically this is actually notable and not potentially notable since here I am noting it — is St. Louis’s tendency to gravitate to pitchers who have shown consistent depth of offspeed stuff in addition to their proclivity to target ground ball arms like Dakota Hudson and Connor Jones. “Legit four-pitch mix” is a phrase that comes up in both Jones’s and Gallen’s scouting profiles. Jones and Gallen — especially Gallen — are pitchers who get results based more on the sum of their stuff than any individual component. Stylistically, pitchers like Gallen bring me back to the age-old (probably) question that I’ve personally struggled with for years: do you like Pitcher A with his two knockout pitches and a fringey (or nonexistent) third pitch OR do you prefer Pitcher B with his four average-ish pitches? Neither Jones nor Gallen quite fit that Player B archetype as perfectly as I’d like to really hammer home this point — Gallen is the closer of the two, but I think his cutter is too good to call it simply “average-ish” — but you get the general idea of what the Cardinals like to target on draft day.

4.136 – C Jeremy Martinez

On Jeremy Martinez (79) from April 2016…

Jeremy Martinez is another catcher who has been described to me as “good enough” defensively, but that’s an opinion my admittedly non-scout eyes don’t see. I wrote about him briefly last month…

I’ve long thought that Jeremy Martinez has been underrated as a college player, so I’m happy to get a few sentences off about how much I like him here. Martinez was born to catch with a reliable glove and accurate arm. His offensive game is equally well-rounded with the chance for an average hit tool and average raw power to go along with his standout approach. His ceiling may not be high enough for all teams to fall in love, but he’s as good a bet as any of the college catchers in this class to have a long big league career in some capacity or another.

Then he went out and hit .325/.419/.433 with 32 BB/16 K in 235 PA for State College. Defensively, the man threw out 17 of 37 (46%) potential base stealers. That’s after hitting .376/.460/.563 with 19 BB/12 K in 213 AB at USC in his junior season. It might be time to accept the fact that Martinez can really play. I think it could be a 50 bat, 55 power, and 55/60 overall defender. That’s really enticing by itself, but when you add in his exceptional track record as a disciplined hitter (71 BB/43 K at USC) equally skilled with both getting ahead early in counts and hitting with two strikes, then you’ve really got something worth getting excited about. Between Carson Kelly, Martinez, and Andrew Knizner, the Cardinals don’t have to worry about life after Yadier Molina one iota going forward. Must be nice.

5.166 – OF Walker Robbins

On Walker Robbins (165) from May 2016…

If we’re going to pair Rizzo and Cantu together, then why not do the same for Christian Jones and Walker Robbins? The two lefthanded bats have very similar offensive ceilings. In a fun twist, Robbins, a legitimate pitching prospect with a fastball that ranges from 87-92 MPH, takes the place of Joey Wentz in this updated top five. Wentz, as many know, is a lefthanded pitching prospect all the way, but that wasn’t always the case. There were some fools (e.g., me) who thought his pro future would come as a slugging first baseman. Maybe there are some out there that think of Robbins more as a pitcher – I haven’t talked to any, but I’ve learned not to make assumptions with low-90s lefties – but at this point I’m pretty comfortable with him as a single-digit round hitting prospect. That’s some nice prospect symmetry right there.

Anyway, much like Jones, Robbins can hit. His power is real, he’s an excellent athlete, and he’s right around average with most of his run times. Also like Jones, the only real question I have with Robbins being where he is on this list is whether or not a pro team will challenge him with some outfield work after signing. I’d be fine with that, obviously – he can run, he can throw, and it’s not my money – but it would be kind of a shame to not have him play first base at the next level. I haven’t personally seen all of the players listed below, but of the ones I have, he’s easily the most impressive defender at first. It’s not the same as being a plus defender at catcher, center, or short, but it’s not nothing.

It’ll take time, but I believe in Walker Robbins as a power bat, defender at first, and athlete. Will he make enough contact to make all those good things matter? You got me, but that’s why he fell to the fifth round. That said, there’s not a 133 pick difference between his upside and Dylan Carlson’s. Getting both within the draft’s first five rounds (in addition to a potential star SS, two rock solid big league pitching prospects, and an advanced college catcher who is a clear potential successor to Yadier Molina behind the plate) is a major win for the Cards. Fans of twenty-nine other teams should be jealous.

6.196 – SS Tommy Edman

On Tommy Edman from April 2016…

Edman’s bat is more my speed thanks to his strong hit tool, good understanding of the strike zone, and ability to make consistent contact even when down in the count. I’ve given in to those who have long tried to convince me he’s more second baseman than shortstop, but there’s still a part of me who thinks he’s good enough to play short. For a guy with realistic ceiling of big league utility man, I can more than live with that kind of defensive future. If I really stuck to my guns here then you’d see Edman over Morrison, but for now I’ll defer to the overwhelming consensus of smarter people out there who let me know (nicely, mostly) that I was nuts for considering it. I guess the big takeaway here for me is that either player would be great value at any point after the first five rounds.

All’s I know is a sixth round pick hit .286/.400/.427 with 48 BB/29 K in 310 PA for State College, and that ain’t not bad.

The Stanford middle infielder turned Cardinals prospect’s strong debut was undeniably impressive, but not altogether unfamiliar. Drew Jackson had a similarly thrilling debut last year after being picked in the fifth round last year by Seattle (.358/.432/.447 with 30 BB/35 K and 47/51 SB) before coming back to Earth in 2016, so, you know, these things can happen when we’re dealing with relatively small samples. The pre-draft evaluation on Edman (“realistic ceiling of big league utility man”) shouldn’t be changed much just because of his hot professional start. Still, I’d rather see a fast start than a slow one, so if you’d like to feel a little extra enthusiastic about Edman as a ballplayer going forward based on those 310 stellar plate appearances, then far be it from me to rain on your parade. I will say that the pairing of Edman and the Cardinals feels like a perfect marriage. Envisioning him as a pesky hitting utility infielder (already annoying enough to the opposition in that role) who takes the opponent’s fan base frustration up a million notches when he inevitably gets called upon to start for stretches due to injuries elsewhere at various points over the next decade without missing a beat offensively for whatever star he’s replacing (Delvin Perez, maybe?) is just too easy. Easier than parsing the meaning of that monster of a sentence, I’ll bet.

7.226 – C Andrew Knizner

On Andrew Knizner (467) in December 2015…

JR C Andrew Knizner is a fascinating prospect who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what one might think of a potential top five round college catcher. Defensively, he’s still very much out of sorts as a relatively new catcher but his athleticism and willingness to make it work could be enough for teams willing to take the long view on his pro future. Offensively, he’s a high contact hitter with excellent plate coverage and power that has a chance to be average or better as he continues to add strength. I tend to give players new to a demanding defensive position the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, so I’m fine with riding out another half-season or so of shaky defense behind the plate before beginning to ask the question whether or not Knizner has what it takes to be a catcher full-time in the pros. Almost no matter what transpires on the field this year, I can’t see a team drafting Knizner high enough that he’s signable with the intention of at least continuing to try him as a catcher for the foreseeable future. He’s good enough in other areas that it’s not quite a catcher or bust proposition for him, but that depends on how high one’s expectations are for him at this point.

Knizner split his time pretty evenly between first base and catcher at Johnson City in his debut. He also went out and hit .319/.423/.492 with 21 BB/21 K in 222 PA. I’ve had many people who have seen Knizner play in short looks come back completely unsold on his defense behind the plate. I appreciate firsthand accounts like that, but I find it telling that so many of these observations are the quick-hitter type. For whatever reason, Knizner’s defense is particularly difficult to judge when viewed only through the prism of a single game or series. The newness of playing the position is too often dismissed by those who are already convinced he can’t do the job, and the incremental progress he’s made defensively — the definition of slow and steady, emphasis on slow — is worth keeping in mind. I think Knizner has shown enough already to warrant serious consideration as a long-term catcher defensively, a personal view reinforced by his athleticism and arm strength. As an average or better defender behind the plate, Knizner has a chance to be an above-average all-around player. This is the type of college catcher (i.e., one with clear starter upside) worth taking a chance on here.

8.256 – RHP Sam Tewes

On Sam Tewes in mid-March 2016 before news of his announced TJ surgery was official…

Tewes’s arm (up to 95, good CB) and size (6-5, 200) is too good to pass up even with the rocky start. Even if his recent elbow discomfort ends in something unfortunate, he’s still the most talented player on this roster and best pro bet going forward.

And then later in March 2016 when we knew it was coming…

I always make a point to say that these are conceived as pre-season rankings that attempt to reflect the larger body of work rather than recent performances. There are, however, exceptions to that rule. Sam Tewes is a walking, talking exception as he was dropped a whopping one whole spot after news broke that he’ll be undergoing Tommy John surgery on Wednesday (March 31, 2016). His immediate draft future is obviously in doubt as he’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of rehabbing as a professional versus doing so as a redshirt-junior next season at Wichita State. I wouldn’t consider him signable as of now – guys with multiple years of eligible left are challenges from the start and the injury clouds up his future even more – but I’d sure as heck be on him this spring trying to figure out if there’s a reasonable number he’d agree to. His ability is undeniable. Tewes feels like the kind of guy the Red Sox pick late and convince to sign an overslot deal on while fans of all other teams slap their heads thinking “Why couldn’t we have thought of that?”

It says something both about Tewes and the rest of the Missouri Valley 2016 collection of pitching that I’d still take him second out of the group even with the bum elbow. Tommy John surgery should really drop you more than one spot, right? Maybe I’m overrating Tewes, underrating the rest of the Missouri Valley pitching crop, or making too many assumptions about the simplicity of Tommy John surgery; I’d accept any arguments against his placement, but will hold firm on his ranking just off the top spot for now.

Tewes went under the knife on March 31, 2016. That didn’t stop the Cardinals from taking a shot on the big (6-5, 200) righthander’s big (88-94, 96 peak) fastball and big bending curve. Add in a hard slider with promise and a nascent changeup, and you can see why St. Louis would be willing to get Tewes into their organization even with the injury. I love this pick. Tremendous upside — could see Tewes continuing to start in the pros, but the fallback as a dominant late-inning reliever isn’t so bad either — if it works out with minimal risk (an eighth round pick and only $100,000) if it doesn’t. Really can’t say enough about how much I like this one.

9.286 – OF Matt Fiedler

So much of post-draft analysis (in all sports) boils down to “well, they drafted a lot of the guys I ranked highly, so GREAT DRAFT!” or “they are clueless because their picks don’t correlate to my own board at all.” Neither of these responses are wrong per se (if you took the time to create a board you value, then you shouldn’t throw it out just because it didn’t line up with the reality of the actual draft), but, at best, I think we can call that kind of analysis incomplete. Judging a draft should be done in a more curious way. Approaching selections with the attitude of “I wonder why they did this” rather than viewing picks only through a singular (maybe right, maybe wrong) pre-draft valuation results in a far more interesting and useful overall thought exercise for writer and reader alike.

St. Louis took Minnesota RHP/OF Matt Fiedler in the ninth round. Fiedler was on my radar as a promising mid-round relief type (88-92 FB, good mid-70s CB, low-80s sinking CU), but, as an offensive prospect, I didn’t think the Gophers star was much more than a solid college bat. The Cardinals saw things differently. Without overreacting too much to his fantastic 220 PA pro debut, I can admit that I may have overlooked Fiedler’s power/speed upside (.166 ISO as a junior/31 for 36 SB his last two seasons in college) while also failing to give the two-way player enough of a break when it came to his solid but unspectacular (41 BB/48 K career) plate discipline (wholly anecdotal, but this is something that a lot of two-way guys see a positive bounce in the pros). Fiedler remains in a position where he’ll have to hit his way to the big leagues, but he’s off to a better start than most of his 2016 draft peers.

10.316 – 3B Danny Hudzina

On Danny Hudzina from March 2016…

Hudzina is a similarly talented hitter – more hit than power if we’re comparing him head-to-head with Lynch – who gets the edge because of his fascinating defensive versatility. I asked a few smart people about his long-term defensive home and each response gave me a new position to consider. Most preferred him at his present position of third base, a spot where he is really good already. Others thought he was athletic enough to handle short in a pinch, thus making his future position “utility infielder” more so than any one permanent spot. I also heard second base more than once, which made sense considering he has prior experience there. He also has experience behind the plate, so speculation that he’ll one day return to the catcher position will always be there. That was the most intriguing response, not only because of the idea itself (hardly a novel thought) but because of the conviction the friend who suggested it presented the thought (i.e., it wasn’t like he said that’s what should happen with him, he was saying that a switch to catcher will happen to him in the pros). Despite the certainty of that one friend, I’m still on the third base bandwagon with the idea of him being athletic enough to handle any infield spot (including third catcher duties) in play. All in all, offensively and defensively (wherever he may wind up), I think Hudzina has a big league skill set.

And then Hudzina went out and hit .408/.470/.564 with 26 BB/12 K. His combined junior and senior season walk to strikeout ratio: 40 BB/28 K. Hudzina is such a Cardinal it’s not even funny. Productive, patient hitter? Check. Multi-position defensive versatility? You know it. High marks in makeup, work ethic, and coachability? Like you really had to ask. As I said in March, Hudzina has a clear big league skill set. I think it’s more of a matter of “when” and not “if” he gets that far. For a $3,000 tenth round pick, that’s pretty awesome. Love this selection.

11.346 – LHP John Kilichowski

John Kilichowski (179) has a long history here on the site. Let’s dive in beginning in April 2015…

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

We actually could have started even further back in time. Here was Kilichowski’s HS scouting notes…

LHP John Kilichowski (Tampa Jesuit HS, Florida): 86-88 FB, 90 peak; solid CU; 73-76 CB with plus upside; 6-5, 185 pounds

He added thirty pounds, a few ticks to his fastball (86-92, 94 peak), and continued to refine his offspeed stuff in his three years as a Commodore. Not too shabby. Let’s check in on what we said about him in October 2015…

Vanderbilt pumps out so much quality pitching that it’s almost boring to discuss their latest and greatest. Kilichowski (and Sheffield and Bowden and Stone) find themselves sandwiched between last year’s special group of arms and a freshman class that includes Donny Everett and Chandler Day. The big lefty has impeccable control, easy velocity (86-92, 94 peak), and the exact assortment of offspeed pitches (CB, SL, and CU, all average or better) needed to keep hitters off-balance in any count. It’s not ace-type stuff, but it’s the kind of overall package that can do damage in the middle of a rotation for a long time.

And then again in May 2016…

Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons.

It would be easy to look at Kilichowski’s injured-marred junior season as the reason why St. Louis could land a potential mid-rotation big league starting pitcher in the eleventh round for a reasonable ($200,000) price. It would also be correct. This is a heck of a pick by the Cardinals. Is ending each pick’s section with a variation on that theme getting tiresome yet? Too bad!

12.376 – SS Brady Whalen

All else equal, I root for just about every player to sign a pro contract. I say that because a) money is good, b) playing pro ball can open up lots of doors later in life even if actually playing the game doesn’t work out, and c) both the NCAA and the American college system in general are scammy at best and criminal at worst. This robs me of three years worth of evaluation time, so the pro leaning comes from a rare unselfish place. Still, there are certain players in every draft class that you can’t help but wonder “what if” about. Between the increased scouting exposure, risk mitigation, and personal growth one could expect a prospect to make over three calendar years, Brady Whalen could have come out of Oregon as a first day pick in 2019. Instead, the Cardinals took a chance on the toolsy 6-4, 185 pound prep shortstop from Washington in the twelfth round and managed to get him signed for about the same bonus they paid their fifth rounder. Whalen wound up playing a lot of second, a little bit of third, and a teeny tiny bit of shortstop in his debut. My notes on him before the draft were pretty straightforward: “steady glove, accurate arm, plus frame.” It’s pretty to envision a best case scenario of Whalen continuing to fill out and becoming a true power threat (the swing is there) while maintaining enough athleticism to play regularly at either second (a terrifying sight for incoming base runners), third (if his arm can handle it), or an outfield corner.

