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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Houston Astros

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Houston in 2016

26 – Forrest Whitley
82 – Ronnie Dawson
88 – Jake Rogers
200 – Carmen Benedetti
230 – Ryne Birk
265 – Stephen Wrenn
327 – Dustin Hunt
478 – Taylor Jones
488 – Brett Adcock
498 – Chad Donato

Complete List of 2016 Houston Draftees

1.17 – RHP Forrest Whitley

On Forrest Whitley (26) from 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.

Honestly, not a whole lot has changed from the pre-draft evaluation on Whitley to now. There’s a ton to like with him: big fastball that went on to hit 97 MPH later in the spring (his weight was down to 225 by then, too), nasty hard cut-slider, power split-change that is lethal when on, and a truer breaker that lives somewhere between a curve and a slider at around 76-81 MPH. Whitley carries all the risk that big teenage pitchers bring to the table, but the upside here is immense. He has the kind of talent that makes you think putting a ceiling on what he can do is a waste of time. I’ll do it anyway and say that Whitley’s upside looks a lot like what we’ve seen so far out of Gerrit Cole.

2.61 – OF Ronnie Dawson

On Ronnie Dawson (82) from October 2015…

You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.

A final spring at Ohio State didn’t quite answer the question about Dawson’s approach, but the incremental improvements he’s made in that area of his game over the years gives hope that he’s a young hitter who gets it. I think Dawson is a long-term regular in an outfield corner with flashes of all-star season upside. His improved approach combined with the existing physical tool set (above-average power, speed, arm, and range in a corner) should get him where he wants to go. It’s not a direct one-to-one comparison, but there are a lot of similarities between Dawson and future Houston teammate George Springer when the latter was coming out of Connecticut.

3.97 – C Jake Rogers

Jake Rogers (88) to Houston makes so much sense. A team that values defense behind the plate, especially the previously “hidden” (i.e., not publicized) advantages of such things as pitch-framing, taking one of the amateur rank’s best defensive catchers to enter pro ball in years. It would be terrible for his own development, but I wonder what kind of defensive numbers Rogers could put up jumping straight to the big leagues in year one. Just tell him to hit .200 and play the kind of defense that impressed me so much that I compared his all-around game behind the plate to the Florida State version of Buster Posey. It’ll never happen (thankfully), but it would be kind of fun.

With Rogers being a stone cold mortal lock to provide tremendous defensive value going forward (top five defensive catcher in baseball by the end of his rookie year?), the question then moves to how much you’ll get out of him as a hitter. There are a few different ways we can approach Rogers as a hitter, but, for the sake of brevity, let’s hone in on his power upside. Rogers has more raw power (average to above-average) than he’s shown, which can be looked at either as a positive (it’s in there, we just have to find a way to unlock it!) or a negative (raw power is great, but if he hasn’t figured out how to tap into it by now then it doesn’t do us any good). I tend to side with the positive thinkers there if only because the day-to-day hands-on teaching that goes on in pro ball (especially in an organization like Houston that takes the long view with player development) is so different than what amateur prospects get in college, high school, or on the showcase circuit (LOL). Dedicated time, effort, and energy of pro instruction needs to at least be given a chance before writing off any particular amateur’s odds of improvement. Rogers getting into a little more power would hardly qualify as a shocker, and the overall bump of such a development would make him more of a complete prospect. I think 2016 Russell Martin (.231/.335/.398, 99 wRC+) is probably Rogers’s ceiling as a hitter, though I could be talked into bumping that up to Martin’s current career mark (.254/.350/.404, 106 wRC+) if we wanted to keep these optimistic vibes going. Approaching that kind of offensive output with his brand of defensive brilliance would make Rogers a very valuable player and a very rich man. Consider former Astros catcher and current Twin Jason Castro (.232/.309/.390, 94 wRC+) and his recent three-year contract worth $24.5 million. No reason that Rogers can’t have a similar career or better.

4.127 – LHP Brett Adcock

On Brett Adcock (488) from April 2016…

Brett Adcock doesn’t have the size as Vieaux, Sawyer, or his teammate Hill, but his stuff is no less impressive. Lefties that can throw four pitches for strikes with his kind of track record of success, both peripherally (10.29 K/9 in 2014, 9.50 K/9 in 2015) and traditionally (2.87 ERA in 2014, 3.10 ERA in 2015), have a tendency to get noticed even when coming in a 6-0, 215 package. I had somebody describe him to me as “Anthony Kay without the killer change,” an odd comparison that kind of works the less you think about it. Adcock has a good fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and two average or better breaking balls (77-81 SL is fine, but his 75-78 CB could be a big league put away pitch) in addition to an upper-70s changeup that is plenty usable yet hardly on par with Kay’s dominant offering. If Kay is a borderline first round talent (he is), then surely Adcock could find his way into the draft’s top five or so rounds. That might be too aggressive to some, so I’ll agree to knocking down expectations to single-digit rounds and calling it even.

From about the time of that writing on, Adock’s control went from iffy to downright scary. That leaves us with a short lefthander that can really only command two pitches (fastball and 75-82 spike-curve) who will need a lot of work in pro ball. I don’t love it. If his delivery can be tweaked enough to see a return to his freshman year control (3.38 BB/9), then we can get back to thinking about him as a potential fifth starter candidate. If not, then effectively wild lefthanded reliever it is.

5.157 – 3B Abraham Toro-Hernandez

The Astros must have been cussing out the Royals in their draft room when Kansas City stole Seminole State RHP Dillon Drabble away from them in the seventeenth round. The lousy Royals foiled Houston’s plan of drafting not one, not two, not three, but four prospects from one junior college in Oklahoma. I’ve discussed my distaste for loading up on players from one school too many times to count during these draft reviews, so we’ll instead focus on the actual player drafted by Houston here. That would be Abraham Toro-Hernandez, a third baseman coming off a season so good (.439/.545/.849 with 38 BB/18 K and 8/9 SB in 205 AB) that I literally had to check his state page multiple time to be sure I didn’t mess up somehow. Pro ball was slightly more challenging (.254/.301/.322 with 10 BB/31 K in 193 PA) for the 19-year-old, but I’m still liking Houston’s willingness to put real stock in players coming off of exceptional amateur careers. Toro-Hernandez is a solid athlete who has already shown elite plate discipline and power potential. That’s a great starting point to build from.

6.187 – OF Stephen Wrenn

I’ve been writing about the MLB Draft on the internet for long enough now to develop enough of a core audience that I feel comfortable sharing my inner-most secrets with you. Ready for this one? I’m not sure I’ve ever really realized that Stephen Wrenn (265) and Steven Duggar, former Clemson star and Giants draft pick from 2015, were actually different people. I mean, sure, I knew there were not the same literal person, but the two prospects were so similar to me that my brain just melded them into one player and I think that thought may have bled into some of the analysis for both guys. Making matters more confusing (and validating my apparent stupidity), Wrenn went off the board to Houston in the sixth round with the 187th overall pick. San Francisco took Duggar last year in the sixth round with the 186th overall pick. I swear I didn’t realize that before writing the first four sentences of this intro. Life is weird, man.

Whatever similarity the two players once shared went by the wayside in 2016, draft position oddity aside. Duggar really began to click as a hitter during his junior year at Clemson; Wrenn went backwards in his final season at Georgia. The fact that the latter still got picked in the same spot as the former should speak to Wrenn’s upside. Unfortunately, said upside has only ever manifested itself in flashes. His speed, glove, and baseball instincts should all help keep him employed a long time, but his approach at the plate keeps him from being the star (or at least slam dunk potential regular) that he should be. I’ve gotten comps on him that range from Leonys Martin to Kevin Pillar to Adam Jones. That’s a fairly broad spectrum, but certain traits (CF range, athleticism, evidence of more physical gifts than baseball skills at times) are fairly consistent throughout. Personally, I see him as a potential (more naturally gifted) Juan Lagares type at the next level: plus defender, intermittent power, positive on the base paths. Peak Lagares (2014) with the most recent version’s power (2016) would give you around a .280/.320/.420 hitter. That seems like a reasonable offensive ceiling for Wrenn. Even getting near that with his glove would make for a really useful player. If you’re picking up on some similarities between the questionable bat/standout defensive up-the-middle profiles of Wrenn and Jake Rogers, then we’re on the same wavelength.

8.247 – RHP Nick Hernandez

One outstanding year at Houston (11.75 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9 in 43.2 IP) was more than enough evidence to convince the Astros to pluck Nick Hernandez out of their own backyard. The power-armed righthander (88-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average low-80s SL) kept right on rolling in pro ball after signing (10.38 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9 in 26.0 IP). Curiously, Hernandez finished his (small sample) debut with one of the lowest GB rates (28.6%) out of any pitcher I’ve come across in organized ball. No idea if that’s an aberration or part of a larger trend, but it’s something to keep in mind going forward.

