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After we get past the Magnificent Seven of the SEC, we get to a tier of pitchers with tons of promise but with compelling questions that will need answering at the pro level. Check the whole list here and then swing back below for some actual analysis — an attempt, at least — of some of the standout pitchers who didn’t make the cut in the top tier yet still have big potential pro futures. Let’s first look at some of the talented guys with question marks that kept them just out of that top tier…
Keegan Thompson and Kyle Serrano are both very talented, but how will they bounce back from Tommy John surgeries that cost them (or are in the process of costing them) a full year of development? Wil Crowe, the talented righthander from South Carolina, is in the same boat a little bit further down the list. Kyle Cody’s stuff has always outstripped his results on the field. Is he destined to forever be a consistently inconsistent professional in the mold of fellow Wildcat Alex Meyer or is there something more in his game that can be unlocked with the right coaching? Is the fact that you could say similar things about his teammate Zack Brown a good thing (get them out of Kentucky and watch them flourish) or a not so good thing (these are just the types they recruit and develop)? Shaun Anderson and Dane Dunning have flashed outstanding stuff in their own right, but do they have what it takes to transition back to the rotation after spending so much time pitching out of the bullpen as part of the ridiculously deep Florida staff? You could ask the same question of Ben Bowden of Vanderbilt, though I think his body of work is proof enough that his pitching style and far more explosive fastball in shorter bursts make sticking in the bullpen a very attractive long-term plan. What do we do with Austin Bain and Brigham Hill, a pair of draft-eligible sophomores with less of a track record than many of their 2016 draft class counterparts?
The list just keeps going. Look at the lefthanders alone: John Kilichowski, Daniel Brown, Connor Jones, Scott Moss, Jared Poche’. All of those young pitchers have considerable pro upside, yet the likelihood of more than two landing in the top five rounds next month feels like a long shot. Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons. Brown doesn’t have the same imposing frame at just 5-10, 180 pounds, but, like Kilichowski, he can miss bats with a solid fastball and three average or better offspeed pitches. It may be a little out there, but a case could be made that the other Connor Jones actually has more long-term upside than the righthanded Virginia ace. This Jones has gotten good yet wild results on the strength of an above-average or better fastball from the left side and a particularly intriguing splitter. Moss is a wild card as another good yet wild performer with the size (6-5, 215) and stuff (90-94 FB, solid breaking ball and low-80s CU) to make a big impact at the end of games as a professional. The further he gets from his own Tommy John surgery, the better he’s been. Then there’s Poche’, the LSU lefty who fits in some with our Logan Shore discussion from yesterday with a K/9 that has gone from 5.11 to 5.94 to 7.52 in his three years as a Tiger. I still think of him more as a really good college pitcher than a premium pro prospect, but that progress is at least somewhat encouraging. At his best, Poche’ is more than capable of offspeeding a lineup to death. There’s some fifth starter/solid matchup reliever upside with him.
There are also a host of fascinating relievers that could go off the board sooner than many currently would guess. Mark Ecker has dominated this year to the tune of 28 K and 3 BB in 25.0 innings of 0.36 ERA ball. With a fastball capable of hitting the upper-90s and a mid-80s changeup with plus upside, he’s an honest big league closer candidate with continued development. His teammate Ryan Hendrix hasn’t been quite as good – more whiffs, more walks, and a lot more runs allowed – but remains a good bet to go high in the draft because of his premium stuff (94-98 FB, 83-86 breaking ball that flashes plus) and correctable flaws. I have no feel at all how the industry will come down on Hayden Stone on draft day, but I’ve personally gone back and forth on him as a pro prospect more times than I can remember. If you want him twenty spots higher on this list, I wouldn’t argue. Working against Stone is a lack of knockout velocity, his relatively small stature, and an injury history that includes last year’s Tommy John procedure. In his favor is a special mid-80s breaking ball – consistently plus, flashing plus-plus – and a very strong track record of success coming out of the Vandy bullpen. It seems like there are handful of college relievers without mid- to upper-90s fastballs that sneak their way to the big leagues quicker than their flame-throwing peers every season, and Stone is as good a bet as any to be one of those guys in 2016.