13.406 – OF Shane Billings

Shane Billings was a pre-draft FAVORITE for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, let’s go to his 2016 numbers at Wingate: .444/.502/.639 with 25 BB/15 K and 30/32 SB. That’ll play. Beyond that, he’s a plus runner with enough instincts to stick in center, decent pop (maybe a double-digit homer guy at his peak), and an average arm. It’s a rock solid fourth outfielder package with a slim shot at more if he keeps hitting.

14.436 – OF Vincent Jackson

Vincent Jackson’s (347) pro debut strikes me as pretty much the perfect kind of Vincent Jackson line: .233/.318/.357 (19.0 K% and 8.5 BB%) with 16/23 SB. You get a little bit of everything that makes Jackson such a fun prospect (power, walks, speed) and some of what caused him to slip to the fourteenth round (hit tool, strikeouts, general unrefined skill set). I’ve been bullish on the Tennessee senior for quite some time as you can see from these January 2015 notes…

The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.

Of course, if that’s not far back enough for you we can always go way back to his Luella HS days when I called him a “big personal favorite as hitter” with “average speed,” a “strong arm,” and the chance to “hit velocity.” Those were the days. Jackson is a funky player to project because, while still plenty athletic and a fine runner, he’s a bit too big at 6-4, 200 pounds to fit the classic center field mold. If he’s a corner guy (he is), then the pressure on the bat goes up substantially. In what may be a cop-out, Jackson seems like one of those players who will either have the light bulb go off in a big way in the pros (potential regular in left or right) or top out as a AAAA player.

15.466 – 2B JR Davis

On JR Davis from way way way back in February 2014

Zach Alvord, formerly of Auburn and Tampa, is still well-regarded by many, but don’t sleep on JR Davis, a redshirt freshman ready to make his mark.

I guess I’m guilty of sleeping on him some as the steady hitting of Davis over the years (including junior season marks of .347/.422/.438 with 24 BB/24 K) got lost in the shuffle in the two and a half years since that initial mention. There’s clearly enough with Davis offensively to work with, so my mental line of questioning of him now moves to the defensive side of the game. As a second base prospect, Davis will have to keep on hitting as he did in his debut (.333/.362/.457 in 196 PA) to remain a realistic future big league option. If he can slide around the infield some, then his path to a long career as a utility player gets that much clearer. For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that his arm and present actions might limit it to second base as an infielder, but center field remains an intriguing viable option down the line. The name Cesar Hernandez has come up as a potential comp to his overall skill set. Now let’s go full circle in what I promise is 100% a coincidence. Turns out I’ve thrown out Hernandez as a comp on my site once before. Wouldn’t you know it was in the exact same post AND the exact same paragraph that I pulled that opening quote from? Keith Curcio got the comp then — still kind of like that one, to be honest — and Davis gets it now. Full circle.

16.496 – C Tyler Lancaster

You have to have some really impressive secondary offensive skills to hit .148 in 64 PA in your debut and still wind up with a non-disastrous 84 wRC+. That’s what a 12.5 BB% and a .185 ISO did for Tyler Lancaster (245) in his first taste of pro ball in 2016. Lancaster’s success as a hitter in pro ball will be contingent on him continuing to pile up walks and extra base hits. Insight like that is why I get paid the big bucks, folks. There was about a 50/50 split on his long-term defense prospects behind the plate based on those I’ve checked with; needless to say, if he can stick behind the plate AND hit as hoped, he’s a potential monster. Have to love that kind of upside in the sixteenth round. Even if it doesn’t work out — or if it works out to a lesser degree: maybe Lancaster catches but the bat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or maybe he shows up as a hitter but has to move to first — it’s a great gamble. For what it’s worth, while I don’t know which of those three positive outcomes Lancaster will take, I’m bullish on him following one of those paths to the big leagues. I think he’s a regular at either first or behind the plate eventually.

18.556 – RHP Austin Sexton

There are tons of pitching prospects on the fifth starter/middle relief bubble drafted every June — see the very next pick if you don’t believe me — so an interesting study that I’ll never personally get to would be to find a way to isolate what variables keep a guy starting and what pushes a pitcher to relief. We all know there are certain barriers of entry that some teams look for in future starters — the requisite three-pitch-mix, ability to command said mix, specific height/weight benchmarks and the supposed stamina associated with them — but there are still certain x-factors beyond those that separate starters from relievers. I only have theories to offer at this point, but one that I often come back to is weighing more heavily the importance of a difference-making pitch. This is hardly a revolutionary thought, but I needed a way to introduce Austin Sexton’s (386) outstanding changeup as a potential difference-making pitch. Sexton’s change is a consistent above-average offering. It’s the biggest reason why I think he could stick in the rotation for a long time to come. The fastball is fine (88-92, 93 peak) and his breaking ball (78-80) flashes, but it’s the changeup that could carry him to a long-term role pitching every fifth day in the big leagues.

19.586 – LHP Daniel Castano

Daniel Castano did enough over his three years at Baylor to warrant this comment along the way (or, more specifically, from April 2016)…

Daniel Castano is a lefthander with size, some present velocity (87-92), and a pair of offspeed pitches (78-83 CU and 72-76 CB) that could be average or better pitches at the pro level.

Add some encouraging GB% tendencies to that profile and it’s a decent looking fifth starter, um, starter kit. Like any pitcher with that profile, the bullpen looms as a potential better (and more likely) option. I think that’s probably where Castano winds up unless he starts missing more bats as a starter. Still solid value in the nineteenth round.

20.616 – 1B Stefan Trosclair

Stefan Trosclair is an interesting potential utility player depending on how viable an option St. Louis sees him at infield spots other than first base. He spent the vast majority of his debut for the Cardinals organization at first, but also saw a few innings at both second and third. I think he’s probably a good enough athlete to pull it off, but that’s admittedly a far easier position to take as an outsider with no skin in the game. Any prospect can theoretically play anywhere until you see the ugliness that is, from personal experience, Cody Asche at second base or Ryan Howard in left field up close and personal. If Trosclair can make it work at any spot other than first base in a part-time role, he could hit himself into a big league bench job. If not, well, we all know how high the offensive bar is at first base.

22.676 – OF Mick Fennell

Mike O’Neill 2.0 was the description I got when asking around about Mick Fennell. That’s a lot of fun right off the top. Further elaboration led to a “Mike O’Neill with actual power” upside comp. That’s even better! O’Neill, long a favorite of the analytics crowd (guilty!), has never been able to turn the corner from minor league fascination to useful big league player due largely to a lack of consistent in-game power. I’m not in a position to speculate on whether or not Fennell has the power to break that big league glass ceiling — not that a lack of insight has ever stopped me before! — but, hey, I’ve heard good things. That has to count for something, right? And that .374/.446/.600 college career line (with 64 BB/32 K in 597 AB) certainly doesn’t hurt. For entertainment purposes only, here are the respective pro debuts of O’Neill and Fennell…

.283/.387/.380 with 15.2 BB% and 11.6 K% and 112 PA
.256/.366/.331 with 12.2 BB% and 8.8 K% and 147 PA

O’Neill had a .098 ISO, Fennell had a .074 ISO. Hmm. We’re talking minuscule samples in the grand scheme of things, but a (flawed) data point is still a (flawed) data point. Fennell is such an easy prospect to root for. The man’s K% in his college career is 4.6%. That’s just incredible. I’ve done no studies linking low college K-rates and professional success, but I’d have to think that overall numbers like Fennell’s AND the low K-rate have to mean something, level of competition be damned. I’d draft a guy out of any level but Little League who has hit .374/.446/.600 with 64 BB/32 K in his career in the twenty-second round every single time. Even though this was Randy Flores first draft as the man in charge, this is such a classic Cardinals pick.

This has nothing to do with anything, but, despite living almost all my life in the great state of Pennsylvania, I never knew that the California University of Pennsylvania’s nickname was the Vulcans. That’s awesome. I’m getting a t-shirt.

Oh yeah, we can’t forget the back flips.

24.736 – LHP Anthony Ciavarella

Anthony Ciavarella is an undersized lefty with a solid fastball (87-92) and a quality curve. He’s been decent when it comes to missing bats in his career (7.99 K/9 in his senior year at Monmouth) and his control has always been a strength, so maybe you get a matchup lefty down the line here.

25.766 – RHP Spencer Trayner

I think Spencer Trayner (419) has a future in a big league bullpen. He’s got a low-90s fastball (95 peak), average or better breaking ball, and a split-change that can get him loads of swings and misses when he’s feeling it. Toss in three solid years pitching out of the Tar Heels bullpen and the athleticism you’d expect from a former middle infielder, and you’ve got yourself a good looking relief prospect.

26.796 – RHP Eric Carter

Eric Carter is too old. Eric Carter is undersized. Eric Carter is too reliant on his fastball. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Eric Carter keeps sitting people down. As a senior at Louisiana, he had a 12.07 K/9 and 1.84 BB/9 in 44.0 IP. In his pro debut, Carter did this: 10.32 K/9 and 1.59 BB/9 in 22.2 IP. There are reasons to temper that enthusiasm some — add on his fly ball tendencies to that list of red flags — but I’ve always been bullish on guys who can just plain miss bats. It doesn’t hurt that Carter has a low-90s fastball (up to 94) and an inconsistent, underutilized curve that is nasty when on. Those positives outweighs the negatives, especially in the twenty-sixth round.

27.826 – RHP Mike O’Reilly

Mike O’Reilly pitched really well (9.83 K/9 and 1.99 BB/9) in his draft year at Flagler. Mike O’Reilly pitched really well (8.55 K/9 and 1.13 BB/9) in his first year as a professional. Can’t ask for much more than that.

29.866 – RHP Noel Gonzalez

One could probably ascertain that the Cardinals have been on Noel Gonzalez for a while now. That’s a safe assumption with just about any draft pick, but Gonzalez’s path from Bellevue (same school as Leland Tilley, thirty-second round pick) to Lewis-Clark (NAIA school that is always loaded) surely kept many Cardinal eyes on him over the past few seasons. That’s all I’ve got.

31.946 – 2B JD Murders

I don’t have much on JD Murders that isn’t already out there. He’s a fairly sure-handed defensive middle infielder with above-average wheels, sneaky pop, and some feel for contact. Any high school prospect signed after the tenth round is a good get in my book.

32.976 – RHP Leland Tilley

Leland Tilley went 10-1 with 9 saves in just 25 appearances for the Bellevue Bruins in 2016. That’s crazy, right? A closer with ten wins? Definitely not something you see everyday. That fits a pitcher like Tilley, a funky righthander with a delivery unlike anything most opposing hitters have ever seen. He used that delivery, a low-90s fastball, and a pair of usable breaking balls to put up the kind of numbers (9.53 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9) to get noticed by the pros. I like taking shots on relievers with unorthodox windups at this point in the draft.

33.1006 – 2B Caleb Lopes

When a guy hits .427/.521/.641 with 30 BB/10 K and 9/10 SB in 206 AB, you pay attention. In fact, Caleb Lopes inspired me to shoot off a quick email to a pal about how great his debut. It may or may not have sounded a little something like this…

You want an absurdly deep sleeper? No? TOO BAD. Get to know Caleb Lopes. Cardinals took him with the last pick in the 33rd round. That was pick 1006 overall. College shortstop who split his time in the pros at second (where the Cards announced him on draft day) and third. He hit .427/.521/.641 with 30 BB/10 K and 9/10 SB in 206 AB at West Georgia. Young for his class, too. Only turned 21-years-old this past July. Then he hit .336/.488/.420 with 30 BB/24 K and 2/2 SB in 175 PA in his debut at Johnson City.

This is what I email friends about. Unrelated, I don’t have many friends. Also unrelated, want to be friends?

34.1036 – RHP Jonathan Mulford

Adelphi University has had a player drafted in five of the eight drafts that I’ve covered since starting the site in 2009. That’s pretty impressive and something I never would have guessed in a million years. Jonathan Mulford is the latest Panther to get his shot in the pros. He had a solid senior year (8.47 K/9 and 1.72 BB/9), a fastball up to 93 MPH, and a nice curve. All in all, he’s worth a follow.

36.1096 – RHP Robbie Gordon

Pretty good year for Robbie Gordon. First no-hitter in Maryville history. First perfect game in Maryville history. First ever draft pick to come out of Maryville. First ever player from Maryville to play affiliated professional ball. And, if all that wasn’t enough, Gordon was actually pretty damn good in his debut. I mean, he was a 23-year-old with a solid low-90s heater and advanced changeup doing his thing against teenagers in the GCL, but it still counts for something. I can’t say I expect a whole lot out of a Division II pick with fine but hardly overwhelming career numbers (8.37 K/9 and 3.11 BB/9), but they can never take away 2016 from him.

37.1126 – 3B Andy Young

Andy Young made a mockery of the GCL in his admittedly short stay there: .323/.500/.452 with 7 BB/3 K in 43 PA. He then went to State College and hit comfortably above-average (.261/.322/.398 and 115 wRC+ in 182 PA) the rest of the way. Not a bad debut at all for the potential utility guy, especially when you factor in positive notes on his glove at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF. I’m comfortable with putting a big league ceiling on Young based on that defensive versatility and a rapidly improving bat. The latter began in his senior season at Indiana State. His overall numbers stayed similar on the surface, but Young managed to almost completely flip his BB/K ratio into something far more palatable (30 BB/27 K) as a senior. The small sample pro debut stats quoted above give some credence that Young’s offensive bump is real and can be sustained. If that’s the case, then maybe the Cardinals really did turn a thirty-seventh round pick into a future useful big league player. Not bad.

38.1156 – RHP Robert Calvano

Robert Calvano didn’t pitch enough (6.2 innings in 2016, 5.2 innings in 2015) to get on my radar, but obviously the Cardinals saw enough in him over the years to take a late-round shot.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Jeremy Ydens (UCLA), Aaron Bond (San Jacinto JC), Jackson Lamb (Michigan), Josh Burgmann (Washington), Pat Krall (Clemson), JC Crowe (?), Cade Cabbiness (Seminole State), Matthew Ellis (UC Riverside)

2016 MLB Draft First Round Analysis

Digging through the archives to give a little context on some of the first round picks so far. This will update as long as I stay awake tonight…

1.1 – Philadelphia Phillies | La Costa Canyon HS OF Mickey Moniak (3rd on BDR BIG 500)

December 2015…

The extra bit of youth isn’t what gives Moniak the edge for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. What separates Moniak at this present moment is his ability to hit the ball hard everywhere. Sometimes simplistic analysis works. The manner in which Moniak sprays line drives and deep flies to all fields resembles something a ten-year veteran who flirts with batting titles season after season does during BP. Trading off a little bit of Rutherford’s power for Moniak’s hit tool and approach (both in his mindfulness as a hitter and his plate discipline) are worth it for me. Of course, check back with me in a few months…I had Meadows ahead of Frazier for a long time before giving in to the latter’s arm, power, and approach (as a whole-fields power hitter, not necessarily as an OBP machine). History may yet repeat itself, but I’ll take Moniak for now.

May 2016…

Actually, the Moniak and Nimmo parallels aren’t too far off besides the level of competition discrepancy. Check Baseball America’s pre-draft notes on Nimmo…

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

I still believe in Nimmo as being a useful big league player, but perhaps the scouting profile similarities between the two ought to serve as a little bit of a warning for those already all-in on Moniak. Same could be said for the Starling/Rutherford tie-in, though that’s significantly less worrisome because of the latter being far more of a ballplayer than the former ever was; Starling’s issues weren’t simply because he was older for his class but rather because he was older and underdeveloped from a skills standpoint. Making up for lost time while learning the finer points of the game is hard work, but Rutherford’s actual on-field abilities should make the curve much shorter than Starling’s.

(Incidentally, I learned that we’re taken what a steep learning curve should be and flipped it to mean the opposite of the original intent. We talk about steep learning curves as if they note a difficult initial learning process, but a steep increase translates to a quick increment of skill. Wikipedia notes that the error is likely because of how we’ve taken to interpret the idea as climbing a hill. Climbing a steep hill is more difficult than attempting the same on a less steep version, so we assume a steep learning curve means learning something new will be tricky. Maybe this is all common knowledge, but I’ve been using steep learning curve wrong my whole life. If you’re like me, then you can at least walk away from this post learning something new…even if you think all my baseball takes are nonsense.)

