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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Boston Red Sox

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Boston in 2016

1 – Jay Groome
76 – CJ Chatham
90 – Shaun Anderson
98 – Mike Shawaryn
213 – Bobby Dalbec
324 – Stephen Nogosek
416 – Santiago Espinal

Complete List of 2016 Boston Red Sox Draftees

1.12 – LHP Jay Groome

Jay Groome (1)

That link takes care of a lot of my thoughts on Groome, the draft’s best long-term prospect for my money. For those less inclined to click a link, the most relevant excerpt…

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.

I’m not saying that’s the definitive Jay Groome take. Everything written above came from a game report from one Groome start. That outing was only one of five different times (once last summer, once in the winter, three times in the spring) that I saw Groome pitch in person. I’m not a scout so take all of the above with the usual grain of salt that comes with a fan’s observations of the game — though I’ll rudely point out for the millionth time here that watching baseball isn’t exactly rocket science no matter what those with a vested interest in creating that precise mythology within the industry would like for us all to believe — but I generally feel confident in my overall evaluation of Groome based on the combination of having seen him at multiple stages of his teenage development, having traded firsthand accounts for games and showcases that I’ve missed with others in the game, and absorbing all possible public published information on him.

In short, Groome is the truth. Sky high expectations caused some draft fans (and evaluators) to turn on him as the spring dragged on, but even at his “worst” he was still flashing easy first round stuff. There was some grumbling in the stands during a game where he struck out fourteen batters in six innings. I know scouting isn’t a performance-based thing, but, come on, that should at least tell you something about the guy.

I can’t get behind the Clayton Kershaw comparisons for Groome because Kershaw is in a different stratosphere altogether from the rest of the big leagues right now, but I’ll still throw out a very lofty comparison for Groome that I don’t think I’ve shared on the site before. Watching the young lefthander from Jersey’s evolution over the past eighteen months reminds me a lot of a young Andy Pettitte. We can’t help but think of Pettitte now and go right to his dominant cutter, but he didn’t start to throw the cutter consistently until the 2004 season (when he was 32-years-old) and he didn’t technically swap it out for his slider until 2008 (when he was 36-years-old). The 18-year-old Groome has plenty of time to reinvent himself a half-dozen times or so before he gets to the late-career portion of his big league run. Groome reminds me more of the early-career version of Pettitte, the one with a consistently above-average heater that could hit the mid-90s, plus curve, and above-average change. That’s the Pettitte that was written up as a soon-to-be 23-year-old back in 1995 courtesy of the always excellent Diamond Minds scouting database…

andy-pettitte-scouting-report

So much about Groome reminded me of Pettitte after his last start against Gloucester Catholic that I was kicking myself (not literally, I’m not that flexible) on the whole ride home for not putting it together sooner. Their mechanics, the use of a knuckle-curve, the body types…watching Groome was like going back in time and seeing a young Pettitte for the first time. The scary part here is that I think Groome has a chance to be a better version of Pettitte. Call him Pettitte 2.0. That’s Hall of Fame upside. That’s what I think Jay Groome can accomplish.

(Self-indulgent post-script to the Groome/Pettitte comparison. I, like many others I’d imagine, have a hard time remembering what young versions of established stars looked like. The days before MLB.TV made watching the over-the-top amount of baseball we all do today a lot harder back then. I do, however, remember what a young Andy Pettitte looked like. Of course, entirely selfish reasons brought me to him in my own early teenage years. Pettitte, having just turned 27-years-old, was very much on the trade block in 1999. The Yankees had a deal in place with my hometown Philadelphia Phillies contingent on a few other dominoes falling that same deadline. The return for Pettitte would have been rather bleak in hindsight: Reggie Taylor, Adam Eaton, and Anthony Shumaker. New York didn’t get the reliever they wanted elsewhere, so they pulled out of the deal at the last minute.

2.51 – SS CJ Chatham

On CJ Chatham (76) from March 2016…

CJ Chatham is an intriguing modern shortstop who has opened eyes throughout the game with his huge start to 2016. In no means is it a direct comparison, but what he’s doing so far is similar to what Kyle Lewis has done at Mercer. Chatham, like Lewis, has done everything possible to turn a perceived weakness (approach) into a strength. Going from a 8 BB/39 K as a freshman and 10 BB/28 K as a sophomore to his draft year 10 BB/7 K ratio is something worth getting excited about. With Chatham’s seemingly improved approach, scouts can now freely focus on the other positives in his game (above-average range, above-average to plus arm, a 6-4, 185 pound frame to dream on) and begin forecasting a big league regular out of the overall package. In a class with a serious talent void at the top of the college shortstop rankings, Chatham has emerged as a legit contender to be the very first off the board and a top hundred pick. He’s that good.

Chatham’s patient start at the plate didn’t quite foreshadow a true shift in approach — he walked 13 times with 27 strikeouts from the time of that original writing forward to bring his totals on the season to 23 BB/34 K — but that didn’t stop the Red Sox (and many other teams) from being hot on his trail on draft day. I’m sure part of that had to do with the scarcity of true shortstops in this class, but plenty also had to do with Chatham’s dreamy 6-4, 185 pound frame, above-average to plus raw power, and outstanding defensive tools that could make him an above-average glove at short or a true plus defender at the hot corner.