SR LHP John Valek (2016)
rJR RHP Hunter Newman (2016)
JR LHP Jared Poche’ (2016)
SR LHP Hunter Devall (2016)
rJR RHP Russell Reynolds (2016)
JR RHP Parker Bugg (2016)
rSO RHP Jesse Stallings (2016)
JR RHP Alden Cartwright (2016)
JR RHP Collin Strall (2016)
JR RHP Riley Smith (2016)
JR OF Jake Fraley (2016)
SO 3B/2B Greg Deichmann (2016)
JR 2B Kramer Robertson (2016)
JR OF Cody Ducote (2016)
JR 2B Cole Freeman (2016)
JR C Jordan Romero (2016)
SO RHP Austin Bain (2017)
SO RHP Alex Lange (2017)
rFR LHP Jake Latz (2017)
SO RHP Doug Norman (2017)
SO OF Beau Jordan (2017)
SO C/1B Bryce Jordan (2017)
SO C Mike Papierski (2017)
FR RHP Cole McKay (2018)
FR RHP Caleb Gilbert (2018)
FR OF/LHP Brennan Breaux (2018)
FR 3B/SS O’Neal Lochridge (2018)
FR SS Trey Dawson (2018)
FR OF Antoine Duplantis (2018)
FR OF/1B Brody Wofford (2018)
FR 3B Chris Reid (2018)
JR LHP Jared Poche’ is a tough guy to peg as a pro prospect because so much of his value comes from what he is rather than what he could be. That’s antithetical to everything that those who cover the draft are all about! What he is should be enough to have a long pro career: upper-80s fastball that can sometimes sit as high as 88-92 (93 peak), above-average or better 73-78 CB that flashes plus, and a really good 78-82 CU that is at least average and probably better. Add that in to a good new-ish cutter and strong overall command, and you can see that Poche’ has what it takes to get pro hitters out. How dare he be so polished and composed at such a young age!
What keeps Poche’ from being a true threat to crash the draft’s early rounds is the lack of projection in his 6-1, 200 pound frame and decent but not exciting peripherals (5.11 K/9 and 5.94 K/9) through two college seasons. He’s been an absolute workhorse as a weekend starter for LSU since first stepping foot on campus and his outstanding college career should be celebrated whether it comes to a close this June or next, but the possibility that he’s more great college pitcher than big-time pro prospect feels very real to me. His is just a tough profile to find any reasonable recent draft contemporaries to compare against. We need a filled-out lefthander with average velocity (give or take), a nice assortment of offspeed stuff, and lots of high-level college success despite underwhelming peripherals. Many guys check all but one of those boxes (size and peripherals are often the missing piece), but it’s hard to find anybody who went in the top five rounds or so with the same background. Closest that I found include guys (listed in order of my pre-draft rankings last June) like Travis Bergen from Kennesaw State (7th), Kevin Duchene from Illinois (5th), Scott Effross from Indiana (15th), Christian Trent from Mississippi (24th), Bobby Poyner from Florida (14th), and Reid Love from East Carolina (10th). Bergen and Duchene give me some hope that there’s room in the first seven or so rounds for a competitor like Poche’. Of course, comparisons like these lean heavily on historical trends often at the expense of the individual in question. It only takes one player to rise above and break past the ceiling that others have put on them, much the same way that “(fill in the blank) has never happened” until the first time that it does. Maybe Poche’ is the one to crack the draft’s top five rounds and make the paragraph you’re reading right now seem silly. I think Poche’ falling somewhere between round six and ten is the most likely outcome, but we’ll see.