Or maybe all of these forced comps are no more than false flags since, you know, comparing distinct individuals to other distinct individuals may not always tell us what we think (hope?) it does. I do, however, think there’s something to identifying players with similar physical traits, skills, and tools, and analyzing their respective career paths, at least on a very general, very preliminary level. I think we can all (mostly) agree that certain player types seem to succeed while others don’t, so there’s value in using historical data to see what has worked and what hasn’t. Besides Trenton Clark, Moniak has also been compared to Christian Yelich (source: everybody) and Steve Finley (Baseball America); I see a little Adam Eaton in his game, but Moniak is far more physical (bigger, too) at the same stage. One other recent draft name that reminded me of Moniak was this guy

He tied Hinch’s USA Baseball record by playing on his sixth national team, and scouts love his grinder approach and in-game savvy. What’s more, Almora has outstanding tools. The Miami signee, in one scout’s words, “has no issues. He’s got above-average tools everywhere, and they all play. He has tools and he uses them.” He doesn’t turn in blazing times when he runs in showcases (generally he’s a 6.8-second runner in the 60), but his game instincts help him steal bases and cover plenty of ground in center field. Scouts consider his defense major league-ready right now, with plus grades for his accurate throwing arm. With natural hitting rhythm and plenty of bat speed, [he] is a line-drive machine with a loose swing who stays inside the ball, relishes velocity and handles spin. He should have 20-homer power down the line, sufficient if he slows down and can’t play center, and a definite bonus if (as expected) he stays in the middle garden. He plays the game with both ease and energy and may have some projection left in his athletic 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. The Miami signee is considered one of the draft’s safer picks and could sneak into the first 10 selections.

No comp is perfect, but as far as draft prospect parallels go, that’s not half-bad. If I’m alone on this so be it, but I believe thinking of Moniak as a lefthanded version of Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in 2012, kind of works. Because we’re already up to five comps, what’s one more? A contact I trust dropped Ender Inciarte as a possible career path and production point of comparison for Moniak, assuming the power never really comes around. I see Moniak as a hitter just a tweak or three away from tapping into some of his average raw power more consistently, so anything in that 45/50 scouting grade band (12-18 HR) feels within reach for him at maturity. For all the comps thrown Moniak’s way this spring, it’s really hard to top the Yelich one. I think that’s one of the better comps of any prospect in recent years. I really like Yelich. I really like Moniak.

1.2 – Cincinnati Reds | Tennessee 3B Nick Senzel (7th)

April 2016…

Nick Senzel is really good. I’ve compared him to Anthony Rendon in the past – the exact phrasing from my notes is “Rendon lite?” – and I think he’ll have a good long career as an above-average big league player. He also reminds me a little bit of this guy…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.393/.487/.592 – 45 BB/38 K – 13/14 SB – 262 AB

Top is Senzel, bottom is Kyle Seager. I’ve used the Seager comp a few (too many) times over the years, most recently on Max Schrock last season. Speaking of Schrock, how did he fall as far as he did last year? That one still blows my mind. Anyway, in an attempt to move away from the tired Seager comp, another name popped up…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.351/.479/.530 – 46 BB/26 K – 11/14 SB – 185 AB

Top is still Senzel. Mystery bottom guy was written up like so by Baseball America after his pro debut…

“He has a short, compact swing and hits the ball to all fields, and he handles breaking pitches well because of strong balance. Though he’s a physical 6-foot-1 and has good strength, [REDACTED] has a line-drive swing that doesn’t produce natural loft, leading some to project him to have below-average power. He earns high marks for his defense, with good feet and hands to go with an above-average arm at third base. He’s also versatile enough to have played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA. He’s a good athlete and a solid-average runner.”

I would have linked his pre-draft report from BA, but they have the absolute worst log-in page on the entire internet. Anyway, the passage above was typed up from the 2009 Prospect Handbook. We’re talking about a guy who once played infield in the SEC. He had a similar draft year statistically. And he’s really broken out in his late-20s. Any guesses? When I’ve done mystery comps like this in the past I wouldn’t reveal the player. Then I’d search my site about a different player years later, come across the mystery comp post, and have no idea myself who I was talking about. So, yeah, it’s Logan Forsythe. My future self thanks my present self. I like Senzel to hit the big leagues running a bit more easily than Forsythe (i.e., I don’t think Senzel will enter his age-28 season with an OPS+ of 85), so maybe that would bump Senzel up over Forsythe as a guy with a higher floor. A couple of peak years like Forsythe’s seems like a reasonable ceiling projection. That’s a damn fine player. Supports the original claim: Nick Senzel is really good.

1.3 – Atlanta Braves | Shenendehowa HS RHP Ian Anderson (17th)

Early April 2016…

A pre-season FAVORITE who has only gone on to bigger and better things in the interim, Ian Anderson can make a case for being the top prep righthander in this class. He’s one of the handful of young arms with the potential for three plus pitches — 88-94 fastball (95 peak), 77-80 breaking ball, and a 80-85 change — but what truly separates him from the pack is his ten years in the big league veteran command. Fantasy owners rightfully scared off by high school pitchers — so far from the big leagues with so much time to get hurt! — not named Groome and Pint would be wise to include Anderson in that big three on draft day. One scout friend of mine called Anderson a “more explosive Aaron Nola.” A little bit of upside (or a lot), a little bit of certainty (very little, but still more than most HS arms)…where do I sign up?

Late April 2016…

Ian Anderson, a dark-horse 1-1 candidate, has everything you’d want to see in a high school righthander with worlds of projection left. He also helps my pet theory that there’s an easy shortcut to amateur scouting: just follow the recruits. If a player is committed to Vanderbilt, like Ian Anderson is, move him up ___ spots on your board. Let the college teams do the hard work for you! Vanderbilt, Florida, UCLA, LSU…if a guy has a commitment to a school on that level, then you should want to draft him. I loved Anderson as much as anybody as he began to put his name on the national map, but once he had that Vandy commit in his back pocket he started looking better than ever.

1.4 – Colorado Rockies | Saint Thomas Aquinas HS RHP Riley Pint (2nd)

April 2016…

A fantasy pick on a guy like Riley Pint is truly going all-in on upside. There have been a lot of challengers to his throne this spring, but Pint’s raw stuff is still the most impressive of any high school arm in this class. He’s the only prep prospect that I’m confident in putting future plus grades on three different pitches. Jay Groome, Ian Anderson, Alex Speas, Austin Bergner, and Forrest Whitley all could get there, but Pint’s already convinced me. He’s the singular most talented pitching prospect in the country. So why is listed as a mid-first round pick and not a slam dunk 1-1 here? If you’re reading this on your own volition — and I certainly hope there’s no crazed lunatic out there forcing random people to visit my site; that’s my job! — then you already know. Pint’s delivery has many of the smarter public talent evaluators concerned about how he’ll hold up pitching every fifth day. I’m less concerned about that because I’m fairly stubborn in my belief that there’s no such thing as “bad mechanics” since the mere act of throwing a baseball is bad and unnatural by definition. I’m just looking for a guy with athleticism who can repeat whatever he is doing on the mound consistently with an open-mindedness to receiving instruction and a willingness to adjust aspects of his craft as needed. I think Pint fits that bill. The one knock on the fire-balling righthander that I think could have some merit is the concern over his risk of injury going forward. Again, this isn’t something that I’m crazy with concern about — pitchers get hurt, so you have to be ready for that inevitability with any pitching prospect — but the idea that Pint’s most obvious selling point (100 MPH!) could also be his biggest red flag (too much velocity too soon) intrigues the heck out of me. That’s straight out of Shakespeare or The Twilight Zone or something. Red flags or not, Pint’s arm talent is unmistakable. He’s well worth a shot here and likely a whole heck of a lot higher. He’d be on my shortlist at 1-1 if I had a say.

1.5 – Milwaukee Brewers | Louisville OF Corey Ray (8th)

April 2016…

I don’t have much to add about all of the good that Ray brings to the field each game. If you’ve made your way here, you already know. Instead of rehashing Ray’s positives, let’s focus on some of his potential weaknesses. In all honesty, the knocks on Ray are fairly benign. His body is closer to maxed-out than most top amateur prospects. His base running success and long-term utility in center field may not always be there as said body thickens up and loses some athleticism. Earlier in the season Andrew Krause of Perfect Game (who is excellent, by the way) noted an unwillingness or inability to pull the ball with authority as often as some might like to see. Some might disagree that a young hitter can be too open to hitting it to all fields – my take: it’s generally a good thing, but, as we’ve all been taught at a young age, all things in moderation – but easy pull-side power will always be something scouts want to see. At times, it appeared Ray was almost fighting it. Finally, Ray’s improved plate discipline, while part of a larger trend in the right direction, could be a sample size and/or physical advantage thing more than a learned skill that can be expected each year going forward. Is he really the player who has drastically upped his BB% while knocking his K%? Or is just a hot hitter using his experience and intimidating presence – everybody knows and fears Corey Ray at the college level – to help goose the numbers? It should also pointed out that Ray’s gaudy start only ranks him seventh on the Louisville team in batting average, fourth in slugging, and ninth in on-base percentage. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s worth noting.

(I mentioned weaknesses I’ve heard, so I think it’s only fair to share my thoughts on what they mean for him going forward. I think he’s a center fielder at least until he hits thirty, so that’s a non-issue for me. The swing thing is interesting, but it’s not something I’m qualified to comment on at this time. And I think the truth about his plate discipline likely falls in between those two theories: I’d lean more towards the changes being real, though maybe not quite as real as they’ve looked on the stat sheet so far this year.)

So what do we have with Ray as we head into June? He’s the rare prospect to get the same comp from two separate sources this spring. Both D1Baseball and Baseball America have dropped a Ray Lankford comp on him. I’ve tried to top that, but I think it’s tough to beat, especially if you look at Lankford’s 162 game average: .272/.364/.477 with 23 HR, 25 SB, and 79 BB/148 K. Diamond Minds has some really cool old scouting reports on Lankford including a few gems from none other than Mike Rizzo if you are under thirty and don’t have as clear a picture of what type of player we’re talking about when we talk about a young Ray Lankford. One non-Lankford comparison that came to mind – besides the old BA comp of Jackie Bradley and alternatives at D1 that include Carlos Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson – was Charlie Blackmon. It’s not perfect and I admittedly went there in part because I saw Blackmon multiple teams at Georgia Tech, but Ray was a harder player than anticipated to find a good comparison for (must-haves: pop, speed, CF defense; bonus points: lefthanded hitter, similar short maxed-out athletic physique, past production similarities) than I initially thought. I think Blackmon hits a lot of the targets with the most notable difference being body type. Here’s a quick draft year comparison…

.396/.469/.564 – 20 BB/21 K – 25/30 SB – 250 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Top is Blackmon’s last year at Georgia Tech, bottom is Corey Ray (so far) in 2016. Here is Blackmon’s 162 game average to date: .287/.334/.435 with 16 HR, 29 SB, and 32 BB/98 K. Something in between Lankford (great physical comp) and Blackmon (better tools comp) could look like this: .280/.350/.450 with 18 HR, 27 SB, and 50 BB/120 K. That could be AJ Pollock at maturity. From his pre-draft report at Baseball America (I’d link to it but BA’s site is so bad that I have to log in and log out almost a half-dozen times any time I want to see old draft reports like this)…

Pollock stands out most for his athleticism and pure hitting ability from the right side. He has a simple approach, a quick bat and strong hands. Scouts do say he’ll have to stop cheating out on his front side and stay back more on pitches in pro ball…He projects as a 30 doubles/15 homers threat in the majors, and he’s a slightly above-average runner who has plus speed once he gets going. Pollock also has good instincts and a solid arm in center field.

Minus the part about the right side, that could easily fit for Ray. For good measure, here’s the Pollock (top) and Ray (bottom) draft year comparison…

.365/.445/.610 – 30 BB/24 K – 21/25 SB – 241 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Not too far off the mark. I’m coming around on Pollock as a potential big league peak comp for Ray. I think there are a lot of shared traits, assuming you’re as open to looking past the difference in handedness as I am. A friend offered Starling Marte, another righthanded bat, as an additional point of reference. I can dig it. Blackmon, Pollock, and Marte have each had above-average offensive seasons while showing the physical ability to man center field and swipe a bunch of bags. I also keep coming back to Odubel Herrera as a comparable talent, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there just yet. He fits that overall profile, though. A well-rounded up-the-middle defender with above-average upside at the plate and on the bases who has the raw talent to put up a few star seasons in his peak: that’s the hope with Ray. The few red flags laid out above are enough to make that best case scenario less than a certainty than I’d want in a potential 1-1 pick, but his flaws aren’t so damning that the top ten (possibly top five) should be off the table.

1.6 – Oakland Athletics | Florida LHP AJ Puk (12th)

Late April 2016…

I’ve been tough on AJ Puk in the past, but I think I’m finally ready to give in. I’m at peace with him being the first overall pick in this year’s draft. I mean, we all knew the Phillies were all over him going back to when Pat Gillick went south down to Gainesville to watch him throw during fall ball, but only know am I ready to accept it as a good thing. Or, perhaps more accurately, I can now accept it at least as a non-bad thing. This was written here back in October…

If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

(It’s pretty great for Phillies fans that they can now swap out Giles’s name for Velasquez, Appel, and Eshelman. I’ve saved this analysis for friends and family I like to annoy with this sort of thing via email, but there are so many Cubs/Phillies rebuild parallels that it’s freaky. The only bummer is that there is no Kris Bryant in this class and that the Phillies might be too good in 2016 to land a Kyle Schwarber type next June. Still, where the Cubs were last year, I expect the Phillies to be in 2018. Enjoy this down time while you can, Mets and Nationals. The Phillies are coming fast.)

Now that May is here it’s time to accept the inevitability of Puk wearing red pinstripes…or, more immediately, Clearwater Thresher red and blue. I’ve long been in the “like but not love” camp when it comes to Puk, partly because of my belief there were superior talents ahead of him in this class and partly because of the handful of red flags that dot his dossier. The three biggest knocks on Puk coming into the season were, in some order, 1) command, 2) inconsistent quality of offspeed offerings, and 3) good but not great athleticism. It says a lot about what he does well that he’s risen as a prospect in my mind despite not really answering any of the questions we had for him coming into the season. All of this has held up so far…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll be quick to point out again that it says “prospect version of Madison Bumgarner” without speaking to what the San Francisco ace grew into as a finished product in the big leagues. Bumgarner is a kind of special player who just kept adding on and getting better as he progressed up the chain. That’s not something that you can predict for any other prospect, though you can’t really rule it out either. You don’t know either way, is the point. Putting Bumgarner aside for now, I think there are two recent-ish draft lefthanders that can help create a basis for what to expect out of AJ Puk in the early stages of his pro career. In terms of a realistic prospect upside, Puk reminds me a great deal of recently promoted big league pitcher Sean Manaea.

Their deliveries are hardly identical – Puk is more over the top while Manaea slings it from more of an angle, plus Puk has a more pronounced step-back with his right foot at the onset and a longer stride, both aspects of his delivery that I personally like as it gives him better balance throughout – but they aren’t so different that you’d point to mechanics as a reason for tossing the comparison aside. They have similar stuff starting with fastballs close in velocity and movement (Puk has been 90-94 this year, up to 97), inconsistent yet promising low- to mid-80s sliders that flash above-average to plus (82-86 and more frequently showing above-average this year for Puk), and changeups still in need of development that clearly would be classified as distant third pitches (Puk’s has been 82-88 so far). Both have missed a lot of bats while also having their ups and downs in the control department with Puk being better at the former while Manaea maintained a slight edge at the latter. Both are also very well-proportioned, physical lefthanders with intimidating size with which they know how to use to their advantage.