9.277 – LHP Ryan Hartman

NAIA competition or not, a 0.64 ERA in 98 innings pitched with standout peripherals (11.85 K/9 and 1.10 BB/9) is something special. Ryan Hartman put up those awesome senior year stats thanks to a solid heater (87-91, up to 93) and a really good changeup he’s not afraid to double up on when needed. An improving curve could give him a shot to remain in the rotation as a professional, but for now his clearest path to the big leagues looks to come as a fast-tracked reliever. I like it.

10.307 – RHP Dustin Hunt

Dustin Hunt (327) is a fine project to take on at this stage in the draft. His size (6-5, 200), fastball (87-93, 94-95 peak), and track record (the three-year rotation mainstay put up a 9.04 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9 in almost 250 total college innings) stack up against just about any college pitching prospect you’ll find past the first few rounds of the draft. I’m less enamored with his offspeed stuff than most, but the good outweighs the bad and time is still on his side anyway. Nice pick.

11.337 – RHP Chad Donato

Chad Donato’s (498) future remains somewhat cloudy after being red flagged by many teams after being diagnosed with a strained UCL just a few days before the draft. Donato wound up needing Tommy John surgery; he underwent the procedure on July 1, the same day as three other professional pitchers according to this wonderful resource that I can’t believe I’m only now seeing for the first time. If Donato can return to 100% health, then the Astros may have stolen a future quality big league reliever in the eleventh round. With a fastball up to 94 (88-92 typically), an above-average to plus curve, and standout control, Donato was able to dominate (10.37 K/9 and 1.87 BB/9) college competition in his junior year in Morgantown.

There are too many cool anecdotes in this story on Donato’s draft day experience that I couldn’t pick just one to share. Read it yourself and see. I’m such a sucker for these types of stories.

And for the millionth time this draft review season, THIS is what the eleventh round is all about. Well, kind of. Even though Donato’s $100,000 bonus wasn’t technically an overslot deal that counted against Houston’s allotted bonus pool, the eleventh round was still the perfect time to give a talented but risky guy like Donato six-figures. Use the last few single-digit rounds for cheaper senior-signs — like Houston did with Ryan Hartman in round nine — to give yourself flexibility elsewhere.

12.367 – LHP Carmen Benedetti

Though announced as a pitcher on draft day, Carmen Benedetti (200) played almost every inning of his rookie pro season in right field. This decision pleases me greatly. If you’re a regular reader, you know why. If not, you’ll learn. On Benedetti from April 2016…

Carmen Benedetti is such a favorite of mine that I didn’t even bother with dropping the FAVORITE designation in my notes on him; it’s just assumed. He’s not the best prospect in this class, but he has a case for being one of the best players. I’ve compared him to Florida’s Brian Johnson (now with the Boston Red Sox) in the past and I think he’s legitimately good enough both as a pitcher and a hitter to have a pro future no matter what his drafting team prefers. As with Johnson, I prefer Benedetti getting his shot as a position player first. I’m a sucker for smooth fielding first basemen with bat speed, above-average raw power, and the kind of disciplined approach one might expect from a part-time pitcher who can fill up the strike zone with the best of them. If he does wind up on the mound, I won’t object. He’s good enough to transition to the rotation professionally thanks to a fine fastball (90-94), above-average 77-80 change, a usable curve, and heaps of athleticism. I get that I like Benedetti and this draft class more than most, but the fact that a prospect of his caliber isn’t likely to even approach Johnson’s draft position (31st overall) says something about the quality and depth of the 2016 MLB Draft.

And again later that same month…

Search for “Carmen Benedetti” on this site. I’ve written a lot about him lately. Assuming you don’t — and good for you not being bossed around by some baseball nerd on the internet — the quick version is he’s really good at baseball, both the hitting/fielding part and the pitching part. I’ve likened him to Brian Johnson more than once, and I think he’s shown enough as a position player to get a shot in the field first. The raw power might not scream slam dunk future big league regular at first base, but the overall offensive and defensive profile could make him an above-average regular for a long time.

I really like Benedetti. I think I’ve made that clear. Now let me pump the breaks a little bit. Here’s a topical comparison to consider…

.323/.410/.485 (56 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR) with 83 BB/76 K in 549 AB
.327/.444/.446 (45 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR) with 127 BB/100 K in 626 AB

Top was Benedetti in his three years at Michigan, bottom was what Houston prospect Conrad Gregor did in his three years at Vanderbilt. Gregor was a FAVORITE who I thought would up his offensive game to another level in the pros. Hasn’t happened. So many of the notes I have on Benedetti match up with what I once had on Gregor. Here’s a sampling of some older Gregor notes: “plus defender at first, pretty good in outfield; average speed once he gets a full head of steam; good arm, but slow release; very strong hit tool; great approach; physically strong; smart hitter, but still chases too many bad balls; plus bat speed; can get pull happy; pretty swing; that raw power is still there, but has been slow to manifest.” Every player is different and should be assessed independent of whatever his peer has done, but there’s no harm in attempting to find patterns in player archetypes that work or don’t work within your own organization. Gregor hasn’t worked out to date; that can be attributed to him, the Astros, or (most likely) the nature of the challenge that is professional ball. Hopefully Benedetti can avoid the pitfalls that have ensnared Gregor to this point. If not, hey, there’s always the option of moving back to the mound.

I should close with that rare snappy line, but I can’t help myself; I’m pulling a reverse Costanza here. The college stat comparison game is one I enjoy even though I freely admit that stats can sometimes be used to create false equivalencies and lead to faulty conclusions. I mean, I don’t do that — or at least I try not to — but it can be done. For example, maybe you really like Benedetti and you take exception to the Gregor comparison above. You might pull this guy’s numbers to use as a basis of comparison instead…

.323/.410/.485 (56 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR) with 83 BB/76 K in 549 AB
.341/.410/.466 (42 2B, 4 3B, 12 HR) with 62 BB/68 K in 689 AB

Top is still Benedetti at Michigan, but the bottom is now Cardinals standout Stephen Piscotty’s career numbers at Stanford. Pretty damn similar, right? So maybe Benedetti is Gregor or maybe he’s Piscotty. Or maybe he’s just Benedetti. I keep looking up at his college numbers and thinking that some slightly scaling back — about 50 points of everything, give or take — could represent a reasonable pro ceiling for him. So that would be something like .280/.360/.430 at his peak. Those numbers would make him almost an exact duplicate of 2016 Odubel Herrera. That’s…unexpected but great. Other 2016 outfielders with a similar line include Adam Eaton, Kole Calhoun, and Stephen Piscotty (!). The closest 2016 first base facsimiles are Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Hosmer. You’d take the 2016 version of any of those hitters out of a plus defender at first or a strong-armed right fielder. Maybe Benedetti won’t have to hop back on the mound after all…

13.397 – 2B Ryne Birk

Ryne Birk (230) has always hit, so it wasn’t a huge shock to many long-time observers of his game that he kept right on hitting in pro ball after signing. Even better than the hitting (for me) was the apparent commitment by Houston to give Birk an honest shot to stick in the dirt going forward. From March 2016…

Birk has worked his tail off to become a competent defender at the keystone, so selecting him this early is a vote of confidence in his glove passing the professional barrier of quality in the eyes of his first wave of pro coaches. I think he’s more than good enough at second with an intriguing enough upside as a hitter to make a top five round pick worth it. Offensively he’s shown average power, above-average speed, and good feel for contact. Sorting out his approach will be the difference between fun utility option or solid starter once he hits pro ball. He reminds me a good bit of Trever Morrison as a prospect, right down to the slightly off spellings of their respective first names.

And then again in April 2016…

A lot of what was written about Shelby could apply to Ryne Birk, at least in a poor man’s version kind of way. Birk might be a little ahead in terms of power and approach, but Shelby beats him everywhere else. I’ve gotten positive reviews on his glove at second this year, but there are still a few who maintain that his speed (good not great) and arm (neither good nor great) will force him to left field in the pros. For those reasons and more, I’ve gotten a fun and somewhat obscure Andrew Pullin comp for him this spring.

As much as I like Birk’s bat independent of where he plays, even I have to admit that the offensive bar in left field would be tough for him to clear enough to be considered a legitimate prospect at the position. At second, a position where I’ll go down believing he can play until he’s long retired, he’s instantly one of the most interesting prospects of his kind in baseball. I mentioned comps to both Trever Morrison and Andrew Pullin in the months leading up to the draft, but it now occurs to me that Birk could be a little bit like this draft’s version of Max Schrock. Coincidentally (I swear!), both Birk and Schrock fell to the thirteenth round in their respective drafts. Hmm.

