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Houston Astros 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Houston 2011 Draft Selections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2011 College World Series Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

The first team to get the full College World Series preview is your North Carolina Tar Heels. The setup up for this is about as simple as can be: first category is for players drafted in 2011, second category is for players eligible for the 2012 draft, and the last category is for, you guessed it, players eligible for the 2013 draft. 

1.30 JR SS Levi Michael (Minnesota Twins) | 34th ranked prospect overall

I’ve mentioned it before, but it is so incredible to me that it bears repeating: Levi Michael graduated high school early to enroll at UNC mid-year, and then went on to tear it up as a freshman playing as a starter in the ACC. Occasionally we’ll see pitchers do this, and last year we had the whole Bryce Harper skipping his senior year to go destroy wood ball junior college ball thing, but it is still pretty rare to see a hitter do what Michael did in the manner he did (repeat: he smashed the ball all over the place back in 2009 as an 18-year-old) that it is worth pointing out over and over again. Michael has plenty of bat speed, double-digit homer upside, and the footwork and instincts to potentially stick at his junior season college position of shortstop.

Big fan of Michael the college player and Michael the new Minnesota Twins first round prospect. He’s a joy to watch as a big play college shortstop and team leader who also projects as a potential above-average regular with plus defensive upside at second. I’ve always been a sucker for guys with the kind of plate discipline that have you wondering if they know the strike zone better than the men in blue actually paid to call balls and strikes.

8.247 SR RHP Greg Holt (Washington Nationals)

Huge raw power, but one of three natural first basemen vying for playing time behind Dustin Ackley on 2009 team; Moneyball listed as favorite book, so he has that going for him

How’s that for a blast from the past? Back in March 2009 Holt was battling Tarron Robinson and Brett Thomas for whatever at bats could be had behind eventual number two overall pick Dustin Ackley. Now Holt is a relief prospect with a fastball that sits 88-91 (93 peak) and a good low-80s slider.

24.730 SR 1B Jesse Wierzbicki (Houston Astros) | 164th ranked prospect overall (2010)

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

That was written back in 2010 when I thought Wierzbicki could play behind the plate as a pro. I still think he’s got the athleticism and enough catch-and-throw ability to play back there. As a first baseman, however, I don’t see how his bat will work at all. Hopefully the Astros will be creative and try him in a utility role going forward.

25.768 SR RHP Patrick Johnson (Colorado Rockies)

Starter for UNC in the past, but profiles better as a reliever in the pros; too early to predict, but he could be on the Robert Woodard/Adam Warren four year path; good numbers, but has done it all against inferior mid-week competition; lack of size may doom him to the bullpen long-term, but his performance pitching largely out of the pen this season give hope that his stuff will play

Fairly prescient 2009 prognostication, if I do say so myself. Warren, who has been so much better as a pro than I ever would have imagined, is probably Johnson’s absolute best case scenario at this point. He throws an upper-80s fastball (92 peak), good upper-70s curve, and average change.

42.1285 JR C Jacob Stallings (Cincinnati Reds) | 158th ranked prospect overall

There is no question about Stallings’s plus defense; that alone could be his ticket to the show as a backup catcher. Like Kometani, there’s more raw power here than he has shown so far. Stallings isn’t really talked about as a top college catching prospect, but he’s a really talented prospect with a plus-plus arm that could make him an interesting mound conversion if things don’t work out behind the dish.

I won’t lie here. I’m baffled about Stallings falling as low as he did. I suppose acceptance that strange things happen during the draft is the only way to survive in these topsy turvy times. Players with a legit upside of backup catcher/middle reliever are more useful than his draft pick warranted. I haven’t heard anything to back this up, but perhaps his signability is in question.

*****

JR RHP Jimmy Messer (2012) | 10.80 K/9 – 3.60 BB/9 – 5.09 FIP – 10 IP

44th round pick in 2008; favorite foods are sushi and Swiss cake rolls, a winning combination if I ever heard one; fastball sits in the low 90s, above-average (present) curveball with definite plus potential; another top three round candidate

Messer hasn’t quite developed into the player many thought he would, but there is still time for the rising senior. His average fastball (88-90, 92 peak), above-average 75-77 slider, and solid command could make him an attractive mid-round senior sign relief prospect in 2012. If nothing else, we’ll always have that sushi and Swiss cake roll combo…

JR RHP Garrett Davis (2012)