A cautionary comparison for Puk might be current Mariners minor leaguer James Paxton. Paxton and Puk are closer mechanically – more similar with the height of their leg kick and overall arm action, though Paxton is more deliberate across the board — than Manaea and Puk, but the big difference between the former SEC lefthander and the current SEC lefthander is the breaking ball. Paxton’s bread and butter is a big overhand curve, a pitch that remains unhittable to this day when he can command it. Puk’s slider has its moments and it’s fair to expect it to develop into a true big league out-pitch (I do), but it’s not quite on that level yet. Paxton’s career has stalled for many of the same reasons some weren’t particularly high on Puk coming into the season: up and down fastball velocity partly attributable to a series of nagging injuries (also a problem of Manaea’s at times), an underdeveloped changeup, and consistently inconsistent command. I think Puk is ahead of where Paxton was at similar points in their development and prefer his ceiling to what we’ve seen out of Paxton to date, but the realistic floor comp remains in play.

One additional notable (or not) similarity between Puk, Manaea, Paxton, and Sean Newcomb, a fourth player often thrown into the mix as a potential Puk point of reference (it’s not bad, but Newcomb’s control issues are greater than anything Puk has dealt with), comes via each player’s respective hometown. We’ve got Cedar Rapids (IA), Valparaiso (IN), Ladner (BC), and Brockton (MA). That’s two raised in the Midwest, one in Canada, and one in New England. When you start to piece everything together, the similar career trajectories for each young pitcher (so far) begin to make some sense. All come from cold weather locales, all are large men with long limbs (thus making coordinating said limbs more of a challenge), and all are lefthanders, a fact that may or may not matter to you depending on your view of whether or not lefties really do develop later than their righthanded counterparts.

Put me down for a realistic Sean Manaea type of upside, a James Paxton floor, and the crazy pipe dream where literally everything works out developmentally ceiling of Madison Bumgarner. Do those potential career paths add up to a 1-1 draft pick? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet.

Early May 2016…

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

1.7 – Miami Marlins | Florence HS LHP Braxton Garrett (18th)

LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, Alabama): 87-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average to plus 74-81 CB, best at 80-83 this spring; average to above-average 79-86 CU with plus upside, best at 82-86; 87 cut-SL; plus command; impressive control; damn smart; ESPN comps: Cole Hamels and Jon Lester; FAVORITE; 6-3, 190 pounds

1.8 – San Diego Padres | Stanford RHP Cal Quantrill (20th) 

October 2015…

A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.

April 2016…

On talent alone, Cal Quantrill deserves to be right there with Jefferies as a potential top ten overall pick contender. Last year’s Tommy John surgery and the subsequent lost time in 2016, however, complicate the matter, though it’s hard to say how much. Quantrill’s 77-81 MPH change-up is one of my favorite pitches in this entire class. Easy velocity (89-95, 96 peak), a pair of interesting breaking balls, all kinds of pitchability, and that change-up…what more could you want? Good health, I suppose. A few late season starts would go a very long way in easing the minds of big league scouting directors charged with making the decision whether or not to cut a multi-million dollar check (or cheque in the case of the Canadian born Quantrill) to the Stanford righthander. I recently wondered aloud about how teams will perceive Quantrill in this his draft year…

The attrition at the top of the college pitching pile has left Cal Quantrill, yet to pitch in 2016 as he recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery, one of the college game’s most intriguing mound prospects. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I wonder if the star student out of Stanford knew this and staged the whole elbow injury to allow time for his competition to implode all over the place. That’s a joke. Not a good one, but a joke all the same.

I also have said on the record that I’d consider taking him sight unseen (in 2016) with a pick just outside the draft’s top ten. You might say I’m bullish on Quantrill’s pro prospects.

1.9 – Detroit Tigers | Sheldon HS RHP Matt Manning (23rd)

RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS, California): 90-96 FB with sink, 98-99 peak; above-average 73-79 CB, plus upside; CB runs into an above-average 77-80 SL; 86 CU; plus athlete; Mike Rooney comp: Phil Bickford; leans heavily on FB, pitching off it as well as any other arm in this class; FAVORITE; 6-6, 190 pounds

1.10 – Chicago White Sox | Miami C Zack Collins (6th)

December 2015…

I love JR C/1B Zack Collins as a prospect. His brand of power isn’t typically seen in amateur prospects. His approach, which will always include lots of swings and misses especially on the slow stuff, has matured enough that I think he’ll post average or better on-base numbers as a pro. He’s what we would charitably call a “work in progress” behind the plate, but all of the buzz out of fall practice (always positive and player-friendly, it should be noted) seems to indicate he may have turned the corner defensively. The comparisons to Kyle Schwarber make all the sense in the world right now: they are both big guys who move better than you’d think with defensive questions at their primary position, massive raw power, the ability to unleash said power in game action, and a patient approach that leads to loads of walks and whiffs. The edge for Schwarber comes in his hit tool; I think Schwarber’s was and will be ahead of Collins’s, so we’re talking the difference between above-average to average/slightly below-average. That hit tool combined with plus raw power, an approach I’m fond of, and the chance of playing regularly behind the plate (with an all-around offensive profile good enough to thrive elsewhere) make Collins one of my favorite 2016 draft prospects.

In what has to be a sign that I’ve been doing this too long (and/or I’m getting old and my brain is turning into mush), I kept coming back to a lefthanded hitting Mike Napoli comparison for Collins. I remembered seeing that for Kyle Schwarber (first mentioned by Aaron Fitt, I believe) and liking it, so the continued connection made sense. What I didn’t remember was this…

1B/C Zack Collins (American Heritage HS, Florida): impressive bat speed; good approach; really advanced bat, close to best in class; above-average to plus raw power; really good at 1B; might be athletic enough for corner OF; much improved defender behind plate; Mike Napoli comp by me; FAVORITE; 6-3, 215 pounds

That was from June of 2013. I had no idea I went with the Napoli comparison already. I’m plagiarizing myself at this point. Speaking of things I’ve written about Collins in the past…

Collins’ monster freshman season has me reevaluating so much of what I thought I knew about college hitters. I see his line (.298/.427/.556 with 42 BB/47 K in 205 AB) and my first instinct is to nitpick it. That’s insane! In the pre-BBCOR era, you might be able to get away with parsing those numbers and finding some tiny things to get on him about, but in today’s offensive landscape those numbers are as close to perfection as any reasonable human being could expect to see out of a freshman. Player development is rarely linear, but if Collins can stay on or close to the path he’s started, he’s going to an unholy terror by the time the 2016 draft rolls around. Here’s a quick look at what the college hitters taken in the first dozen picks in the BBCOR era (and Collins) did as freshmen (ranked in order of statistical goodness according to me)…

Kris Bryant: .365/.482/.599 – 33 BB/55 K – 197 AB
Michael Conforto: .349/.437/.601 – 24 BB/37 K – 218 AB
Colin Moran: .335/.442/.540 – 47 BB/33 K – 248 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .298/.427/.556 – 42 BB/47 K – 205 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .300/.390/.513 – 30 BB/24 K – 230 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .274/.378/.442 – 34 BB/43 K – 215 AB
DJ Peterson: .317/.377/.545 – 15 BB/52 K – 246 AB
Hunter Dozier: .315/.363/.467 – 12 BB/34 K – 197 AB
Max Pentecost: .277/.364/.393 – 21 BB/32 K – 191 AB

I’d say Collins stacks up pretty darn well at this point. Looking at this list also helps me feel better about their being a touch too much swing-and-miss in Collins’ game (see previous heretofore ignored inclination to nitpick). It is also another data point in favor of that popular and so logical it can’t be ignored comparison between Collins and fellow “catcher” Kyle Schwarber. Baseball America also threw out a Mark Teixeira comp, which is damn intriguing. I won’t include Teixeira’s freshmen numbers because that was back in the toy bat years, but from a scouting standpoint it’s a comp that makes a good bit of sense.

Hinting at a comparison to a Hall of Very Good player like Teixeira was jumping the gun a little, but I’m as bullish on Collins’s future than ever after his strong sophomore season at the plate. Here’s the same comparison as above updated with sophomore season statistics…

Kris Bryant: .366/.483/.671 – 39 BB/38 K – 213 AB
Michael Conforto: .328/.447/.526 – 41 BB/47 K – 247 AB
Colin Moran: .365/.434/.494 – 21 BB/24 K – 170 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 242 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .366/.456/.647 – 42 BB/37 K – 235 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .299/.447/.517 – 62 BB/35 K – 234 AB
DJ Peterson: .419/.490/.734 – 33 BB/29 K – 248 AB
Hunter Dozier: .357/.431/.595 – 29 BB/42 K – 227 AB
Max Pentecost: .302/.374/.410 – 22 BB/27 K – 212 AB

Just going off of raw numbers, I’d put Collins fourth out of this group in 2014. Using the numbers above, I’d probably knock him down to the fifth spot with a couple of new names now ahead of him. Also, I erroneously claimed that all those guys were taken in the draft’s first dozen picks when Casey Gillaspie didn’t get selected until the twentieth pick. Doesn’t change the premise, but still worth noting. If we go back to the first dozen picks as a cut-off, then we’d have to add these guys from 2015…

Dansby Swanson: .333/.411/.475 – 37 BB/49 K – 22/27 SB – 282 AB
Alex Bregman: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
Andrew Benintendi: .376/.488/.717 – 50 BB/32 K – 24/28 SB – 226 AB
Ian Happ: .322/.443/.497 – 32 BB/35 K – 19/24 SB – 171 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 7/8 SB – 242 AB

Seeing Swanson and Bregman at the top like that makes you appreciate how historically significant having so many college shortstops go early last really was. If we expanded this to the top twenty, we’d have to add fellow shortstops Kevin Newman and Richie Martin. Having players with real defensive value skews the data some, but if we all agree to put it in context in our own terms then we should be fine. Long story short here: Zack Collins is in very good company when stacked up against peers who went very high in the draft. As a first baseman only, I’d predict (maybe boldly, maybe not) that he still would be selected on the draft’s first day. If his rumored improvements behind the plate are real, then I don’t see why he can’t keep mashing his way into top ten consideration just like Kyle Schwarber before him.

April 2016…

I’m close to out of superlatives for Zack Collins’s bat. If he can catch, he’s a superstar. If he can’t, then he’s still a potential big league power bat capable of hitting in the middle of the championship lineup for the next decade. I realize first basemen aren’t typically sought after at the top of the draft. There are perfectly valid reasons for that. But any time you have the chance at a potential top five bat at any given position, I think it’s all right to bend the rules a little. Positional value is important, but so is premium offensive production. Collins hitting and hitting a lot as a professional is one of the things I’m most sure about in this draft class.

May 2016…

He’s the one I’ve comped to Schwarber stylistically. I actually think Collins is the better catcher and could stick there as a pro. Still might be best moving him out from behind the plate. I’ve just come up with a terrifying comp for him…Joey Votto. Maybe he’s one of those hitters that we shouldn’t compare young guys to, but then again…at the same age, Votto hit .256/.330/.425 with 52 BB/122 K in A+ ball. I could see Collins going to A/A+ this year after the draft and doing similar stuff.

1.11 – Seattle Mariners | Mercer OF Kyle Lewis (4th)

February 2016…

I’m an unabashed Kyle Lewis fan. I’m also a fan of hitters who can control the strike zone, spoil pitchers’s pitches, work favorable counts, and punish baseballs when ahead. Right now, that description only partially describes Lewis…and even that requires a more optimistic outlook than some are willing to take at this point in time. So how can those two statements be reconciled? It’s a dangerous thing for my credibility to admit, but call it an educated hunch that the 20-year-old Lewis will figure things out as a hitter. It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

A big part of what makes hitting unique is that it can mean different things to different evaluators. There’s no wrong way to define “hitting,” so long as it remains consistent report to report. When I personally talk hitting, I’m including everything that I think goes into what separates a good hitter from a not so good hitter. If that means there’s overlap with other tools (power, most notably) and abilities (athleticism, hand-eye coordination, work ethic), then so be it. Hitting can be broken up into all kinds of smaller sub-components, but the three central facets are “hitting” (contact skills, bat-to-ball ability, mechanics), power (fairly self-explanatory), and approach (having a plan at the plate, both early and late in counts). The hitting and power components are relatively easy to identify with practice — there’s a reason they are two of the oft-cited five tools — but approach has always been the great mystery of amateur scouting. This is problematic for guys like me who place a great deal of importance on the approach piece of the pie; without an approach up to a certain standard, the hit and power tools will suffer greatly. I know some scouts will argue for hit over power (i.e., the Kansas City and Pittsburgh approach to scouting and development) or power over hit (where many teams are still at as they struggle to adjust to a post-PED world), but I’ll always be approach over hit/power, with no real preference on the last decision.

So what do I look for in young hitters and what does this ultimately have to do with liking Kyle Lewis and his current sub-optimal (per performance metrics) approach so much? I want to see athleticism (both traditional and baseball-specific), ease of mechanical repeatability (swing path, pre-swing movements, and upper- to lower-half coordination are all interesting to me, but ultimately I’m pragmatic: don’t really care how it looks as long as the hitter is comfortable, productive against top competition, and able to consistently do the same thing over and over), a high frequency of “hard” contact (easier judged now thanks to new technology at the pro level, but still a subjective call at the amateur level), and evidence of a planned approach (more about “self-scouting” and less about trying to guess what the hitter is seeing out of the pitcher’s hand — often labelled “pitch recognition,” but a really hard thing for an outsider to claim in my opinion) with every single plate appearance.

The relative importance of hitting the ball to all fields is something I go back and forth on; it’s obviously a good thing, but I think there’s still room in our shift-filled game for a slugger with extreme pull-side power to succeed if he’s good enough at it. For now, I consider it a bonus and not a prerequisite for being an average or better pro hitter. I’m also somewhat divided in thought when it comes to bat speed. As somebody who grew up with a front row seat — well, upper-deck  (sections 420/421!) but it still counts — to watching Chase Utley play every day, I’m not about to downplay the importance of swinging a quick bat. Bat speed is undeniably important, but damn hard to judge in a nuanced way. That could be a personal failing of mine and not a universal issue among real deal scouts, but I’m not sure how the human eye can possibly determine bat speed beyond differentiating between “whoa,” “decent,” and “slow.” Maybe you could attempt to circle back to existing scouting language and separate a bit more (plus, above-average, average, below-average), but even that only teases out one extra descriptive layer. Short of measuring bat speed electronically, we’re left at doing our best to approximate what we see in an instant.

There’s also always going to be the most basic aspect of scouting: how does he look when he’s doing what he does. Think of this as an informed “gut” instinct. That’s so much of what scouting is: educated guesses. I wish I had access to some kind of special proprietary video library of every hitter of the past few decades to compare what I’m seeing right this second to what has worked for others historically, but I don’t. Thankfully, our brains are designed to cycle through all that our eyes have perceived and form patterns based on positive outcomes. That magic video library is inside each and every one of us obsessives who watches baseball on a daily basis. This will always be the most subjective aspect of scouting — everybody has a “type” and we’re all preconditioned to prefer those who fit that mold — but that doesn’t mean it’s not without value. And, yes, Kyle Lewis is my type, thank you very much.

Acknowledging that we all have our own preconceived notions about what is best lends further credence to the idea that sweeping proclamations about whether or not a young guy will hit aren’t wise. We can all make our best guesses — some of us having to do so with millions of dollars on the line — but ultimately these hitters will or won’t hit as pros. There’s already some interesting “expert” noise out there about Florida OF Buddy Reed’s swing being unsuitable to the challenges of the pro game. That’s a fair criticism (when substantiated beyond the boring blanket statement of “I just don’t like that swing”), but consider me preemptively bummed out to read (in the event of him being a great pro) how it wasn’t a scouting miss per se but rather a developmental success. No way could it be that his swing wasn’t misidentified as a bad one. Nooo, it was the impossible to predict reworking of his swing as a pro that led to his (again, entirely hypothetical) pro success. In other words, be careful what you read about a young hitter’s ability to adjust to the pro game. Nobody on the outside really knows — heck, neither do the supposed insiders! — so beware anybody who claims to have some kind of soothsaying abilities when prognosticating raw amateur bats. These guys are often the first to explain away their misses under the guise of unforeseen pro development. Here I am thinking that making that determination was part of the scouting process — silly me!