14.427 – RHP Carson LaRue

A 11.28 K/9 and 2.79 BB/9 for Carson LaRue at Cowley County CC looks pretty good from where I’m sitting. The former Oklahoma State pitcher has the low-90s fastball/weaponized slider one-two punch to get a potential look in relief down the line.

15.457 – SS Alex DeGoti

Alex DeGoti could be another one of Houston’s patented non-D1 college finds. The middle infielder hit .404/.492/.694 with 27 BB/22 K in 193 AB at Barry after three lackluster years at Long Beach State. He then followed it up with a .228/.320/.329 (99 wRC+) pro debut. Not too shabby.

16.487 – OF Spencer Johnson

Spencer Johnson has been a consistently impressive power/speed threat going back to his high school days. I’ve always been surprised at the lack of hype the 6-4, 215 pound physical specimen has received over the years. Of course, I’m guilty of this as well if you want to check the archives. There’s no time like the present to talk a guy up, so that’s what we’ll do with Johnson now. Houston got themselves a really interesting player in the draft’s sixteenth round. From a strictly physical standpoint, Johnson is one of the draft’s best looking prospects. He has huge raw power, decent speed (admittedly not quite as much as he had in his younger days), and is unafraid to grip it and rip it in any count. That aggressive style works for him more often than not, but an avalanche of strikeouts is never that far away. If he can limit the empty swings in pro ball, he’s got a chance to do some damage in a bench role.

18.547 – RHP Colin McKee

Colin McKee dominated at Mercyhurst in his redshirt-junior season to the tune of a 13.50 K/9 and 1.82 ERA in 94.0 IP. His first 8.1 IP as a pro weren’t quite as magical unless you consider 7 BB, 2 HBP, 7 WP, and an ERA of 11.88 a good time. At least his FIP was just 8.58. Those 8.1 innings were obviously a less than ideal way to make a first impression, but McKee still has plenty going for him. He’s got the track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good 76-81 SL), and build (6-3, 225) to pitch his way back into the future middle relief mix for Houston.

19.577 – 1B Taylor Jones

I like this one. On Taylor Jones (478) from March 2016…

Taylor Jones is a risky pick behind Brigman as guys with long levers bring that boom/bust aspect to hitting. The boom of Jones’s power currently outweighs any bust I feel about his long-term ability to make consistent contact as a pro. The fact that he’s more than just a slugger helps give some wiggle room. Jones is an average runner who fields his position really well. He’s also capable of moonlighting on the mound thanks to an upper-80s fastball and up-and-down curve. Broken record alert, but he’s one of my favorite senior-sign hitters in this class. That makes about four dozen favorite senior-sign hitters; thankfully, nobody keeps track.

One day I’ll stop getting sucked into believing that the next giant hitter — Jones is 6-7, 225 pounds — will find a way to make enough contact to be a star in the pros. One day…

(Jones hit really well in his pro debut, BTW. Still a huge fan of him as a potential big league contributor. Super pick. Just when I think I’m out…)

20.607 – 2B LP Pelletier

The LP in LP Pelletier’s name stands for Louis-Phillippe. That seems like good information to have in the back pocket going forward for some reason. Also good information: Pelletier hit .445/.504/.873 with 18 BB/18 K and 16/19 SB in 229 AB for Seminole State JC this past spring. The team hit .380/.469/.684, so this is similar to the Raymond Henderson deal you’ll read about two rounds below. As with Henderson, Pelletier still gets credit from me for going out and hitting. The advantages are all well known, but you still have to do your job. Pelletier did that and then some this past spring. It didn’t quite work as well for him in a small sample over the summer, but time is on his side.

21.637 – C Chuckie Robinson

You’re getting power, a big arm, and sheer physical strength with Chuckie Robinson. He can get a little too aggressive at the plate for his own good at times and not everybody you talk to is convinced he’s a catcher long-term, but the righthanded power should be enough to keep him employed for the foreseeable future.

22.667 – C Raymond Henderson

In his two years at Grayson County CC, Raymond Henderson did this…

.374/.451/.663 – 30 BB/26 K – 190 AB
.452/.541/.782 – 40 BB/17 K – 188 AB

Damn. Some of those offensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt — the team as a whole hit .354/.445/.551 in 2016, so, yeah, but there are still many positives to be gleaned from his time as a Viking. Even with an inflated scoring environment, questionable competition, and juggernaut lineup accounted for you still have to go out there and actually do the hitting. Henderson certainly did that, and he did it while also showing off a stellar approach at the plate. Pro ball was a bit more challenging (.223/.292/.394 with 9 BB/24 K in 106 PA), but I’d be willing to give a guy who has shown that kind of college production a bit more time to make his adjustments to pro ball. I’ll be watching Henderson closely. There’s some sneaky forward-thinking (catcher/second base/third base) utility guy upside here.

23.697 – RHP Tyler Britton

A 13.83 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9 in 41.0 IP puts Tyler Britton near the top of the hill when it comes to 2016 MLB Draft pro pitching debuts. The undersized (5-11, 190) righthander from High Point (9.60 K/9 and 1.63 BB/9 in 55.1 IP as a senior) isn’t flashy, but there’s little doubt he’ll keep getting chances as long as he can keep missing bats.

24.727 – 1B Troy Sieber

Even though plenty of quality articles on the subject have been written, I’m still baffled how the Astros identified Tyler White, the fifty-first best college first base prospect in 2013 according to some internet hack, as a potential big league player after a really good but not mind-blowing (.361/.420/.630 with 17 BB/25 K) final season at Western Carolina. That’s why I’m absolutely taking notice of Troy Sieber, Houston’s twenty-fourth round pick out of St. Leo College down in Florida. Sieber entered pro ball sporting a .381/.489/.738 (64 BB/60 K) career college line that included a .457/.553/.873 (31 BB/26 K) junior season. That’ll work. He kept right on mashing in the GCL (.289/.449/.474 in 49 PA) before running into his first challenge at Greeneville (.242/.356/.339 in 146 PA, down across the board but still good for a 102 wRC+). Like White, Sieber will have to keep hitting at every level to get his shot. Like White, he’s got a chance to do just that.

25.757 – RHP Kevin Hill

On Kevin Hill from March 2016…

Hill is the consummate college senior tearing up younger hitters with pinpoint command and stellar sequencing. He’s capable of tossing one of his three offspeed pitches in any count, and there’s now enough fastball (up to 88-92 this year, peaking at 93) to keep hitters from sitting on it. Smarts, plus command, and solid stuff make Hill a really good senior-sign, but it’s his fantastic athleticism that helps set him apart. The entire package makes him arguably one of the best potential senior-signs in the country. One scout referred to him as “store brand Aaron Nola.” I’m in.

I’m sure it’s just because I finished writing their draft review recently, but it’s shocking to me that Hill wasn’t drafted by Cleveland this year. He’s the embodiment of the command/athleticism aesthetic they seem to be going for of late. Houston snapped him up in the twenty-fifth round and could get a big league pitcher for their trouble. Working strongly against Hill is his age (already 24!) and lack of projection, but his present ability could be enough to challenge him with an aggressive AA assignment to start his first full season. Whether he starts there or elsewhere (High-A, most likely), the goal for all involved should be to get Hill to AAA by the end of the season. If he can do that, then he’s got a shot to fulfill his fifth starter/middle relief destiny.

27.817 – LHP Nathan Thompson

I’m not sure if this is noteworthy or not, but eight pitchers handled 454 innings in 56 games for the Bison in 2016. Seems like they kept that staff busy. I like it. One of those eight pitchers was Nathan Thompson. The lefthander leaned on an upper-80s fastball (90 peak) to strike out 11.81 batters per nine in his final season at Oklahoma Baptist. There’s some matchup relief upside here if it works.

30.907 – 3B Brody Westmoreland

It’s impossible for me to mention Brody Westmoreland without also mentioning his awesome high school. Before a quick stop at San Diego State and a year at the College of Southern Nevada, Westmoreland played ball for the ThunderRidge HS Grizzles. ThunderRidge! Anyway, Westmoreland is a reasonably interesting four-corners (1B/3B/LF/RF) utility prospect with a strong arm, solid athleticism, and legit power. There’s probably too much swing-and-miss in his game to do a whole lot, but it’s a reasonable gamble here all the same.

31.937 – LHP Howie Brey

As a semi-local prospect (Rutgers!) to me, I’ve seen a fair amount of Howie Brey over the past four college seasons. I can’t lie and say that I ever came away from watching him thinking he had a future in pro ball, but I’ve been wrong plenty before. Rooting for him.

34.1027 – SS Stijn van der Meer

Pre-draft take on Stijn van der Meer…

SS Stijn van derMeer can field his position and do enough with the bat to rank as one of my favorite senior shortstops in this class. Fair or not, I can’t help but think of him as a potential Die Hard villain whenever I read his name.

