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2015 GB% Mid-May Update

In what will probably the last one of these we do before draft day, here are some notable pitching prospects GB% through the most recent weekend of the college season.

Walker Buehler: 63.7%
Nathan Kirby: 64.0%
Kyle Funkhouser: 55.4%
Dillon Tate: 68.4%
Carson Fulmer: 46.1%
Phil Bickford: 53.2%
Kyle Twomey: 58.0%

I dropped Lemoine and Young out of laziness, but I can go back and do the math on either if anybody is curious. I didn’t include Matuella since he hasn’t thrown a pitch since the last update. In a shocking upset, his GB% (55.8) remains unchanged since then. Amazing how that worked out.

One of the interesting things about this list is the actual makeup of the players chosen. If you recall, I chose the names for this list by simply going down the rankings of my top college pitchers from before the season. The order then was Brady Aiken, Kirby, Matuella, Buehler, Tate, Fulmer, Jay, Funkhouser, Bickford, Lemoine, and Twomey. Tyler Ferguson was next, but his unpredictable usage made him too difficult to track. I haven’t gone back and updated my college rankings yet — that’ll come after I finish up the HS prospects, possibly as soon as mid-way through next week — but I think the original list has held up fairly well. I know there are questions about many of the top guys, but I’m still a pretty firm believer in Buehler (top ten or so), Kirby (mid-first), and Twomey (late-first/supplemental) despite some of the concerns. Everybody loves Tate (and rightfully so), I’m higher on Fulmer than most (but not all), and Funkhouser, despite my trying to talk myself into him a few weeks ago, remains a guy I’m lower on than most.

While I can defend the names on the initial list, there are a few omissions that I really would like to have back. In fact, I might go through and grab some data on these players later and update this one last time before June. I’m particularly curious to see the numbers of James Kaprielian, Cody Ponce, and Thomas Eshelman. If I had to choose just one name to have back, however, it would without a doubt be Jon Harris. I liked Harris plenty before the season…

Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way.

…but still feel like having him as low as I did (27th) on the aforementioned college pitching list didn’t do my appreciation for him justice. It’s a pre-season miss that will be rectified in the updated rankings.

I admittedly haven’t given this a ton of thought just yet, but I think Harris would crack my top five college pitchers with relative ease right now. My current working order would go Jay (top overall pitcher), Tate, Buehler, Harris, and Fulmer.

2015 GB% Mid-April Update

Nathan Kirby – 66.3%
Michael Matuella – 55.8%
Walker Buehler – 62.7%
Dillon Tate – 67.8%
Carson Fulmer – 45.7%
Kyle Funkhouser – 60.4%
Phillip Bickford – 53.3%
Jake Lemoine – 58.5%
Kyle Twomey – 61.3%
Alex Young – 60.4%

First, a quick thanks for all those that stumble across this site for whatever reason and click around a bit to see what we’ve been working on. An even bigger thanks to those of you who knowingly come back time after time. I never had expectations in terms of traffic, but it’s still pretty cool to see things trending upwards the way they have over the past few months. Yesterday was a non-June record high for the site, which is both exciting and more than a little funny since it happened on one of the very few weekdays I didn’t publish a post (did my TAXES and went to the DENTIST instead because I’m an ADULT now) since the start of December. This has easily been the most fun I’ve had covering a draft and we’re only getting started.

I’ve been sky high on Kirby in the past, so seeing some of the reports of him having less than stellar stuff in recent starts is a definite bummer. I’m still choosing to believe that he’s being knocked a tad unfairly by experts who put more stock (rightly or wrongly, it’s up to you to decide) in the one outing or so that they see firsthand than the information they gather along the way from individuals who see a player far more often, but it’s a situation well worth monitoring going forward.