SR LHP John Valek takes his mid- to upper-80s fastball, solid change, and plus command from Akron to LSU for the upcoming season. A year of holding his own in the SEC could get him some looks as a potential late-round matchup lefty possibility for some teams. rJR RHP Russell Reynolds has shown slow yet steady improvement as he’s come back from a labrum injury in 2013. He could force his way back into the draft mix if his stuff returns to pre-surgery levels. JR RHP Parker Bugg has enticing size (6-6, 220) and a fastball/slider combination that works well in relief. I’m a big fan of rSO RHP Jesse Stallings, a hard thrower (88-94, 95 peak) with a deceptive delivery and a split-change he makes good use of.
It’s unclear what to make of JR RHP Alden Cartwright at this point. Reports on his stuff are pretty ordinary — upper-80s heat complemented with a nice upper-70s curve — and he’s not particularly big (6-0, 190), but his peripherals last season (13.05 K/9 and 1.80 BB/9) make him worth keeping in mind. rJR RHP Hunter Newman’s stuff is a tick better across the board — 88-92 FB with a 75-77 CB with plus upside — and his peripherals aren’t far off the mark (8.27 K/9). Judging by more conventional standards, such as ERA (an eye-popping 0.49 in 36.2 IP last year), makes him a clear cut relief arm to know. I’ll always have a soft sport for undersized (5-8, 180) SR LHP Hunter Devall, a quality arm from the left side who keeps getting batters out year after year.
JR RHP Riley Smith is the biggest wild card on the staff. His raw ability suggests he could be the highest drafted arm off of this staff in 2016, but there’s always some risk in projecting a college arm who hasn’t done it at this level that high. I’ve always preferred talent to experience, so count me very much in on Smith heading into his draft year.
JR OF Jake Fraley is an outstanding prospect. I may have actually underrated him despite ranking him twentieth overall in the college class back in October. Here’s what was written then…
In a class with potential superstars like Lewis, Reed, and Ray roaming outfields at the top, it would be easy to overlook Fraley, a tooled-up center fielder with lightning in his wrists, an unusually balanced swing, and the patient approach of a future leadoff hitter. Do so at your own discretion. Since I started the site in 2009 there’s been at least one LSU outfielder drafted every year. That includes five top-three round picks (Mitchell, Landry, Mahtook, Jones, and Stevenson) in seven classes. Outfielder U seems poised to keep the overall streak alive and make the top three round run a cool six out of eight in 2016.
That fact about the outfielders still blows my mind. Six out of eight years with a top three round outfielder is one heck of a run for any university. Anyway, peers ranked over Fraley this year (according to me back in October) included names like Lewis, Reed, Ray, Boldt, and Reynolds. Banks, Wrenn, Quinn, Abreu, Brooks, and Dawson came next. I think if I had to do it again today with a few more months of research and thought under my belt, I would have Fraley behind only Lewis, Reed, and Ray, and in as close to a tie as humanly possible with Reynolds. He’s really good. In what is surely an unfair thing to say based on the sheer awesomeness of this guy’s numbers last year, I can see some opportunity for a Benintendi-like breakout for Fraley in 2016.
“If he’s not a star for this team, I’m quitting the internet draft game” – January 6, 2015. I said that about SO 3B/2B Greg Deichmann last year and I stand by it today. His first year at LSU didn’t end in stardom and as an older sophomore he’s able to leave after this year, so this could be do-or-die time for my sterling reputation as a prospect soothsayer. Of course, if Deichmann leaves LSU after this year then that almost certainly would mean he had a huge season that positioned himself to be drafted high enough to make turning pro a smart decision. If not, then I’ll at least get another year to tout him as the great prospect that I think he is. Deichmann completely won me over as a hitter in the year or so before he enrolled at LSU. Loved the swing, hands, bat speed, everything. His red flag during his prep days was his age, but that’s no longer a concern as a draft-eligible sophomore playing in the SEC. The new worry — or the old worry, if you weren’t sold on Deichmann as a hitter as I once was — is his approach. If said approach can move from “swing at anything that moves” to something slightly more refined, then he’ll take off as a hitter. That’s what I’m banking on in 2016.