Kyle Lewis hit .367/.423/.677 last year in a decent college conference. That’s good, clearly. His 19 BB/41 K ratio is less good. So why buy the bat? As a hitter, I like what I’ve seen and heard about his righthanded swing. I like that he seemingly improved his approach (aggressively hunting for “his” pitch showed good self-scouting while getting ahead more frequently late in the year demonstrated a fuller understanding of what it will take to succeed against top-level competition) and started chasing fewer pitchers’s pitches as the season went on. I like his physical projection, public and privately shared intel about his work ethic, bat speed (I’ve seen some “whoa” cuts from him), and how his athleticism allows his upper- and lower-body to work in concern with one another with each swing. Believe me, I understand doubting him now as a potential top ten pick and dark horse to go 1-1 in this draft based on a wait-and-see approach to his plate discipline; if improvements aren’t made in his draft year BB/K ratio, all the positive scouting buzz will matter a lot less to me come June. But part of college scouting early in the season is identifying players set to make the leap as juniors. I think Lewis’s leap as a more mature, thoughtful, and explosive hitter has already begun, and it’ll be reflected on the field this upcoming season. I’ve thrown out a Yasiel Puig comp in the past for his ceiling and I’m sticking with that for now. As an added prospect to prospect bonus, his game reminds me some of Anthony Alford. Your mileage might vary on how in the draft a player like that could go, but it sure sounds like a potential premium pick to me.

1.12 – Boston Red Sox | Barnegat HS LHP Jay Groome (1st)

April 2016…

Working in Jay Groome’s favor is how advanced he is for a teenager. Unlike with many high school prospects, the expectation of a five year (give or take) waiting period does not apply. A big league cameo in September 2019 a month after turning 21-years-old is in play. Whether we’re talking fantasy or real life, nobody has to be told how rare true big league ace upside is. Adding Groome to the Phillies sudden — love how only in a baseball rebuild could eighteen months or so be considered sudden — pitching surplus would give them a potential difference-maker to pair with their otherwise more good than great (yet plentiful) collection of young hurlers.

May 2016…

I’ll warn everybody now that what you are about to read is the most annoyingly negative report on a pitcher coming off of a six-inning, fourteen strikeout performance as you could possibly imagine. That may be a pretty big stunner (or not, I’m no mind reader) to regular readers who ought to know two things about me by now: 1) I’m relentlessly positive about prospects, and 2) I’ve had Groome as my first overall prospect in this draft since late last summer and never really considered making a switch after seeing the big lefty throw three earlier times this winter/spring. I walked away from last night’s effort wondering if Groome’s stranglehold on the top spot should finally be loosened. Part of the thinking there is that Groome came into this start with an almost impossibly high bar set by his previous performances over the past calendar year. I wanted to see him go out there tonight and cement his status as the draft’s clear top prospect, and finally, mercifully, end the 1-1 discussion once and for all. If that sounds like the idiocy of getting on a player for not meeting my own arbitrarily set standards for his performance, then you’re exactly right. I’m not proud of that attitude, but I think a hyper-critical eye is needed when trying to separate a top ten talent (which Groome certainly is) from a potential 1-1 candidate (which he was 100% going in…and still could be even after a dominating statistical night that somehow left me wanting more).

Groome came out firing in the first with a string of low-90s fastballs (93, 94, 92, 93) before dropping a picture perfect 78 MPH curveball that made the Gloucester Catholic’s leadoff man’s knees buckle and the crowd of scouts and execs behind home plate (as well as a few thousand of their closest friends) audibly “oooh.” Incredibly, that was just the first of five different “oooh” curves he’d throw all night: there were two more in the fifth inning and two more after that in his sixth and final frame. I had that pitch ranging from 74-78 on the evening. Everything about the pitch is plus to plus-plus, though I think you could quibble some with a slightly slowed arm speed on the offering that tips it just enough for HS hitters to notice, but not nearly enough for them to react. The pitch is so good that there’s a chance he can get away with the slight pause in pro ball for a while; obvious point is obvious, but that’s really high praise. Groome’s curve is special and that alone makes him a top ten prospect in this class.

After going 93, 94, 92, 93, and 78 on the first batter, Groome went 93, 77, 92, 94, and 93 to the second hitter. That basic pattern — work off the fastball, mix in one curve per plate appearance — was followed by Groome for much of the game. I won’t say my notes were perfect — my focus on the fast-paced, well-pitched (though admittedly not particularly crisply played otherwise) game was a solid 98% throughout, but taking in the atmosphere occasionally led to a missed radar reading or two — but I only had Groome dropping two curves to the same batter on four occasions. This strategy obviously worked (14 strikeouts is 14 strikeouts) with the threat of a bigger fastball than he wound up showing, average fastball command that flashed better in certain at bats, and that devastating curve ranking as the reasons why in ascending order of importance.

Everything you’ve already seen, read, or heard about Groome’s mechanics held up. They are close to picture perfect. I’ve long been on the record of only caring about mechanical extremes, and I’d say with great confidence that Groome’s arm action and delivery are on that happy tail of the bell curve. With his frame, bulked up from a boy late last summer to a rock solid man by now (though I’d argue with some loss of athleticism), his age, and those textbook mechanics, it’s easy to imagine a day in the not so distant future where Groome is a consistent mid-90s arm if he wants to be. Of course, that’s all projection at this point: Groome’s velocity on this day fluctuated from those early game low-90s peaks to a strange middle inning dip to the mid- to upper-80s. I was almost positive while watching live that he wasn’t working in his changeup — some around me thought otherwise, for what it’s worth* — but I had him with an 85, 86, 87, and four 89’s between innings three and five. After thinking about it some more I could buy the mid-80s pitches being his attempt at the change to give the scouts a little taste of his third pitch; if so, I’ve seen it look better, but the arm action sure looked like the fastball, so at least there was that. Still, the 89’s for a well-rested teenage arm on a nice night weren’t exactly typical of what we’ve come to expect out of a potential first overall pick. He rebounded some in his final inning, sitting 90-91 with his fastball while relying more on the curve than in any other part of the game to that point. His final pitch of the night was a 92 MPH fastball that was swung through for eighth strikeout in a row to end the game and fourteenth overall.

(* Groome himself identified the pitch as a change: “As far as my command goes, I think that’s pretty good, but I need to show a little more depth to my changeup. I’m not really getting out in front of it and left a couple up high today. They fouled it off, they didn’t really make me pay. Later on down the road, I have to get that good depth on it.”)

This is the point in the report where I’m supposed to make a grand conclusion about what I saw out of Groome on the night. Well, I’ve got nothing. I selfishly wanted to see Groome at his very best — again, it’s worth pointing out that the man had fourteen strikeouts in six innings and that’s not his best — so that I could walk away ready to declare the race for 1-1 and top spot on my board over. The obvious good news is the confirmation that his curve and mechanics are both 1-1 caliber. His fastball has been in the past, but wasn’t on this night. I’m not terribly concerned about one good but not great velocity night — the fastball was still commanded fairly well (average to above-average), had such obvious late life that even my old eyes could see it, and came out of a deceptive enough slot that it had hitters taking bad swings all evening long — but I think the summer showcase version of Groome’s heater is (unsurprisingly) less the real thing than what we’ve seen out of him this spring. His changeup remains an open question, but that’s not atypical for a big-time high school arm with Groome’s brand of one-two punch locked and loaded for bear most starts. The development of his physique continues to surprise me — it’s as if he finds a way to pack on a pound or three of good weight every time I see him — but I do worry some that he’s getting close to the danger zone of sacrificing some looseness and athleticism, both facets of his game that excited me so much about him last summer, for strength. Add it all up (above-average fastball with plus upside, clear plus curve, changeup with a chance to be average, elegant mechanics, and a pro-ready body) and it’s clear that Jay Groome is a really, really good pitching prospect. What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not he’s the best amateur prospect in the country. For some, not yet knowing is knowing; when the risk of taking a teenage arm gets factored in, Groome not being a slam dunk pick above the rest means the risk is too great to pass on similarly valued peers (Puk, Lewis, Moniak, Rutherford, Perez, Ray, whomever) with more certainty. I think that’s where the Phillies are currently at in their evaluation. Between Groome’s staggering perfect world ceiling and moderate (for a HS arm) floor (less projection in his body than most, plus his mechanics portend good things to come) and the less than thrilling options that surround him at the top of the class, I’d have a hard time removing his name from 1-1 consideration if I was in charge of such a pick.

1.13 – Tampa Bay Rays | Pope HS 3B Josh Lowe (9th)

December 2015…

When I go through my mental rolodex of every player I’ve seen up close, few stand out as more impressive than Lowe. He makes the most challenging sport to play well look easy, often comically so. As a third baseman, I’d put him down for plus tools in foot speed, arm strength, and raw power. Then there’s also his obvious exceptional athleticism – guys who can pitch and hit and field at his level tend to only get away with it by being pretty special athletically – and a measured, smart approach to hitting that is almost as if he has the strike zone knowledge of, you guessed it, a top pitching prospect.

April 2016…

I know Mickey Moniak has the alliterative name thing going for him, but Josh Lowe is the closest thing to a Marvel-style super hero in this year’s high school class. What can’t he do? Three clear plus tools (power, arm, speed) with two sure to help in fantasy, stellar defense at the hot corner, elite athleticism, and the fallback option of taking his talents (90-95 FB, intriguing CU and SL) to the mound. Lowe has the raw talent to be one of the best third basemen in baseball.

May 2016…

He’s a little bit of a higher variance prospect than [Nolan] Jones – more upside if it all clicks, but less certainty he turns into a solid professional than I’d put on Jones – so if I was a real scouting director with real future earnings on the line, I’m not sure I’d take him quite as high as he could wind up on my final rankings. The possibility, however, that he winds up as the best player to come out of this class is very real. He reminds me just a little bit of an opposite-hand version of this guy

Bryant entered the summer with lofty expectations, but he often looked overmatched at the plate during the showcase circuit last summer. When he’s on, he’s a treat to watch. He has a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and light-tower power that draws comparisons to a young Troy Glaus. The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he’s struggling. He’s athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn’t be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound. Some scouts love Bryant’s power enough to take him in the back half of the first round, while others turned him in as a token gesture and have little interest in him–especially for the price it will take to lure him away from his San Diego commitment.

I really, really like Josh Lowe, if that’s not already clear. I mean, I did once kind of compare him to Babe Ruth. I think a team would be justified taking either Lowe or Jones in the top ten…and quite possibly the top five…or maybe even top three. Let me stop now before I really get too far ahead of myself.

 1.14 – Cleveland Indians | Westminster Schools OF Will Benson (57th)

December 2015…

Will Benson has gotten the Jason Heyward comp for just about a full year now because that’s what happens when you’re a Georgia high school player built like he is (6-6, 220) with a future right fielder profile. The comparison ceases to work when you factor in pesky factors beyond size and geography; the inclusion of baseball ability (defense and plate discipline, most notably) muddles it up, but it’s still good fun at this point in the draft process. Even though he’s not Heyward, Benson does a lot well. He’s got electric bat speed, he moves really well for a big guy, and he’s as strong as you’d expect from looking at him. If he cleans up his approach and keeps working on his defense then maybe those Heyward comparisons will begin to look a little bit smarter. Or not! It’s December and we’re talking about teenagers, so nothing is written in ink.

April 2016…

The name Will Benson brings about all kinds of colorful opinions from those paid to watch him regularly. To call him a divisive prospect at this point would be an understatement. If you love him, then you love his power upside, defensive aptitude, and overwhelming physicality. If you’re cool on him, then he’s more of a future first baseman with a questionable hit tool, inconsistent approach, and overrated athleticism. I’m closer to the love said than not, but I think both the lovers and the haters can at least agree that his bat speed is explosive, his frame is intriguing, and his sheer strength as a human being should beget some monstrous BP performances.

May 2016…

I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

 1.15 – Minnesota Twins | Plum Senior HS OF Alex Kirilloff (15th)

December 2015…

Alex Kirilloff is a clear step down athletically from the rest of the top tier, but, man, can he hit. If I would have kept him at first base on these rankings then there’s no question he would have finished atop that position list. He’s behind potential stars like Moniak, Rutherford, McIlwain, Benson, and Tuck for now, but that’s for reasons of defensive upside and athleticism more than anything. By June, Kirilloff’s bat might be too loud to be behind a few of those names. Seeing him this spring is a high priority for me; considering his high school plays home games about five hours away from me (to those that don’t know: Pennsylvania is a sneaky long state), that should say a lot about what I think of him as a prospect. The fact that I could stop off and get a Colossal Fish & Cheese sandwich (delicious on its own and made better with the side of nostalgia that comes with it as it was part of my first official meal as a married man last summer) only sweetens the deal. Recent draft trends have pushed athletic prep outfielders up draft boards at the expense of bigger bats, but I think Kirilloff is good enough to break through.

April 2016…

As a hitter, Kirilloff can really do it all: big raw power, plus bat speed, a mature approach, and a hit tool so promising that almost every scout has agreed that he’s an advanced hitter who happens to hit for power rather than the other way around. He’s the rare high school prospect who could hit enough to have confidence in him as a pro even if eventually confined to first base.

May 2016…

Another potential angle with this year’s prep outfielders is one that has been generally underplayed by the experts so far this spring. My sources, such as they are, have led me to believe that there is serious internal debate among many scouting staffs about the respective merits of [Blake] Rutherford and Kirilloff. The idea that there’s a consensus favorite between the two among big league scouting departments is apparently way off the mark. This may surprise many draft fans who have read about 100x more on Rutherford this spring than Kirilloff, but I think the confusion at the top of the high school outfield class is real. I’d guess that most teams have either [Mickey] Moniak or Rutherford in the first spot; the teams that Moniak first, however, might not necessarily have Rutherford behind him at second. Kirilloff is far more liked by teams than many of the expert boards I’ve seen this spring.

It’s really hard to break down two different high school hitters from two different coasts, but I’ll do my best with what I have to compare Rutherford and Kirilloff. This is hardly a definitive take because, like just about any of my evaluations, I’m just one guy making one final call based on various inputs unique to the information I have on hand. I’m not a scout; I’m just a guy who pretends to know things on the internet. I give Kirilloff the slight edge in raw power, a definite arm strength advantage, and a very narrow lead in bat speed. Rutherford has the better swing (very close call), defensive upside (his decent chance to stay in center for a few years trumps Kirilloff’s average corner outfield/plus first base grades), and hit tool. The two are very close when it comes to approach (both plate discipline and ability to drive it to all fields), athleticism (another slight lean Rutherford, but Kirilloff is underrated here), and foot speed. I actually had Kirilloff ahead by a hair going into the NHSI, but Rutherford’s run of fantastic plate appearances on day two were too much to ignore. Both are great prospects and very much worth top half of the first round selections. I can’t wait to see how high they wind up on my final board.

1.16 – Los Angeles Angels | Virginia C Matt Thaiss (27th)

October 2015…

Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.

December 2015…

I still like Matt Thaiss as the draft’s top college catcher (with Zack Collins and the reports of his improved defense coming on very fast), but Okey and a host of others remain just a half-step behind as we enter the spring season.

March 2016…

Not everybody is convinced that Thaiss is the real deal, but I am. His one big remaining question heading into the year (defense) has been answered in a decidedly positive manner this spring. He showed enough in high school to garner Brian McCann comps from Baseball America, he hit as a sophomore, and he’s off to a blistering start (including a nifty 15 BB/2 K ratio) in 2016. He’s going early in this draft due in part to our odd rules, but he’s a first round selection on merit.

1.17 – Houston Astros | Alamo Heights HS RHP Forrest Whitley (26th)

April 2016…

You really shouldn’t have a first round mock draft that doesn’t include at least one big prep righthander from Texas. It just doesn’t feel right. Whitley, standing in at a strapping 6-7, 240 pounds, has the requisite fastball velocity (88-94, 96 peak) to pair with a cadre of power offspeed stuff. We’re talking a devastating when on upper-80s cut-slider and an average or better mid-80s split-change that has been clocked as high as 90 MPH. I’m not sure how power on power on power would work against pro hitters — this is NOT a comp, but I guess Jake Arrieta has found a way to do it — but I’m looking forward to finding out.

RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS, Texas): 88-94 FB, 96-97 peak; above-average to plus 82-90 cut-SL; above-average 76-81 CB, flashes plus (some call truer SL); average or better 79-87 split-CU, up to 90; legit four-pitch mix; 6-7, 225 pounds

1.18 – New York Yankees | Chaminade Prep HS OF Blake Rutherford (11th)

December 2015…

Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

April 2016…

At some point it’s prudent to move away from the safety of college hitters and roll the dice on one of the best high school athletes in the country. Blake Rutherford is just that. Him being older than ideal for a high school senior gives real MLB teams drafting in the top five something extra to consider, but it could work to his advantage developmentally in terms of fantasy. He’s a little bit older, a little bit more filled-out, and a little bit more equipped to deal with the daily rigors of professional ball than your typical high school prospect. That’s some extreme spin about one of Rutherford’s bigger red flags — admittedly one that is easily resolved within a scouting department: either his age matters or not since it’s not like it’s changing (except up by one day like us all) any time soon — but talking oneself into glossing over a weakness is exactly what fantasy drafting is all about. I like Rutherford more in this range in the real draft than in the mix at 1-1.

May 2016…

We already ran down a number of the popular comps for Moniak, so we might as well give in to the same temptation with Rutherford. This has surely been a very painful read for the anti-comps crowd out there. My bad. As for Rutherford, the list of comps out there is impressive: Grady Sizemore (Fangraphs), Jim Edmonds (Baseball America), David Justice (swing only from Perfect Game), and Trot Nixon (I forget) are just a few of the big names tossed around this spring. I’ve likened Rutherford to a remixed version of both Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in the past, and I think there’s a chance that he might wind up as a player who has the best qualities of both of his soon-to-be fellow minor league outfield prospects. One fun outside the box comp that I heard recently was a young, lefthanded version of Moises Alou. It’s not totally crazy. Here are some of the old Alou scouting reports I could dig up…

1990: “All tools above. Good hitting approach – with power. Not good base stealer – as yet. Great body for speed and power. Good stroke – stays inside ball. Very strong arm. Confident young man…plus tools. Good outfielder. Future All Star…perhaps not in CF but in RF. Would exhaust CF first.”

1992: 7 hit, 6 power, 6 speed, 5 arm, 7 glove, 6 range “Good young player. Live body, All Star potential. Good contact type. 10-15 HR. SB potential 20-25. Everyday OF.”

Funny that 6 power meant 10-15 home runs to that one scout (doubly so when we remember the offensive environment at the time), but grades aren’t as easily translated as the bigger publications who push grading every prospect in every tool because that’s the only way to cover minor league prospects would have you think. Did that get a little ranty? Whoops. Anyway, I think a lot of those grades and notes on Alou could be very easily be lifted instead from a report on Rutherford. His upside is that of a consistently above-average offensive regular outfielder while defensively being capable of either hanging in center for a bit (a few years of average glove work out there would be nice) or excelling in an outfield corner (making this switch early could take a tiny bit of pressure off him as he adjusts to pro pitching). His floor, like almost all high school hitters, is AA bat with holes in his swing that are exploited by savvier arms.

1.19 – New York Mets | Boston College RHP Justin Dunn (35th)

December 2014…

There are some interesting pitchers to monitor including strong senior sign candidate RHP John Gorman and statistical favorite JR LHP Jesse Adams, but the best two arms on the staff from where I’m sitting are both 2016 prospects (SO RHPs Justin Dunn [huge fan of his] and Mike King).

December 2015…

JR RHP Justin Dunn has the chance to have the kind of big junior season that puts him in the top five round conversation this June. Like Adams and Nicklas, Dunn’s size might be a turn-off for some teams. Unlike those guys, it figures to be easier to overlook because of a potent fastball/breaking ball one-two punch. Though he’s matured as a pitcher in many ways since enrolling at BC, he’s still a little rough around the edges with respect to both his command and control. His arm speed (consistently 90-94, up to 96) and that aforementioned low-80s slider are what put him in the early round mix. If he can continue to make strides with his command and control and gain a little consistency with a third pitch (he’s shown both a CB and a CU already, but both need work), then he’ll really rise. That’s a pretty obvious statement now that I read it back, but I think it probably can apply to about 75% of draft prospects before the season begins. No sense in hiding from it, I suppose.

April 2016…

I came very close to putting Justin Dunn in the top spot. If he continues to show that he can hold up as a starting pitcher, then there’s a chance he winds up as the best pitching prospect in this conference by June. I’d love to see a better change-up between now and then as well.

1.20 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Indian Trail HS SS Gavin Lux (73rd)

December 2015…

I’m a huge fan of Gavin Lux and think he could wind up in the first round conversation come June.

May 2016…

Lux is a really intriguing young hitter with the chance to come out of this draft as arguably the best all-around hitter (contact, pop, patience) in this high school class. That may be a bit rich, but I’d at least say his straight hit tool ranks only below Mickey Moniak, Carlos Cortes, and Joe Rizzo. If his bat plays above-average in all three phases – he could/should be there with contact and approach while his raw power floats somewhere in that average to above-average range – then he’d certainly be in the mix. A fun name that I’ve heard on Lux that may or may not have been influenced by geography: a bigger, stronger Scooter Gennett. Here’s some of what Baseball America had on Gennett in his draft year…

He profiles as an offensive second baseman, while Florida State intends for him to start at shortstop as a freshman. He’s a grinder with surprising power and bat speed for his size (a listed 5-foot-10, 170 pounds), and though he can be streaky, his bat is his best tool. He’s a better runner on the field than in showcase events, but he’s closer to average than above-average in that department. Defensively he gets the most of his ability, with his range and arm better suited for the right side of the infield than the left. He’s agile, though, and a solid athlete. Gennett would be a crucial get for Florida State, if he gets there. Most scouts consider him a third-to-fifth round talent.

A bigger, stronger, and arguably better (especially when likelihood to stick at short is factored in) Gennett feels about right, both in terms of draft stock (second to fourth round talent, maybe with a shot to sneak into the late first) and potential pro outcome. It should be noted that Lux’s defensive future is somewhat in flux. I think he’s athletic enough with enough arm to stick at short for a while, but there are many others who think he’s got second base written all over him. A lot of that likely has to do with his arm – it’s looked strong to me with a really quick release, but there’s debate on that – so I’d bet that there’s little consensus from team to team about his long-term position. Teams that like him to pick him high in the draft will like him best as a shortstop, so it’s my hunch that he’ll at least get a shot to play in the six-spot as a pro to begin his career.

1.21 – Toronto Blue Jays | Pittsburgh RHP TJ Zeuch (30th)

April 2016…

TJ Zeuch has come back from injury seemingly without missing a beat. I’m a big fan of just about everything he does. He’s got the size (6-7, 225), body control, tempo, and temperament to hold up as a starting pitcher for a long time. He’s also got a legit four-pitch mix that allows him to mix and match in ways that routinely leave even good ACC hitters guessing.

Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96-97 peak; average or better 74-81 CB, flashes plus; 82-88 cut-SL, flashes average; 82-86 CU, flashes above-average; legit four-pitch mix; young for class; FAVORITE; 6-7, 225 pounds (2014: 6.63 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 55.2 IP – 2.75 ERA) (2015: 9.20 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 88.1 IP – 3.89 ERA) (2016: 9.57 K/9 – 2.46 BB/9 – 69.2 IP – 3.10 ERA)

1.22 – Pittsburgh Pirates | Wake Forest 1B Will Craig (13th)

January 2016…

I think I’m going to keep touting JR 1B/RHP Will Craig as the righthanded AJ Reed until he starts getting some serious national recognition. I cited that name in the college draft preview from October, so might as well keep mentioning it over and over and over…

Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…

I love Craig. In past years I might back down some from the love from reasons both fair (positional value, certain scouty quibbles about bat speed and timing) and not (seeing him ignored by all the major media outlets so much that I start to question my own judgment), but I see little way that will be the case with Craig. Sure, he could force my hand by cratering out with a disappointing junior season (a la Ryan Howard back in the day), but that would only shift him from sleeper first round talent to sleeper fifth round value. His is a bat I believe in and I’m willing to ride or die with it.

1.23 – St. Louis Cardinals | Colegio Individualizado PJ Education School SS Delvin Perez (5th)

December 2015…

One of the few things I’m sure about with this is class is that it’s loaded with prospects who have the glove to stick at short. Perez leads the way as a no-doubt shortstop who might just be able to hit his way into the top half of the first round. I’d like to see (and hear) more about his bat, but the glove (range, footwork, release, instincts, everything), arm strength, athleticism, and speed add up a potential first round prospect. If that feels like me hedging a bit, you’re exactly right. Teams have and will continue to fall in love with his glove, but the all-mighty bat still lords above every other tool. In some ways, he reminds me of a bigger version of Jalen Miller from last year. He won’t fall as far as Miller (95th overall pick), but if we could all agree that mid-third is his draft floor then I’d feel a lot better about myself.

The Miller half-comp splits the difference (as a prospect, not as a pro) between two other recent comps for Perez that I see: Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado. Long-time readers might remember that I was driving the Mercado bandwagon back in the November before his draft year…

I’m on board with the Mercado as Elvis Andrus 2.0 comps and was out ahead of the “hey, he’s ahead of where Francisco Lindor was at the same stage just a few years ago” talk, so, yeah, you could say I’m a pretty big fan. That came out way smarmier than I would have liked – I’m sorry. The big thing to watch with Mercado this spring will be how he physically looks at the plate; with added strength he could be a serious contender for the top five or so picks, but many of the veteran evaluators who have seen him question whether or not he has the frame to support any additional bulk. Everything else about his game is above-average or better: swing, arm strength, speed, range, hands, release, pitch recognition, instincts.

I bet big on his bat coming around and lost. Mercado went from fifth on my very first board (ten months ahead of the draft, but it still counts) to 81st on the final version to the 57thoverall pick of the draft in June. He’s the cautionary tale (for now) of what a young plus glove at shortstop with a questionable bat can turn out to be. On the flip side, there’s Francisco Lindor…

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.

That pick (and I really shouldn’t say just the pick itself: all of the subsequent development credited to both the individual player and the team should be noted as well) has obviously gone about as well as humanly possible. It’s like the total opposite of what happened to Mercado! Lindor is already a star and looks to be one of the game’s best shortstops for years to come. I’m not ready to hang that kind of outcome on Perez, but I think it’s at least within the realm of realistic paths. I’d say not quite Lindor (15th ranked prospect by me), not quite Mercado (81st), and something more like Miller (46th) is my most honest take on how I generally view Perez at this precise point in time. As the Mercado example shows, drastic change can never be ruled out.

May 2016…

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few different independent sources that are steadfast in their belief that Perez will be the clear best player from this class within three years or less. To say that said reports have helped push me in the recent direction of Perez as a serious candidate to finish in the top spot on my own board would be more than fair. When I think of Perez, I can’t help but draw parallels to Brandon Ingram, freshman star at Duke and sure-fire top two pick in next month’s NBA Draft; more specifically, I think of Perez as the baseball draft version of Ingram (young, indicative of where the game is headed, and the next evolutionary step that can be traced back to a long line of similar yet steadily improving players over the years) when stacked up to Blake Rutherford’s Ben Simmons (both excellent yet perhaps slightly overhyped prospects getting too much love due to physical advantages that won’t always be there). I’m not sure even I buy all of that to the letter (and I lean towards Simmons as the better NBA prospect, so the thing falls apart quickly), but there are certain characteristics that make it fit…and it’s a fun hook.

Also for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few friends who are far from sold on Perez the hitter. That’s obviously a fair counterpoint to all of the enthusiasm found in the preceding avalanche of words. Will Perez hit enough to make the kind of impact worthy of the first overall selection? This takes me back to something tangentially related to Kyle Mercer, another potential 1-1 candidate, back in February

It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

In other words, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The Perez supporters –myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor. I’ll annoyingly repeat what I said about Rodgers here one more time…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely.

That’s what I said last year about Rodgers before eventually ranking him third overall in his class. I have similar thoughts about Perez, but now I’m reconsidering the logic in hedging on putting him anywhere but first overall. A sky high ceiling if he hits and a reasonably realistic useful big league floor if he doesn’t makes him hard to pass on, especially in a class with so few potential stars at the top. He’s blown past Oscar Mercado and Jalen Miller, and now shares a lot of the same traits that have made Francisco Lindor a future star. I don’t see Perez as the type of player you get fired for taking high, but rather the kind of player that has ownership looking at you funny for passing up after he makes it big. All that for a guy who nobody can say with compelling certainty will ever hit. I love the draft.

1.24 – San Diego Padres | Carroll HS SS Hudson Sanchez (248th)

December 2015…

Hudson Sanchez is another favorite and I’m intrigued to see if he’s still got any significant growing left in him; if so, he might be one of those players who can hang at short, but winds up so close to what we envision the ideal third baseman to be that there’s really no other option but to play him at the hot corner in pro ball. Have to appease the Baseball Gods, after all.

May 2016…

Hudson Sanchez, a righthanded bat with some thump out of Texas, is on the opposite side of the age spectrum as one of this class’s youngest prospects. Though not quite the same prospect, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sanchez is just a few weeks behind Perez.

1.25 – San Diego Padres | Kent State LHP Eric Lauer (52nd)

October 2015…

I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.

February 2016…

As much as I like all three of those pitchers, there’s still a decent-sized gap between Eric Lauer and the field. Lauer, the third lefthander in my MAC top four, combines the best of all of the prospects below him on the rankings. There isn’t a box that he doesn’t check when looking for a potentially quick-moving above-average mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. He’s an athletic (like Plesac) lefthander (like Deeg/Akin), with good size (like Deeg/Plesac), very strong performance indicators (10.78 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9), above-average heat (88-94) that he commands like a pro, and a complete assortment of offspeed pitches (74-77 CB, 78-82 SL, emerging CU) he can throw in any count. One could quibble by noting there’s no singular knockout pitch here – maybe with continued work one of his secondaries can become a consistent plus pitch, but certainly not presently – so maybe Lauer’s best case scenario outcome isn’t quite that of some of his peers across the country, but that’s a nitpick for a still impressive ceiling/high floor starting arm. Maybe you don’t love him – I kind of do, clearly…but maybe you don’t – but he’s still a prospect that’s hard not to at least like.

1.26 – Chicago White Sox | Louisville RHP Zack Burdi (33rd)

October 2015…

Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.

1.27 – Baltimore Orioles | Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock (67th)

April 2016…

Despite all the words and attention spent on Shawaryn, I gave very serious consideration to putting Cody Sedlock in the top spot. Properly rated by many of the experts yet likely underrated by the more casual amateur draft fans, Sedlock is a four-pitch guy – there is a weirdly awesome high number of these pitchers in the Big 10 this year — with the ability to command three intriguing offspeed pitches (SL, CB, CU) well enough for mid-rotation big league potential. I try not to throw mid-rotation starter upside around lightly; Sedlock is really good.

1.28 – Washington Nationals | Walton HS 3B Carter Kieboom (14th)

May 2016…

Carter Kieboom was with the third base prospects in my notes up until about a month or so ago. The buzz on him being good enough to stick at shortstop for at least a few years grew too loud to ignore. In fact, said buzz reminds me quite a bit about how the slow yet steady drumbeat for Alex Bregman, Shortstop grew throughout the spring last season. Beyond the defensive comparison, I think there’s actually a little something to looking at Kieboom developing as a potential Bregman type impact bat over the next few seasons. He checks every box you’d want to see out of a high school infielder: hit (above-average), power (above-average raw), bat speed (yes), approach (mature beyond his years), athleticism (well above-average), speed (average), glove (average at short, could be better yet at third), and arm (average to above-average, more than enough for the left side). He’d be neck and neck with Drew Mendoza for third place on my third base list, but he gets the bump to second here with the shortstops. At either spot, he’s a definite first round talent for me.