Like many experts have already alluded to — or, in one case, reported and then quickly deleted for reasons unknown — concerns within baseball about Matuella’s recovery from Tommy John surgery are far less than whatever is going on with Brady Aiken’s left elbow. That said, since rumblings of complications have not yet manifested themselves in concrete news items, I’d still rank the more talented Aiken ahead of Matuella as of this second. There’s been so much interesting stuff written about the Tommy John procedure (much of it concluding with an attitude of “hey, let’s all pump the breaks on assuming it’s an easy in/out recovery and appreciate how rare it is for even the best athletes to overcome tearing a ligament in the most important part of their body”) over the past few months that I’m now wary of putting either prospect in the top ten conversation. Based on what we think we know at this point — a dangerous game to be sure, but it’s all we’ve got right now — any team drafting Aiken, and to a lesser extent Matuella, has to be prepared for the possibility that they’ll wind up getting nothing out of the pick. I think both players are talented enough, hard working enough, and young enough to recover and eventually pitch in the big leagues, but I’m no doctor…and even if I was, I wouldn’t know anything from the outside looking in at this point. Confusing stuff, really. This may just confuse things further (I’ve waffled a bit since then), but I wrote this to a friend (tried to edit out as much of the local spin as possible) the day after Aiken announced he had the surgery. Much of it presupposes that Aiken’s injury is more standard than what the rumors of late have indicated. I can only hope that this is the case for all involved. Here’s what I wrote last month…

Brady Aiken very stealthily went under the knife last night to repair his busted elbow. Everybody knew he wasn’t right, and in a weird way I’m glad that this was the cause for his average stuff of late. The success rate for Tommy John surgery isn’t what it used to be — it went from a scary thing to a seemingly normal thing and now it’s back to being kind of scary again — but it’s still a reliable enough procedure that I think I’d take it (with appropriate recovery time) over some of the other rumored possibilities (back, shoulder, hip). What does it all mean for the top of the draft?

I’d personally still consider taking Aiken with a top ten pick, but only if everybody in the organization was on the same page about his recovery and development. If it was up to me, I’d plan on him not pitching in a real game until the end of June 2016 (when Rookie ball starts) at the earliest. That’s admittedly a tough pill to swallow since teams picking in the top ten need RESULTS NOW out of their picks to an extent (you don’t have to give in to public pressure and much of the public doesn’t really follow the draft so much anyway, but some teams value this more than others), so I’d understand the trepidation felt by those against the pick. I’d be adamant about holding him out until I was sure he was right. The research on “rushing” guys back is pretty illuminating and a sobering reminder that any arm surgery is a big deal. If you really want to consider the long view, then fourteen months should be the prescribed minimum for this kind of thing per the numbers. Of course, everybody is built differently and standardizing recovery times and rehabilitation has it’s own downsides.

As to that last point, Lucas Giolito is the easiest point of reference from recent history. He was back from TJ in a crazy ten months: surgery on 8/31/12 and back in game action 7/3/13. The ongoing recovery of Jeff Hoffman should also be considered. I think there’s a non-zero chance that those players could both be freaks (in a great way), so it’s hard to use them as measuring sticks. Aiken strikes me as another freaky athlete with the chance to get back on the mound quicker than most, but that’s without knowing the extent of the injury. As far as the draft goes, it’s far from a sure thing teams picking in the back half of the top ten/early teens will even get a chance at Aiken. An injured Hoffman went ninth in the very same draft that a healthy Aiken went first. If Hoffman could go ninth in a better draft (an arguable point, but I freely admit that I hold the minority view that this year’s top half of the first round is every bit as good as last year’s…though with every passing injury this becomes a more difficult position to maintain), then why couldn’t the more talented Aiken do the same or better this year?

My number one hope above all else right now is for whatever team that drafts Aiken does so with a plan in place for his recovery. More to the point, I hope they take the long view with him and don’t give in to rushing his recovery in any way. He’s so damn talented (and young for his class) that the lost developmental time is hardly a killer in the long run. After getting his feet wet in Rookie ball next summer, he could be on a path that would include combined A ball in 2017, AA in 2018, and a shot at the big leagues at some point in 2019. That’s probably too slow a timeline for most fans and/or bosses with jobs on the line (he’d still just be 23 that August), so I could see wanting to pass on him. You could conceivably move that up a bit (skip Low-A, go A+/AA in 2017, AA/AAA in 2018 before potentially getting an audition for the ’19 rotation that September), but, advanced or not (and he is quite advanced, make no mistake), that’s a really aggressive path for a “high school” arm like Aiken. And, of course, this all assumes no setbacks, on the field or otherwise.

As mentioned previously, I think there is enough high-end pitching talent in this class that passing on an injured pitcher like Aiken or Matuella (who has looked really good and healthy of late), talented as they may be, would be justified. I’d lean towards taking the risk right now, but that’s easy to say in March…and when all that is at stake is your internet reputation and not your livelihood.

