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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – San Diego Padres

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by San Diego in 2016

20 – Cal Quantrill
52 – Eric Lauer
66 – Buddy Reed
83 – Reggie Lawson
134 – Mason Thompson
202 – Lake Bachar
248 – Hudson Sanchez
262 – Tre Carter
302 – Boomer White
417 – Ethan Skender
429 – David Bednar

Complete List of 2016 San Diego Draftees

1.8 – RHP Cal Quantrill

One team needed to be bold and take the chance on Cal Quantrill’s (20) surgically repaired right elbow in the first round. Good for San Diego for being that team. Getting a guy who would have been squarely in the 1-1 mix if healthy with the eighth overall pick is exactly the kind of draft day gamble a team like the Padres ought to be taking. There were safer players to be had when their spot in the first round came up, but they went big. I respect that. On Quantrill from April 2016…

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

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

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

The Padres went with Quantrill with a pick just inside the draft’s top ten, but otherwise we were on the same page here. Two small things from my pre-draft notes on Quantrill that I think are worth pulling out…

injury and a year’s lost development are factors to consider, but hardly deal-breakers;

This bears repeating as often as tolerated. Quantrill missed a whole damn season and still went eighth overall in the draft. Crazier yet, nobody around the game really batted an eye. I realize part of that was the relative weakness at the top of this year’s draft class pushing anybody who has ever showed any semblance of impact upside up the board, but still. A major injury and a critical year of development lost didn’t slow down the Quantrill hype train one iota. That has to mean something, right? Then there was this…

as much as I love him (easily the top arm in the college class if healthy), many focus on the injury red flag and gloss over his still underseasoned breaking ball

There’s my actual concern with Quantrill and the primary reason I dropped him a little bit lower on my board than I had originally anticipated I might. Quantrill’s fastball is legit: 90-96 MPH, mature command, serious movement. His changeup is, as I said in April, one of my favorite pitches in the entire class. At 77-81 MPH, it has tons of separation from his heater and comes out of his hand in much the same fashion. It’s also a bit of a diver, making it a really difficult pitch to square up if you’re willing and able to pull the trigger on it in the first place. Those two pitches give Quantrill a really high floor from the jump; it’s a tired comp that I use on all plus fastball/changeup righthanders with projection, but a successful career in relief a la Ryan Madson (sub in Joaquin Benoit, Tyler Clippard, or your favorite CU-heavy RP if you’re sick of me using Madson) seems like a more than respectable low-end outcome.

To achieve something more, however, Quantrill will have to do what Madson and so many others like him have failed to accomplish. Quantrill will have to master his breaking ball. For now, it’s a mid-70s curve that has slowly morphed into a harder 80-84 MPH slider. Whatever version you prefer, it’s really no more than an average at best pitch as of now. In Quantrill’s favor is time (especially when factoring in innings lost due to injury and the increased ease of throwing quality breaking balls the more distance is put between the present and a past elbow surgery), athleticism (it’s not an exact science, but better athlete = better delivery = more consistency = more frequent quality opportunities to work in breaking ball = better breaking ball), and makeup (bloodlines, work ethic, smarts, etc.). I’m willing to bet his slider becomes at least an average pitch for him, if not better. With his existing plus fastball/changeup combo, that would make him a potential game one playoff starting caliber pitcher. It’s not a perfect comp for a variety of reasons, but Quantrill’s upside could be just about a half-step down from what Zack Greinke has done in the big leagues so far.

1.24 – SS Hudson Potts

Fairly loud rumors of a pre-draft deal led Hudson Potts (née Sanchez) to going off the board to San Diego in the first round. Money saved with his selection was meant to go to Jay Groome earlier in the round, but Boston foiled those plans by taking the big prep lefty from Jersey with the twelfth overall pick. The Padres pressed on with their guy anyway and could be rewarded for their faith with a really solid all-around ballplayer. “Does so many things well” was the simple yet true line from Hudson Potts’s (248) pre-draft notes on the site. Chance for average hit, average to above-average power, average speed, average arm, well above-average (plus upside) defense at the hot corner…that’s pretty much the definition of a well-rounded prospect. His long-term defensive home will be something to monitor going forward — most thought third base (61.0 innings played there in his debut) for sure, but I know there are some who saw him this summer who think that short (210.2 IP) could work, not to mention a vocal minority who think his arm plays best at second (54.0 IP) — and his offensive game should take some time to mature (having played his entire first pro season at 17, Potts is one of the youngest prospects in this class), but a consistent above-average regular is an upside worth “overdrafting” in the first round.

1.25 – LHP Eric Lauer

On Eric Lauer (52) from February 2016…

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

Very little to quibble with when it comes to Eric Lauer. I guess you could make a strained comparison between Lauer’s lack of a sure strikeout pitch and Hudson Potts’s lack of a clear carrying tool, but the former has two truly outstanding years at Kent State (and one merely very good one) under his belt to help assuage that concern. If a guy doesn’t have that one go-to pitch to sit opposing batters down, then how exactly do you explain 2015 (10.78 K/9, 1.99 ERA), 2016 (10.82 K/9, 0.69 ERA), and his pro debut (10.74 K/9, 2.03 ERA)? Even without premium velocity (88-92, 94 peak), Lauer misses bushels of bats with a full collection of offspeed offerings. His 72-78 curve is at least an average pitch, his 80-86 cut-slider is consistently above-average, and his 83-85 changeup should be at least an average pitch with continued work. That kind of diversity on top of pinpoint fastball command (easy above-average to plus) makes Lauer a damn near ideal candidate for a very long successful career as a mid-rotation starting pitcher. I’d put his ceiling at even higher than that: mid-rotation starting pitcher with flashes of greatness possible in any given season. Part of this enthusiasm stems from the perspective gained from being away from the pre-draft bubble — I can’t prove it, but stands to reason that prospects with flashier skill sets gain the edge on steadier performers in the immediate days before the draft; it’s as true in other sports as it is in baseball, there’s no shame in trying to hit a solid single rather than always swinging from the heels — and part of it comes from the steady stream of positive comments I’ve gotten on Lauer since turning pro. There’s something about Lauer that makes smarter baseball men and women than myself want to compare him to some really excellent big league pitchers. I’ve heard “bigger, badder Wei-Yin Chen,” “better conditioned Hyun-Jin Ryu,” and Jose Quintana (intrigued by this, though Quintana has all but ditched his slider/cutter now). I’ll throw out my own JA Happ comp. I’ll also throw out an almost certainly irresponsible comparison that even the person making didn’t want to tell me at first: Cliff Lee. A ceiling like any of those guys and a reasonable fifth starter/swingman floor (if healthy) make Lauer one of the draft’s most appealing low-risk/high-reward prospects. San Diego got him with a pick far more in line with his talent than my pre-draft ranking suggested.