It’s probably silly to make too much out of any player’s professional debut, but something about Chatham’s .259/.319/.426 line at Lowell to begin his career stands out to me. Call it an attempt at informed prospect projection or a wild ass hunch, but Chatham’s most realistic upside with the bat falling around .260/.320/.425 just feels right to me. Those marks would put him 13th (BA), 13th (OBP), and 14th (SLG) among qualified shortstops in 2016. Slap some above-average defense on him and that’s a top ten player at the position. For what it’s worth, that .260/.320/.425 ballpark projection gets us pretty close to what Troy Tulowitzki (.254/.318/.443) did this past year on his way to a just ahead of league average (102 wRC+) offensive showing. That line would also put him close to the career averages of guys like Jimmy Rollins (career .264/.324/.418 hitter), Jhonny Peralta, and Rich Aurilia. I highlighted the Rollins career stat line not only because it’s as close as you can find to that hypothetical .260/.320/.425 shortstop we’ve created, but also to reiterate the limits of performance-based expectation comparisons. Chatham and Rollins are too very different players from a scouting perspective; ten seconds of watching them makes that obvious to even the most casual of baseball fan. Thankfully, that’s not the intent of a performance comp. Different types of players can still bring about similar long-term value. A career like what Rollins, Peralta, or Aurilia did (or are in the process of doing) seems within reach for the Red Sox second round selection.

3.88 – RHP Shaun Anderson

I’m really excited to see what direction the career of Shaun Anderson (90) goes in pro ball. It’s really easy to see Anderson remaining in the bullpen and being one of this year’s quickest moving draftees. He’s got the plus to plus-plus fastball that is a good enough pitch for him to use it an entire inning at time. There’s velocity (88-94, 96 peak), movement (tons), and the ability to command it (all the more impressive when you factor in that crazy movement); in short, his heater checks off everything you’d want in the pitch. Anderson also throws an above-average to plus cut-slider that can also turn into a truer slider with a bit more bend when it takes a little off of it. In the bullpen, that fastball/cutter mix could be enough to mow down batters at a similar clip that he did at Florida.

As a starter, all bets are off. One of the easiest and most difficult things to do is to project a college reliever with all the attributes of a starting pitcher to a pro rotation spot. It’s easy because it just makes sense. If a guy has the body, delivery, temperament, and stuff to start, but circumstances as a college athlete forced him in the bullpen then dreaming on him in his “natural” role makes sense. Easy, right? What’s difficult about the whole thing is how challenging the actual transition really is. A plus fastball in short outings may just be above-average (if that) as a starter. A lesser fastball then allows hitters to more easily prepare for the premium offspeed stuff, and even that assumes said offspeed stuff remains as good as it was in fewer innings. There’s also the simple issue that some bodies, no matter how they look, are better equipped for one role over the other. Conventional wisdom be damned, there are big guys who tire more easily as starters and little guys who seem to get better the more innings they throw. I’m not saying there’s no way of telling how a player will react until actually put into the new role, but…actually, I guess that is what I’m saying. Projecting is what we do, but to call it an inexact science is an insult to actual science.

I’d like to think Anderson can maintain all of the stuff he’s shown in his three years (worth noting here he pitched 43.0 innings his junior year after just 39.0 IP his first two seasons) at Florida, but I really have no idea. If he can, then he’s a potential mid-rotation starter with the chance for a little more than that. If he’s destined to the bullpen (my personal hunch), then he could become a major relief weapon for the Red Sox sooner rather than later. With a legit four-pitch mix (emphasizing fastballs and cutters), above-average command, ample deception in his delivery, and plus control, Anderson could potentially be deployed in any number of ways out of the pen. A bullpen with both him and Stephen Nogosek capable of putting out fires and going multiple innings at a time could be a ton of fun.

4.118 – 3B Bobby Dalbec

Where to begin with Bobby Dalbec (213)? Let’s start with a flashback to March 2016…

Dalbec deserves a lot of credit for battling back from a slow start to now have a more than respectable 2016 overall batting line. He also deserves respect for being one of the realest 2016 MLB Draft prospects out there. What you see is what you get with Dalbec: massive power, lots of whiffs, and a fair amount of walks. His arm and athleticism help make up for a lack of easy lateral quickness at the hot corner, so sticking at third should remain an option for the foreseeable future. The older, popular, and common comp for him has been Troy Glaus; on the flip side, I’ve heard Chris Dominguez as a possible outcome. The Glaus ship appears to have sailed, so something in between that and Dominguez would be a fine professional result.

And then again from April 2016…

Bobby Dalbec continues to confound. More and more people I’ve spoken to are becoming open to the idea of sending him out as a pitcher in pro ball. As frustrating as he can be at the plate, I don’t think I could throw his kind of power away that easily, even if only on a temporary basis. I also don’t think I’d touch him in the first five rounds. The comparison shared with me before the season to Chris Dominguez feels more and more prescient by the day.