See the bolded part in that last paragraph? See how quickly things can change when following the draft? Damn. I’ve just depressed myself unintentionally from the past. Let’s get positive…

Buehler and Tate: both as advertised all year long. Strong argument to be made that they are the 1-2 in terms of college pitching in this class, though the order would be flipped (Tate then Buehler). Funkhouser and Twomey have also come on strong of late. I think the former might just pitch his way into top ten lock status soon (I’m still more in like with him than in love with him, but I’m a bit behind on his recent performances so we’ll see) while the latter could still sneak himself into the back of the first round.

Big West 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Cal Poly JR C Brian Mundell
UC Davis rSR 1B Nick Lynch
Cal Poly JR 2B Mark Mathias
Cal Poly JR SS Peter Van Gansen
Long Beach State JR 3B Zack Rivera
Cal State Northridge rJR OF Spencer O’Neil
UC Santa Barbara JR OF Dalton Kelly
Hawaii SR OF Keao Aliviado

UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Dillon Tate
Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Thomas Eshelman
Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Justin Garza
UC Santa Barbara JR LHP Justin Jacome
UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Dylan Hecht

I’ve written about Santa Barbara JR RHP Dillon Tate a bit before. One particularly pertinent excerpt…

Speaking of parallels, and I really hate to make this comparison because of how lazy it’ll appear, hear me out with this one. Long-time readers of the site know I do my best to look past player characteristics that don’t matter when it comes to developing comps, so hopefully I get the benefit of the doubt on this one. In all honesty, it makes a lot of baseball sense so whatever let’s just do it: Tate’s scouting profile looks a lot like Marcus Stroman’s coming out of Duke. The differences (mechanics aren’t similar at all [man, I loved Stroman’s] and Tate has a few inches on Stroman) are real, but the ties that bind the two are far more interesting. Both Tate and Stroman were primarily relievers through two years of college (Stroman made 13 starts out of his 34 games), both are/were great athletes with repeatable deliveries (even if you don’t love Tate’s, as I don’t, he is athletic enough to keep it up), and both clearly had the stuff to start once you looked past some of the superficial “he’s a reliever!” concerns (big fastballs, plus hard sliders/cutters, and underdeveloped changeups with big upside). I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve come far enough in just a few short years to better appreciate what a slightly non-conventional pitcher can do, and Tate should have no problem blowing past Stroman’s draft ceiling (22nd overall pick) this June. It helps that Tate has a little more size — Stroman being 5’9″ took the short righthander thing to a wonderful extreme — and a few additional contemporary examples of young big leaguers (Yordano Ventura) and minor league stars (Luis Severino) that helped crack the shorty righty glass ceiling. Speaking of Severino, I don’t know if that’s a terrible comparison for Tate, either. I prefer Stroman, but Severino, who dazzled me the two different times I got to see him this summer (93-96 FB, 98 peak; cartoonish mid-80s breaking ball, and a more advanced CU than most pitchers his age), isn’t a terrible name to be associated with.

I’d rather not use up all my words on Tate again because there are a ton of other quality arms in the Big West to get to, but suffice it to say that the fireballing righty from Santa Barbara is really, really good and all but a lock for the top ten of this year’s draft barring injury.

What a pleasant surprise it was to find Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Thomas Eshelman has a lot more fans among pro guys than I would have originally guessed. I’ve written about the different perception of college writers versus draft writers a few times over the years, and Eshelman seemed like a perfect case study as a dominant college starter unlikely to keep up his awesome results as a pro because of a lack of overpowering stuff. Thankfully, the majority of the smart people I asked about Eshelman couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about his professional future. Obviously expectations contextualize their enthusiasm – he’s not a first round prospect and not a future big league ace, two simple realities that ought to go without saying but might come as a surprise to the staunchest college only baseball fans – so we’re talking more about the better than expected chance that he’ll continue to stay in a rotation in the pros with the possibility of him reaching a mid- to back-end rotation starter status before long. Some draft guys dismiss Eshelman altogether as a future pro, but I don’t get why his strengths (plus-plus command, plus-plus control, and a variety of offspeed pitches designed to keep batters as off-balanced as a weeble who not only wobbles but has in fact fallen down) won’t translate to the pro game. Even his fastball velocity, his biggest perceived weakness coming into the season, has firmed up from the mid-80s (touching 90) to closer to the upper-80s (93 peak). That’s fast enough for me, especially when you consider his pinpoint command of the pitch and significant deception in his delivery. The deception in his motion in addition to the overall package and future pro outlook all bring to mind Ben Lively, a fourth round pick in 2013. That seems like a reasonable expectation for Eshelman at this point. Other big league names that I’ve heard Eshelman’s ceiling compared to include Aaron Harang, Brandon McCarthy, Tanner Roark, and Phil Hughes.