2.48 – OF Buddy Reed

The evaluation on (66) Buddy Reed is refreshingly straight forward: plus to plus-plus speed, above-average to plus arm, easy plus center field range, and no idea whether or not he’ll hit enough to ever be more than a speed/defense fifth outfielder. I think his non-offensive skills are so impressive that he’ll be a big league player at some point regardless of what he does or doesn’t do at the plate. When you see guys like Tony Gwynn Jr., Sam Fuld, Leonys Martin, Juan Lagares, Kevin Pillar, Jarrod Dyson, Craig Gentry, Nyjer Morgan, and Peter Bourjos all compile over 1,000 plate appearances this decade without a single one of them putting up a wRC+ of 90 in that time span, it becomes pretty clear that center field defense and speed will always be a priority for some teams at the highest level. One contact put his floor as Justin Maxwell: good defender and useful in a platoon and off the bench against LHP (Reed is a switch-hitter). I can dig it.

If, however, Reed figures things out as a hitter, then watch out. An athlete like this with something going for him at the plate could be a potential superstar. Of course, there’s very little evidence in Reed’s scouting background and performance on the field that suggest a breakout is coming. This is where I respectfully bow out of the deep scouting conversation and leave it to those who want to break down his swing plane and pitch recognition and bat speed and bat control and whatever else they claim either held him back when he doesn’t make it or changed drastically if he does. Tossing around nebulous scouting terms is a fantastic way to cover yourself in whatever direction a player’s career takes him. “It wasn’t my evaluation that was wrong, it’s just that the player developed unexpectedly by changing his approach/swing/mechanics/whatever in the pros.” Pretty brilliant way to keep things as “inside baseball” as possible while propping yourself up as one of the few blessed souls capable of watching grown men play a sport with a critical eye. It’s all junk science and anybody who tells you differently is just fighting to protect their own self-interests. It’s the way the world works. You have to sound authoritative enough to keep an audience while being sure to speak the right insider language to keep all the dummies not smart enough to crack the inner-circle at bay. The most infuriating thing of all about this is how quickly an outsider assimilates to the inside. The example would be an internet nobody like me getting hired by a team and suddenly completing changing his position on how much smarter those IN THE INDUSTRY are about the game. Happens all the time. People go from being curious and asking questions and having fun on the internet to super serious bullies who mock those who show the same curiosity and joy for the game they once exhibited. Everybody wants to belong to something bigger, I guess. If that means turning their back on their actual beliefs to parrot the self-preserving company line, then so be it.

Anyway, I’ve used the shrugging emoticon ( ¯\_(ツ)_/¯) one time too many during these draft reviews, so I’ll stay away from it here. But if you asked me whether or not Reed would hit enough to be an above-average all-around contributor in the big leagues, that would be my honest answer. My instincts say probably not — despite some of the snark in the paragraph above the scouting buzz is not meaningless, plus the historical track record of college hitters with career .275/.353/.384 lines (84 BB/156 K) isn’t great — but spending a second round pick to find out feels well worth it, especially if your own scouts have seen something in Reed that others have not. He’s a big league player for me whether he hits or not; now we wait and see what kind of hitter he’ll turn out to be.

2.71 – RHP Reggie Lawson

This is a really cool draft by San Diego. They keep drafting players I like that I didn’t even know I liked as much as I do until thinking about them some more. I like players like that. Players like that tend to be players I’m particularly intrigued in, but would be too chicken to draft as high as necessary to actually land them. Reggie Lawson (83) is exactly like that. Crazy athletic, tremendous fastball movement, burgeoning power breaking ball, and inconsistent yet improved command. That’s a fun prospect.

A really off-the-wall comparison for Lawson that I think works: Tommy Greene. That may not be the most flattering of comps at first glance — on one hand, sure you’d take a guy good enough to start 97 games in the big leagues; on the other, only 97 games and a 93 ERA+ isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire — but peak healthy Tommy Greene was really good. In fact, I’d argue that Greene was legitimately great in 1993 — an admittedly magical year for a 7-year-old fan that has no doubt warped my own baseball worldview including defending Greene against all comers — and could have been on the verge of a major breakout (he was only 26 in 1993) if not for a string of unfortunate arm injuries that wound up ending his career in the big leagues shortly after his 30th birthday. You don’t have to take my word for it, though: “He could have been a great pitcher,’’ former major league advance scout Eddie Lyons told staff writer Chuck Carree. “He could have been another Catfish Hunter.’’ Or this

“Believe me, it is easy to catch guys like this,” said cather Darren Daulton, who has seen Greene complete his last five games. “He reminds me of Doc Gooden. A power pitcher who’s developed breaking pitches and has command of them. Guys with stuff like that, they’re illegal in seven states.”

A healthy Greene shares that big fastball/power breaking ball starting point with Lawson — 88-94 and up to 96 with his heat; above-average mid-70s breaking ball that flashes plus when thrown with a little extra behind it — not to mention exceptional athleticism and a chance to be a non-zero at the plate. Toss in a usable change with a chance to be average in time and Lawson has the kind of upside that could give him a few seasons that resemble 1993 Tommy Greene.

3.85 – RHP Mason Thompson

From my notes on Mason Thompson (134): “if healthy, look out.” The third round feels like an opportune time for San Diego to bet on the return to full health of Thompson’s right arm. At his best (and healthiest), Thompson sits 88-92 (94 peak) with a quality mid-70s curve and a standout low-80s changeup that flashes plus. Thompson’s upside is high enough that he’s on the short list of players I’m most excited to see for myself in 2017. Between this pick, Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Reggie Lawson, and Lake Bachar, San Diego low-key replenished their starting pitching depth before round five had the chance to wrap up. When you add in potential relief arms like Lucchesi, Stillman, Dallas, Sheckler, Scholtens, Galindo, Zimmerman, and Bednar, you can begin to see an argument for the Padres having one of if not the best pitching drafts in 2016.