I’ve seen his name spelled just about every way imaginable, so we’ll go with the Baseball-Reference approved Stijn van der Meer for now. Speaking of B-R, this is well worth a read. I would have loved to sum it up, but I didn’t know where to begin. Stijn van der Meer has already had a damn fascinating baseball existence and he’s only a few months into minor league career. At least this pre-draft report on him sums up his skills on the diamond nicely…

Lamar SR SS Stijn van derMeer: really strong glove; very little power; patient, pesky hitter; adept at working long counts, hitting with two strikes, and fouling tough pitches off; fun comp from his college coach: Ozzie Guillen; 6-3, 170 pounds

Pretty simple package here: defense, patience, and no power. The defensive aspect won’t take a hit in pro ball, so it’ll be worth watching to see if he can still play his style of offensive game against pro pitching more adept at exploiting punchless hitters’ weaknesses. Early pro returns were encouraging (.301/.386/.370 with 8.2 BB% and 14.1 K%), but he has a long way to go. Best case scenario could see him following a fairly similar career arc as a player I haven’t yet given up on. Look at these draft year numbers…

.376/.471/.441 – 38 BB/15 K – 7/12 SB – 213 AB
.309/.429/.512 – 43 BB/21 K – 12/12 SB – 207 AB

Top is what van der Meer did his last year at Lamar, bottom is what Nolan Fontana did his final season at Florida. Not exactly the same — note the significantly higher ISO for Fontana — but not completely out of line. Even with that difference in mind, I think you’d take your chance on van der Meer looking even a little bit like Fontana considering the former prospect was selected 966 picks after the latter.

36.1087 – RHP Ian Hardman

I knew I hadn’t written about Ian Hardman without even checking because I’m 100% certain his is a name I would have remembered. He’s definitely my favorite Mega Man villain ever drafted. I typically shy away from name-related “humor,” but it’s actually relevant in the case of Hardman. Or Harman, as the official National Junior College Athletic Association page would have you believe. Whoops. Hardman had a very eventful year for Seminole State: 15.12 K/9 and 6.33 BB/9 in 25.2 IP. Knowing nothing of his stuff, I’m intrigued. Previously unknown (to me) junior college guys with cool names, tons of strikeouts, and lots of walks always rank among my favorites.

38.1147 – OF Chaz Pal

Chaz Paul hit .363/.438/.583 with 49 BB/65 K in 424 AB over two seasons as a USC-Aiken Pacer. That’s all I’ve got. It does occur to me that Houston drafted both a Chuckie (Robinson) and a Chaz (Pal).

39.1177 – INF Tyler Wolfe

Tyler Wolfe, long a reliable defender at multiple infield spots, hit just enough as a senior to hear his name called on draft day. He then went on to split his time in the pros between second, third, and short with the vast majority of his work during his debut coming at the hot corner. He also managed to get two innings in on the mound. Considering they were good innings — two hits, one walk, and three whiffs — maybe the Astros ought to think about letting him give it a shot full-time.

40.1207 – RHP Lucas Williams

This is such a good story. Since I know about one in a hundred people actually click these links, here’s my favorite part…

“I was umping a 9-year-old game on the day of the draft, when my friend Brad Wilson (a former University of Central Missouri All-American baseball player) got my attention,” said Williams, a 2012 graduate of Grain Valley High School who starred on the mound for the Mules Division II World Series team this past season.

“He said my phone was buzzing and going crazy and I looked at it and found out I’d been drafted by the Houston Astros.”

So, what did Williams do?

“I had four more innings to ump in that game and another game after that – so I didn’t get to do a lot of celebrating.”

Don’t know much about Williams (8.40 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9 in 45.0 IP at Central Missouri) otherwise, but I’m rooting for him now. As a one-time terrible work-study intramural referee in college, we’ve got to stick together.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Tyler Buffett (Oklahoma State), Brian Howard (TCU), Avery Tuck (San Diego State), Johnny Ruiz (Miami), Elliott Barzilli (TCU), Darius Vines (?), Toby Handley (Stony Brook), Nick Slaughter (Houston)

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2012 MLB Trade Deadline Deals and the Draft (UPDATED)

There figure to be at least a few more trades in the remaining hours between now and the trade deadline at 4:00 PM EST, so I’ll do my best to keep this post updated with whatever short and sweet notes I have on any recent draft prospects who have been dealt.

UPDATED: It is well after 4 PM, so here we go…

Bobby Borchering

Borchering is a player I once called one of my “absolute favorite bats” of the 2009 draft class. I also said he was an “outstanding pick” who I believed had the “best bat of any prep player.” He was the seventh best player in the 2009 MLB Draft, according to yours truly. So, what happened? Could a genius prognosticator possibly get it so wrong? Or is something more nefarious afoot? Probably the former, but let’s investigate anyway.

First, I should say that I remain a Borchering fan. I think he gets a bad rap in the prospect community for certain aspects of his game that aren’t entirely fair, but even a blind loyalist like myself finds it hard to argue with what seem to be the two biggest complaints concerning his game. Borchering’s strikeouts (28.1% of his career minor league at bats have ended in the sad, head shaking walk to the dugout) and subsequent lack of contact skills are obviously major concern one. Additionally, his defense at third, once thought to have the chance to be at least average in time (I said the following: “he’ll stick as a big league third baseman at least until his free agent years”), is now more appropriately graded as N/A, as any possibility of Borchering playing third base seems to out the window at this point. If he can hang in LF, however, then I think he could still reach the bigs as a potential power source capable of having some value through at least the end of his cheap rookie contract. If he had a discernible platoon split, preferably against lefthanded pitchers, then he’d make a really interesting, inexpensive platoon in left with the guy he was traded to Houston with.

Enough about the future, let’s go back to that aggressive draft ranking. Borchering as the seventh best player in the draft looks bad now, but, in my admittedly weak defense, the 2009 MLB Draft class was really, really shallow in hitting. In fact, I only had three position players among the top dozen 2009 prospects: Ackley (2nd overall) first, then Borchering (7th), and then Grant Green (8th). Further down the list you have the following: Donovan Tate (13th), Everett Williams (15th), Wil Myers (23rd), Luke Bailey (24th), Max Stassi (28th), Rich Poythress (29th), Matt Davidson (31st). Jason Kipnis (56th), Kyle Seager (65th), Nick Franklin (67th), Brett Jackson (70th), Billy Hamilton (80th), and Jonathan Singleton (99th). There was a decent hitter that I ranked 74th that year, but I’m not sure if Mike Trout has amounted to much of anything as of yet. Looking back at some of those names, I’m not quite sure how weak the draft class really was in hitting. It isn’t easy to compare recent drafts because so many players still have unfinished business developmentally, but a top group of Trout, Myers, Kipnis, Ackley, Singleton, Franklin, Hamilton, and, depending on your personal taste, some combination of Seager, Green, and/or Jackson really isn’t that bad. To take it a step ahead, though my faulty memory will surely leave a few names out, of the guys I didn’t rank in that top 100, both Brandon Belt and Paul Goldschmidt have shown promise as hitters as well.

Marc Krauss

Outside of ranking Krauss as the 89th best prospect in the 2009 Draft, I didn’t really write about the former Ohio star all that much. I remember liking his approach quite a bit, but being concerned that he might fall into the “tweener” trap that plagues so many bat-first corner outfield prospects. Without much value on defense, on the base paths, and, arguably, in the power department, there’s a lot of pressure on hitting/on-base ability to be legitimately great if you want a big league future. His 2012 AA performance has been encouraging, so I think there’s definitely hope he can make it in another year or so as a big league ready platoon (he has always drilled righties) bat.

Thomas Collier

Embarrassing admission alert: sometimes I completely forget about some of the players that I’ve written about. My dino-sized brain just can’t retain the baseball minutiae that it was able to hold. I remember liking Collier, so that’s good, right? Here’s what I said last year:

If one player stands out as a potential late round steal for Detroit, it’s San Jacinto JC RHP Tommy Collier (Round 22). Collier throws two plus pitches already, and, if healthy, has the chance to unleash his nasty slider once again. 

You can never rule out minor league pitchers with hard fastballs and plus sliders eventually hanging on to pitch relief innings in the big leagues someday. Collier fits that mold.

Leon Landry 

Wrote this back in the very earliest days of this site way back in December 2009:

JR OF Leon Landry (2010) had better be prepared for the onslaught of Jared Mitchell comps sure to be thrown his way this spring. The comparisons between the two football playing outfielders work in some ways (both players have plus speed and are ridiculous athletes, but each guy had a below-average arm), but fall apart in other areas, most notably in the power department. Landry has already shown as much present power through two seasons of collegiate development as Mitchell did through three. A more interesting crop of first round caliber talents in 2010 may push Landry’s draft position down past where Mitchell went in 2009 (23rd overall), but I’m willing to go on the record and say that his forthcoming monster junior season will catapult his overall prospect stock past his former two sport teammate’s. He’s a potential plus defender in center with good range but a below-average arm for the position.