Eshelman’s teammate JR RHP Justin Garza is another unconventional pitching prospect with big league rotation stalwart upside. Unlike Eshelman, Garza’s got the classic stuff of a power pitcher: 90-94 FB (96 peak), above-average to plus 79-86 cut-SL, and an average 76-82 changeup that flashes better. It’s Garza’s slight 5-11, 165 pound frame that make him a bit of an anomaly. It’s imperfect as a comp, but I view Garza almost as a harder throwing version of former Fullerton ace Tyler Pill*, a fourth round pick in 2011. In terms of ceiling, I’d stay in California and use former USC star and current Padres pitcher, Ian Kennedy.

*There are 36 pitchers ahead of Pill on Baseball America’s Mets depth chart and 54 total prospects ahead of him at Fangraphs. I’m not sitting here projecting stardom for the guy, but too often floor is not valued nearly enough by the experts. I understand that prospect guys garner more acclaim for hitting on top names and being the first to identify a high-upside low-minors player that make good, but let’s give a little love for the cheap, useful, and competent role players and maybe/maybe not fifth starters. Going for the home run is more fun – heck, I do it all the time and would go to bat for upside over certainty if forced to choose – but ML-ready talent that can be used to patch holes on rosters right now are grossly undervalued on expert lists. Maybe this is just the native Philadelphian in me, but I’d kill for a guy with a solid draft pedigree, decent stuff, and consistently stellar minor league success like Tyler Pill right now on the Phillies roster.

JR LHP Justin Jacome, currently better known as Tate’s rotation-mate with UC Santa Barbara, deserves more draft love than he’s currently getting. Like Eshelman, he won’t overwhelm you with his velocity (85-90 FB, 92 peak) but the confidence he has in all five pitches (cutter, CB, CU, SL) makes it work. His size, athleticism, command, and changeup (my favorite of his secondaries) are all points in his favor. Next time anybody takes me too seriously, just remember that I had UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Dylan Hecht on my 2015 prospect to know list last year instead of Tate. I was buying him as the better bet to make the conversion to the rotation for reasons I don’t even remember. Now I can’t even find the guy on a roster. Anybody have any insight there? Ten minutes of Googling has me with more questions than answers.

Cal State Northridge JR RHP Calvin Copping is intriguing because of a fastball with more coming (86-92 now), occasional plus slider, and a changeup with promise. Cal State Fullerton SR LHP Tyler Peitzmeier is one of the country’s best relievers with the stuff (87-90 FB, plus CU) and deception to keep missing bats as a pro. UC Davis rJR RHP Max Cordy is a power arm with a plus fastball and not so plus control. As a high-profile transfer from Tennessee, UC Irvine JR RHP Matt Esparza was a name to watch coming into the season. He’s delivered so far as he’s ably mixed a solid fastball (88-93), plus hard splitter/slider thing, and flashed a truer breaking ball (upper-70s curve) with above-average upside.

The pitching in the Big West is deep and impressive, but what about the prospects tasked with hitting off these guys? The second base Big West prospect group for 2015 is a lot of fun. I could see up to a half-dozen future professional second basemen coming out of here. The obvious headliner is Cal Poly JR 2B/OF Mark Mathias. Mathias is a famous enough prospect by now that I probably don’t have to even mention this, but, man, can he hit. Mathias and hitter are basically synonymous at this point. He’s one of only two players in this year’s college class that I can put down plus for his hit tool and walk away feeling totally confident. A search of “plus hit” in my 130,000+ Word document produces only nine matches. Among them are UCLA JR OF Ty Moore, Mathias’s plus hit tool peer, and Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio (a reasonable comp as a hitter for Mathias), as well as a few 2015 draft-eligible players I noted as having a chance for a plus hit tool in Cincinnati JR 2B/OF Ian Happ and Mississippi State rSO OF Jacob Robson. Other players in the mix for best hit tool in this class include obvious candidates like Arizona JR SS Kevin Newman, Vanderbilt JR SS Dansby Swanson, LSU JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman, and Florida State JR OF DJ Stewart. Dark horses I like more than others – and, again, we’re talking straight hit tool here only – are Auburn JR OF/2B Jordan Ebert and Ohio SR 1B Jake Madsen.