4.144 – RHP Joey Lucchesi

Joey Lucchesi likes to throw fastballs. Joey Lucchesi has a really good fastball. Joey Lucchesi is really good at baseball…

12.08 K/9 – 3.00 BB/9 – 2.19 ERA – 111.0 IP
12.00 K/9 – 0.64 BB/9 – 1.29 ERA – 42.0 IP

Top is what he did at Southeast Missouri State as a senior and bottom is what he did in the pros after signing. The man can flat miss bats. Equipped with a quality heater (90-94) and decent curve coming out of a funky delivery, Lucchesi has a long career of big league relief work written all over him.

5.144 – RHP Lake Bachar

ABA: Always Bet on Athleticism. If you follow that rule during the MLB Draft, you’re more than likely to come out ahead, especially as it pertains to pitchers. Lake Bachar (202) is an athlete. He also throws a fastball that can get up to 95 (90-94 typically), a pair of average breaking balls (83-85 slider, mid-70s curve) with more upside than that, and a usable but raw low-80s change. I like this one a lot.

6.174 – RHP Will Stillman

This is not one of my better takes because the two have less in common the more you think about it, but here goes: Will Stillman is like the Eric Lauer of relievers. Ignoring all the obvious differences leaves us with two college pitchers who consistently produced with well-rounded arsenals but still have plenty of doubters in certain circles who think of them as “stat” picks and not “scout” picks. Stillman has long had a good fastball (88-92, 94 peak), but took it up a notch in the pros (more 92-96 than not). He leans on the heat, but can also throw a pair of quality offspeed pitches (curve, change). The 6-4, 180 pound righthander could still have a little more in the tank as he continues to fill out. Even slight improvements in control — Stillman walked 4.99 batters per nine in his senior season at Wofford (his best full season mark) and 4.89 batters per nine in his pro debut — would make him a potential late-inning option for San Diego down the line. I get that I’m repeating myself too often, but, man, I like this pick, too. The Padres big league pitching staff in 2017 might be one of the worst we’ve seen in some time, but the pitching depth they are accumulating in the minors could change that in a hurry.

7.204 – LHP Dan Dallas

Any lefthanded teenager capable of living in the low-90s (87-92, specifically) with his fastball who can also throw a decent low-70s curve is all right in my book. That’s Dan Dallas. There may not be a ton of projection left in his game, but his present stuff is solid enough to justify a seventh round shot.

8.234 – LHP Ben Sheckler

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Cornerstone University’s first ever MLB draft pick, but everything I’ve come to learn about Ben Sheckler since draft day sounds pretty good. The 6-8, 240 pound lefthander couldn’t be built much more differently than the pitching prospect taken just one round earlier (Dan Dallas), but similar relief upside with an outside shot to keep starting seems like a fair forecast for the pair. Sheckler is an ascending talent who gets major sink on a low-90s fastball (90-94), a pitch he used in tandem with an emerging slider to get ground balls on a whopping 71.15% of all batted balls against him in his debut.

Since I knew nothing of Sheckler as of a few weeks ago when I began writing this thing up, I asked around if there were any decent comps for him. I got three fun ones, but all came with qualifiers. Ben Sheckler reminded people of Brett Anderson (“but not quite that good”), Chad Qualls (“but lefthanded”), and Marc Rzepczynski (“but much bigger”). The Anderson career path seems only obtainable if Sheckler can improve either his curve or circle-change enough to give hitters something slower to think about. Landing on a career like Qualls’s or Rzepczynski’s wouldn’t be a bad outcome at all for an eighth round pick.

9.264 – RHP Jesse Scholtens

On Jesse Scholtens from March 2016…

Jesse Scholtens, a transfer from Arizona, can crank it up to the low-90s with his fastball, a pitch complemented nicely with an average or better breaking ball. There’s clear senior-sign reliever potential with him and perhaps a little bit more if his changeup continues to develop.

Sounds about right for Scholtens, a quality senior-sign that has enough stuff (sinking 88-94 FB, average to above-average cut-slider, usable changeup) to potentially remain in the rotation in pro ball. That puts his ceiling somewhere between future fifth starter and quality middle reliever. Could definitely see the whole relief thing working out for him in the long run. Another nice pitching addition here.

10.294 – 2B Boomer White

Boomer White (302) has been one of the tougher evaluations in this draft class for me going back quite some time. The handful of firsthand reports I’ve gotten on him over the years have been uniformly positive. From raves about his hit tool (plus for some!), above-average raw power, and defense at the hot corner, you would think that White would be an easy player to project as a future above-average regular. Add on a really strong track record of hitting with a dominant senior season (.398/.476/.533 with 33 BB/14 K and 10/14 SB) as the cherry on top, and there really shouldn’t have been anything all that tricky about any of this. Boomer White: future regular. Easy, right?

In the high-stakes world of internet draft guessing, nothing’s easy. I’m not a scout, but my own looks at White in 2016 were not quite what I was hoping to see. I think White will hit, so that’s good. Beyond that, I never saw the kind of power projection that I’d feel comfortable getting up to average at his peak and defense at third that bordered on unplayable in the pros. Again, I’m not a scout but seeing these things up close was discouraging enough I had a hard time forgetting them when it came time to finalize a ranking.

Two comps for White that come to mind that may have some utility for you: Hernan Perez (if you believe he can play a few non-OF spots effectively) and Robbie Grossman (without the switch-hitting). I’m partial to the Grossman comp; I could see White grinding for years in the minors like Grossman before finally getting a shot to play in his late-20s on a bad team willing to give him a shot. No telling if he’ll take the opportunity and run with it like Grossman has so far.

11.324 – OF Tre Carter

I’ve called a lot of eleventh round picks perfect fits for the eleventh round, but Trevyne Carter (262) might really be the one true perfect fit. The eleventh round is when you should be rolling the dice on the boom/bust prospect that may have priced himself out of a single-digit round. That may not exactly be what happened to Carter — his $100,000 bonus technically doesn’t make him an overslot signing — but the same logic applies to him as a boom/bust prospect with some of the most impressive athletic bona fides in this class and all kinds of speed on the bases and in center. Carter’s athletic profile and physical projection make him one of the draft’s most intriguing and overlooked outfield prospects. His pro debut — .298/.411/.383 with 9 BB/10 K in 56 PA — came in a small sample, but was chock full of encouraging signs. The intersection of Carter’s physical gifts and small sample on-field polish suddenly makes him one of the most interesting round eleven prospects to follow.