I was about 100 picks off with my bold first round prediction for Landry as he wound up getting selected with the 109th overall pick to the Dodgers in 2010. He’s shown some power this year, but the gain in slugging from 2011 to 2012 (200 points!) might just have a little something to do with Landry spending the current season in the Cal League. This was his updated report written just before the draft in the spring of 2010:

14. Louisiana State JR OF Leon Landry (plus speed; plus athlete; raw in all phases; big power potential; legit defensive tools, but extremely inconsistent tracking balls in the air; 5-11, 195 pounds)

I think much of what was said then holds true today. Landry’s strengths remain his speed and, Cal League mirage or not, power upside. Mr. Obvious is hear to note that, yes, those are both pretty good strengths to have. I’m curious about whether or not he’s made any progress in the two areas of his game that concern me the most: rawness at the plate and rawness in the field. Landry’s weak BB-rate is a pretty good indicator of his continued rawness at the plate, though there could be underlying scouting observations (e.g. pitch recognition skills) that would tell a more colorful story. His rawness in the field is probably the most interesting single facet of the game at this point in his development: if he can play a competent or better CF, then he’s a future big leaguer, exact role (platoon partner to fifth OF) to be determined. If he’s limited to LF, things get dicey.

Seth Rosin

I miss February 2010, a far simpler time when a comparison to Boof Bonser had relevance on a draft website. Here’s Rosin’s first appearance on the site:

JR RHP Seth Rosin (2010) is build like a tank (6-6, 245) with the heavy artillery (sinking fastball at 88-92 MPH, peaking at 94) to go to battle. He’s secondary stuff (inconsistent mid-70s CB and a low-80s CU that needs a ton of work) currently lags behind, but I know of plenty scouts who believe both pitches will develop into at least usable options by the time he hits the high minors. Those scouts see him as a possible back of the rotation starter down the line, but I think his ceiling is closer to that of Boof Bonser. I know Bonser has 60 big league starts to his credit, but they were largely ineffectual innings. Now that he has switched to the bullpen in Boston, I’ve got a hunch that Bonser’s stuff will play up and make him an effective reliever going forward. Rosin’s future could very well play out the same way. Ineffectual fifth starter or dependable middle reliever? You make the call.

There was some good discussion in the comments section that fleshed the idea out with a little more depth:

The comparison to Bonser wasn’t meant to insult Rosin. Heck, Boof was a first round pick back in 2000, a draft spot that Rosin can only dream about. When I see Rosin, I see a pitcher without a current above-average or better secondary pitch at present. Bonser’s slider was/is miles ahead of Rosin’s curve. I acknowledged that many believe he’ll develop the offspeed stuff to pitch in the big leagues as a starter, but that’s something I’d need to see this spring before ranking him any higher on my personal board.

I still worry some about Rosin’s lack of a consistent second pitch, but his fastball, in terms of both his always excellent command and his professional uptick in velocity, has been so damn good that I’m not so sure he can’t find a niche in the big leagues based on his plus heater alone. I just so happened to be Gchatting with a pal as the Phillies/Giants trade went down. He asked for my thoughts, so here they were…totally uncensored, unedited, unformatted, and unsomethingsomething:

as for rosin, he’s 23.5 years old and still in high-A but ready for AA
real good fastball (velocity up in relief like most guys, so he’s mid-90s more regularly now), secondaries still lag behind (have heard the CU is ahead of the breaking ball — now a SL — but the SL has more of a chance in the long run), and, yeah, he’s still a real big dude (6-6, 250)
2:15 PM real good minor league numbers, too
2:16 PM like i said, should go right to Reading…if he does well there, he could be fighting for a spot in the big boy bullpen next spring

There you have it, folks: a glimpse into the inner-workings of a draft madman. I failed to originally mention to my buddy that Rosin has been pitching as a starter as of late. Many consider this an important detail — they aren’t wrong — but, for me, Rosin’s always been one of those fringe starting pitching prospect/really good middle relief prospect. Let him start now to get him the innings that could help him hone his offspeed stuff, but realize that his most likely destination is the seventh inning. Frequent readers know I like to comp players to death (legal notice: no player has literally died due to a comp), so it should come as no surprise that I think Rosin sounds a lot like another new Phillie reliever from a four-year university who was once selected within the top four rounds (breath) and just so happens to have a history starting in the past (breath) but has seen his career move forward as he developed a more well-rounded aresenal of pitches (breath) yet still remaining focused on his FB/SL combo, Josh Lindblom. My high school English teacher would be so proud/horrified at that sentence. Anyway, Rosin is Lindblom who is current injured Phillies reliever Mike Stutes. Comps on comps on comps on comps.

And, finally, the original Rosin/Minnesota baseball post inspired what I still consider to be the greatest comment I’ve ever gotten. I’ve reddened up the font a bit so that the full fury of his comment could be realized:

First of all I would just like to say that It is really sad that I would even acknowledge the moron that would write something with such little to no validity to anything that he would say. This guy prob just thought it would be a good idea to google search the guys on the Minnesota team and come up with no information outside of that. Also prob got cut from a high school baseball or if he did make the team he is prob that guy that thinks he is good enought to play college but never got asked let alone talked to any big league team Yet if you ask all his fat beer bellied never played a sport friends he told them he should be playing for the twins. Sorry about it worthless blogger. Get a job and move out of your parents basement.

Let’s move on.

Tommy Joseph

I like Tommy Joseph, I really do. Unfortunately, I don’t love him as much as everybody wanted me to today. Maybe I’m nuts, but it sure seemed like every reporter rushed to praise Joseph through the words of their unnamed “Rival NL Executive,” capped off by the always funny in his special little way Jon Heyman tweeting that he was told Tommy Joseph was “GREAT,” a sentiment that can only really be read in the voice of Tony the Tiger. I think Joseph is GOOD, and good is nothing to be down about. Truthfully, even getting me to the point where I’m cool with calling Joseph GOOD took some time. All week long, in anticipation of Hunter Pence winding up a Giant, I had prepared myself to stay calm if Joseph was the prospect centerpiece of a Phillies/Giants trade. “He’s nothing but a younger, slightly better version of a player already in their system (Sebastian Valle),” I thought. On top of that, I’ve never personally understood all of the Valle hype — raise an incredulous brow if  you must, but Baseball America did have him as the third ranked Phils prospect heading into the season — so I’ve been at a loss in trying to figure out why I should be happy the Phillies seemed so intent on acquiring his (younger, slightly better) doppelgänger? So how did a stubborn guy like me begin to soften his anti-Joseph stance? Read below:

Tommy Joseph (Arizona) – 6-1, 210 catcher from the same high school as Tim Alderson and Brandon Wood who has scouts buzzing this spring; some have him as a late first rounder and a top three overall catching prospect; big arm and tons of power; I want to put him higher, but still haven’t seen/heard/read enough to be sold on him –  if somebody has a compelling case, I’d love to hear it (that’s not me being snarky, I mean it – fill me in!); Arizona commit who has been compared to Ryan Doumit with more playable power

That was one of the earlier things I did on this site. The scouting notes are largely inconsequential compared to the larger context surrounding them. There was much wisdom in my younger self. “Still haven’t seen/heard/read enough to be sold on him” showed the values of patience, honesty, and abject transparency. “If somebody has a compelling case, I’d love to hear it” was an example of the importance of open-mindedness and the willingness to learn what we don’t already know. “Ryan Doumit with more playable power” was, well, honestly that was actually just a way of shoehorning Doumit into the conversation. Cool name, solid player, and the creepiest soulless black eyes you’ll ever have the privilege of staring into. Observe:

Not a day goes by when I don’t try to casually mention Ryan Doumit and his eyes of darkness in my everyday life. Now that this stroll down memory lane has taken a horrible turn, let’s just skip ahead to my initial unedited Gchat response:

maybe i’m just down on him because he’s just not my sort of catcher
ruiz is pretty much my ideal for the position – body type, athleticism, thinks like a pitcher, well-rounded offensive game
1:57 PM joseph, and valle for that matter, are both just a little too one-dimensional for me: huge power, but little patience and questionable defense
  that said, joseph’s power might be so good that it overcomes other shortcomings. plus, all the reports on his defense are exciting – they say he’s really, really improved back there
1:58 PM so what the hell…i’m on board

Analysis!