1.29 Washington Nationals | Florida RHP Dane Dunning (-)

A copy/paste error this morning kept Dunning off of the top 500 rankings. Now I’m paranoid that he’s not the only name missing since I tend to copy/paste in bunches. Anyway, Dunning has a really good arm. Going off memory, I think he was ranked somewhere just after the 200 mark near the Matt Krook, Matthias Dietz, Greg Veliz, and Tyler Mondile band of pitchers. My inexplicably unpublished notes on him…

JR RHP Dane Dunning: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96 peak; average or better 81-83 SL; no longer uses good mid-70s CB as much; average 82-87 CU, flashes above-average with plus upside; improved command; good athlete; 6-3, 200 pounds

2014: 11.57 K/9 – 4.71 BB/9 – 21 IP – 5.14 ERA
2015: 8.25 K/9 – 3.45 BB/9 – 60.1 IP – 4.05 ERA
2016: 10.28 K/9 – 1.45 BB/9 – 68.1 IP – 2.50 ERA

1.30 – Texas Rangers | North Florida Christian LHP Cole Ragans (86th)

LHP Cole Ragans (North Florida Christian HS, Florida): 86-92 FB, 93 peak; average or better 71-77 CB, above-average upside; average 74-81 CU with sink; plus athlete; good deception; Sean Newcomb 2.0; PG comp: Jon Lester; 6-4, 185 pounds

1.31 – New York Mets | Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay (69th)

March 2016…

Much as I like him, I don’t necessarily view Anthony Kay as a first round arm. However, the second he falls past the first thirty or so picks he’ll represent immediate value for whatever team gives him a shot. He’s a relatively high-floor future big league starter who can throw four pitches for strikes but lacks that one true put-away offering. Maybe continued refinement of his low-80s changeup or his 78-84 slider gets him there, but for now it’s more of a steady yet unspectacular back of the rotation. Nathan Kirby (pick 40 last year) seems like a reasonable draft ceiling for him, though there are some similarities in Kay’s profile to Marco Gonzales, who went 19th in his draft year. I like Kay for his relative certainty depending on what a team does before selecting him; his high-floor makes him an interesting way to diversity the draft portfolio of a team that otherwise likes to gamble on boom/bust upside plays.

1.32 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Louisville C Will Smith (41st)

Louisville JR C Will Smith: average hit tool with a swing geared towards contact; average to above-average arm; steady glove; average at best power; easy average or better speed; plus athleticism is what separates him from a long list of comparable bats below him; 6-0, 190 pounds

2014: .221/.333/.273 – 10 BB/9 K – 3/3 SB – 77 AB
2015: .242/.333/.331 – 19 BB/27 K – 2/4 SB – 178 AB
2016: .380/.476/.573 – 18 BB/12 K – 9/10 SB – 150 AB

1.33 – St. Louis Cardinals | Elk Grove HS OF Dylan Carlson (151st)

May 2016…

Dylan Carlson (fast-rising bat I’ve heard called a “second round version of Kirilloff”)

1.34 – St. Louis Cardinals | Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson (19th)

October 2015…

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

April 2016…

As for the actual data above, I’d say that Hudson’s number is eye-opening and wholly consistent with the kind of stuff he throws. Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country?

May 2016…

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

2016 MLB Draft – May GB% Update

It’s been a month, so let’s update our batted ball findings…

Virginia RHP Connor Jones – 67.04%
Florida LHP AJ Puk – 37.88%
Oklahoma RHP Alec Hansen – 48.48% (*)
Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson – 68.22%
Cal RHP Daulton Jefferies – 52.63%
Florida RHP Logan Shore – 55.28%
Winthrop LHP Matt Crohan – 34.48%
Kent State LHP Eric Lauer – 45.92%
Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield – 51.28%
Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay – 47.18%
Rice RHP Jon Duplantier – 61.29%

And by request…

New Orleans RHP Shawn Semple – 43.44%

* Hansen’s numbers are from when he was a starter only. I’m here to help, but going through every single game to find data for relievers is too much even for me.

A full season (to date) line of 9.25 K/9, 3.25 BB/9, and 68.22 GB% is a pretty fascinating all-around statistical profile for Hudson. The only one that tops that is this mystery righthander’s 9.56 K/9, 1.88 BB/9, and 76.40 GB%. That’s the newest addition to our data set, Pittsburgh RHP TJ Zeuch. Short-lived mysteries are what I live for. It’s only been seven starts and I obviously don’t have data on every single draft-eligible arm in this class, but I’d have to imagine his impressive run since coming back from injury has to rank as one of, if not the very best, GB% in the country.

I’ve been low-key critical of Jones lately, but I think some of his underwhelming peripherals can be explained by his dominant ground ball tendencies. He could be one of those guys who learns how to sacrifice a few grounders for more swings and misses once he enters the pro game. He certainly has the stuff to do it, so perhaps getting away from the college environment — much as I like and respect Brian O’Connor and his staff — will help him unleash the beast that is his nasty mid-80s slider more regularly. Pitch to contact is a very amateur friendly concept, which is ironic considering the fielding quality (and, in some cases, field quality) at that level. Jones striking out more batters as a pro than as a college star might not seem like the most sensible gamble to take at face value, but the theories behind it are not without merit.

Does Puk’s heavy fly ball ways potentially scare off the Phillies some knowing that he’d pitch half his games at Citizens Bank Park? Philadelphia’s home park has a bit of an inflated reputation as a home run hitter’s haven, but it still averages eighth in baseball per ESPN’s HR park factor since 2011. This is the definition of a nitpick, but if you’re choosing between Puk and a similarly talented player, any tie-breaker can matter.

 

Hudson, Sheffield, Tyler, Jackson, Shore, Webb…and Puk

Look at the first seven names on this list. That’s an incredible amount of talent. Weird stuff can happen to pitchers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to claim that all seven will be big league arms within a few seasons after getting drafted. We’ll hit on the pitchers ranked second through seven and a few more after that. Number one was already taken care of here. Let’s see what else we’ve got…

Dakota Hudson

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

Jordan Sheffield

For as much as we as fans, writers, and/or internet scouts want to believe otherwise, prospects don’t really have anything to prove to anybody. Control what you can control on the field and let the chips fall where they may beyond that. Having said that, the young Vanderbilt righthander has done just about everything I had hoped to see out of him in 2016. Others may still have questions about how his command and smaller stature will hold up pitching every fifth day professionally – perfectly valid concerns, for what it’s worth – but I’m personally all-in on Sheffield as a starting pitching prospect. He knows how to pitch off the fastball (if anything you can make the case he falls in love with it at times), his curve and/or his change can serve as an above-average to plus pitch on any given day, and his junior year leap can’t be ignored. Let’s look at the pre-season take…

It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten guy no matter his height.

…so that we can revisit that lazy comp. By the numbers, here’s what we’ve got…

11.09 K/9 – 3.31 BB/9 – 2.29 ERA – 70.2 IP
9.67 K/9 – 2.44 BB/9 – 2.26 ERA – 103.1 IP

Top is Sheffield so far, bottom is Tate’s draft year. I asked around and nobody particularly liked the Tate comparison, but more because of the belief that Sheffield is a fairly unique pitcher than that it’s a bad comp. The only alternate name I heard was a tepid Edinson Volquez 2.0 endorsement. I actually kind of dig that one. At the same age, Volquez was listed at a mere 6-1, 160 pounds, a far cry from his current listed 6-0, 220 pounds. He was known back then for his electric fastball (check), plus changeup (check), and above-average slider, a pitch that eventually morphed into his present above-average curve (check). I can definitely some young Volquez in Sheffield’s game.

Robert Tyler

I didn’t intend for this to be an all comp all the time post, but I can’t get the Ryan Madson comparison (first noted by Keith Law) out of my head whenever I think about Tyler. I really want to believe in his breaking ball being good enough to let him be the starting pitcher that Madson never could be, but nobody I’ve spoken to seems to think he can stay in the rotation as a big leaguer. That won’t stop me from stubbornly continuing to believe Tyler, one of the youngest players in his class, won’t find a way to harness his spike-curve more effectively more often. He has the size, command, ability to hold his velocity, and smarts to make it as a starter. I’d be willing to spend a second round pick – maybe a late first depending on how the board breaks – to get him signed, sealed, delivered, and working with my pro staff (coaching and medical) to see firsthand whether or not a more consistent breaker is in that electric right arm of his.

Zach Jackson

We’ll go with the pre-season evaluation on Jackson to hammer an old point home…

One of my favorite snippets of my notes comes in the Jackson section: “if he fixes delivery and command, watch out.” Well, duh. I could have said that about just about any upper-echelon arm in this age demographic. With Jackson, however, it reinforces just how special his stuff is when he’s right. I don’t think this college class has a pitch better than his curveball at its best.

I think Jackson’s delivery has made strides in 2016 – if not smoother, then certainly more repeatable – but questions about his command can now be partnered with similar concerns about his control. First round stuff + fifth round command/control = ultimate third round landing spot? I don’t know if the math checks out there, but I think the conclusion might wind up being correct. I also think that the scouting on Jackson can more or less be wrapped up for the season – we know what he is by now – so the attention of anybody assigned to watch him between now and June should be on determining if whatever is getting in the way of his stalled command progress and backwards trending control can be fixed through pro instruction and repetition. Jackson is the kind of maddening talent that can get an area scout promoted or canned, but his success or failure from this point forward is all about how he adapts to the pro development staffers tasked with guiding him along.

Logan Shore

I have a friend who leans very heavy on statistics when it comes to his personal brand of minor league prospect evaluation. I consider myself a little more balanced between scouting reports and certain performance indicators (with a slight statistical lean if anything), but his approach works for him and I let him do his thing. If nothing else, our shared view on what stats matter for young players means we rarely disagree on general prospect valuation. One recent spat, however, highlights the danger of immersing oneself too deep in one side of the stats vs scouts “debate.” This friend was a very vocal critic of Phillies minor league pitcher Zach Eflin and his long history of underwhelming strikeout numbers. I’ve liked Eflin for over four years now – you can check the archives – and have obviously stayed with him despite the lack of standout peripherals as a young pro. Be patient, I told him. He’s working on things, I told him. Don’t count him out just yet, I told him. Now despite being in AAA, Eflin still has plenty to work on once he lands in the big leagues. But only the most stubborn critic would deny that he’s finally on the final stage of development – refinement – and well past the “will he or won’t he?” bit of prospect purgatory. His more consistent premium velocity combined with his newfound curve has helped him go from 5.14 K/9 to 6.52 K/9 to 6.54 K/9 to 4.65 K/9 (first year with the Phillies with a heavy emphasis on working through some stuff) to his current 7.52 K/9 through four starts in 2016. He’s slowly but surely gotten stronger, smarter, and better, and the results have finally begun to caught up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Logan Shore has made similar progress over the last few seasons: 6.37 K/9 to 6.75 K/9 to 9.05 K/9. He’s always had solid fastball velocity and a devastating changeup. This year he’s found a few more ticks with the heater (more so in how he maintains it rather than a peak velocity jump), gained a little more consistency with his breaking ball, and arguably improved that already potent circle-change into something even scarier to opposing hitters. He’s gotten stronger, smarter, and better. I mentally wrote him off as one of the draft’s most overrated arms coming into the spring – thankfully I never wrote that on the site, but I’m man enough to admit I’ve had those thoughts on more than one occasion – but now I see the error in my ways. When a young arm has big-time stuff and command beyond his years, be patient with his development and don’t rely on one metric to make an ultimate judgment on his future. Shore is good and quite possibly still getting better.

Braden Webb

Braden Webb doesn’t have the track record of many of his SEC peers, but the man does not lack for arm talent. Explosive heat (90-94, up to 96-97), an easy above-average to plus 73-79 curve, and a rapidly improving 80-85 change. All of the ingredients of a big league starting pitcher are here. Grabbing Webb at any point past round one would be a major coup for whatever team is lucky/smart enough to do so.

AJ Puk

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

2016 MLB Draft – GB%

It’s finally time for first edition of the MLB Draft Pitching Prospect GB% Index or: The Post You Make When Too Busy Driving Sixty Miles to See the Last Two Innings of Jay Groome’s 2016 Debut to Write a Few Thousand Words Otherwise. There’s more to life than keeping the ball down and getting outs on the ground, but I still think it’s interesting data to track as it provides a hint as to what type of pitcher stylistically each guy will be as a professional. Here’s what I’ve got so far…don’t read anything into the order.

Virginia RHP Connor Jones – 63.53%
Florida LHP AJ Puk – 36.73%
Oklahoma RHP Alec Hansen – 48.48%
Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson – 70.37%
Cal RHP Daulton Jefferies – 52.63%
Florida RHP Logan Shore – 51.47%
Winthrop LHP Matt Crohan – 34.48%
Kent State LHP Eric Lauer – 46.58%
Vanderbilt RHP Jordan Sheffield – 50.00%
Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay – 51.19%
Rice RHP Jon Duplantier – 60.49%

I wanted to include the Oregon rotation and Robert Tyler, but the box scores were a nightmare at those team sites. I think getting info on Krook and Tyler is important, so I’ll try to figure something out when I’m feeling a bit more motivated.

As for the actual data above, I’d say that Hudson’s number is eye-opening and wholly consistent with the kind of stuff he throws. Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country? Crohan’s number could be considered noteworthy for teams that preach keeping the ball in the dirt, though any batted ball analysis by a big league front office would (hopefully) include more than just the difference between a ground ball out and an out recorded via the air. Take AJ Puk, for example. His number is low, but it doesn’t account for the relatively high number of infield pop-ups and weak fly balls that I’ve seen whenever I’ve watched him. It should also be noted that Crohan has pitched far less than the rest of the names on the list, so an already small sample gets even smaller. It’s all just something extra to consider when thinking about these pitchers anyway.

Who am I missing here? I’m happy to add a few more names to the list to track between now and June.

2016 MLB Draft – College Update

We’re now one month’s worth of games into the college season, so it feels like as good a time as any to take the temperature of the top college prospects in this class. All stats are updated as of games played on March 12 or March 13 depending on when the games ended yesterday. I used this post to frame the discussion.

Many, many, many players I like were not included in this update. I say this knowing full well how obnoxious it sounds, but trust that I know about your favorite player’s hot start. Neither malice nor ignorance is the cause of their exclusion. It’s simply a time and space thing. That said, feel free to bring up said favorite players’s hot starts in the comments. The more the merrier there, I say.

C Zack Collins – Miami – .400/.576/.733 – 19 BB/9 K – 0/1 SB – 45 AB
1B Will Craig – Wake Forest – .458/.581/1.021 – 10 BB/7 K – 48 AB
2B Nick Senzel – Tennessee – .393/.500/.589 – 14 BB/6 K – 7/8 SB – 56 AB
SS Michael Paez – Coastal Carolina – .328/.418/.483 – 6 BB/11 K – 0/2 SB – 58 AB
3B Bobby Dalbec – Arizona – .191/.350/.319 – 10 BB/17 K – 0/1 SB – 47 AB
OF Kyle Lewis – Mercer – .466/.581/.879 – 15 BB/8 K – 1/2 SB – 58 AB
OF Buddy Reed – Florida – .306/.411/.468 – 10 BB/12 K – 7/7 SB – 62 AB
OF Corey Ray – Louisville – .377/.452/.738 – 9 BB/6 K – 20/22 SB – 61 AB

We knew Collins could hit, so his great start is hardly a surprise. Still, those numbers are insane, very much under-the-radar nationally (source: my Twitter feed), and more than good enough to play at first base if you don’t think he’s worth trying behind the plate as a pro. It took Kyle Schwarber a long time to gain national acceptance as a potential top ten pick; I could see Collins following a similar path between now and June. He’s already very much in that mix for me.

Craig is a monster. The only note I’d pass along with his scorching start is that Wake Forest has played 12 of their first 17 games in the very friendly offensive confines of their home park. I still love the bat.

Senzel is yet another of the top prospect bats off to a wild start at the plate. Got an Anthony Rendon-lite comp on him recently that I think fits fairly well.

Much has been made about Ray’s start — rightfully so as he’s been awesome — that what Lewis has done so far has been overlooked some. I’m not blind to the fact that Ray’s functional speed and higher level of competition faced make him the preferred college outfielder for many, but no reason to sleep on Lewis.