I had Dominguez ranked 41st on my final board back in 2009 before he was drafted 86th overall by the Giants. I’m not sure what it says (if anything) about my own evolving view on prospecting or how the industry itself has changed or how the game has shifted, but I can say with 100% certainty that Dalbec won’t rank anywhere close to where Dominguez once landed on my personal ranks. I can also say with about 95% certainty that he won’t be drafted as high as Dominguez was in 2009. Of course, a player’s draft ranking ultimately is not about where he falls on the average of all teams’ boards but rather where he eventually falls on the board of the one team that drafts him. That’s where that 5% uncertainty comes in: all it takes is one team to look at Dalbec’s two clear plus tools (raw power, arm strength) and believe they can tweak his swing to make enough contact to allow his natural ability to shine through. His upside is very real, as is the possibility he tops out as an all-or-nothing AA power hitter. I’m out on him for now, but I understand the appeal. Chicks dig the long ball.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Dalbec, a prospect who has been in the spotlight since his senior year at Legend HS. Any conversation about Dalbec tends to center around four different things, two positive and two negative. Working for the big slugger from Arizona has always been and will always be his prodigious raw power and cannon for a right arm. If you like Dalbec, you like his power upside and enormous arm enough to override any of the negatives to come. If you’re not as into Dalbec, then the power isn’t enough to distract from the massive amount of swing-and-miss in his game (career 81 BB/179 K as a Wildcat) and the arm strength isn’t enough to look past the defensive questions (many of which have been answered positively, to be fair) that have followed him for years. Best case scenario you’re getting a power-hitting third baseman. Worst case scenario you’re left with a first baseman with a long Swiss cheese swing unable to make enough contact to allow the power to play.

If we go back to my pre-draft comparisons, I’d say his future will probably result in a player not nearly as good as Glaus yet not quite as disappointing as Dominguez. I think that outcome would be fine value for a fourth round pick like Dalbec. Upside to be a lineup fixture and home run champion threat, downside that sees him flaming out in AA (and potentially making a return to the mound…), and most realistic middle ground as a four-corners power bat that will always rack up strikeouts but can be a positive value player for years if deployed properly. The approach scares me off enough that the downside makes this a slight reach, but, as mentioned earlier, it’s not so crazy a reach that it can’t also be considered fine value. All depends on how you weigh the possibilities of his potential outcomes.

(We’re about to get a little weird here based on a curiosity I had about Dalbec’s pro start. Feel free to skip this if you’re not about small sample size outputs and whether or not they can tell us anything.)

To Dalbec’s credit, the big righthanded bat went out after a long college two-way season and hit bomb after bomb in his pro debut. Dalbec’s awesome start to his pro career got me wondering just how many players have slugged .674 (as he did) in short-season rookie ball and failed to reach the big leagues. Small sample noise and misleading levels of competition often point towards early career success not being particularly predictive. I get that. But this isn’t run-of-the-mill early career success. This is leading the league in slugging (if he had qualified) by over 150 points over the top qualifier. That’s destroying the league. Does that mean anything? Let’s find out…

As mentioned, Dalbec signed too late to get a full season in and therefore didn’t qualify for the league leaderboard — Darick Hall and his .518 SLG led the league in his stead — but that slugging percentage would have been out all but one qualified hitter in the past dozen years. Dalbec’s .674 SLG is second only to Roman Wick and his silly .378/.475/.815 line in 141 PA for State College in 2014. If you can tell me anything about Roman Wick beyond the fact I just shared, then you’re probably related to him. For the sake of science, I went back and found every player in the New York-Penn League to slug .550 or better. These guys managed to do it over the past twelve seasons: Stone Garrett (.581), Roman Wick (.815), Travis Taijeron (.557), Cory Vaughn (.557), Marcell Ozuna (.556), Neil Medchill (.551), Miguel Fermin (.628), Ryan Patterson (.595), Michael Hollimon (.557). Cory Patton (.555), and Nolan Reimold (.550). That’s not a particularly encouraging list. If we expand the search for guys over .500 SLG, then we have the following…

Darick Hall, Garrett, Wick, Chris Breen, Conor Bierfeldt, Jesus Solorzano, David Washington, Taijeron, Dean Green, Danny Muno, Vaughn, Ozuna, Rylan Sandoval, Ryan Fisher, David Anderson, Darrell Cecillani, Jonathan Rodriguez, Medchill, JD Martinez, Sebastian Valle, Sean Ochinko, Deangelo Mack, Leandro Castro, Fermin, Luis Sumoa, Phil Disher, Ben Lasater, Todd Martin, Damon Sublett, Casper Wells, Patterson, Hollimon, Patton, Reimold, Neil Sellers, Francisco Plasencia

Some of those guys are too early in their careers to label and others were at least good enough to hang in the big leagues for a bit, but I don’t think it’s all that controversial a take to say that the track record of .500+ SLG players in the NYPL ain’t great. Of the 36 players listed above, there are only two (Ozuna and Martinez) that I would consider to be developmental success stories. Two out of thirty-six. This quick look back doesn’t mean that Bobby Dalbec will join the failed prospect crew or that he’s any more likely to struggle than his lesser-slugging peers (though you could probably float a theory about hitters who show big power early in their career as being free-swinging outliers and that such an approach leads to early power success but no long-term sustainability); it only means that early power success in the NYPL does not guarantee anything beyond that.