Zack Cox

I ranked Cox as the 36th best prospect available in the 2010 MLB Draft. On one hand I wasn’t as overboard in love with him as some seemed to be at the time. On the other hand, there’s no escaping the fact that I thought he’d be a really solid professional third baseman in relatively short order. On a different hand, I overshot the mark on arguably every single one of his tools, especially his hit tool, raw power, and foot speed. On my last hand (yes, I have four hands), I’m not quite ready to jump off the Cox as solid big league third baseman bandwagon just yet. Cox has moved quickly as a pro and I think a consolidation year is in order. Let him finish the year in AAA, then give him another half year at the same level in 2013. If the Marlins are patient, they might yet get the player many thought Cox could be. Here’s what I wrote on Cox before the draft in 2010:

Easily confused fellow that I am, I don’t quite understand the negativity surrounding Cox’s power potential that has come to the surface this season. It seems to me that he can’t really win with some people. Last year people oohed and aahed as he flashed prodigious raw power, but disappointed in the plate discipline department. This year he’s taken a much more patient, contact-oriented approach, but is getting heat for not hitting for the same power as he did his freshman year. I realize slugging .600+ and socking 20 extra base hits in college (like Cox has done so far in 2010) isn’t quite the feat it appears to be at first blush, but it’s still a decent indicator that the guy hasn’t been reduced to a singles only hitter this year. Now imagine the possibility that good professional coaching can help Cox unlock the secret of maintaining his gains in plate discipline and a high contact rate while simultaneously helping him rediscover the big power stroke of his first collegiate season. Sounds pretty good, right?

As arguably the draft’s top position player prospect, much has already been written about Cox’s toolset. The cliff notes version is this: potential plus bat, above-average present power but plus projection, 45/50 runner, plus arm, good defender. His worst tool is probably his speed, and, as you can see, even that project to be around average. I think Cox’s ceiling is below that of your typical top half of the first round college bat, but he’s still a relatively safe pick to be an above-average regular third baseman for a first division club.

Colton Cain and Scott McGough

I was planning on posting something with a more historical — going way back in the archives to the year 2009 — bent this afternoon, but with the trade deadline less than a week away and deals being made at a 2 Fast, 2 Furious pace, it only makes sense to go with what’s topical by discussing some of the prospects who are on the move. Pittsburgh and the Dodgers both beefed up their rosters in the hopes of some “flags fly forever” postseason glory, but, as we covered yesterday, the established big leaguers swapping laundry are nowhere as interesting — in the context of this site, naturally — than the recently drafted prospects hitting the road.

First, we have the Pirates overpaying Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The money saved on moving Rodriguez and the addition of Robbie Grossman makes the trade a big win for the Astros, a franchise that I think will serve as a fantastic case study that will help answer the question “how long does it take to rebuild an organization?” over the next few seasons. One of the first steps to going from 100+ losses to competitive is figuring out how to flip bad contracts for useful parts. These useful parts tend to come in one of two standard archetypes: high ceiling/total bust floor lottery tickets OR average ceiling/big league backup floor near-ML ready talent. Ideally you can shed salary while picking up a combination of the two prospect types, though it is interesting to see that Jeff Luhnow and company have focused predominantly on the latter thus far. It’s too early to say that they are doing this as an organizational philosophy — there’s enough grey area between strictly adhering to an overarching philosophy and simply riding wherever the wave of the trade market takes you that as outsiders we can’t ever fully appreciate — but I happen to like Houston’s approach so far. The Astros have so far to come from a talent standpoint as an organization that adding cheap, controllable talent close to the big leagues will help buy time (and, as importantly, future payroll flexibility) while the players with star upside germinate in the minors.

Speaking of players with star upside, let’s finally tie this whole thing back to the draft. The Astros will get a full draft recap within the next few weeks/months, but, spoiler alert!, the addition of first overall pick Carlos Correa gives them the exact type of franchise-altering cornerstone talent that they’d be foolish to shop for on the trade market. The additions of overslot prep bats Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips could also play major dividends down the road, though both players come with significant risk.

They stayed true to what I believe is their plan — we’ll call it the “hey, we owe it to our fans to not be terrible for years, so let’s instead try to identify a few cheap, young assets that the people of Houston can watch grow while we bide our time developing star talent in the minors that will make the fans thrilled that they stuck by our side during the lean years” —  by supplementing the high boom/bust factor of Correa, Ruiz, and Phillips with college position players (their draft was curiously short on arms, I’m now noticing) that should move quickly. Few better players embody the average ceiling/big league backup floor archetype better than second round pick Nolan Fontana, and later picks like Tyler Heineman and Dan Gulbransen also fit the mold. Brady Rodgers, the only arm drafted between rounds 2 and 8, is cut from the same cloth. Of course, after all that, it is worth mentioning that Lance McCullers (star-ceiling/big league floor) is proof that the two categories of prospects do not begin to describe all of the prospect types of the spectrum. We’re getting further and further (I reference this in my writing daily, yet still screw it up almost as often) away from my original point, so let’s get back to the recent trades before I get totally lost in the Houston draft wormhole.

Houston is clearly moving in the right direction, and I think their path, from terrible to slightly less terrible to better AND, hopefully, more willing/able to spend to, finally, consistently competitive in the wild AL West will be fascinating to follow. Grossman is a good player, lefthander Rudy Owens is fine, and, finally, Colton Cain was well worth a flier. Fun Colton Cain fact of the day: the newest Astros lefthanded pitcher (well, he’s as new as Owens but you get my point) was once ranked between Jeff Malm (Tampa) and Jonathan Singleton (Houston) on a list of top draft-eligible high school first basemen. I revisited that ranking last summer and wrote the following (non-bold was from last year, bold signifies pre-draft notes from 2009):

2. Colton Cain | Pittsburgh Pirates | 8th Round (2009)

3.13 ERA – 95 IP – 74 K/26 BB – 0.89 GO/AO

Cain is pitching well as a youngster (20 all season) in Low A with the added bonus of still not having a ton of mileage on his arm. His solid 2011 performance was preceded by good performances last year (strong peripherals). I like pitchers like Cain: guys with good enough fastballs to keep getting looks and secondaries that will either click and become legit big league pitches all at once or…not. Of course there is some middle ground between the two outcomes, but not as much as one might think. If you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch starting pitcher, but the risk here is fairly self-evident.

first thing that stands about about Cain is his very pretty lefthanded stroke; like a lot of the players on this list has an unusually strong arm for a first base prospect; because of that raw arm strength many scouts like him at least as much on the mound as at the plate; I like him as the prototypical two-way high school player that has the potential to really emerge once he concentrates on hitting full time; Texas commit

I really did prefer him as a hitter back in his high school days, but obviously the Pirates, and, by extension, now the Astros disagree with me. What nerve. I’ll stand by what I wrote last year — “if you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch staring pitcher” — though, due to a mostly uninspiring season in high-A (6.12 K/9), I’m less confident in that outcome than I was twelve months ago. As a two-way player (predominantly a hitter) in high school and a pitcher who has missed some developmental time after back surgery, there’s still reason to believe that the light bulb will go off and his low-90s fastball will be joined by a consistent curve and changeup. It is worth repeating that Grossman and the money saved made this deal worth doing for Houston; the addition of Cain, a player the Pirates once paid over a million bucks to pass on Texas, is the lottery ticket. The Astros can’t expect to win the jackpot here, but scratching off the ticket is fun enough in and of itself…plus you never know when you might win a few bucks for your troubles.

***

In the most controversial deal thus far, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. Eovaldi is a good get by the Marlins, especially considering the lack of money changing hands in this deal, though I think he ultimately winds up in the bullpen down the line. Take that analysis with a grain of salt, however, as I’ve never really met a Dodgers pitching prospect that I’ve particularly liked. I’m not so dumb to call any one of Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Eovaldi, Chris Reed, Garrett Gould, Chris Withrow, or Aaron Miller bad pitching prospects, but I think each one has been overrated by many of the national pundits. Always was, and remain, a big fan fan of Ethan Martin, so at least there’s that. Don’t hate me Dodgers fans!

The relevant draft piece to this trade is, of course, 2011 fifth round pick Scott McGough. McGough was the 164th overall pick and my own 139th ranked draft prospect heading into the draft. Here’s what I wrote both directly after (plain italics) and before (bold italics) the draft:

Oregon RHP Scott McGough has a fastball with excellent life, a much improved slider that has become an interesting future strikeout pitch, and enough of a low- to mid-80s changeup that leaves you thinking it could be a consistent above-average offering in due time. His profile reminds me a bit of former Angels reliever Scot Shields, but with a better fastball. Having seen both McGough and Reed pitch a few times each in conference play, I’m sticking with my belief that McGough has the brighter professional future.