Some players engender more comps than others and for whatever reason Mathias is one of those guys. Baseball America has thrown out David Bell and Sam Travis as comparisons in the past. I’ve heard Placido Polanco, Howie Kendrick, and, my personal favorite (and, though he’s never told me why, one of my dad’s all-time favorite players) Mark Loretta.

UC Davis rSR 2B/OF Tino Lipson is a versatile defender (who happens to be really good at second) with plus speed and a patient approach. The buzz on Long Beach State rJR 2B Zach Domingues coming into the season shocked me in a good way. His bat has been slow to warm up so far this year, though he’s found a way to control the strike zone, one of the main selling parts of his game, despite his struggles. Cal State Fullerton JR 2B/SS Jake Jefferies is a quality all-around player who could see his stock rise if teams feel confident about his glove being able to hang at shortstop in small doses. Hawaii SR 2B Stephen Ventimilia isn’t big, but he’s a fantastic runner and athlete with a serious knack for getting on base.

As if this class needed another shortstop with the upside to one day start in the big leagues, here comes wildly underrated Cal Poly SS Peter Van Gansen and his steady glove, strong arm, and patient approach. He’s on the thin line between future utility player and potential regular right now, though his increased pop in 2015 could convince some teams he’ll hit enough to hold his own at the bottom of a lineup. I’m admittedly higher on him than most, but he checks enough of the boxes that teams like in potential backup infielders that I think he’ll wind up a valuable draft asset.

Cal Poly JR C Brian Mundell just keeps chugging along as one of the west coast’s most underrated catching prospects. All he’s done is produce since his first day on campus. I have him as a potential high-level backup catcher with the upside of starting in the big leagues with continued development. That’s aggressive, but, much like Van Gansen, I just like the way he plays the game.

UC Davis JR C Cameron Olson hasn’t been able to put it all together quite yet, but if he does then it’ll be worth the wait. His plus raw power and plus arm strength combination is what evaluators dream about. On the other end of the spectrum is the reliable yet unexciting profile of UC Irvine rSR C Jerry McClanahan. The veteran Anteater’s patient approach at the plate is my kind of prospect, but his lack of power and advanced age make him more organizational depth than future big league backup. Of course, the former can become the latter in certain cases, and there are all kinds of unseen advantages in bringing in quality workers like McClanahan to work with your minor league pitchers. I’d still have to take the upside play in Olson over the steady yet limited McClanahan, but I could understand why a team would want to use a late pick on a catcher that would put his pitchers first.

I’ve always been fond of Cal State Northridge rJR OF Spencer O’Neil’s physical ability, but his approach at the plate needs to change in a hurry if he’s to have the kind of pro future his raw talent suggests. UC Santa Barbara JR OF/1B Dalton Kelly has similar issues as a hitter, though he’s a really interesting athlete with serious speed and defensive tools varied enough to play both 1B and CF at a high level.


Back when I guess I thought I would physically be able to cover every team in college baseball I began working on previews for a few Big West schools. Since they’d never see the light of day otherwise, why not rescue these unfinished drafts from my Gmail archives with the adoring public? Keep in mind that these were all written back in December, so blame any stupidity you read on that fact and that fact alone.

Long Beach State

SO SS Garrett Hampson’s time under the draft microscope is still a year away, but that won’t stop scouts from honing in on him this spring. Part of that is because he’s a huge draw on his own (crazy speed, great athlete, all the defensive upside you could ask for) and part of that is because he’s one of the very few draws on the roster. That’s not to say that players won’t emerge or that I’m missing quality prospects hiding in plain sight, but I’m not sure there’s a sure-fire 2015 draft prospect on this roster. JR 3B Zack Rivera showed promise in 2013, but his production took a dive in a small sample last year. JR C Eric Hutting has professional backup catcher traits (arm, glove, athleticism), but, like Rivera, took too big a step back with the bat last year for me to be comfortable calling him a 2015 draft lock. rSR RHP Kyle Friedrichs, a Tommy John surgery survivor back in 2013, has always had nice peripherals and solid stuff. He’s probably my favorite of the upperclass pitching crop, but it’s an admittedly thin group at the moment.