Good size (6-4, 195); currently no spot for him in the rotation, but may be stretched out as starter next year; definitely has the repertoire to start; will be draft eligible next year as a redshirt sophomore, velocity has crept back up after TJ surgery in March 2008, but his command and availability to pitch back-to-back games remain question marks going forward

Deservedly lauded for great raw stuff, Davis has dealt with nagging injuries and bouts of wildness that have limited his college innings. Modern medicine has spoiled us into thinking Tommy John surgery always ends happily; hard as it is to say, we must now entertain the thought that Davis will never return to his high school, pre-injury form. Or we can continue to believe he’ll find a consistent release point and improve his control as a senior. I prefer the latter.

***

SO RHP Michael Morin (2012) | 10.05 K/9 – 2.40 BB/9 – 2.86 FIP – 60 IP

The good news is Morin’s changeup is a true plus pitch. The bad news is…well…there isn’t much bad news. Backed up by his solid fastball (88-92 with room for more), good sinking two-seamer, average curve, above-average athleticism, pro frame (6-4, 180 pounds), and outstanding college production, Morin is one of the best college arms of the 2012 class.

SO RHP Cody Penny (2012) | 10.69 K/9 – 4.50 BB/9 – 2.59 FIP – 16 IP

Penny has the present stuff of a dominant college reliever (mid-90s peak fastball and a really good spike curve), and the future stuff (CU and SL coming on) of a potential pro starter.

SO 2B Tommy Coyle (2012) | .337/.429/.451 – 37 BB/21 K – 19/25 SB – 255 AB

Coyle played his high school ball about fifteen minutes from where I grew up, so I was lucky enough to catch him a couple of times during his senior season. He’s got above-average speed and athleticism, a really solid line drive swing, and an outstanding batting eye. It is still really early in the process, but I think we’re looking at a player with the ceiling of a big league regular with the possibility of a utility future a realistic backup option. I’m looking forward to seeing where he stacks up against the rest of the 2012 college middle infield crop, but I have a feeling he’ll be up there.

SO RHP Cody Stiles (2012) | 7.54 K/9 – 2.92 BB/9 – 3.91 FIP – 37 IP

With two breaking balls with above-average upside, Stiles heads into his junior campaign with a chance to shoot up draft boards. This isn’t a realistic comp for a sophomore coming off a 37 inning regular season, but there is something about Stiles’ repertoire (94 peak FB, promising SL and CB, CU with sink) that reads a little like 2011 first round pick Matt Barnes.

SO LHP RC Orlan (2012) | 12.56 K/9 – 5.65 BB/9 – 3.54 FIP – 14.1 IP

Sometimes good college pitchers are just that. Other times they become good pro pitchers. On rare occasions, they become great pro pitchers. It may be easy to lump Orlan into that first category, but I think he ultimately could fall into the middle grouping. His raw stuff doesn’t jump out at you — upper-80s FB (92 peak), above-average mid-80s cutter, a pair of usable breaking balls — and his slight frame doesn’t scream big leaguer, but his total package is greater than the sum of his individual parts.

SO OF Chaz Frank (2012) | .287/.430/.349 – 43 BB/27 K – 11/14 SB – 209 AB

There may not be a whole lot of raw power here, but Frank has a good approach, above-average speed, and a solid hit tool. His best present tool is probably his defensive range in the outfield.

SO RHP Chris Munnelly (2012) | 7.84 K/9 – 3.73 BB/9 – 4.29 FIP – 70 IP

If I’ve learned one thing in doing this post, it’s that North Carolina’s pitching depth is crazy. I can’t even imagine how they’ll divvy up innings if some of their biggest recruits wind up on campus this fall. One of the top returning pitchers next year will be Chris Munnelly. Munnelly was counted on to throw a lot this past spring for North Carolina, and with good reason. His decent fastball (88-91) plays up because of plus command, and both his advanced change and rapidly improving breaking stuff could be even bigger weapons in time.