RHP Alec Hansen – Oklahoma – 13.20 K/9 – 7.20 BB/9 – 6.00 ERA – 15.0 IP
LHP Matt Krook – Oregon – 14.32 K/9 – 7.67 BB/9 – 4.08 ERA – 17.2 IP
RHP Connor Jones – Virginia – 7.91 K/9 – 1.98 BB/9 – 1.98 ERA – 27.1 IP
LHP AJ Puk – Florida – 9.53 K/9 – 4.76 BB/9 – 2.65 ERA – 17.0 IP
RHP Dakota Hudson – Mississippi State – 12.20 K/9 – 5.72 BB/9 – 1.90 ERA – 23.2 IP

Funny how three of the top five have lines that line up similarly so far. I think Jones has shown the best mix of stuff and results out of this top tier this spring. I also think that right now there really isn’t a realistic college arm that can lay claim to being in the 1-1 mix. Early returns on the top of the 2016 college class: bats > arms.

C Sean Murphy – Wright State – .259/.429/.778 – 5 BB/5 K – 0/0 SB – 27 AB
1B Pete Alonso – Florida – .424/.493/.661 – 8 BB/4 K – 1/1 SB – 59 AB
2B JaVon Shelby – Kentucky – .341/.481/.756 – 8 BB/7 K – 2/2 SB – 41 AB
SS Logan Gray – Austin Peay State – .327/.450/.755 – 11 BB/16 K – 2/2 SB – 49 AB
3B Sheldon Neuse – Oklahoma – .340/.493/.698 – 16 BB/14 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
OF Bryan Reynolds – Vanderbilt – .345/.486/.618 – 14 BB/18 K – 2/5 SB – 55 AB
OF Jake Fraley – Louisiana State – .400/.500/.583 – 12 BB/7 K – 11/15 SB – 60 AB
OF Nick Banks – Texas A&M – .263/.317/.421 – 2 BB/6 K – 0/0 SB – 38 AB

While the First Team has had a few slow starters (Dalbec for sure, Paez if you’re picking nits about his BB/K), the Second Team is rolling from top to bottom. Murphy and Banks have been slowed some by injuries, but otherwise these guys are mashing.

It speaks to how great Lewis and Ray (and even Reed to an extent) have been this year that neither Reynolds nor Fraley have gained much traction as top outfield prospects in the national consciousness. Both are really good players who will make their drafting teams very happy in June.

It’s taken me a few years, but I finally realized who Banks reminds me of as a prospect: Hunter Renfroe. I’m not yet sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.

RHP Cal Quantrill – Stanford
LHP Matt Crohan – Winthrop – 9.95 K/9 – 0.47 BB/9 – 2.37 ERA – 19.0 IP
RHP Zach Jackson – Arkansas – 11.71 K/9 – 5.12 BB/9 – 2.19 ERA – 12.1 IP
RHP Robert Tyler – Georgia – 13.94 K/9 – 1.69 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 21.1 IP
LHP Garrett Williams – Oklahoma State

I really liked Keith Law’s Ryan Madson comp for Tyler. I’m high enough on Tyler to modify that and use it as a potential MLB floor because I think Tyler has a better chance to continue developing a good enough breaking ball to go through a lineup multiple times.

The relative struggles of some of the top college pitchers in this class leave the door wide open for a guy like Quantrill coming back from injury to seriously enter the 1-1 conversation.

C Matt Thaiss – Virginia – .361/.473/.541 – 12 BB/1 K – 0/1 SB – 61 AB
1B Carmen Beneditti – Michigan – .298/.452/.426 – 10 BB/4 K – 3/4 SB – 47 AB
2B Cavan Biggio – Notre Dame – .229/.448/.313 – 17 BB/10 K – 4/4 SB – 48 AB
SS Colby Woodmansee – Arizona State – .370/.486/.630 – 14 BB/9 K – 1/1 SB – 54 AB
3B Lucas Erceg – Menlo (CA) – .342/.378/.685 – 5 BB/6 K – 0 SB – 111 AB
OF Ryan Boldt – Nebraska – .318/.382/.424 – 6 BB/8 K – 7/12 SB – 66 AB
OF Stephen Wrenn – Georgia – .353/.424/.471 – 5 BB/9 K – 4/7 SB – 51 AB
OF Ronnie Dawson – Ohio State – .263/.354/.509 – 8 BB/9 K – 3/4 SB – 57 AB

Love Thaiss. Loved Biggio, but starting to re-calibrate my expectations a little. Same for Boldt. Never loved Woodmansee, but I’m beginning to get it. Erceg’s start confuses me. It’s excellent, obviously, but the numbers reflect a high-contact approach that doesn’t show up in any of the scouting notes on him. Consider my curiosity piqued.

LHP Eric Lauer – Kent State – 8.05 K/9 – 4.02 BB/9 – 1.82 ERA – 24.2 IP
RHP Michael Shawaryn – Maryland – 7.04 K/9 – 3.33 BB/9 – 3.33 ERA – 24.1 IP
RHP Daulton Jefferies – California – 11.42 K/9 – 1.73 BB/9 – 1.04 ERA – 26.0 IP
RHP Kyle Serrano – Tennessee – 3.2 IP
RHP Kyle Funkhouser – Louisville – 8.77 K/9 – 5.34 BB/9 – 4.18 ERA – 23.2 IP

When I re-do the college rankings (coming soon!), I think this is where we’ll see some serious movers and shakers. Things are wide open after the top eight or so pitchers as the conversation shifts move towards high-floor fourth/fifth starters rather than top half of the rotation possibilities. I’ve read and heard some of the Jefferies top half of the first round buzz, and I’ve been slow to buy in so far. I like him a lot, but that feels rich. Then I remember that Mike Leake climbed as high as eighth overall back in my first draft doing this, so anything is possible.

Now for some prospects that weren’t on the preseason teams that has caught my eye so far…

Logan Shore – Florida – 9.33 K/9 – 0.67 BB/9 – 2.00 ERA – 27.0 IP
Jordan Sheffield – Vanderbilt – 13.17 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 1.09 ERA – 24.2 IP
Corbin Burnes – St. Mary’s – 11.20 K/9 – 2.32 BB/9 – 3.09 ERA – 23.1 IP
Bailey Clark – Duke – 10.50 K/9 – 2.63 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 24.0 IP

I’ve been slow to appreciate Sheffield, but I’m on board now. My lazy but potentially prescient comp to Dillon Tate is something I can’t shake. Clark vs Zach Jackson is a fun head-to-head prospect battle that pits two of my favorite raw arms with questions about long-term role holding them back.

Nick Solak – Louisville – .434/.563/.585 – 15 BB/5 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
Bryson Brigman – San Diego – .424/.472/.515 – 3 BB/4 K – 5/7 SB – 33 AB
Stephen Alemais – Tulane – .462/.477/.641 – 3 BB/6 K – 4/5 SB – 39 AB
Jake Rogers – Tulane – .302/.471/.547 – 13 BB/11 K – 5/5 SB – 53 AB
Errol Robinson – Mississippi – .226/.317/.358 – 7 BB/8 K – 2/2 SB – 53 AB
Logan Ice – Oregon State – .463/.520/1.024 – 5 BB/1 K – 0/0 SB – 41 AB
Trever Morrison – Oregon State – .400/.456/.600 – 5 BB/12 K – 0/1 SB – 50 AB

Solak’s start is a thing of beauty. Rogers and Ice add to the impressive depth at the top of the catching class. It’ll be interesting to see which C/SS combo gets drafted higher between Oregon State and Tulane.

1-1

I really like Zack Collins, Will Craig, Pete Alonso, Nick Senzel, Bryan Reynolds, and Jake Fraley. Garrett Williams, Eric Lauer, Mike Shawaryn, Daulton Jefferies, Bailey Clark, and the Kyle’s (Funkhouser, Serrano, and Cody) are all pretty great, too. Delvin Perez, Josh Lowe, Nolan Jones, Mickey Moniak, and Blake Rutherford all could be high school hitters that realistically enter the 1-1 conversation. Ian Anderson, Kevin Gowdy, Alex Speas, and Forrest Whitley, among others, could join the race as well. All, however, are a tier below the group of players I feel currently have the best shot to go 1-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies this June. With apologies to all the aforementioned names — one of those guys is going to fall to the second round or later, by the way…that’s crazy! — the focus here is on the early front-runners to go 1-1 . Let’s see what they’ve been up to lately…

Jay Groome has been my stated preference since last summer. Performance-wise, I’m not sure if Groome can lose the top spot between now and June. He looked great during his workout at Maplezone in beautiful Garnet Valley — located a very convenient 21 miles from my apartment — and figures to show the premium stuff (mid-90s FB, plus mid-70s kCB, rapidly improving CU) and “extras” (beautiful delivery/command/frame) all spring. That leaves major injury (Brady Aiken 2.0) or the ascent of one of the players listed on this very page (or somebody unlisted, but if that’s the case then I really haven’t done my job here) being the realistic avenues to knock Groome off the 1-1 perch.

Groome’s co-headliner in the high school class is Riley Pint for me. I know there are questions about a prep righthander going first overall (silliness, I think) and questions about his delivery and command making an eventual move to the bullpen a necessity (fair, but up for debate yet), but there’s still so much to like about him that I can’t see him leaving the potential 1-1 tier any time soon.

I have a hard time separating the three top college outfielders, so spring performances will weigh heavy on on evaluators minds as they decide on nailing down a proper order of Kyle Lewis, Buddy Reed, and Corey Ray. My semi-fearless prediction: for as much hype — deservedly — as those three outfielders have gotten to date, they won’t wind up as the first three outfielders drafted this June. Maybe that’s not particularly bold considering we’re talking three high variance outcome prospects, but I can see a future where one blows up this spring (Lewis or Reed), one struggles relative to expectations (Reed?), and one remains more or less where he was in the eyes of most teams when the season started.

Kyle Lewis had a very good weekend. Buddy Reed had a less good weekend. Corey Ray was on an different planet altogether. In a whopping three-game sample, Ray hit .667/.714/1.444. I keep mistyping his SLG for the weekend because I’m not used to typing anything with a digit in front of the decimal. If his performance with the bat wasn’t enough, Ray chipped in with six (six!) stolen bases in six tries. We won’t get carried away with one weekend’s worth of games, but that’s not a bad way to get things started, especially for the guy with the most to prove on-field out of the three. That last bit is obviously debatable, but there’s a school of thought that says Ray should be the best present performer out of the three considering he has the most limited physical projection of the trio. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair — punishing Ray by expecting more now seems a bit counterproductive if the aim is projecting his future — but maybe there’s something to it. Either way, I think the jumble of guys in contention for 1-1 leaves things wide open enough for any of these three to rise up to that level; for now, Ray’s loud opening weekend helps him takes the lead.

If Ray’s opening weekend was loud, then what does that make Alec Hansen‘s? The less said about Hansen’s hushed debut, the better. His 22 ball/14 strike performance included four walks, one wild pitch, and one poor plunked hitter. One bad start wouldn’t be too concerning in the big picture (still isn’t, really), but on the heels of a fall season marred by a sore forearm…I don’t know. Maybe we laugh about this come June when a healthy Hansen is the top ten pick his talent warrants…or maybe he’s this year’s Michael Matuella.

Matt Krook and AJ Puk are the top two lefties in this college class, so it works out quite nicely that the two of them had such similar 2016 debuts. My non-scout view on Puk hasn’t changed much since he’s debuted as a Gator: he’s an excellent prospect who has always left me wanting after seeing him pitch up close. I wasn’t up close this past weekend, but I did check out his start against Florida Gulf Coast via the magic of the internet. Again, for all of Puk’s strengths he’s still not the kind of college prospect that gives off that 1-1 vibe when watching him. Even when he was cruising — 11 pitch first inning, 19 total pitches through two (15 strikes), and a 1-2-3 swinging strikeout to end the second that went slider, fastball, change — it was still on a very fastball-heavy approach with little evident feel for his offspeed stuff. His slider picked up from there and he mixed in a few nice changeups, but neither offering looked like a potential big league out-pitch.

In the third inning his defense let him down — literally and figuratively, as he made one of the two errors in the inning — but what really hurt him was his command falling apart. These are all players learning on the job so I don’t want to sound too negative, but he failed to locate an 0-2 pitch and that was what really led to his undoing. On the plus side, his velocity was good for a first start (90-94, 96 peak), his delivery looks better, the aforementioned handful of nice changeups were encouraging, and he responded really well in the fourth inning after losing his way in the third. I still struggle with his underdeveloped offspeed stuff, inconsistent command, and puzzling lack of athleticism (where did it go from HS?), but 6-7, 225 pound lefthanders who can hit 96 (98 at times last year) are worth being patient with.

With Pat Gillick, Johnny Almaraz, and two other scouts in attendance, the Phillies, owners of the first pick in this year’s draft, were well-represented in Gainesville over the weekend. Much has been made of this and rightly so as the Gators are stacked, obviously, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they only had to ride 2.5 hours north from Clearwater. They obviously have heavy interest in Puk and will have plenty of opportunities to get to know him inside and out as the spring progresses.

Meanwhile, Krook matched Puk in innings (4), hits (4), and strikeouts (6). While shaky glovework and command did Puk in, Krook’s issue was iffy control. Three walks, two wild pitches, and one hit batter ended his day early, but some rust was to be expected as he continues the comeback path from Tommy John surgery. No worries here.

Speaking of returning from Tommy John surgery, Cal Quantrill is still on the way back from his procedure. I really think he could pitch his way into the 1-1 conversation once healthy.

The two best 1-1 candidate performances came from Connor Jones and Robert Tyler. Both young righthanders faced only one batter over the minimum in their respective seven and five inning debuts. Tyler stole most of the headlines with his dominant performance on Friday. His win came against a weak Georgia Southern lineup — I like Ryan Cleveland, but there’s not a ton there otherwise — but striking out the last ten batters you face in a given outing is something. I’m 100% buying what Connor Jones — the Virginia one, not Tyler’s lefthanded Georgia teammate — is selling. I’ve mentioned it before, but I get an unusually high number of comps on him from enthusiastic scouts. My hunch is that it has something to do with his exciting mix of ceiling (number two starter?) and certainty (very polished, very professional) that gets those guys going. I still love the cross-cultural Masahiro Tanaka comp for him.

Dakota Hudson quietly pitched well in his debut. Matt Crohan did the same, but with an interesting fly ball tendency that could be worth tracking. Both are longer shots to crash the 1-1 party, but I have them on the board for a reason. One guy who might need to move off the board is Zach Jackson. His slip has nothing to do with talent — I’ve said it before, but his curve might be the best singular pitch in this class — but more about the logistics of trying to scout him this spring. As the only present college reliever on this list, it’s a guessing game as to whether or not you’ll see him in any given outing. That’s a damn shame because developmentally Jackson could really use innings to improve both his delivery and command, but Arkansas has to do what Arkansas has to do, I suppose. It could wind up costing Jackson a pretty penny, unfortunately. For now, I think he’s not a realistic 1-1 candidate due to the (rightful) fear of the unknown.

Everything written above is based largely on what my board would look like if I was holding the first pick in June. Below is my best guess — remember, I know nothing — as to what the Phillies could be thinking about that first pick as of now. Players are separated into four potential tiers…

Groome
Pint – Puk – Hansen – Ray
Jones – Quantrill – Lewis
Tyler – Reed

I think Groome is the lean as of today with Pint, Puk, and Ray all close behind. Hansen is right there, but it’ll take a clean bill of health to solidify that spot. Jones is an interesting case as a prospect who has been on the radar nationally for years, but still entered his college draft year underrated by many. The Phillies have only drafted one player from the University of Virginia since 2010 (Neal Davis), but they have leaned on their area guys in that part of the country more recently, especially when picking out of Virginia Tech. I certainly wouldn’t rule him out right now, especially if you buy the talk — I don’t — that the Phillies want a quick-mover to help accelerate their rebuild timeline. If Puk doesn’t dominate and Hansen remains injured/ineffective, then somebody will have to rise up as a potential college threat to the Groome’s and Pint’s of the world, right? If not Jones, maybe it’ll be Quantrill, son of former Phillie Paul, once he gets right. Should be fun.