5.148 – RHP Mike Shawaryn

On Mike Shawaryn (98) from April 2016…

Shawaryn’s big 2015 (10.71 K/9 and 1.71 ERA in 116.0 IP) set him up as a potential first round pick coming into the year, but a slight dip in production and stuff has many cooler on him now than before. He’s always been in that ten to fifteen range for him as a 2016 college arm, so the recent downtick in stuff isn’t something I’m too worked up about. At his best, he’s got enough fastball (87-94, 95 peak), a changeup with big upside, and a breaking ball that seemingly improves every time out (even as he’s had some rocky starts this year). Breaking down his individual pitches is obviously important, but the main selling point with Shawaryn was always going to be his above-average to plus command, standout control, and deceptive motion. Assuming his decline is more fatigue – he’s approaching almost 250 college innings in his career; for context’s sake, that’s about a hundred more than AJ Puk and over twice as many as Alec Hansen – than injury (though separating the two can be tricky without proper pre-draft medical screening), Shawaryn might be the perfect candidate for a team in round two (or three if they are lucky) willing to draft a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher with the intent not to pitch him competitively the summer after signing. Draft him, sign him, get him working with your top player development staffers, and focus more about 2017 rather than getting onto the field immediately. If it turns out he’s feeling good and looking good sooner rather than later, so be it. But he’s the type of smart young pitcher that could begin his first professional season at High-A without much concern. That’s the path I’d consider taking with him, but maybe I’m making more out of a few good rather than great starts than I really ought to.

I think that holds up really well today. If you want the short version, we could go back to this from October 2015…

A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.

I think that’s on target as well: “never a star, but consistently useful.” Shawaryn is going to have a long career as a mid-rotation starting pitching in the big leagues. That’s excellent value in round five. Love this pick.

6.178 – RHP Stephen Nogosek

On Stephen Nogosek (324) from March 2016…

Another college reliever! Stephen Nogosek is one of the most interesting of his kind in this year’s class. He’s not the two-pitch fire-balling righthander with the plus breaking ball that teams view as a classic late-inning type. Nogosek commands four pitches for strikes, relying more on the overall depth of his repertoire than any one singular go-to offering. Many speculate that his delivery lends itself to shorter outings, but I’m not convinced that a pro team won’t at least consider using him in the rotation at some point.

And again from April 2016…

If it’s a true college reliever you want, then Stephen Nogosek out of Oregon is your best bet. He’s a little bit like [Ian] Hamilton in that he’s got the raw stuff to start – an honest four-pitch mix seems wasted some in relief – but his command would make longer outings untenable at this time. As a reliever, however, he’s effectively wild. Pitching out of the pen also puts him on the short list of fastest potential movers.

The sixth round feels like a great spot to land a high-probability/reasonable-ceiling potential quick-mover in Nogosek. The funky, undersized righthander can use any one of his three offspeed offerings — upper-70s SL that flashes plus, solid mid-80s CU, average or better upper-70s CB — while also commanding a quality 88-94 MPH (up to 95) fastball. I don’t think there’s closer upside here, but it shouldn’t take much for Nogosek to have a long career as a dependable seventh inning reliever.

7.208 – OF Ryan Scott

Hitting .435/.516/.713 at the D-I level should get you drafted in the top ten rounds, right? Tuns out that’s exactly what it does. I didn’t have anything on Scott besides the easy to Google knowledge of his awesome senior year performance, so let’s just go ahead and repeat that: .435/.516/.713. That’s ridiculous. The stat-inclined portion of my brain is really rooting for Scott to have a long, successful pro career.

8.238 – C Alan Marrero

Alan Marrero walked or struck out in 62.9% of his 70 plate appearances in his debut with the Red Sox. That’s nuts. I have a feeling that number will go just a touch in his first full pro season next year. I’m sure the Red Sox are counting on it even though they likely are more excited about Marrero’s athleticism, arm strength, and standout defense behind the plate than anything he’ll do as a hitter. Like a few other catchers in the 2016 MLB Draft class — both Jake Rogers and Cooper Johnson spring to mind — Marrero’s defense could very well be so good that the baseline offensive standard for his bat will be almost so low he can’t help but reach it. In other words, Marrero’s defense is just about big league quality already. Expecting anything special at the plate is just getting greedy.

9.268 – OF Matt McLean

Here’s a little bit on Matt McLean from March 2016 with a bonus Granger Studdard (twenty-second round pick) reference thrown in for good measure…

On (kind of) the other end of the spectrum is Matt McLean of Texas-Arlington. McLean is a good runner and savvy all-around ballplayer who (to my knowledge) isn’t being talked up by anybody as a serious draft prospect. I’m not sure whether he is or isn’t, but the way he commands the strike zone has my respect. McLean is off to a similar start as Studdard (12 BB/4 K), but differs in that it’s part of a longer track record of doing so (40 BB/19 K last year). When looking to fill out rosters late during the draft, I’d recommend McLean to my scouting director every time. I’m high on the McLean’s on the world not only for what they could become in their own right – solid org guys can occasionally turn into useful pieces over time – but also because of the unseen positives that bringing players like this into an organization can provide. I don’t think McLean possesses any magic plate discipline dust that would rub off on his teammates, but having my young guys exposed to his consistent professional approach to the game, calculated plan of attack as a hitter, aggressive yet smart style of play in all phases, and determination to succeed no matter what couldn’t hurt.

Everything written about McLean there holds up today, I think. He went earlier than I had anticipated back in March, but did so as a $10,000 bonus senior-sign. McLean’s last two seasons at Texas-Arlington produced a cumulative mark of 76 BB/41 K. He’s still only a fifth outfielder if literally everything breaks right for him developmentally, but damn if I don’t think there’s a larger value to bringing players like this into the system. Maybe I’m nuts.