*****

FR 3B Colin Moran (2013) | .348/.459/.583 – 48 BB/29 K – 230 AB

When he enrolled at North Carolina last fall, Moran’s name jumped out as the younger brother of former Tar Heels reliever Brian and nephew of former Tar Heel and big league star BJ Surhoff. I also knew he was a well regarded high school prospect out of New York, but, since we’re all pals now and have no reason not to be honest with one another, had assumed that the family legacy bit had way more to do with his scholarship than his ability. Take a look at his freshman year stat line and laugh at how very wrong I was. Moran is the real deal as a prospect, a hitter with legit big league upside, a gorgeous lefthanded stroke, and a great approach at the plate. He is an average defender at present, but there is enough there in the way of tools that makes you think he can become an above-average third baseman in time. Physically, he reminds me a little bit of former Ranger Hank Blalock.

FR LHP Kent Emanuel (2013) | 8.56 K/9 – 2.01 BB/9 – 3.56 FIP – 89.1 IP

Emanuel is another prospect who has far surpassed my expectations as a freshman. One thing I’ve enjoyed about Emanuel’s excellent freshman season has been the answer to the question “What would happen if a Tyler Skaggs/Henry Owens type went to campus instead of turning pro?” Emanuel tacked on over thirty pounds to his 6-4 frame (now up to 205) and upped his sitting fastball a couple ticks (now at 87-89 MPH). His change is already an above-average college offering, and could be plus pro pitch with the way he throws it with fastball arm speed. His best bet at another above-average pro pitch is probably a slider, but that is something to be developed down the line; for now, his cut fastball works as a usable college offering just fine.

FR C Matt Roberts (2013) | .237/.310/.316 – 2 BB/10 K – 38 AB

If Stallings signs with the Reds — hardly a foregone conclusion as a 42nd round pick — then Roberts should take over full-time duty behind the plate in 2012. On paper he has everything you’d want in a young catching prospect: athleticism, above-average defensive upside, and good power.

FR RHP Andrew Smith (2013) | 10.04 K/9 – 3.12 BB/9 – 3.55 FIP – 26 IP

I can’t wait to see what the super talented Smith does in an expanded role next season. He reminds me a bit of Cody Stiles (93 peak FB, potential plus mid-70s CB, SL with promise) and could really take off next year if his changeup, a pitch I’ve heard looked good in practice this year, comes around.

FR RHP Shane Taylor (2013) | 10.25 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 3.01 FIP – 36 IP

Woodard, Warren, Johnson…Taylor? His upper-80s sitting fastball, good mid-70s curveball, and really impressive control and command definitely bring back memories of former Tar Heels pitchability righthanded greats.

FR RHP Jake Cole (2013)

Cole’s arm strength (92-93 peak) and the makings of a hard upper-70s slider make him a name to remember. There were some rumors that he will be given a retroactive redshirt for 2011; if that’s the case, he’ll remain a freshman in 2012, but also remain draft-eligible in 2013.

FR OF Jeff Bouton (2013) | .282/.378/.410 – 4 BB/21 K – 3/3 SB – 39 AB

Bouton came to school with the reputation of a good power/speed prospect, but almost all the power/speed in the world won’t work with plate discipline like that. Just a freshman, there is plenty of time for him to figure it out going forward.

FR 1B/OF Thomas Zengel (2013) | .214/.338/.313 – 20 BB/16 K – 112 AB

Zengel is a bat-first prospect who will have to keep on hitting if he hopes to get noticed. He strikes me more of a potentially really good college player more than a future big-time pro prospect, but the plate discipline shown in 2011 has me a little intrigued.

FR C Brian Holberton (2013) | .267/.352/.400 – 11 BB/13 K – 75 AB

Matt Roberts was the high profile catching recruit in 2011 and the expected heir apparent to the job, but Holberton has a chance to alter those plans. His defense behind the plate is his biggest strength and his gap power has been better than advertised.

FR 1B/2B Parks Jordan (2013) | .179/.343/.214 – 6 BB/10 K – 28 AB

There could be room for Parks Jordan to get some time at second base next year if North Carolina decides to shift Tommy Coyle to shortstop (i.e. the Levi Michael Special). There is some upside with the bat, but his glove is a question mark.

FR LHP Tate Parrish (2013): LOOGY upside; 6-0, 165 pounds; (9.39 K/9 – 5.28 BB/9 – 2.70 FIP – 15.1 IP)

Parrish is by all accounts a great guy and tireless worker. I could say that about a lot of the players on this list, but, when asking around about Parrish for this piece, almost every person I spoke to commented on Parrish the person before talking about Parrish the player. They also said that he’s got the stuff to get college lefthanders out consistently and, with continued development, perhaps pro lefthanders as well. That last sentence is structured horribly, but I’m losing steam here…

FR LHP Hobbs Johnson (2013)

Johnson is a pitchability lefty with an upper-80s fastball. That’s all I’ve got.