13.384 – RHP Joe Galindo

With a big fastball up to 98 MPH, above-average slider, and a 6-4, 225 pound frame, Joe Galindo is a college relief prospect straight out of central casting. Toss in stellar strikeout numbers (14.59 K/9) and a boatload of walks (7.45 BB/9) that led to the definition of effectively wild (2.48 ERA) in his junior season. A late-season broken hand at New Mexico State will keep him from debuting in the pros until 2017, but his ready-made late-inning stuff should make him a quick riser through the system if he can curb some of his wild ways.

15.444 – OF Jack Suwinski

Jack Suwinski, like Tre Carter another high school outfielder who got a six-figure signing bonus, can hit. That’s about all I’ve got on him, but it’s enough. Suwinski can hit (and throw and defend enough for a corner). He reminds me a little bit of Josh Stephen, eleventh round pick of the Phillies. The comp works both on the field (both are generally unheralded bat first prep outfield prospects) and with the checkbook (Stephen got $600,000 to sign while Suwinski got $550,000).

16.474 – C Chris Mattison

Chris Mattison hit .384/.447/.708 with 18 BB/39 K and 9/12 SB in his draft year at Southeastern. If he can keep catching in the pros — and the Padres internally believe he can — then he’s a reasonably interesting mid-round follow based on his position and power. I’m a bit scared off by his plate discipline, but it’s the sixteenth round so you can’t have it all.

17.504 – SS Chris Baker

The Padres deserve a ton of credit for their pre-draft evaluation on Chris Baker. They saw a sure-handed shortstop with solid pop and an improving approach at the plate that many others didn’t see. This cool article breaks it down…

“Our scouts had seen him play there plenty of times,” said Conner. “We had seen him in high school and some with the Huskies. That is a big thing in our organization, to have multiple looks at guys so we can see their progression or regression and have a more informed idea of the player.”

The whole article is worth a read, but this part also stood out to me as being particularly important…

“For me, I had one at-bat against UCLA when the pitcher threw me a fastball away, and even though I was thinking away, I still fouled it off,” he said on the moment when things began to turn around for him. “And I thought then that if I had so much time that I didn’t need to rush it. It’s strange, but certain things can just click for you.

Pretty neat that one foul ball can be the start of something much bigger. I’ve heard many similar stories like that — one that comes to mind is about a guy who took a close pitch (a strike, as it turned out) he’d normally have swung at and that became his moment of “Hey, I can do this” — and they never cease to bring me joy. My “nine to five” job allows me to be on the front lines of moments like that everyday, so getting to read about them in the sport I love is a pretty nice way to bridge the gap between my “real life” and whatever this site attempts to do.

Anyway, Chris Baker is a really good get this late in the draft. Any time you can nab a legitimate shortstop capable of hitting .299/.384/.432 with 14/18 SB in 264 AB in his pro debut — better marks across the board save a couple points of batting average than what he did as a junior at Washington — then that’s a win. I commend San Diego for sticking with Baker over the years and think they’ll be paid back with a high-level utility player who has a chance for more if his defense keeps progressing at short.

18.534 – 1B Jaquez Williams

There’s no such thing as a bad signed high school draft pick past round ten. Even when that signed high school draft pick strikes out in 40.8% of his first 98 professional turns at the plate. Jaquez Williams is a big lefthanded power bat with a strong track record catching up to velocity. It’s not the prospect archetype one might typically associate with a $100,000 post-tenth round bonus (i.e., I wouldn’t have targeted him specifically), but, hey, it’s only money, right? And, lest we’ve forgotten already, there’s no such thing as a bad signed high school draft pick past round ten.

19.564 – OF AJ Brown

I know nothing about AJ Brown, star two-sport athlete who will continue to do the two sport thing by playing both baseball with the Padres in the summer and football with Ole Miss in the fall. No word at this time on what job will pay better.

20.594 – RHP Dom DiSabatino

I saw Dominic DiSabatino twice in high school, once in a workout setting and again during game action in Delaware. He was a big human with a monster arm and not a ton of foot speed, so my brain automatically tied him to another oversized prep shortstop I once saw a lot of at Bishop Eustace HS in New Jersey. That would be one Billy Rowell, first round pick and pro flop with Baltimore. Rowell’s struggles don’t have anything to do with DiSabatino, not only because one man’s issues have no place handicapping another’s future but also because DiSabatino will start his pro career not at shortstop but on the mound. Fair enough, though DiSabatino’s sophomore season at Harford was a good deal more impressive with the bat (.411/.519/.738 with 48 BB/36 K and 13/19 SB) than as a pitcher (4.2 IP). I still like what the Padres are doing giving DiSabatino a shot pitching

21.624 – OF Taylor Kohlwey

There was lots of positive buzz on Taylor Kohlwey sent this way throughout the spring. He’s got size (6-3, 200), speed (plus), and, most compelling of all, a legit above-average hit tool. That’s not the type of overall tools package you typically see fall to the twenty-first round. There’s definite fourth outfielder upside with Kohlwey. One contact said that he thought Kohlwey could wind up as a similar player to current Padres center fielder Travis Jankowski. That would be a great potential outcome in the twenty-first round.

22.654 – RHP Evan Miller

Nice work by San Diego realizing that Evan Miller was draft-eligible as a sophomore after his second year at Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne. Miller’s two years as a Mastodon generated some fascinating numbers: 9.75 K/9, 6.09 BB/9, and 5.38 ERA in 152.1 IP. Miller also hit 19 batters and threw 37 wild pitches in those 31 career games (29 starts). If you know what to make of him going solely off those numbers, then you are far more attuned to the draft process than I am. Thankfully, we have a bit more than just the numbers to work with. We also know Miller throws hard (up to the mid-90s) with a nasty breaking ball that morphs between a truer hard slider and a variation on the traditional cut-fastball. He’s also been known to drop in a very occasional changeup. Getting locked in to just one key offspeed pitch — maybe the slider, maybe the cutter, maybe a cut-slider hybrid — should help him across the board (command, control, actual quality of stuff, etc.) in pro ball. I’m bullish on getting a pitcher with Miller’s arm talent this late.