I have Deichmann listed a primary 3B who can also play 2B; I’ve leaned toward him playing the latter position professionally, but a lot of smart people have finally convinced me that his long-term home is at third. JR 2B Kramer Robertson should have little difficulty staying at his position, so now the question will be whether or not he hits enough to make it worthwhile. On the surface he hasn’t done much in limited time, but despite his struggles making contact — he’s hit an empty .200 and .232 in his first two college seasons — he’s held his own in other ways (26 BB/30 K career). It’s a small thing, sure, but I like to see a guy battle like that in at bats even when things aren’t going great. From a tools standpoint, he’s still plenty intriguing: Robertson is a decent runner with pop and loads of athleticism, a steady glove, and a presence at the dish that makes his results to date all the more confusing. If the light bulb comes on — and there’s no guarantee he’ll even get the chance to keep working through things considering the depth that surrounds him on this roster — then he’s very much a draftable talent.
JR OF Cody Ducote (bat), JR 2B Cole Freeman (glove), and JR C Jordan Romero (arm) all do certain things well enough to be major players of interest to me this spring. Among the many, many underclass prospects to follow this spring are guys like SO RHP Austin Bain and SO RHP Alex Lange. I’d call them both future stars, but I think they are already there. Looking forward to seeing what rFR LHP Jake Latz and all of the true freshmen (McKay, Gilbert, Lochridge, Dawson, Duplantis, Wofford) do in their debuts.
JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman (2015)
JR OF Andrew Stevenson (2015)
JR OF Mark Laird (2015)
JR C Chris Chinea (2015)
SR 1B Conner Hale (2015)
SR OF Jared Foster (2015)
SR C Kade Scivicque (2015)
SR OF Chris Sciambra (2015)
SR RHP Brady Domangue (2015)
SR RHP Zac Person (2015)
SR LHP Kyle Bouman (2015)
rSO RHP Hunter Newman (2015)
rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (2015)
JR LHP Hunter Devall (2015)
SO OF Jake Fraley (2016)
SO LHP Jared Poche (2016)
SO RHP Parker Bugg (2016)
SO 2B Danny Zardon (2016)
SO 2B Kramer Robertson (2016)
SO RHP Collin Strall (2016)
SO RHP Alden Cartwright (2016)
FR RHP Alex Lange (2017)
FR RHP Jake Godfrey (2017)
FR LHP Jake Latz (2017)
FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (2017)
FR C Mike Papierski (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bain (2017)
FR SS Grayson Byrd (2017)
FR RHP Doug Norman (2017)
FR OF Beau Jordan (2017)
FR C/1B Bryce Jordan (2017)
There seem to be a pair of highly defensive sides developing when it comes to making a definitive declaration about JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman’s eventual defensive home. One side — the college baseball writers — seem personally offended whenever the other side — the draft writers — suggest Bregman will have to play anything but shortstop as a professional. The whole disagreement speaks to the uneasy relationship so many — players, coaches, parents, fans — have with balancing enjoying the college game for what it is with understanding the different level of analysis needed to determine the likelihood a player’s tools will continue to grow into skills when bumped to the professional game. Part of the logic from the college baseball watching side makes sense to me — bat, ball, glove…baseball is baseball, so if you can play then you can play — but scouting strictly based on performance and outcomes is a very bad road to travel. In any given at bat, game, or season, sure, the outcome trumps all else. If you get the big hit, big run, or big win, then, in that defining moment, it only should matter that it happened, not how it happened. But when trying to make projections about an all too uncertain future, understanding why and how something happened is ultimately far more valuable. Sometimes a limited process can get you desirable outcomes, but eventually that’s going to catch up with you.