2010 MLB Draft: Top 30 College Catching Prospects

30. Pittsburgh JR C Kevan Smith

The former Panthers quarterback is a plus athlete with a strong arm who is still understandably raw in some phases of the game. He was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school who was at one point seen as a potential top five round pick, but was downgraded because of his strong commitment to the gridiron. There’s already some speculation that he’ll stick around for his senior year to further showcase his skills.

29. Louisville SR C Jeff Arnold

Arnold is good enough defensively to stick behind the plate, but his above-average speed could tempt a pro team into moving him off the position into a super-sub role. He’s always had a keen batting eye and a solid hit tool, but the lack of power should limit him to backup work going forward.

28. New Mexico JR C Rafael Neda

Neda’s strong statistical profile syncs up well with the increasingly positive scouting reports thrown his way this spring. He came into the year with a solid defensive reputation and above-average power to the gaps, but now has some scouts thinking he could grow into a decent regular with double digit homerun totals.

27. Texas Tech JR C Jeremy Mayo

Reminds me a lot of Jeff Arnold in that both players are above-average runners with solid gloves, but Mayo’s edge in power makes him the better prospect.

26. Ohio State JR C Dan Burkhart

Despite being a legitimate pro prospect in his own right, his biggest claim to fame may be convincing best friend and potential first rounder Alex Wimmers to join him for three years in Columbus. Burkhart is yet another good defensive catcher with a good batting eye and a questionable power ceiling. His scouting reports and his numbers come very close to Kevan Smith’s, but Burkhart’s higher probability of contributing gives him the edge over Smith’s higher upside. Burkhart also receives high marks for being one of the few catchers in the college game trusted to call his own pitches.

25. Rice SR C Diego Seastrunk

I haven’t seen or heard this comp elsewhere, so take it for what it’s worth (not much), but Seastrunk’s scouting profile and video remind me of a lesser version of Ryan Doumit. That’s high praise. Seastrunk is the kind of player who’s overall package exceeds the sum of his parts. Of course, it’s not exactly like his parts are all that shabby. I love, love, love the way Seastrunk has transitioned to the role of full-time catcher this spring. Seastrunk’s combination of an above-average arm, gap power, and plus makeup (he’s a tireless worker and a great team player) has me believing his tools will play as a professional. He isn’t a natural behind the plate, but the instincts I’ve seen from him in going down to get balls in the dirt lead me to believe he’ll be an above-average defender before long. I eventually can see Seastrunk filling a supersub role (not unlike Doumit before he broke out).

The majority of catchers at this point in the ranking fall into one of three categories: 1) high ceiling, low floor (could be a starting catcher with all the right breaks, but doesn’t have the customary skill set big league clubs like in backup catchers), 2) low ceiling, high floor(ready-made big league backup skill set, especially defensively, but without the offensive upside to start) , 3) supersub upside (capable of contributing at first, third, and/or the outfield corners). Seastrunk has a throwing arm that flashes plus (great raw strength, improving pop times), gap power (notice this commonality among the back half of the top 30?), and good patience at the plate. He also has experience at all of the supersub positions listed above. He may never be a big league starting catcher, nor may he be a primary backup, but his versatility should be a boon for whatever pro team takes the chance on him.

24. Oklahoma State JR C Kevin David

On paper, David is a top ten college catching prospect, but his results through three years at Oklahoma State have been more good than great. There’s not much to quibble with when it comes to his excellent athleticism, strong throwing arm, and above-average glove, but all of that untapped potential needs to turn into production before long. His relatively low placement on the list — it’s possible he goes somewhere between round 5-10 — is more about the players ahead of him than anything else; if that’s a cop-out, so be it.

23. Embry-Riddle SR C Austin Goolsby

Besides having a fun name to say, Austin Goolsby is an intriguing NAIA catching prospect with elite defensive potential, good pro size, and power to the gaps. His skills as an economist, however, are at this point unknown.

22. Southern Illinois SR C Tyler Bullock

Bullock possesses the best present power of any player in the bottom half of the top thirty, no real shock when you consider his classic big bopper (6-4, 275) build. He’s a lesser version of one of my 2009 favorites, Purdue’s Dan Black, another large man with prodigious power potential. Like Black, Bullock’s defense is passable and his arm strength is above-average. Like Black, Bullock’s professional future is that of a versatile backup catcher capable of filling in at first base (Bullock and Black) and/or third base (Black only).