23.684 – 2B Nate Easley

Nate Easley hit .403/.485/.655 with 36 BB/37 K and 29/36 SB in his draft year at junior college power and 2016 NJCAA Champion Yavapai College. He followed that up with a strong showing (.261/.385/.340 with 46 BB/59 K and 13/17 SB) in pro ball. Early returns on his conversion from center field to his father’s old position (second base) have been very encouraging. A patient approach, plus speed, and good defense up the middle could take him pretty far.

His dad made over $25 million in the big leagues and he started as a thirtieth round pick. The twenty-third round pick has a nice head start on his old man. My completely made up numbers — 25 million divided by 30 rounds times the difference of 7 rounds — means that Nate will finish his career with just under $31 million in the bank. Don’t argue with me, it’s math.

25.744 – C Luis Anguizola

Wisconsin-Whitewater, Cornerstone, Southeastern, Wisconsin-La Crosse, Chico State, and Baldwin-Wallace are just some of the universities that San Diego found prospects to their liking in the 2016 MLB Draft. That’s pretty badass. They dug particularly deep in finding Luis Anguizola out of Loyola University in New Orleans. Anguizola put up monster numbers (.428/.491/.738 with 26 BB/29 K) on a 22-33 NAIA squad. Context on those numbers matter. Anguizola’s BA was almost 200 points ahead of any other qualifier on the team. No other batter with more than eight at bats hit over .300. His OBP was 100 points better than anybody else. His SLG was almost 300 (!) points better than anybody else. Anguizola had a ridiculous offensive year any way you look at it. Good news about his pro debut: .279/.389/.356 with 17 BB/24 K and a 121 wRC+ may not be .428/.491/.738, but it’s not nothing. The less good news: Anguizola will be 23-years-old entering his first full pro season. That’s not a killer, but it does mean he has to get his rear in gear if he wants to establish himself as a debonair prospect. What’s a debonair prospect, you may be wondering. Well, Google didn’t recognize my original word choice of bonafide (written improperly as one word when it’s really two, so, hey, I’ve learned something new today), and for some reason wants to correct it to debonair. Debonair prospect should be a thing. Anyway, the even less good news: 23 of Anguizola’s 25 pro starts came at first base. He was announced as a catcher on draft day, but that dream seems less likely by the day. As a catcher, Anguizola would be a really REALLY interesting prospect. As a first baseman, he’s merely interesting. Still take that in a twenty-fifth round pick, of course.

27.804 – RHP Chasen Ford

I’ve seen Chasen Ford pitch at Yale. He’s looked good. Fastball ranging from 87 to 92 MPH, quality if still inconsistent breaking ball, good tempo on the mound, reasonably athletic, repeatable mechanics…all positive things. His results in the Ivy League, however…not so positive. Nobody really cares about twenty-seventh round picks as much as I do (or we do, assuming you’re reading this on your own volition), so this isn’t really true…but don’t late-round picks like Ford feel like mini-referendums on the age old scouts vs stats debate. If you only knew about Ford’s scouting report, you’d be on board. Bonus points for making the transition from standout California high schooler to star student-athlete at Yale, too. If you only knew the results of Ford’s time on the mound at Yale (4.65 K/9 and 3.05 BB/9 as a junior), then he’d be squarely in the middle of the UDFA pile. Since the debate isn’t really a debate at all — we all know this, but I’ll say it anyway: it’s not scouts vs stats, but rather scouts AND scouts working in harmony that make a front office tick — I’ll stay on the sidelines by coming down smack dab in the center. Ford’s scouting reports (including what I’ve personally seen) would have been enough for me to put him on my 40-round draft board at first, but his significantly below-average peripherals over the years would have bumped him off by the time I was ready to finalize the preference list. So I get why the Padres took him even if I wouldn’t have done so myself.

28.834 – SS Ethan Skender

I love this pick. Ethan Skender (417) won’t necessarily knock you over with loud tools, but the hoary cliché that I avoid on 99% of these pick reviews — “he’s a ballplayer” — rings true here. Skender can flat hit. That alone should make him interesting. Combine it with sneaky pop for a guy with his build and enough athleticism to stick up the middle (short for now, maybe second in the long run due to an average arm), and you’ve got yourself a keeper. I’m not quite ready to call a twenty-eighth round pick a future regular in the big leagues, but…fine, I’ll call it now. Skender is really good. Starter upside at second with a damn good shot to have a long, fruitful career in a utility role as a fallback.

30.894 – RHP Dalton Erb

Dalton Erb is a big guy (6-8, 250) with underwhelming velocity (but quality fastball movement) who pitched just all right at Chico State (7.68 K/9 and 3.62 BB/9) as a junior. He’s also “allergic to bees though his dad is a beekeeper.” Like rain on your wedding day, I guess.

31.924 – 1B GK Young

18 BB/38 K, 19 BB/50 K, and 23 BB/63 K. Those were GK Young’s K/BB ratios in his three years at Coastal Carolina. Not great. He’s got impressive present power and a strong arm, but the days of hoping he’d return to his catching roots have long since passed. That leaves us with an all-or-nothing first base prospect. Interestingly enough, Young’s junior year BB/K ratio (23/63) was almost identical to his professional debut BB/K ratio (23/63). A Chanticleer can’t change his spots.

33.984 – RHP Mark Zimmerman

Very cool pick here. Mark Zimmerman should be on any short list of most accomplished 2016 amateur baseball players. The two-way star at Baldwin-Wallace was second in the team in at bats and first in innings pitched. He made the most of both his time in the batter’s box (.368/.472/.540 with 30 BB/17 K and 17/17 SB) and on the mound (10.83 K/9 and 1.79 BB/9). Two draft rules I’ll always follow: bet big on athletes and, all else being equal, let the two-way guy pitch. Zimmerman’s athleticism is obvious to all who have seen him play up close — admittedly a very small number of people — so allowing him to concentrate full time on the mound could reap serious rewards. He’s already got a low-90s heater and quality slider, so a career in middle relief feels well within reach. Thirty-third round pick or not, I’m buying.

34.1014 – 3B Denzell Gowdy

I’m not an expert on Denzell Gowdy, but universal praise of his athleticism and work ethic make him a pretty interesting thirty-fourth round pick to track. His stellar draft season at Darton JC (.356/.473/.620 with 35 BB/37 K) certainly doesn’t hurt, either. Gowdy’s defensive versatility — he played second, third, and in the outfield in his debut — make him a worthwhile sleeper utility name to know.