I’m not writing all this to say that Bregman’s current success at shortstop in college masks the physical limitations that scouts see when trying to project a big league future for him. That does seem to be the consensus view of those on the side who watch and follow college baseball solely to find the next generation of professional players, a group of which I’ve made no bones about being a part of. I, however, am not yet willing to go there because I honestly don’t yet know what to make of Bregman’s defense. The safe bet would be to write him off as a future shortstop and go forward thinking of him as a second baseman. Forced to guess, I’d say that’s his most likely outcome. That doesn’t mean I think it’s crazy to think he could start his career off at shortstop for a few cheap, cost-controlled seasons. Thank goodness we all have another season’s worth of games to evaluate him before making a “final” decision (note: this decision is in no way final and can and likely will be changed multiple times early on his pro career, if not on the actual field than certainly in the internal conversations had by the player development staff of whatever team selects him) on his future. Ultimately, I think his defensive future will come down to a fairly simple either/or: you can have a slightly below-average shortstop with the chance to play his way to average before his lack of foot speed necessitates a move back to second OR you can have an average to above-average second baseman with the chance to play his way to plus with continued work on developing the finer points (e.g., footwork around the bag on the turn, positioning with each hitter, improving the first step on a ball hit to either side of him) of the position.
Wherever he lands defensively, Bregman is going to hit. The ability to play one of the middle infield spots and hit while doing it is what makes him as close to a first round lock as there is in this college class. If that sounds like exceedingly simple analysis, well, that’s because it is. He has an easy to identify above-average or better hit tool, average to above-average speed that plays up due to his impressive feel for the game, average raw power with an emphasis on splitting the gaps, plenty of bat speed, and a consistently smart approach at the plate. There aren’t a lot of holes you can poke in his game from an offensive standpoint. One thing I’ve found particularly fascinating about Bregman as a prospect is the response you get when his name comes up within the game. I think I’ve heard more comps on Bregman than literally any player I can remember. Something about his game just evokes that “every man” feeling deep inside talent evaluators, I guess. Take a look at the list I currently have of comps I’ve personally heard for Bregman: Mike Lansing, Mark Ellis (BA has used this), Robby Thompson, Orlando Hudson, Tony Renda, Randy Velarde, Bill Mueller, Jose Vidro, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Ray Durham, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark DeRosa. There’s also the increasingly popular Dustin Pedroia comp, which makes sense on the surface but is a scary comparison for anybody due to the unique set of circumstances (or, more plainly, an obsessive/borderline maniacal drive to be great) that has led to Pedroia’s rise in the game. I’ve also heard the cautionary comp of Bobby Crosby, though I’m not sure I buy the two being all the similar at similar points in their respective development. A statistical look comparing Bregman and Crosby makes for an interesting conversation starter (if, you know, you’re friends with other obsessive college baseball/draft fans)…
AB: .344/.408/.504 – 51 BB/46 K – 28/35 SB – 526 AB
BC: .340/.417/.496 – 70 BB/103 K – 40/51 SB – 635 AB
Top is Bregman so far, bottom is Crosby’s career college numbers. It would have worked better if I had left out the BB/K ratios, but that would have been intellectually dishonest and I’m far too morally upstanding to stoop to statistical manipulation to make a point. I’d never dream of doing such a thing. Hey, look at this comparison…
AB: .369/.419/.546 – 25 BB/24 K – 17/18 SB – 282 AB
AH: .329/.391/.550 – 20 BB/20 K – 10/11 SB – 222 AB
The top is Bregman’s first year at LSU, the bottom is Aaron Hill’s first year at LSU. Notice how I didn’t say freshman year: Hill transferred from Southern Illinois to LSU after his freshman season. Since we’ve already gone down this dark and twisted road of statistical manipulation, let’s go even deeper…
AB: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
AH: .299/.375/.463 – 15 BB/27 K – 6/7 SB – 134 AB
Those would be Bregman and Hill’s “other” college season; more specifically, you’re looking at Hill’s freshman year at Southern Illinois and Bregman’s more recent season. I’m not sure what could be gained from comparing these two seasons, but, hey, look how similar! Jokes aside — though, seriously, those are some freaky similar numbers — I think the comparison between Alex Bregman and Aaron Hill is probably the most apt comp out there at this point. If the numbers don’t sway you, just check Hill’s playing card from his draft year at Baseball America…
In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he’ll get the shot to prove he can’t. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his tools–which aren’t lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He’s not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn’t have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps.