Oregon JR RHP Scott McGough: 90-92 FB, peak 94-95; 78-79 CB; raw 83 CU; above-average 78-83 SL that flashes plus; potential plus 82-85 CU that is still very raw; working on splitter; great athlete; 6-1, 185 pounds

McGough hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire as a professional (control has been an issue at Rancho Cucamonga), but his career K/9 mark just under 10 in over 70 innings looks damn fine to me. His fastball remains a good pitch and he’ll flash enough above-average offspeed stuff to look like a future big league middle reliever. I’m still likely to look dumb for that McGough > Reed prediction, but if both wind up as solid big league pitchers, well, I could live with that.

Houston Astros 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Houston 2011 Draft Selections

Houston went a little college heavy for my taste, but that’s forgivable considering the interesting collection of college prospects they rounded up. The early round pitching additions and handful of high upside college position players make it a slightly above-average class on balance. Connecticut OF George Springer (23rd ranked draft prospect) is a favorite of mine who I’ve seen up close multiple times, so forgive me for being super annoying and going with the long quote from my most recent viewing. The cliff notes: Springer shows four big league tools (strong arm, big raw power, good speed, and good CF defense/great RF defense), a hit tool/approach that has been the subject of debate going on two years now, and all the intangibles (work ethic, passion for the game, high aptitude to learn) you’d want in a potential franchise cornerstone. The gap between what Springer is and what he’ll eventually be is quite large by college first round hitter standards, but you don’t need an amateur hack like me to tell you his upside is immense.

Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

And now we get the run on early round pitching additions. Locust Grove HS (OK) RHP Adrian Houser (174th ranked draft prospect) stood out in a crowded Oklahoma prep pitching class due to his plus fastball and advanced curveball. So much can happen with a prep arm developmentally that I’d be making stuff up if I gave you any definitive take on his future, but I can say with confidence that two quality pitches often makes for a good base to build a successful career on.

The Astros gambled on the signability of Vanderbilt RHP Jack Armstrong (49th ranked draft prospect) and came out big winners. He’s big, he’s athletic, and he has a big league ready fastball/curveball combo. If the change comes around, he’s a potential mid-rotation innings eater with the chance to put together. Out of all the excellent Vanderbilt draft prospects, I liked him second only to Sonny Gray.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Jack Armstrong: 91-93 FB sitting, 94-97 peak; 80-82 flashes plus CU; 81-82 CB with promise but slow to develop due to injuries; clean mechanics; finally healthy, CB better than ever; 6-7, 230 pounds

Sometimes it really is as simple as throwing away the performance aspect and looking at raw stuff. Armstrong’s track record on the mound doesn’t make him a top 100 pick (or a top 50 prospect on my pre-draft list), but his raw stuff ranks up there with almost anybody’s. Injury concerns could have Houston looking at Armstrong as a future reliever, but I’d love to see the big guy get a chance to start.

Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Chris Lee is a lefty with good present velocity and the body to grow into even more. He signed quickly and, though his control left something to be desire, he showed impressive strikeout and groundball numbers.

If you can’t love Stony Brook RHP Nick Tropeano (108th ranked draft prospect), then we can’t be friends. How can you not fall for a big righthander that throws much slower than his frame suggests, but gets incredible results due to movement, great secondaries, and a big league veteran feel for pitching? Tropeano’s upside is a solid big league starting pitcher; his stuff (FB/CU/SL) reminds me a little bit of what Kyle Lohse brings to the mound. To keep this from being too positive – who would ever want to read positive thoughts on the internet? – there is some concern that, without a proper fastball, Tropeano’s future is starting pitcher or bust (i.e. he lacks the safety net of becoming a reliever).

Stony Brook JR RHP Nick Tropeano: 87-88, tops out at 90-91 with FB; velocity up a tick this year; better sink on FB; very good CU; very good SL with plus upside; advanced feel for pitching; relies very heavily on CU; 6-4, 205 pounds

I really liked what Houston did when it came time to pick college outfielders. Bringing in three toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospects gives the organizational depth chart a nice boost as they attempt to remake their outfield at the big league level. San Diego State OF Brandon Meredith is, well, toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted. He also works deep counts and flashes enough power/speed/arm to make him a potential regular right fielder down the line. With most non-elite college prospects, his most realistic path to landing a big league opportunity is to put up unignorable (note: not a real word) numbers year after year in the minors until he finally gets the chance to contribute either after a trade leaves a hole in the lineup or he is needed to bolster the big league bench. From there, who knows?

San Diego State JR OF Brandon Meredith: good arm; plus bat speed; good raw power; solid speed; RF professionally; (388/490/547 – 29 BB/39 K – 9/13 SB – 201 AB)

King HS (FL) OF Javaris Reynolds is a lottery ticket who was taken at the right time (7th round) you’d like to see your team gamble on high upside/low probability type players. Forsyth Country Day HS (NC) RHP Brandon Culbreth is the pitching equivalent to Reynolds; raw, but with a pro frame and enough flashes of quality stuff that you can start your daydreaming. Baseball players at least five years away from the big leagues are what people daydream about, right?

Creighton RHP Jonas Dufek is a watered down version of Nick Tropeano. He’s big, has below-average fastball velocity, and reliant on his offspeed and command to keep himself in ballgames. As a senior sign, he also only cost one-fourth the price of Tropeano; I’d be pleasantly surprised if he can achieve one-fourth the success I think Tropeano will have in the pros.

I know certain allowances are made for lefthanders, but you have to admit that the selection of Kent State LHP Kyle Hallock officially marks an early round trend for Houston. Between Tropeano, Dufek, and now Hallock, that’s three college arms with fastballs that stay below the 90 MPH barrier more often than not. As a three-pitch lefty with a little bit of projection left, Hallock is my kind of senior sign.

Minnesota OF Justin Gominsky (Round 11) is a really, really nice addition this late in the draft. He fits the toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted prospect mold mentioned earlier. The arm, speed, and center field defense are all big league quality; the difference between getting a shot playing every day or being pigeon holed into a fourth/fifth outfielder role comes down to his hit tool, plate discipline, and ability to tap into his considerable raw power. I tend to believe in elite athletes figuring out the baseball side of things more often than I probably should, so take my hearty endorsement of Gominsky as a prospect with a grain of salt.

Minnesota JR CF Justin Gominsky (2011): good arm; very good defender; plus athlete; good speed; interesting hit tool; 6-4, 185

Mississippi C Miles Hamblin (Round 12) serves as a harsh reminder of why I shouldn’t get too excited about prospects based predominantly on their junior college production. That’s not to say Hamblin’s numbers at Howard JC were the only thing that drew me to him (his scouting reports have been fairly positive going on three years now), but it was the incredible statistics that had me touting him as a potential top five round pick (whoops) back in 2009. His so-so showing in the SEC and slightly less optimistic defensive projection has me a little nervous, but I’ll stubbornly cling to the idea that his plus arm/plus raw power combo gives him a shot to make it as a backup in the pros.

Hamblin has above-average power potential and a live bat, plus he has the added advantage of being close to a sure bet of sticking behind the plate as a professional. His outstanding performance this season for a dominant junior college team has scouts buzzing. Lefty power, a great catcher’s frame, strong throwing arm (mid-80s fastball in high school), and a mature approach at the plate…don’t let the lack of pedigree bother you, Hamblin is a good prospect;

Clemson 2B John Hinson (Round 13) turned down the Phillies twice including last year after talks got rather acrimonious when money couldn’t be agreed on after Philadelphia drafted him in the 13th round. He went back to school, had a nice season, and came out the other side as a signed 13th round selection of the Houston Astros. I think the pre-draft report on Hinson holds up pretty well: good athlete, good speed, good hit tool, raw defensively, most likely a versatile big league utility guy with the chance of being an above-average regular (with the bat) at second. That’s some serious value in the 13th round.

A plus hit tool combined with above-average speed and power will get you far professionally, but people smarter than myself have told me some teams question Hinson’s ability to play any one particular spot in the infield with the consistency needed of a regular. Based on my limited looks of him, I can’t say that I necessarily agree with that assessment, but his defensive skillset (good athlete, iffy arm) may make him better suited for second base than third. At either spot, he’s got the bat to make him a potential regular with a couple breaks along the way. He’s got a relatively high floor (easy to see him as a big league utility guy with pop) with the upside of a league average third baseman.

The Astros broke out of their college streak (3 of 13 including 5 in a row) by taking Lufkin HS (TX) RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Round 14). There really isn’t a ton of talent that separates Stubblefield from Houston’s second round pick Adrian Houser. Both pitchers have projectable frames, good fastballs, curveballs with upside, and the need for a reliable third pitch. The fact that one guy was selected in the second round and the other in the fourteenth just goes to show how messed up the current system (signability is king!) really is. Stubblefield is off to join an absolutely stacked (my early count has them with at least ten draftable 2012s) Texas A&M team.