35.1044 – RHP David Bednar

David Bednar is a really good looking arm that has the stuff to keep starting in pro ball. Not every team may be sold on his size or delivery as a starter, but he’s got the arm speed, depth of arsenal, and demeanor to stay in the rotation. I saw him throw at Penn and came away particularly impressed with his fastball (88-94, 96peak) and slider (above-average, flashed plus) combination. I’d love to see what kind of damage focusing in on those two pitches could produce coming in short bursts out of the bullpen. It’s silly to project any thirty-fifth round pick as a future big league player — the odds are decidedly stacked against such a prediction — but, in honor of my favorite stand-up comic, let’s get silly. David Bednar: future big league reliever.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Jamie Sara (William & Mary), Jared Poche’ (LSU), Hunter Bishop (Arizona State), Grae Kessinger (Mississippi), Collin Sullivan (South Florida), Ariel Burgos Garcia (Keiser), Quinn Hoffman (Harvard), Ryan Rolison (Mississippi), Will Solomon (?), JJ Bleday (Vanderbilt), Chris Burica (Creighton)

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2016 MLB Draft First Round Analysis

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early April 2016…

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

Late April 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Late April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early May 2016…

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

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

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

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

October 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

February 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

October 2015…

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

December 2015…

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

March 2016…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

December 2014…

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

December 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

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

January 2016…

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

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

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

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

Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

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

May 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 2015…

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

May 2016…

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

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

October 2015…

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

February 2016…

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

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

October 2015…

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

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

April 2016…

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

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

May 2016…

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

1.29 Washington Nationals | Florida RHP Dane Dunning (-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

May 2016…

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

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

October 2015…

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

April 2016…

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

May 2016…

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

2016 MLB Draft – High School Shortstops

A brief history of the top high school shortstops selected and their respective ages in their draft year…

2015: Brendan Rodgers – turned 19 that August
2014: Nick Gordon – turned 19 that October
2013: JP Crawford – turned 19 that next January
2012: Carlos Correa – turned 18 that September
2011: Francisco Lindor – turned 18 that November
2010: Manny Machado – turned 18 that July
2009: Jiovanni Mier – turned 19 that August

Delvin Perez, set to turn 18-years-old this November, will join that club in a few weeks. He’ll be younger than everybody on that list, though Lindor, the player I used as the best case scenario comp for Perez at the start of the draft process, was only ten days older than Perez when comparing their respective draft years. We’ll come back to him shortly.

If we deem the past few seasons as too recent to make fairly assess, then we’re left with a ton of quick-moving impact big league talent at the position. There’s are many reasons why Major League Baseball is in the midst of yet another shortstop renaissance, and the recent influx of talented prep prospects has a lot to do with it. Take a look at this stretch of big league players (guys with * were drafted as shortstops but moved off sooner rather than later)…

2012: Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager
2011: Lindor, Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Mookie Betts*
2010: Machado, Ryan Brett*, Garin Cecchini*, JT Realmuto*
2009: Nick Franklin, Chris Owings, Billy Hamilton*, Enrique Hernandez*, Scooter Gennett*

You also have Gavin Cecchini, Daniel Robertson, and Roman Quinn on the way, though there’s a chance that all of the above will have asterisks by their name eventually if they don’t have one already. Then there’s also clear asterisks Michael Taylor (a negative value player to date, but there’s plenty of time to change that) and Mychal Givens, who really should have been on the mound in the first place. We’re just using that 2009-2012 draft band here; if we include the past three classes, we’ve got Crawford, Gordon, and Rodgers, among others, on the way. That’s a healthy group of high school shortstops drafted this decade.

If so inclined to use recent history as a guide, then the point here is pretty simple: when in doubt, draft a prep shortstop. We’ve seen how high school catchers, first basemen, and second basemen have proven to be questionable investments over the years. High school shortstops, on the other hand, have had a great deal of success. Nothing here is conclusive, nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Let’s talk about high school shortstops.

One of the fun things about having a site like this for so long is having a long track record, good and bad, to look back on. I find looking back at the bad to be particularly illuminating. A crucial element to evaluation, in any walk of life, is the willingness and ability to self-scout. My own track record with the top high school shortstops of recent years is spotty at best. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way, but that can be a tough thing to see when you’re still in the middle of the seemingly never-ending year-to-year draft game. My evolution can be seen somewhat when looking at my experiences with Manny Machado in 2010, Francisco Lindor in 2011, Carlos Correa in 2012, and eventually Brendan Rodgers in 2015…and hopefully Delvin Perez in 2016.

This quick, admittedly self-indulgent journey begins with both Machado and Correa as I explained the latter’s high ranking at one point using the former’s far too low ranking as the learning experience that it was…

Correa represents my mea culpa for underrating Manny Machado in 2010. Their scouting reports read very, very similar, and are best summed up by the abundance of “above-average” and “plus” sprinkled throughout. Correa can throw with the best of them, and his foot speed, bat speed, approach, and range are all well above-average. He’ll need plenty of at bats against quality pitching, so his drafting team will have to be patient, but his experience against high velocity arms is encouraging.

I had Machado thirteenth on my final 2010 board. That means he was behind AJ Cole, Karsten Whitson, Stetson Allie (perhaps there’s a lesson there about HS arms…), Brandon Workman, Deck McGuire (or low-ceiling college arms…), and Justin O’Conner (think I’ve learned my lesson about non-elite HS catchers by now). Austin Wilson (ranked fifth) also stands out as a bad miss this year; there’s maybe some Will Benson or Blake Rutherford parallels with him, depending on how you look at things. As far as Machado, I just flat missed on his physical tools. Missing on aptitude or work ethic or willingness to take instruction or even projection of physical growth is one thing, but what I saw and heard of Machado was drastically different than how he really played the game. You could say I underrated his tools, but I’d go a step further and say I just flat didn’t appreciate him for what he was and could be. There could have been some contrarian bias in me then that I hope has gotten beaten out of me by now; sometimes guys are hyped for good reason, so going against the grain to be different is just flat stupid. If he’s good, say he’s good. If that means you have the same top five as everybody else, so be it. That exact contrarian streak kept bubbling up here as I had assumed most of the spring that Carter Kieboom would overtake Delvin Perez on this rankings one he showed everybody he could hang at shortstop. I LOVE Kieboom, as I hope I’ll clearly explain below. Perez just has that extra gear of athleticism, speed, and range that puts him in the same class as too many of the recent shortstop hits to ignore. One such hit is Francisco Lindor.