I don’t normally post full sections like that, but come on! Replace Hill for Bregman and that’s pretty much spot-on! Well, the bit about this being a draft thin on shortstops might not work that well — if the 2015 draft is strong at any one position player group in the college game, it’s shortstop — but still. Interesting to me that this quick scouting report glossed over Hill’s offensive promise much in the same way I coincidentally (I swear!) did with Bregman above. It’s almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Hill would hit enough to play somewhere, just like how many, myself included, view Bregman today. I like Bregman to hit a little bit more than Hill, run a little bit better than Hill, and field a little bit better than Hill. Otherwise, I think the comparison is pretty damn good.
JR OFs Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird are both elite runners and defenders in center field. I prefer Laird by the tiniest of margins (little more patience), but both have skill sets that will keep them employed for years in the minors, perhaps even long enough to one day break through at the big league level as a fourth/fifth outfielder. Stevenson might actually be the better bet going forward, but it’ll take flipping his BB/K numbers around (25 BB/53 K career mark) to really take off as a prospect. It’s incredibly difficult to predict a sudden jump in plate discipline, but I think there are some interesting indicators in Stevenson’s approach that could help get him where he needs to be. SR OF Jared Foster might get squeezed out in this crowded outfield yet again — SO OF Jake Fraley (.372/.419/.521 in 121 freshman AB) needs time, too — but he’s a great athlete who can really run and throw. It’s hard to imagine a better defensive outfield in the country than Stevenson, Laird, and Foster. For as much as I believe Stevenson is on the verge of a breakout season, JR C Chris Chinea’s expected 2015 should rival whatever he winds up doing. Chinea is a strong, mobile defender behind the plate who has held his own as a hitter in limited at bats to date. If he gets steady time — the underrated SR C Kade Scivicque could stand in his way — then I could see his patient approach and big raw power leading to big things at the plate. SR 1B Conner Hale had a similar offensive season to Scivicque’s 2014 and if the two build on those performances, it would be a surprise to see them passed over as senior signs this June.
There’s no Aaron Nola in this year’s pitching class, but rather a collection of good but not great arms with varying degrees of pro upside. If healthy, rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (88-93 FB, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) might be the best prospect. A case could also be made for another inexperienced pitcher, rSO RHP Hunter Newman. Newman’s fastball is in that same range, but he’s flashes a better breaking ball (mid-70s CB with plus upside) and brings a frame with more projection (6-3, 185 pounds) to the mound. SR LHP Kyle Bouman and RHPs Brady Domangue and Zac Person all live in the mid- to upper-80s with nice offspeed stuff. Person’s numbers jump out (9.32 K/9 and 3.86 BB/9 in 28 IP) over the rest, but all have at least a chance to be senior signs with big years.
With Bregman this year and guys like SO 2B Danny Zardon, SO 2B Kramer Robertson, FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (if he’s not a star for this team, I’m quitting the internet draft game), and FR SS Grayson Byrd all in the pipeline, LSU has a chance to be known as “Middle Infield U” in the coming years. They’d have the chance to continue in the tradition of Ryan Schmipf, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Hanover, Raph Rhymes, Austin Nola, and Jacoby Jones as recent Tiger middle infield prospects (yes, I realize I’m cheating some by including Rhymes and Jones) turned professional ballplayers. And even though the talent on the mound this year won’t blow you away, LSU also always seems to have a steady stream of useful arms coming through the program. Look at some the underclass talent poised to take over in the next year or three: SO LHP Jared Poche, SO RHP Parker Bugg, SO RHP Alden Cartwright, FR RHPs Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey, and FR LHP Jake Latz. This team is loaded.