21. Western Kentucky JR C Matt Rice

Average hit tool, slightly above-average power, solid defender = mid-round pick with big league backup upside.

20. Georgia Tech JR C Cole Leonida

As one of the spring’s fastest rising prospects, Cole Leonida does a lot of little things very well. His defense around the plate is a strength, and his power potential is second only to Tyler Bullock’s here on the latter half of the top thirty. Leonida’s impressive throwing arm, while at least big league average in strength and above-average in accuracy, could really stand to benefit from some mechanical adjustments to help with his release point. With good coaching that big league average arm could easily become consistently above-average. As a hitter he’ll probably never hit at or near .300 professionally, but his raw power could translate into double digit homeruns if given enough playing time.

19. Virginia JR C Kenny Swab

Here’s what was said here about Mr. Swab back before the season started:

He’s got a live bat with above-average power potential, but it’ll take some serious lineup juggling from Brian O’Connor to get him the at bats he’ll need to boost his draft stock. As is, Swab is a potential 10-20th round player based on upside alone.

Not a bad preseason prediction on a fairly unheralded junior college transfer, right? In the at bats Swab’s earned this year, he’s impressed. Good power, good patience, good defender, good arm, and good positional versatility. He’s not a star by any means, but he’s a good player. That sounds pretty good to me.

18. Missouri JR C Brett Nicholas

Similar to Swab in that both are junior college transfers with solid hit tools capable of playing a variety of positions, but Nicholas’ greater power potential and more intriguing secondary position (Nicholas is at least passable on the hot corner) gives him the advantage.

17. Arizona State JR C Xorge Carrillo

Carrillo’s placement this high is largely speculative, but, hey, isn’t that really what a list like this is all about? Carrillo has missed almost all of the season with a bum forearm, but when healthy showed off impressive power to all fields and much improved athleticism behind the plate. That last reason is why I’m comfortable keeping the twice drafted Carrillo this high on the list despite the injury. The improvements in his body and subsequent uptick in footwork behind the plate indicate a dedication to getting better that makes me think his injury is just a minor blip on his path towards getting drafted a third time.

16. Lewis-Clark State JR C Kawika Emsley-Pai

Emsley-Pai’s injury history, most notably a stress fracture of his L5 veterbra that occurred in high school, could keep some teams away, but as a switch-hitter with patience and really good defensive tools he should get plenty of looks this June. Recent back tightness is a bit of a red flag, but, again, if his medicals check out then the former Longhorn will finally get his chance in pro ball.

15. North Carolina State JR C Chris Schaeffer

Good defensively? Check. Above-average power production? Check. Mature approach at the plate? Check. There really aren’t a lot of obvious chinks in Schaeffer’s prospect armor, especially when stacked up against his draft-eligible college catching competition. Biggest knock on Schaeffer that I’ve heard revolves around his swing. His experience with wood in the past hasn’t inspired a great deal of confidence that his power is more than an aluminum bat mirage. Even if we adjust for a loss of power, Schaeffer’s other aforementioned skills make him an attractive mid-round candidate as a developmental backup catcher type.

14. North Carolina JR C Jesse Wierzbicki

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

13. Santa Clara SR C Tommy Medica

Medica was profiled last year:

Tommy Medica brings tons of experience with 92 starts behind plate in his first two years at Santa Clara. He offers up good size (6-1 215), gap power, a very fine throwing arm, above-average athleticism (he’s played a decent LF in the past), and a classic sounding baseball player name, but he hasn’t seen live action since leaving a game with what has been since diagnosed  as a separated shoulder on March 7th. That makes Medica a unique prospect to evaluate – what do we make of a solid mid-round catcher considered by many to have untapped potential with the bat (good!) who is on the mend rehabbing a pretty serious injury (bad!)?

He doesn’t necessarily have a standout tool (though his arm is darn good), but he also doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. I think I remember coming to the conclusion that catchers who are billed as solid players unspectacular in any one area tend to disappoint, yet I still can’t help but like Medica’s game. I need to fight that like and go with what my hastily thrown together research told me – Medica fits the profile of a player who faces a long climb towards attaining the ultimate goal of making himself a useful big leaguer.