There’s some nice talent scattered across the Hawaii lineup. You can point to just about any regular position player and identify a skill or tool that stands out enough to get on a follow list. There’s not much power on the roster, so scouts will key on players that could keep advancing levels by way of their speed, defense, and athleticism. The two players that best embody those physical attributes are SR OF Keao Aliviado and SR 2B Stephen Ventimilia. Both seniors are undersized (5-7ish, 160ish pounds) grinders with athleticism to spare. Ventimilia is the better runner and Aliviado has flashed a tiny bit more functional power, but those are two of the few separating characteristics here. Each guy has hit well in a wood bat league, each guy has walked as much as he’s struck out (more or less in Aliviado’s case), and each guy should have no problem hanging at an up-the-middle defensive position. Neither player profiles as anything close to a starter, but both should be late-round senior signs and strong organizational players with the kind of makeup that would give an organizational a net gain just by being around other young players.

Hawaii’s pitching looks decent enough that it’s not crazy to think a pitcher or two could get selected off the roster in June. I’m curious to see what JR RHP Tyler Brashears can do, hopeful that SR RHP Eric Gleese can put it all together in his last year, and fascinating to see what rSR LHP Jarrett Arakawa has left in the tank. Arakawa, a fifth-year senior who’s strong freshman season (7.43 K/9) got him early attention, has survived a missed season (2013) after having a procedure done on his labrum. What he lacks in stuff post-injury he makes up for in guile on the mound. His case may unfortunately wind up as a “what if” rather than a happy draft day ending, but just having the opportunity to convince scouts he’s got what it takes to pitch professionally one last time is a success for Arakawa at this point.

Cal State Northridge

I still have the quote saved from when rJR OF Spencer O’Neil left Oregon after the 2013 season: he “decided to pursue other opportunities” and that was that. Well he’s back playing D1 ball this year and I’m damn pleased to see it. There’s the big question as to whether his approach will remain a hindrance to his overall game, especially after a year at junior college that showed little to no gains from his freshman season at Oregon (from 6 BB and 32 K at Oregon to 8 BB and 30 K at Central Arizona). I liken him to a power pitcher capable of hitting the mid-90s with a darting fastball that he has no idea how to harness effectively. The raw talent is obvious, but bridging the gap from prospect to player is going to take a lot more work than your typical draftable college bat.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting

  1. Cal Poly JR 2B/OF Mark Mathias
  2. Cal Poly JR SS Peter Van Gansen
  3. UC Davis rSR 2B/OF Tino Lipson
  4. Long Beach State rJR 2B Zach Domingues
  5. Cal Poly JR C Brian Mundell
  6. Cal State Northridge rJR OF Spencer O’Neil
  7. UC Santa Barbara JR OF/1B Dalton Kelly
  8. Cal State Fullerton JR 2B/SS Jake Jefferies
  9. UC Davis JR C Cameron Olson
  10. Hawaii SR OF Keao Aliviado
  11. Cal State Fullerton JR 1B Tanner Pinkston
  12. Cal Poly SR OF Zack Zehner
  13. UC Davis rSR 1B/3B Nick Lynch
  14. Hawaii SR 2B Stephen Ventimilia
  15. UC Irvine rSR C Jerry McClanahan
  16. UC Riverside SR 2B/OF Joe Chavez
  17. UC Santa Barbara SR OF Cameron Newell
  18. Cal State Northridge SR C Nick Murphy

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Dillon Tate
  2. Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Thomas Eshelman
  3. Cal State Fullerton JR RHP Justin Garza
  4. UC Santa Barbara JR LHP Justin Jacome
  5. Cal State Northridge JR RHP Calvin Copping
  6. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Dylan Hecht
  7. Cal State Northridge rSR RHP Kyle Ferramola
  8. Hawaii JR RHP Tyler Brashears
  9. Cal State Fullerton SR LHP Tyler Peitzmeier
  10. UC Davis rJR RHP Max Cordy
  11. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Connor Baits
  12. Cal State Fullerton SR RHP Willie Kuhl
  13. Cal State Northridge SR LHP Jerry Keel
  14. UC Irvine JR RHP Matt Esparza
  15. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Trevor Bettencourt
  16. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP James Carter
  17. UC Riverside JR RHP Keaton Leach
  18. Cal Poly SR LHP Taylor Chris
  19. Hawaii JR RHP LJ Brewster
  20. Cal Poly JR RHP Casey Bloomquist
  21. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP Kenny Chapman
  22. Hawaii SR RHP Eric Gleese
  23. UC Riverside SR LHP Kevin Sprague
  24. UC Santa Barbara JR RHP/3B Robby Nesovic
  25. Hawaii rSR LHP Jarrett Arakawa
  26. Hawaii JR RHP Josh Pigg
  27. Cal State Northridge JR RHP Rayne Raven