My take on Lindor after his limited debut season (20 PA) showed just enough personal growth that I’ll give myself a tiny gold star for the day…

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

That last line is where there’s some progress shown: “Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.” I think that belief informs where I’m at with Perez right now. There’s almost no denying the enormity of his ceiling, but the risk factor is very real. The list of successful prep shortstops who no longer play shortstop above helps mitigate some of those concerns as it seems that importance of being able to slide down the defensive spectrum can’t be overstated enough. Draft for stardom, hope for the best, and be willing and ready pivot developmentally to another defensive spot if necessary. Of course, if you get the stardom part wrong as I did with Machado, then your evaluation is doomed from the start. I at least allowed for that stardom with Lindor, so, yeah, some growth there. Not a ton, but some. I’ll take it.

I think I had mostly learned my lesson by the time it came to rank the aforementioned Carlos Correa first overall in 2012. That lesson was applied, more or less, last year when discussing Brendan Rodgers…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely. The difference in ranking opinion is minute, but for a decision-maker picking within those first few selections it can mean the difference between job security for years to come (and, perhaps eventually, a ring…) or an outright dismissal even before getting to see this whole thing through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really like Kessinger’s hands, range, and first step actions at short. He’s just a half-step behind Perez – if that – defensively. Offensively he’s more athlete with bat speed than finished product, but you could do a lot worse than what he gives you as a starting point. Williams matches Kessinger’s athleticism, speed (both of the bat and foot variety), and defensive upside, but the latter area is where Kessinger’s present value trumps where Williams is currently at. Williams could get there, but Kessinger has the head start. Many have slid Williams to center field on their boards, but he’s come on fast as an infielder since his inconsistent showing in the dirt this past summer. The defensive gap between Kessinger and Williams is potentially made up by the advantage that Williams has shown in the power department. He’s currently more physical than Kessinger with a swing geared toward more natural pop. Two similarly talented players with just enough differences to keep things interesting; I like Kessinger by a hair, but that could flip by June.

I’m running out of time, but I’m still not quite sure what to feel about Quintana as a prospect. I like him a lot, but I’m not quite sure yet how high “a lot” will get him on the board. Though most I talked to saw him moving off of shortstop sooner rather than later – second, third, and even catcher were mentioned as long-term spots for him – I kind of like the strong armed righthander to stick at short for the foreseeable future. Offensively, I believe. Quintana can hit and hit for power. If his approach comes around, then defensive questions won’t loom quite as large.

Jose Miranda is a particularly well-rounded shortstop with a strong hit tool, solid approach, and reliable hands. Grant Bodison is a little older than his peers, but with a plus arm, plus speed, and an average or better shot to stick at shortstop, he’s a fine prospect. His approach as a hitter has always stood out as particularly intriguing, so I’m more willing to overlook the extra few month lead he has on much of his current competition than I might be otherwise. Hudson Sanchez, a righthanded bat with some thump out of Texas, is on the opposite side of the age spectrum as one of this class’s youngest prospects. Though not quite the same prospect, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sanchez is just a few weeks behind Perez. Only one team will get Perez in the first round, so the value of nabbing players like Kieboom (second if you’re very lucky), Lux (same), and then one or more of Kessinger, Williams, Quintana, Jaxon Williams, Miranda, Bodison, Hamilton, Sanchez, Francisco Thomas, Cam Shepherd, and Alexis Torres (all third round or later) will certainly be on the forefront of twenty-nine other teams’ minds in this upcoming draft.

*****

SS Anthony Prato (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
SS Austin Masel (Belmont Hill HS, Massachusetts)
SS Austyn Tengan (Cypress HS, California)
SS Brady Whalen (Union HS, Washington)
SS Branden Fryman (Tate HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Chinea (Florida Christian HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Hauswald (University School of Jackson, Tennessee)
SS Brian Rey (Deltona HS, Florida)
SS Cameron Cannon (Mountain Ridge HS, Arizona)
SS Camryn Williams (Gaither HS, Florida)
SS Carter Aldrete (Montery HS, California)
SS Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS, Virginia)
SS David Hamilton (San Marcos HS, Texas)
SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Duncan Pence (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
SS Francisco Thomas (Osceloa HS, Puerto Rico)
SS Grae Kessinger (Oxford HS, Mississippi)
SS Grant Bodison (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
SS Grant Little (Midland Christian HS, Texas)
SS Hunter Lessard (Sunrise Mountain HS, Arizona)
SS Jeremy Houston (Mt Carmel HS, Illinois)
SS Kevin Rolon (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Kevin Welsh (Northern Burlington HS, New Jersey)
SS Logan Davidson (Providence HS, North Carolina)
SS Matthew Rule (Kearney HS, Missouri)
SS Mitchell Golden (Marietta HS, Georgia)
SS Nicholas Novak (Stillwater HS, Minnesota)
SS Nick Derr (Sarasota Community HS, Florida)
SS Nonie Williams (Turner HS, Kansas)
SS Palmer Ford (Virgil Grissom HS, Alabama)
SS Peter Hutzal (Ernest Manning SS, Alberta)
SS Ryan Layne (West Jessamine HS, Kentucky)
SS Sal Gozzo (Sheehan HS, Connecticut)
SS Samad Taylor (Corona HS, California)
SS Tyler Roeder (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
SS Zachary Watson (West Ouachita HS, Louisiana)
SS/2B Alexis Torres (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Cam Shepherd (Peachtree Ridge HS, Georgia)
SS/2B Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, Wisconsin)
SS/2B Jakob Newton (Oakville Trafalgar SS, Ontario)
SS/2B Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Nevada)
SS/2B Will Brooks (Madison Central HS, Mississippi)
SS/3B Carter Kieboom (Walton HS, Georgia)
SS/3B Hudson Sanchez (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas)
SS/3B Jose Miranda (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/3B Josh Hollifield (Weddington HS, North Carolina)
SS/CF Jaxon Williams (BF Terry HS, Texas)
SS/OF DeShawn Lookout (Westmoore HS, Oklahoma)
SS/OF Jaylon McLaughlin (Santa Monica HS, California)
SS/RHP Quincy McAfee (Westside HS, Texas)
SS/RHP Will Proctor (Mira Costa HS, California)

2016 MLB Draft Prospect Preview: HS Shortstops

I have less of a feel for this shortstop group than I do any other collection of position players. Delvin Perez has separated himself from the rest, but I’m not sure any other infielder has a definitive claim on the second spot right now. This puts us right around where we were last June when Brendan Rodgers was a clear number one with the field left to duke it out for second.