Also, I’m probably just a touch too young to get this in a more meaningful way but I’m up enough on nostalgic pop culture references to think of this every single time I read McLean’s name.

10.298 – SS Santiago Espinal

I’m buying Santiago Espinal (416) as a potential big league utility player even with his glaring lack of pop. He makes a ton of quality contact, works deep counts, defends his spot well at both second and short, and can put up above-average run times. One thing worth noting with Espinal is his age: despite playing only one college season, the former Miami-Dade shortstop is already 22-years-old. It puts his outstanding freshman season (.432/.492/.562 with 20 BB/11 K and 15/20 SB) at the junior college level in a different light. Liking Espinal, however, is liking what you’ve got already with him. His brand of on-base ability and reliable defense up the middle isn’t something that needs much projecting past what he can already do.

12.358 – RHP Matthew Gorst

Matthew Gorst had a good year. He did this at Georgia Tech as a junior: 10.10 K/9 and 2.39 BB/9 and 0.55 ERA in 49.0 IP. He then followed that up with this pro debut: 9.00 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9 and 2.67 ERA in 27.0 IP. I’m still personally wary of a college reliever without premium stuff (88-93 FB, 84-87 cutter, 77-81 SL) with a limited track record of success, but Boston clearly must believe Gorst turned a corner in 2016. Pro results are certainly backing that up for now.

14.418 – LHP Robby Sexton

The Red Sox signed only three lefthanded pitchers in this draft class. You know about Jay Groome. You might not know quite as much about the two college lefties Boston scooped up from the Midwest. We’ll cover Kyle Hart from Indiana shortly, so let’s take a closer look at Robby Sexton from Wright State now. In brief, I like Robby Sexton more than I do most mid-round college pitchers with good but not great track records at non-power conference universities. Lefthanders who can pull off the sinker/slider combo are some of my favorite relief prospects to follow. That’s what you’re getting with the athletic Sexton.

16.478 – C Alberto Schmidt

My public notes on Alberto Schmidt were sparse — “good athlete; strong arm; older for class” — but I heard lots of nice things about him (both as a person and prospect) behind the scenes leading up to the draft. If you heard such nice things then you probably should have ranked him higher then, you might be thinking. Not a bad point, I’d counter. Maybe I should have ranked him higher (or, you know, at all). Yeah, you’d repeat, maybe you should have. Yeah, I’d say. Yeah, you’d say.

17.508 – C Nick Sciortino

The seventeenth round feels just a little too early for me to take a local product org player, but the Red Sox went out and took Boston College catcher Nick Sciortino anyway. His defense is good and his arm is solid, but I’m not sure he’ll ever do enough offensively to be anything but a handy catcher to shuffle around affiliates as needed.

19.568 – LHP Kyle Hart

A buddy of mine was insistent this spring that Kyle Hart could get big league lefthanders out right now. I’m not sure if that’s was said in part because of Hart’s present old man game — mid-80s fastball, advanced change, lots of slow curves, impeccable control — rather than a literal ability to get big league hitters out. Sometimes players with such limited physical projection wind up being a touch overrated because of a general assumption that they are better than they really are since they’re already likely as good as they’ll get. I just read that back and I have no idea if it’ll make sense to anybody but myself. Confusing attempt at a larger point aside, I still like the crafty, athletic Hart. Him getting big league lefties out at some point next year wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

20.598 – SS Nick Lovullo

On Nick Lovullo from February 2016…

Lovullo has the bloodlines, athleticism, and steadying infield presence to be a really solid org guy with the chance for more. His bat has improved each year at Holy Cross, so a big senior season is well within range. Nobody is asking for my seal of approval, but having seen Lovullo play on a few different occasions, I can certainly vouch for him as a player that does all the little things beautifully.

And then again right before the draft…

Nick Lovullo had an odd season. He only hit .225, but bolstered his OBP with a whopping 40 walks. I’ve always liked his approach, athleticism, and reliable defense up the middle, so I’ll overlook that .225 (and the dismal 6/15 SB success rate) and keep him on my draft board. He’ll make a fine future Red Sox minor leaguer.

I’m not going to go too crazy patting on my back for connecting the obvious dots here, but, hey, it is nice to win one every now and then. I think “solid org guy with the chance for more” remains a fair assessment of Lovullo’s upside. Like the Sciortino pick in the seventeenth round, this felt a bit early to me — I predicted Lovullo to Boston in the fortieth round, a spot more commensurate to his prospect value for me — but what do I know. Fair to wonder now if we see a quiet “Lovullo to Arizona for future considerations” type deal in the not too distant future…

22.658 – OF Granger Studdard

On Granger Studdard from March 2016…

Granger Studdard is another personal favorite of mine out of the Sun Belt due to his power upside, athleticism, arm strength, and speed. The last three facets of his game are far stronger than you see out of a typical first base prospect, so it’s not shock that the majority of those I spoke to who like him as well prefer him as a corner outfielder. That defensive versatility only boosts his stock. The most interesting thing about Studdard to me is how scouts have raved about his approach since his first year at Texas State. Much like what has been said about Kyle Lewis at Mercer, the buzz surrounding Studdard has been about how he really knows how to hit and approaches every plate appearance like a seasoned veteran. Like Mercer, however, the results didn’t seem to back it up: Studdard hit well in both of his college seasons, but did so while putting up BB/K ratios of 19/42 and 20/62. The disconnect between the scouting take and the on-field indicators figured to come to a head in his draft season, and, so far, the scouts look like they know a thing or two about the game. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE, but Studdard has walked twelve times in 2016 with only five strikeouts to his name. If that’s real, then you can put his standing as one of the best under-the-radar mid-major bats in the county in ink.

