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2017 MLB Draft Report – Duke

Lefthanders that stand 6-10, 230 pounds are always a lot of fun, especially when they attack hitters from a really funky angle with more power (85-90, 92 peak) than most sidearmers we see. That’s James Ziemba. Karl Blum is plenty big in his own right — not 6-10, 230, but 6-5, 210 ain’t nothing to mess with — with quality stuff (88-93 heat, average or better 79-81 breaking ball) and little to no idea where anything is going. Chris McGrath is a good arm (93 peak, good SL) that needs innings. Mitch Stallings can get it up to 90 MPH with a nice 79-81 changeup. Luke Whitten is like a much smaller Ziemba in that he’s got an effective fastball (87-93) and slider (low-80s) combo that comes at you from a much lower slot than the norm. I have nothing on Nick Hendrix — a rarity for an accomplished fifth-year college player at a major university — but his peripherals are always good so maybe there’s something there. If you’re scoring at home, that’s six potentially draftable pitchers for Duke with five of them bringing it from the left side.

The seventh intriguing 2017 arm for Duke might be my favorite of the bunch. What Ryan Day lacks in stature (5-11, 165) he more than makes up for in arm strength (90-94 FB) and athleticism. I’ll admit to some trepidation with him as his general effectiveness has consistently overshot his mediocre peripherals, but two-way talents like Day are often guilty of blooming later rather than sooner. He’s one to watch for sure. An eighth intriguing 2017 arm is also Duke’s first intriguing 2017 bat. Two-way Jack Labosky is either a third baseman or a righthanded pitcher depending on where you stand. Like fellow ACC two-way standout Donovan Casey at Boston College, Labosky’s best bet in the pros is on the mound. Based on a quick check with some smarter people I’ve asked that’s a bit of a minority view, but I’m sticking with it for now. While I appreciate Labosky’s thump and defensive prowess at the hot corner, I think his sinking fastball (89-90 MPH) and diving change (79-80 MPH, flashes plus) make him a better long term bet as a pitcher. That’s an opinion highly subject to change with three months of daylight separating us from draft day.

Maybe it’s me overvaluing versatility, but I can’t help be a little intrigued at Peter Zyla and his history at second, outfield, and catcher. He could be a useful 2018 senior-sign if teams are less enamored with versatility than I am. My notes on Jalen Phillips include the question “time to bail?” so you might have some clue as to where I’m leaning on him. The long-awaited breakout simply hasn’t happened…yet. Time is clearly running out for the redshirt-senior. In a similar vein, Justin Bellinger felt poised for a monster 2017 after making a ton of progress as a hitter from his freshman to sophomore seasons. So far, not so much. Still, it’s way too early to give up on him; quite the opposite, in fact, as he remains one of the most appealing first base prospects in this college class, early struggles or not. Hard not to fall for his size, power, and underrated feel for hitting when he’s at his best.

As much as I try to stay away from publicly commenting on future classes — not for the lame claim it’s “too early” that others use, but for the fact these already long pieces would be untenably long — I can’t help but throw a little love Jimmy Herron‘s way. Herron, an early FAVORITE for 2018, is legit. Plus runner, plus arm strength, intriguing power upside, great approach…it’s a really appealing package. From both a tools and performance standpoint, Griffin Conine isn’t all that far behind. Future looks great for the Blue Devils outfield.

*****

rJR RHP Karl Blum (2017)
rJR LHP James Ziemba (2017)
rSR LHP Nick Hendrix (2017)
JR LHP Chris McGrath (2017)
SR LHP Kevin Lewallyn (2017)
JR LHP Mitch Stallings (2017)
JR LHP Luke Whitten (2017)
JR RHP/SS Ryan Day (2017)
JR 3B/RHP Jack Labosky (2017)
JR 1B Justin Bellinger (2017)
rSR OF/1B Jalen Phillips (2017)
JR 2B/SS Max Miller (2017)
JR 2B/OF Peter Zyla (2017)
JR OF Michael Smicicklas (2017)
SO RHP Al Pesto (2018)
SO RHP Hunter Davis (2018)
SO OF Griffin Conine (2018)
SO OF Kennie Taylor (2018)
SO OF Jimmy Herron (2018)
SO SS Zack Kone (2018)
SO SS Zack Kesterson (2018)
SO C Chris Proctor (2018)
FR LHP Adam Laskey (2019)
FR LHP Graeme Stinson (2019)
FR RHP Coleman Williams (2019)
FR LHP Bill Chillari (2019)
FR RHP Cam Kovachik (2019)
FR RHP/1B Matt Mervis (2019)
FR C Chris Dutra (2019)
FR OF Chase Creek (2019)
FR 3B Erikson Nichols (2019)