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

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

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

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

Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

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

Now we’re back to figuring out who falls behind Perez on the shortstop pecking order. It only makes sense to look first to guys who appear to be safe bets to remain shortstops for the foreseeable future. Grant Bodison might have a claim for most talented all-around shortstop in this class. He’s a little bit older than his peers, so some teams might ding him (fairly, I’d say) for that. Still, he’s a big talent who can really run, throw, and work deep counts. He joins guys like Grae Kessinger, Nolan Williams, and David Hamilton as sure-fire shortstops defensively. I’d put those three in a pile of prospects that I look forward to learning more about this spring. All have been really divisive prospects in my talks with smarter people around the game. You might have one that you really, really like and one that you don’t see as an everyday player, but few I’ve checked in with have said that they are on the fence about many of these guys just yet. It’s love or hate right now, though always with the caveat that “it’s too early.” Kessinger and Hamilton in particular have stood out as being players who elicit strong opinions, good and not so good, from those who have seen them often.

Of course, for all I said about these shortstops being so good because they’ll stick at shortstop, here are a few guys I really like that are far from locks to stick at the six-spot professionally.

I probably like Jaxon Williams more than most. He gets my annual Roman Quinn comp (Alonzo Jones got the honor last year) for his intriguing defensive tools (love him in CF, optimistic about him at short), plus athleticism, and sneaky pop packed into a 5-9, 160 pound frame.

Nicholas Quintana is another prospect who might be better off playing anywhere in the infield (2B, 3B, maybe even C) away from shortstop over the long haul. For now I’ll be stubborn and stick with him as a legitimate shortstop prospect. I understand the concerns about how his average at best foot speed and good but not great athleticism, so I’m banking on superior instincts, positioning, and an arm that allows him to play a bit deeper than most to let me stick for a while. In other words, I’m going into the spring thinking of him as a shortstop and will have to be convinced otherwise by his play to make the switch. The bat plays just about anywhere for me right now, so the further to the right of the defensive spectrum he can handle, the better. Yes, I had to look up if the spectrum goes left to right or right to left.

Lightning round because this has already run longer than any piece on high school players has any right to in December. I’m a huge fan of Gavin Lux and think he could wind up in the first round conversation come June. The fact that he might wind up going behind both Ben Rortvedt and Nate Brown (all Wisconsin prep players) is a beautiful thing for the future of baseball in this country. Hudson Sanchez is another favorite and I’m intrigued to see if he’s still got any significant growing left in him; if so, he might be one of those players who can hang at short, but winds up so close to what we envision the ideal third baseman to be that there’s really no other option but to play him at the hot corner in pro ball. Have to appease the Baseball Gods, after all. Francisco Thomas looks great from what I’ve seen, but don’t sleep on fellow Puerto Rican prospect Jose Miranda. Miranda’s slighter with a bit more projection, but both are really good. Those two guys and Perez and Alexis Torres…love this class out of Puerto Rico this year.

The list begins to break down the further you go – it’s just a collection of talented players at that point with little to no ranking logic behind it – so don’t take the placement of Cayman Richardson, Carter Aldrete, Will Brooks, DeShawn Lookout, and Tyler Fitzgerald as anything but placeholders as we all find out more about each guy this spring. The fact that I could see any of those names ending up as a top five shortstop in this class by June should tell you all you need to know about the depth and quality of this year’s class.

SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, Wisconsin)
SS/CF Jaxon Williams (BF Terry HS, Texas)
SS/2B Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Nevada)
SS Grant Bodison (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
SS Grae Kessinger (Oxford HS, Mississippi)
SS Nolan Williams (Home School, Kansas)
SS David Hamilton (San Marcos HS, Texas)
SS/3B Hudson Sanchez (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas)
SS Jose Miranda (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Francisco Thomas (Osceloa HS, Puerto Rico)
SS Hunter Lessard (Sunrise Mountain HS, Arizona)
SS Cam Shepherd (Peachtree Ridge HS, Georgia)
SS Zachary Watson (West Ouachita HS, Louisiana)
SS Jeremy Houston (Mt Carmel HS, Illinois)
SS/2B Alexis Torres (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS, Virginia)
SS Austyn Tengan (Cypress HS, California)
SS Carter Aldrete (Montery HS, California)
SS Branden Fryman (Tate HS, Florida)
SS/RHP Daniel Martinez (Kennedy HS, California)
SS Aaron Schunk (The Lovett School, Georgia)
SS Brady Whalen (Union HS, Washington)
SS Cameron Cannon (Mountain Ridge HS, Arizona)
SS Austin Masel (Belmont Hill HS, Massachusetts)
SS/2B Will Brooks (Madison Central HS, Mississippi)
SS/OF DeShawn Lookout (Westmoore HS, Oklahoma)
SS Brandon Chinea (Florida Christian HS, Florida)
SS/2B Jakob Newton (Oakville Trafalgar SS, Ontario)
SS Brian Rey (Deltona HS, Florida)
SS Kevin Welsh (Northern Burlington HS, New Jersey)
SS Tyler Fitzgerald (Rochester HS, Illinois)
SS/RHP Quincy McAfee (Westside HS, Texas)
SS Duncan Pence (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
SS Samad Taylor (Corona HS, California)
SS/3B Josh Hollifield (Weddington HS, North Carolina)
SS Nicholas Novak (Stillwater HS, Minnesota)
SS/OF Jaylon McLaughlin (Santa Monica HS, California)
SS Mitchell Golden (Marietta HS, Georgia)
SS Nick Derr (Sarasota Community HS, Florida)
SS Sal Gozzo (Sheehan HS, Connecticut)
SS Matthew Rule (Kearney HS, Missouri)
SS Brandon Hauswald (University School of Jackson, Tennessee)
SS Ryan Layne (West Jessamine HS, Kentucky)
SS Kevin Rolon (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)