So was it real? Technically, yes. Studdard finished his junior year with 37 walks to 26 strikeouts. The more patient approach seemingly came at a cost of some power, however: his .285/.389/.380 line more closely resembled his freshman season (.270/.364/.385) than his sophomore year (.281/.345/.485). It’s how to deduce why that is without having seen Studdard multiple times throughout his final season at Texas State. Was he being pitched around? Is this just a small sample aberration? Was his sophomore year power spike the real outlier? Is there something in Studdard’s scouting dossier (swing, approach, pitch recognition, etc.) that explains it better? Anything I’d offer would just be a guess at this point. In any event, the reasons for liking Studdard are still reasons that explain why I currently like Studdard. He struggled in his debut at the plate, but 38 of his innings in the field came in either left or right. That’s a good sign for his prospect stock going forward.

23.688 – OF Juan Carlos Abreu

As an older high school talent (he’ll be 20 next May) with a game built on speed and a strong arm — two nice tools, to be sure, but arguably fourth and fifth in terms of importance if you were to rank them — Juan Carlos Abreu was more of a peripheral prospect on the radar for me this spring. Worth a shot as a twenty-third round pick, I guess.

24.718 – RHP Hunter Smith

Maybe some teams were turned off by Hunter Smith’s ugly 6.19 ERA in his draft year at North Carolina Greensboro. That’s about all I’ve got by way of explanation for Smith’s drop to the twenty-fourth round in this year’s draft. He’s got the size (6-3, 200), fastball (87-93, 95 peak), and offspeed stuff (above-average slider that flashes plus and an average or better change) to get stretched back out as a starter next year if that’s something Boston is willing to try. If not, I think he’s got a bright future in relief. Big fan of Hunter Smith.

25.748 – RHP Francisco Soto

Now I’m no Nancy Drew, but I consider my internet sleuthing abilities to be at least above-average. Francisco Soto is the first player drafted this year that I’m not sure actually exists. I mean, fine, he exists: he pitched twelve innings for the GCL Red Sox after signing after all. But my quick research on Soto’s time at Allen CC in Kansas has yielded nothing meaningful to date. He’s listed at 6-5, 220 pounds, so he’s got good size. That’s literally all I’ve got.

26.778 – RHP Jared Oliver

Mid-90s velocity (up to 97) is never a bad thing, so I get where the Red Sox are coming from when taking a chance on Jared Oliver. It’s just that he’s got a lot of work to do (7.12 BB/9 at Truett-McConnell) and not a whole of time to do it (24-years-old to start next season).

33.988 – OF Chad Hardy

Underwhelming junior college numbers? How does .297/.358/.513 with 13 BB/29 K sound? Brutal first 90 PA of pro ball? A hard to look at .163/.191/.233 with 3 BB/32 K. A 60-game suspension for testing positive for Tamoxifen? Why not add it to the pile at this point, right? I’m not here to bust on Chad Hardy’s disastrous first year with the Red Sox; if anything, I can empathize with a young man’s desperation when faced with a pressure-packed situation filled with “do-or-die” feelings of urgency. Hardy making it to AA — let alone the big leagues — would be a success I’m not prepared to see with this pick. Hope it works out all the same.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Carter Henry (Houston), Jake Wilson (Bowling Green), Austin Bergner (North Carolina), Carter Aldrete (Arizona State), Jordan Wren (Georgia Southern), John Rave (Illinois State), Aaron McGarity (Virginia Tech), Jeff Belge (St. John’s), Christian Jones (Washington), Tyler Fitzgerald (Louisville), Cam Shepherd (Georgia), Jordan Scheftz (Central Florida), Vince Arobio (Pacific), Beau Capanna (New Mexico), Trevor Stephan (Arkansas), Michael Wilson (Stony Brook), Nick Quintana (Arizona)

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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.

Jay Groome vs Tyler Mondile

I’ve never seen a high school baseball with a surrounding atmosphere quite like this one. Parking lots were full hours before first pitch. Fans of all ages were set up tailgating with spreads more typical of fall Sundays. I had heard that they ran out of physical tickets by the end and were letting people in via a simple one-to-one cash transaction at the gate. Jay Groome vs Tyler Mondile packed the house. It was a pretty special sight to behold. Pat Gillick, Johnny Almaraz, Charley Kerfeld, Jorge Velandia, Kiley McDaniel, Jon Adkins, Keith Law (five rows ahead of us), Jonathan Mayo, and a handful of others that I couldn’t quite place were among the 6,005 people jammed into Campbell’s Field in beautiful Camden, New Jersey. At five dollars a head, that means over $15,000 was raised for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an Audubon HS student currently battling brain cancer of her own. Pretty cool. Also cool: the two starting pitchers that brought the crowd out doing exactly what fans of both were hoping to see.