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2016 MLB Draft Prospects – Duke

JR RHP Bailey Clark (2016)
rSO RHP Karl Blum (2016)
rSO LHP Jim Ziemba (2016)
SR LHP Nick Hendrix (2016)
rSR RHP Conner Stevens (2016)
JR LHP Kevin Lewallyn (2016)
rSR LHP Trent Swart (2016)
rSR RHP Kellen Urbon (2016)
rJR OF Jalen Phillips (2016)
JR C Cristian Perez (2016)
SO LHP Chris McGrath (2017)
SO LHP Mitch Stallings (2017)
SO RHP/SS Ryan Day (2017)
SO 3B/RHP Jack Labosky (2017)
SO 1B Justin Bellinger (2017)
SO 3B/SS Max Miller (2017)
SO 2B/OF Peter Zyla (2017)
SO OF Michael Smicicklas (2017)
SO OF Evan Dougherty (2017)
FR RHP Al Pesto (2018)
FR OF Keyston Fuller (2018)
FR OF Kennie Taylor (2018)
FR OF Jimmy Herron (2018)
FR SS Zack Kone (2018)
FR SS Zack Kesterson (2018)
FR OF Griffin Conine (2018)

JR RHP Bailey Clark was ranked 47th on the initial 2016 MLB Draft prospect list (college only) back in October. This was what was written then…

Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking look foolish by June.

…and obviously not much has changed in the two months since. Clark pitched really well last year (2.95 ERA in 58 IP), but fell just short in terms of peripherals (7.60 K/9 and 3.26 BB/9) where many of the recent first day college starting pitchers have finished in recent years. That’s a very simplistic, surface-level analysis of his 2015 performance, but it runs parallel with the scouting reports from many who saw him this past spring. Clark is really good, but still leaves you wanting more. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — being a finished product at 20-years-old is more of a negative than a positive in the eyes of many in the scouting world — but it speaks to the developmental challenges facing Clark if he wants to jump up into the first round mix. The fastball (88-94, 96 peak) is there, the size (6-5, 210) is there, and the athleticism is there, so it’ll come down to gaining more command and consistency on his mid-80s cut-SL (a knockout pitch when on) and trusting his nascent changeup in game action enough to give scouts an honest opportunity to assess it. Even if little changes with Clark between now and June, we’re still talking a top five round lock with the high-floor possibility of future late-inning reliever. If he makes the expected leap in 2016, then the first round will have to make room for one more college arm.

JR C Cristian Perez and rJR OF Jalen Phillips are both “show-me” prospects at this stage. Both are physically advanced and full of intriguing tools, but still very rough around the edges when it comes to demonstrating consistent professional baseball skills. It’s not a stretch at all to see one or both guys wind up in the top ten rounds: Perez has a unique blend of athleticism, physical strength, power upside, and defensive promise behind the plate while Phillips is an average or better runner with an elite throwing arm. Holding them back offensively is an all-or-nothing approach to hitting that led to a combined 31 BB/108 K ratio last season. If either player begins taking better at bats, then they’ll move up these rankings quickly. Until then, however, I’ll remain bearish on their professional futures.

Neither rSO RHP Karl Blum nor rSO LHP Jim Ziemba have the type of track records typically associated with potential top ten round guys, but both could reach that level by June. Blum is a strike-thrower with a nice fastball (88-92 with more coming) and above-average breaking ball, plus plenty of size (6-5, 210) and athleticism. The 6-10, 230 pound Ziemba tops him in the size department and matches him in terms of present stuff. The big righthander was all kinds of wild in a small sample (9.2 IP) last season, but has the kind of ability to do major damage down the line with his funky sidearm delivery if he can get his mechanics in check.

SR LHP Nick Hendrix and rSR LHP Trent Swart could get looks as matchup lefty relievers. I’ve always had a soft spot for Swart, a changeup specialist with enough fastball (mid- to upper-80s) and deception to mess with the timing of good hitters. If he’s healthy after missing last year (Tommy John surgery), then there’s no reason he won’t get some sort of a shot in pro ball. Cornell transfer rSR RHP Kellen Urbon joins them as a potential mid- to late-round relief prospect of note.