RHP Gandy Stubblefield (Lufkin HS, Texas): 6-4, 190; 88-92 FB, 94-95 peak; CB with upside

The little scouting report below on Arizona State LHP Mitchell Lambson (Round 19) says it all. I make it a rule to always start with notes on the fastball because a) I think it is the most important pitch in baseball, and b) it helps keeps my notes organized and easier to peruse quickly. That said, Lambson’s change is so good and he relies on it so heavily, there really is no other way to talk about him without first mentioning the pitch. The Josh Spence isn’t really meant to be taken literally – guys as weird and awesome as Spence can’t be compared to mere mortals – but more of a funky lefthander with the chance to put up surprising results in an unconventional manner. In other words, don’t sleep on Lambson.

Arizona State JR LHP Mitchell Lambson: outstanding 72-74 CU with outstanding arm action that sometimes dips into upper-60s; uses the CU a ton; 85-87 FB, 88-90 peak; plus command; plus control; maybe a little Josh Spence in him; 6-1, 200 pounds

I have an irrational like of Tennessee 3B Matt Duffy (Round 20) that I can only attempt to explain in terms of relevant baseball skills by talking about his excellent defense at third and patient approach at the plate. Beyond that, I just plain have a good feeling about his pro prospects. If given the chance, I think he could have a season not unlike the one Jack Hannahan is currently having: slightly below league average with the bat, well above-average in the field. That might not sound super sexy, but, again, that’s value for a 20th rounder.

Duffy was a deep sleeper top five rounds candidate of mine heading into the 2010 season, so you know I’ve been irrationally high on his talent for a long time now. The Vermont transfer and current Tennessee standout has all of the defensive tools to play a decent shortstop professionally, but profiles better as a potential plus defender at the hot corner. For Duffy, a Jack Hannahan (with more raw power) or Andy LaRoche (with less raw power) type of career is possible.

Much like Miles Hamblin, North Carolina 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Round 24) has been on the radar dating back to his days catching at junior college. The scouting blurb below was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there, but it appears I’m now in the minority. As a first baseman I don’t see how his bat will work at the pro level. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward. I can’t explain how he went higher in the draft than college teammates Patrick Johnson and Jacob Stallings.

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

For what it’s worth, I talked to one scout who preferred Central Catholic HS (CA) OF Billy Flamion (Round 25) to New York first round pick Brandon Nimmo. Flamion’s bat is universally praised, but his other tools (speed, arm, and defense) are met with skepticism. I think he gets a bad rap considering his football background and lack of experience on the diamond. He’s a better athlete than given credit for with enough foot speed and arm strength to become at least an average left fielder in time. If he hits as expected, you can live with that. I think the most interesting thing to watch as he heads to school will be whether or not his aggressive approach can be reined in enough to make him as prolific a slugger as he could be.

[plus bat speed; special sound; plus lefthanded pull power; above-average arm; average speed; average range in corner, likely LF; good athlete; lots of swing and miss]

Not signing Flamion hurts, obviously, but the consolation prize of signing Bishop Amat HS (CA) OF Wallace Gonzalez (Round 29) isn’t half bad. I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes teams will draft two questionable signs within a few rounds of each other with the intention of offering similar money and seeing if they can get one to bite. In this case, we know Flamion’s asking price was really high (first round money, reportedly) and Gonzalez “only” got six figures, so maybe my theory is off. Either way, Flamion is off to Oregon and Gonzalez is an Astro, so let’s focus on the new pro and leave the college guy until 2014. Wallace Gonzalez has tools you’d never expect to see out of guy a few pounds short of Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. His raw power, plus arm, and great athleticism are major strong points. Like the Lambson/Spence comp from before, here’s another comparison not meant to be taken too literally: Gonzalez and Astros 2009 third round 1B/OF Telvin Nash. Both Gonzalez and Nash are righthanded hitting first baseman/outfielders with enough upside to hit in the middle of a big league lineup someday.

We’re issuing a major upside alert with Wallace Gonzalez, a rare first base prospect that can lay claim to legit five-tool upside. Those tools run the gamut from “wow” (plus raw power and a bazooka – not literally, that would be a “WOW!” tool – attached to his shoulder) to “hmm, didn’t expect that” (watching a 6-5, 220 pound man with 45 speed is cognitive dissonance personified). With great upside often comes great rawness, however. Gonzalez is better known as a football star with intriguing upside as a tight end capable of developing into a dangerous downfield threat. His commitment to the gridiron makes his signability just murky enough that some teams could shy away on draft day. Years of football experience also means less time honing his baseball skills, so the onus will be on his drafting team to really coach him up. At this point in the rankings, a boom or bust prospect like Gonzalez makes a lot of sense.

Penn State 3B Jordan Steranka (Round 30) heads back to Happy Valley hoping to boost his stock leading up to the 2012 Draft. He’s a little bit like Matt Duffy, though probably not as strong as a defender.

Steranka gives just about what you’d expect from a player this far down the ranking: a strong arm and some power upside. He also has the advantage of being a steady glove at third, though there are some rumblings that he could be tried behind the plate as a pro.

Arkansas OF Jarrod McKinney (Round 31) is the last of our toolsy, athletic, and physically gifted college outfield prospects taken by Houston. He is similar to Meredith from a tools standpoint (power/speed/arm enough for right field), but an ugly pro debut (.182/.233/.231 in 121 at bats) is a reflection on his rawness as a prospect. McKinney has never been super productive at the plate and injuries have kept his overall at bats down. His talent, however, exceeds that of a typical late round pick.

Arkansas JR OF Jarrod McKinney (2011): line drive swing; power potential; good speed; great range; good arm; strong; missed most of 2010 with knee injury; catcher in HS; (190/346/270 – 9 BB/13 K – 2/5 SB – 63 AB)

Oklahoma State RHP Brad Propst (Round 38) doesn’t throw hard (topped out at 88 when I saw him), but has a dynamite changeup and the athleticism you’d expect from a former middle infielder. His time spent at shortstop has me wondering if there could be some hidden velocity that could be unearthed with 100% focus on pitching as a pro.

Oklahoma State SR RHP/SS Brad Propst (2011): 86-88 FB; plus 79-80 CU; SF CU developing

Georgia 1B Chase Davidson (Round 41) was once a symbol for all that was wrong with Houston’s cheap approach to the draft. Well, maybe Davidson himself wasn’t a symbol; he was more of the cherry on top of the disappointing draft sundae that was the 2007 MLBDraft. That was the year Houston couldn’t agree to deals with their top two picks (Derek Dietrich and Brett Eibner), as well as eighth round pick Chad Bettis. To go a year without bringing in a top four round pick (free agent compensation took care of the rest) puts a serious strain on the farm system. In 2008, the Astros signed their first rounder, comp rounder, and second rounder. Things were looking up, despite the fact they badly reached on Jason Castro with the tenth pick of the draft; I mean, at least they signed him, right? Then the third round came around and the Astros swung and missed with inking big-time slugging high school prospect Chase Davidson. The few Houston fans I knew were understandably apoplectic. I’m in no way defending Houston’s cheapness at the time, but it is fun to flash forward three drafts to the Astros drafting and signing Davidson as a 41st rounder in 2011. I don’t hold out a ton of hope for Davidson, but I also don’t see a ton of differences between him and last year’s fourth round pick of Milwaukee, Auburn 1B Hunter Morris. That alone makes Davidson a pretty huge steal this late in the draft. The bar is set so low for 41st rounders that even a career as a minor league slugger would count as a success story. Anything more is a bonus.

Davidson is all power all the time but with a hack at all costs attitude. Been a long time (three years to be exact) since we heard those Jim Thome comparisons…

Clemson OF Chris Epps (Round 45) gets a mention because it feels like he has been at Clemson for the better part of the last decade. Consider this his college hitter lifetime achievement award. Epps is a talented guy who gets hurt by his tweener status: probably not enough pop to carry him in a corner, but not a good enough defender for center. His approach to hitting is professional quality, but, much like Davidson the 41st rounder, I’d say a long career as a 4A star would be an impressive outcome for this 45th round pick.

Clemson SR OF Chris Epps (2011): leadoff hitter profile; average gap-style power; above-average speed; below-average arm; not a CF; 6-1, 195 pounds; (237/420/365 – 48 BB/49 K – 156 AB – 15/21 SB)

Westfield HS (NJ) C AJ Murray (Round 48) had a strong commitment to Georgia Tech that no doubt scared teams off, but I suspect they’ll be plenty of organizations kicking themselves once they realize the kind of player they let slip away. Murray is a great athlete with good speed and plenty of raw power. There is some concern he won’t be able to stick behind the plate long-term, but I’ve heard differently. I’m excited about following Murray’s development over the next few years, starting from his time at Georgia Tech all the way through draft day 2014.

Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.