Tyler Mondile looked really good. He actually tied Groome for the hottest heater of the night at 94 MPH — I had them both getting there four different times, but saw Mondile up to 95 on a few of the guns around me — and had the more consistent velocity throughout the evening. In a funny twist, Mondile happened to hit 94 with his fastball three straight times in his first head-to-head battle with Groome at the plate. Groome took a fastball in for a strike, a fastball further in for a ball, and a fastball on the outer half to put him in a 1-2 hole before the at bat ended preemptively when Mondile got a little help from his catcher with a stolen base threat eliminated at third base. If there was any doubt that Mondile was pumped for this one — and two seconds of watching him stomp around the field pre-game would push those thoughts aside right quick — then the 94, 94, 94 to start the at bat against the opposing starting pitcher was a clear indicator of how amped up the Gloucester Catholic righthander must have been feeling.

Beyond the strong showing of arm strength, I was impressed with the admittedly few curves Mondile managed to drop in for strikes (76-79 MPH). He used it more as a pitch in and around the strike zone than as a chase pitch, but it had the shape and consistency to worth in both directions with continued use. In time, the pitch looked like it could be a legitimate second weapon. There’s a good bit of effort in Mondile’s delivery and his high level of demonstrative emotion on the mound (something that would make him a fan favorite in many markets) might mean a future in the bullpen could happen sooner rather than later, but reports of his changeup being an average or better offering and his ability to repeat said delivery make him worth trying as a starter as long as possible. I wouldn’t necessarily say his 6-1, 185 pound frame screamed projection, but his upper-half looked like it could stand to put on at least another ten pounds of weight to help even out his stout lower-body. Despite his relatively short stature, Mondile’s legs looked like they’d pass any relevant strength test. In this specific class it would be hard to call him a first rounder, but I could see him making sense for any team anywhere between rounds three and six. I came away believing that he likely made himself some money based on how he looked in front of a crowd with that many influential executives.

Unfortunately, I came away saying the opposite about Jay Groome. Kind of. 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.

1-1

I really like Zack Collins, Will Craig, Pete Alonso, Nick Senzel, Bryan Reynolds, and Jake Fraley. Garrett Williams, Eric Lauer, Mike Shawaryn, Daulton Jefferies, Bailey Clark, and the Kyle’s (Funkhouser, Serrano, and Cody) are all pretty great, too. Delvin Perez, Josh Lowe, Nolan Jones, Mickey Moniak, and Blake Rutherford all could be high school hitters that realistically enter the 1-1 conversation. Ian Anderson, Kevin Gowdy, Alex Speas, and Forrest Whitley, among others, could join the race as well. All, however, are a tier below the group of players I feel currently have the best shot to go 1-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies this June. With apologies to all the aforementioned names — one of those guys is going to fall to the second round or later, by the way…that’s crazy! — the focus here is on the early front-runners to go 1-1 . Let’s see what they’ve been up to lately…

Jay Groome has been my stated preference since last summer. Performance-wise, I’m not sure if Groome can lose the top spot between now and June. He looked great during his workout at Maplezone in beautiful Garnet Valley — located a very convenient 21 miles from my apartment — and figures to show the premium stuff (mid-90s FB, plus mid-70s kCB, rapidly improving CU) and “extras” (beautiful delivery/command/frame) all spring. That leaves major injury (Brady Aiken 2.0) or the ascent of one of the players listed on this very page (or somebody unlisted, but if that’s the case then I really haven’t done my job here) being the realistic avenues to knock Groome off the 1-1 perch.

Groome’s co-headliner in the high school class is Riley Pint for me. I know there are questions about a prep righthander going first overall (silliness, I think) and questions about his delivery and command making an eventual move to the bullpen a necessity (fair, but up for debate yet), but there’s still so much to like about him that I can’t see him leaving the potential 1-1 tier any time soon.

I have a hard time separating the three top college outfielders, so spring performances will weigh heavy on on evaluators minds as they decide on nailing down a proper order of Kyle Lewis, Buddy Reed, and Corey Ray. My semi-fearless prediction: for as much hype — deservedly — as those three outfielders have gotten to date, they won’t wind up as the first three outfielders drafted this June. Maybe that’s not particularly bold considering we’re talking three high variance outcome prospects, but I can see a future where one blows up this spring (Lewis or Reed), one struggles relative to expectations (Reed?), and one remains more or less where he was in the eyes of most teams when the season started.

Kyle Lewis had a very good weekend. Buddy Reed had a less good weekend. Corey Ray was on an different planet altogether. In a whopping three-game sample, Ray hit .667/.714/1.444. I keep mistyping his SLG for the weekend because I’m not used to typing anything with a digit in front of the decimal. If his performance with the bat wasn’t enough, Ray chipped in with six (six!) stolen bases in six tries. We won’t get carried away with one weekend’s worth of games, but that’s not a bad way to get things started, especially for the guy with the most to prove on-field out of the three. That last bit is obviously debatable, but there’s a school of thought that says Ray should be the best present performer out of the three considering he has the most limited physical projection of the trio. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair — punishing Ray by expecting more now seems a bit counterproductive if the aim is projecting his future — but maybe there’s something to it. Either way, I think the jumble of guys in contention for 1-1 leaves things wide open enough for any of these three to rise up to that level; for now, Ray’s loud opening weekend helps him takes the lead.

If Ray’s opening weekend was loud, then what does that make Alec Hansen‘s? The less said about Hansen’s hushed debut, the better. His 22 ball/14 strike performance included four walks, one wild pitch, and one poor plunked hitter. One bad start wouldn’t be too concerning in the big picture (still isn’t, really), but on the heels of a fall season marred by a sore forearm…I don’t know. Maybe we laugh about this come June when a healthy Hansen is the top ten pick his talent warrants…or maybe he’s this year’s Michael Matuella.