Ceilings, Floors, Tyler Jay, and Dillon Tate

I probably shouldn’t reveal something that will undoubtedly make this whole site feel like even more of an amateur operation that it already does, but the impetus for rearranging a few important names (done so before I published it) within the top dozen or so college pitching prospect ranking was a team-specific email I was very casually firing off to a friend. I started by trying to answer the simple question of which college pitcher would I most like to see still on the board if I was a fan of a team picking in the middle of the draft’s first round. I like thinking about that question at the start of the amateur season because it generates a lot more discussion than a simple “Who would you take at 1-1?” query. Right now, I’m pretty sure I’d answer Brady Aiken and Michael Matuella for the latter question, but they would not necessarily be at the top of my list for the first hypothetical. That may seem a bit counter-intuitive, so allow me to explain.

Let’s say you’re picking tenth overall this year. As exciting as it would be to still see Aiken or Matuella on the board that low in the first round, you’d have to assume that there’s a really good reason for the fall. In the case of both Aiken and Matuella, there is an undeniable injury concern that is still a long way from being answered this spring. I think the only way that either pitcher would still be available that late is if news of a significant injury (a la Jeff Hoffman last year) broke between now and June. In last year’s draft, I think a really strong argument could have been made that Hoffman was talented enough compared to his peers that taking him around tenth overall even over healthy pitchers was a gamble worth taking. The peer group surrounding Aiken and Matuella (and any other pitcher that may or may not get red-flagged for injuries this spring) is much stronger. A Phillies fan would have been justified (in my view) in wanting to see his team gamble on Hoffman over Aaron Nola last year; this year, however, taking an injured Aiken or Matuella over a healthy Nathan Kirby, Walker Buehler, or Dillon Tate would make little sense. When you go to the next tier down (Carson Fulmer, Tyler Jay, Kyle Funkhouser, Phil Bickford), then I can begin to see the argument of gambling on a full return to health for Aiken or Matuella beginning to seem more appealing.

(Hastily added post-publication transition goes here. Use your imagination that I wrote something good…)

Even though I included him in the tier with Fulmer, Funkhouser, and Bickford and ranked him in the seven spot on my “preseason” draft rankings, I still think I’ve given short shrift to Tyler Jay. It’s fairly stunning to me that so much was made before the year by many (Keith Law, most famously) about UCSB’s curious decision to leave Dillon Tate in the bullpen, but I haven’t heard one peep about Jay’s usage. We all know by now that a last minute injury opened the door for Tate to start and the script has more or less written itself since then. What I don’t understand is how quiet the internet has been concerning Jay, a wildly talented young lefthander left to pitch only in short, unpredictable outings as Illinois’ closer. I’m not particularly interested in getting into the moral debate about what is best for the player versus what will most benefit the team (fine, real quick here’s my non-morals, all-baseball take: it’s crazy not to start a pitcher like Jay if the pitcher can in fact start), but I’d really like to see a potential first round player play on a regular schedule that would more easily allow as many well-earned eyeballs on him as possible. It’s nuts that literally everybody I’ve talked to, most everything I’ve read, and my own dumb intuition/common sense hybrid approach to this kind of thing (four pitches? great athlete? repeatable delivery?) point towards Jay entering pro ball as a starting pitcher despite never getting an opportunity to take the mound in the first inning in three years of college. If he’s good enough to start professionally three months from now, then he’s damn sure good enough to start in the Big 10. (This is the part where I’ll at least mention that Illinois’ pitching staff is loaded and whatever the coaches want to do with their team is their call. Still, for both short-term [Jay is awesome, so give him more innings] and long-term [Jay getting more innings will show everybody he is awesome, he’ll go higher in the draft because of it, and you can tell recruits you had a guy go top five rather than top twenty-five] reasons, I’d think the decision to start your best pitcher would be a no-brainer. I won’t kill them because it’s quite possible that the Illini coaching staff has information about Jay’s ability to start [relative to his teammates, if nothing else] that we don’t know from the outside looking in. Either that or they are being irrational and buying into old school baseball tropes that will only make their team worse anyway. Where were we?) If Jay goes as high as his raw talent merits (he’s easily a first round pick), then we’re talking about a college reliever being drafted right into a professional rotation. Such a move feels unprecedented to me; a quick check back through the archives reveals only one other similar first round case in the six drafts I’ve covered in depth since starting the site. The only first round college reliever drafted with the idea of converting him to the rotation professionally was Chris Reed. More on that from back in November 2011…

As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.