Matt Krook and AJ Puk are the top two lefties in this college class, so it works out quite nicely that the two of them had such similar 2016 debuts. My non-scout view on Puk hasn’t changed much since he’s debuted as a Gator: he’s an excellent prospect who has always left me wanting after seeing him pitch up close. I wasn’t up close this past weekend, but I did check out his start against Florida Gulf Coast via the magic of the internet. Again, for all of Puk’s strengths he’s still not the kind of college prospect that gives off that 1-1 vibe when watching him. Even when he was cruising — 11 pitch first inning, 19 total pitches through two (15 strikes), and a 1-2-3 swinging strikeout to end the second that went slider, fastball, change — it was still on a very fastball-heavy approach with little evident feel for his offspeed stuff. His slider picked up from there and he mixed in a few nice changeups, but neither offering looked like a potential big league out-pitch.

In the third inning his defense let him down — literally and figuratively, as he made one of the two errors in the inning — but what really hurt him was his command falling apart. These are all players learning on the job so I don’t want to sound too negative, but he failed to locate an 0-2 pitch and that was what really led to his undoing. On the plus side, his velocity was good for a first start (90-94, 96 peak), his delivery looks better, the aforementioned handful of nice changeups were encouraging, and he responded really well in the fourth inning after losing his way in the third. I still struggle with his underdeveloped offspeed stuff, inconsistent command, and puzzling lack of athleticism (where did it go from HS?), but 6-7, 225 pound lefthanders who can hit 96 (98 at times last year) are worth being patient with.

With Pat Gillick, Johnny Almaraz, and two other scouts in attendance, the Phillies, owners of the first pick in this year’s draft, were well-represented in Gainesville over the weekend. Much has been made of this and rightly so as the Gators are stacked, obviously, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they only had to ride 2.5 hours north from Clearwater. They obviously have heavy interest in Puk and will have plenty of opportunities to get to know him inside and out as the spring progresses.

Meanwhile, Krook matched Puk in innings (4), hits (4), and strikeouts (6). While shaky glovework and command did Puk in, Krook’s issue was iffy control. Three walks, two wild pitches, and one hit batter ended his day early, but some rust was to be expected as he continues the comeback path from Tommy John surgery. No worries here.

Speaking of returning from Tommy John surgery, Cal Quantrill is still on the way back from his procedure. I really think he could pitch his way into the 1-1 conversation once healthy.

The two best 1-1 candidate performances came from Connor Jones and Robert Tyler. Both young righthanders faced only one batter over the minimum in their respective seven and five inning debuts. Tyler stole most of the headlines with his dominant performance on Friday. His win came against a weak Georgia Southern lineup — I like Ryan Cleveland, but there’s not a ton there otherwise — but striking out the last ten batters you face in a given outing is something. I’m 100% buying what Connor Jones — the Virginia one, not Tyler’s lefthanded Georgia teammate — is selling. I’ve mentioned it before, but I get an unusually high number of comps on him from enthusiastic scouts. My hunch is that it has something to do with his exciting mix of ceiling (number two starter?) and certainty (very polished, very professional) that gets those guys going. I still love the cross-cultural Masahiro Tanaka comp for him.

Dakota Hudson quietly pitched well in his debut. Matt Crohan did the same, but with an interesting fly ball tendency that could be worth tracking. Both are longer shots to crash the 1-1 party, but I have them on the board for a reason. One guy who might need to move off the board is Zach Jackson. His slip has nothing to do with talent — I’ve said it before, but his curve might be the best singular pitch in this class — but more about the logistics of trying to scout him this spring. As the only present college reliever on this list, it’s a guessing game as to whether or not you’ll see him in any given outing. That’s a damn shame because developmentally Jackson could really use innings to improve both his delivery and command, but Arkansas has to do what Arkansas has to do, I suppose. It could wind up costing Jackson a pretty penny, unfortunately. For now, I think he’s not a realistic 1-1 candidate due to the (rightful) fear of the unknown.

Everything written above is based largely on what my board would look like if I was holding the first pick in June. Below is my best guess — remember, I know nothing — as to what the Phillies could be thinking about that first pick as of now. Players are separated into four potential tiers…

Groome
Pint – Puk – Hansen – Ray
Jones – Quantrill – Lewis
Tyler – Reed

I think Groome is the lean as of today with Pint, Puk, and Ray all close behind. Hansen is right there, but it’ll take a clean bill of health to solidify that spot. Jones is an interesting case as a prospect who has been on the radar nationally for years, but still entered his college draft year underrated by many. The Phillies have only drafted one player from the University of Virginia since 2010 (Neal Davis), but they have leaned on their area guys in that part of the country more recently, especially when picking out of Virginia Tech. I certainly wouldn’t rule him out right now, especially if you buy the talk — I don’t — that the Phillies want a quick-mover to help accelerate their rebuild timeline. If Puk doesn’t dominate and Hansen remains injured/ineffective, then somebody will have to rise up as a potential college threat to the Groome’s and Pint’s of the world, right? If not Jones, maybe it’ll be Quantrill, son of former Phillie Paul, once he gets right. Should be fun.