I swear I didn’t copy/paste that just because it’s one of my few predictions to have held up really well so far. I mean, that was a big part of it, sure, but not the only reason. I guess I just find the case of Jay continuously flying just under the radar to be more bizarre than anything. I’m almost at the point where I’m starting to question what negatives I’m missing. A smart team in the mid- to late-first round is going to get a crazy value when Jay inevitably slips due to the unknown of how he’ll hold up as a starter. Between his extreme athleticism, a repertoire bursting at the seams with above-average to plus offerings (plus FB, above-average CB that flashes plus, above-average SL that flashes plus, average or better CU with plus upside), and dominant results to date at the college level (reliever or not), there’s little doubt in my mind that Jay can do big things in a big league rotation sooner rather than later. There two questions that will need to be answered as he gets stretched out as a starter will be how effective he’ll be going through lineups multiple times (with the depth of his arsenal I’m confident he’ll be fine here) and how hot his fastball will remain (and how crisp his breaking stuff stays) when pitch counts climb. That’s a tough one to answer at the present moment, but the athleticism, balance, and tempo in Jay’s delivery give me hope.

It’s hard to mention Jay without also mentioning Tate (multiple times, apparently), the fastest rising of this year’s college group of starter/reliever question marks (Carson Fulmer being the third). Tate’s turn in the rotation this year has allowed him to begin to answer all of those questions emphatically in the positive. His fastball has dipped some late in games so far this year (95-98 early to 91-93 late), but that’s less of a problem when you’re already starting at easy plus to plus-plus velocities; we should all be so lucky to throw in the low-90s when tired. Jay has shown similar velocity to Tate so far out of the bullpen (mid- to upper-90s), so even knocking a few MPHs off his peaks in short bursts would allow his fastball to play at a more than acceptable level in the pros. Just because Tate has done it obviously doesn’t mean Jay is a lock to do it when he gets his chance, but it’s a nice parallel to draw from two fairly similarly talented prospects.

Speaking of parallels, and I really hate to make this comparison because of how lazy it’ll appear, hear me out with this one. Long-time readers of the site know I do my best to look past player characteristics that don’t matter when it comes to developing comps, so hopefully I get the benefit of the doubt on this one. In all honesty, it makes a lot of baseball sense so whatever let’s just do it: Tate’s scouting profile looks a lot like Marcus Stroman’s coming out of Duke. The differences (mechanics aren’t similar at all [man, I loved Stroman’s] and Tate has a few inches on Stroman) are real, but the ties that bind the two are far more interesting. Both Tate and Stroman were primarily relievers through two years of college (Stroman made 13 starts out of his 34 games), both are/were great athletes with repeatable deliveries (even if you don’t love Tate’s, as I don’t, he is athletic enough to keep it up), and both clearly had the stuff to start once you looked past some of the superficial “he’s a reliever!” concerns (big fastballs, plus hard sliders/cutters, and underdeveloped changeups with big upside). I think it’s pretty cool that we’ve come far enough in just a few short years to better appreciate what a slightly non-conventional pitcher can do, and Tate should have no problem blowing past Stroman’s draft ceiling (22nd overall pick) this June. It helps that Tate has a little more size — Stroman being 5’9″ took the short righthander thing to a wonderful extreme — and a few additional contemporary examples of young big leaguers (Yordano Ventura) and minor league stars (Luis Severino) that helped crack the shorty righty glass ceiling. Speaking of Severino, I don’t know if that’s a terrible comparison for Tate, either. I prefer Stroman, but Severino, who dazzled me the two different times I got to see him this summer (93-96 FB, 98 peak; cartoonish mid-80s breaking ball, and a more advanced CU than most pitchers his age), isn’t a terrible name to be associated with.

Man, this is the kind of post that I just sit and write without doing much planning. Now that I’ve re-read it, it shows. Originally I thought we were going to get into the high-ceiling/high-floor abilities of Nathan Kirby and Walker Buehler (and maybe a little Tate), but it wound up mostly being about Tyler Jay and Tate. Two thousand words later and here we are. Go figure.