He’s healthy this year and producing at about the level expected of his tools. The outfield experiment hasn’t gone quite as well as it has in the past, but the positional versatility still helps his stock. Teams that were in on him last year before the injury should probably be after him in the mid-rounds once again in 2010.

12. TCU SR C Bryan Holaday

Off the charts leadership, plus raw strength, excellent gap power, elite defender, and a plus arm. That description immediately makes me think of the guy ranked number four on this list. Quick conclusion: Bryan Holaday is about 90% of the player Micah Gibbs is with only about 9% of the hype. Of course, their respective placement on the list makes me guilty of overlooking Holaday as well. He’s a relatively safe investment in the mid-rounds for a team in need of a high floor backup with the upside of a solid second division starting player.

11. Coastal Carolina SR C Jose Iglesias

Iglesias started 2009 with as much helium as any college catcher in the country. I remembered talking to a scout really early in the season about Iglesias. He told me that from a body/tools/projection standpoint, Iglesias was as good a bet as any college catcher in the country, Tony Sanchez included. His junior season (.306/.381/.570) was a letdown for many, but only because of the tremendous expectations placed on his head during the winter. His numbers in 2010 are better across the board, and his skills, especially his batting eye and power potential, remain strong. As much as any catcher on the list so far, Iglesias has what it takes to be a big league starter behind the plate.

10. Tennessee JR C Blake Forsythe

As one of my favorite players in the country heading in the year, Forsythe, no doubt already feeling the heat as a key bat on a top SEC school expected to compete in 2010, had the added pressure of keeping this faceless internet stranger happy with a big season at and behind the plate. He’s responded with a season reminiscent of Jose Iglesias’s 2009 – good, but certainly not top five round worthy like many had hoped. Like Iglesias, it may be in his best interest to return for a senior season to rehabilitate his slipping draft stock. As it stands, his stock isn’t completely down the tubes; legit power potential and super plate discipline will get a guy chances, down year or not. I also think he’s a better athlete and runner than he often gets credit for, but those skills aren’t going to be what gets him paid. If he hits like expected, he’s a big leaguer.

9. Vanderbilt JR C Curt Casali

Casali has an almost perfect big league body, incredible athleticism for a catcher, and great physical strength. That’s all well and good (and I don’t say that derisively, it really is both well and good), but can he play baseball? Well, he’s an above-average defender who has caught a wide array of pitchers while at Vanderbilt, and his throwing arm has made a slow, but steady recovery from Tommy John surgery. His bat has some serious juice (near-plus power may be the tool that comes most naturally to him) and his patient approach makes him a legit candidate to play every day professionally.

8. Texas JR C Cameron Rupp

Now we’re finally getting to some college catching prospects with legit plus tools. In Rupp’s case, it’s plus raw power and a plus throwing arm. The raw power is hard to argue with, though there is some concern it’s more of a pure physical strength power rather than quick wrists and a classic swing kind of power. Rupp’s arm strength has been called above-average in some places, but, for me, his arm becomes a plus tool when you combine that above-average throwing power with his incredibly precise throwing accuracy. Arm and power, check. As for the other three tools, well, that’s more of a mixed bag. His running speed is well below-average and his long swing has enough holes against breaking pitches to keep him from ever having anything more than a league average bat. His defense, however, gives him a third above-average tool, especially his surprisingly nimble lateral movement behind the plate.

7. UNC Wilmington JR C Cody Stanley

Stanley gets the edge over Rupp due to better athleticism, but, really, the two are similar prospects in many respects. Both have plus power potential, both have plus throwing arms (Stanley’s isn’t as strong, but better footwork and a quicker release helps narrow the gap), and both profile as solid big league defenders behind the plate. Pretty similar, right? So what exactly gives Stanley the advantage as a prospect? Well, we’ve already covered Stanley’s superior athleticism, but the UNC Wilmington catcher also bests his Texas counterpart in baserunning (Stanley has great instincts and is an average runner for a catcher) and track record with a wood bat (Stanley killed it on the Cape this past summer). Stanley over Rupp by a hair; the proof is in the parentheses.

6. UC Riverside SO C Rob Brantly

Originally my favorite four-year college in the 2010 class, Brantly’s sophomore season hasn’t really done too much to hurt his stock, but has nonetheless seen his spot in the rankings slip as other college guys have simply done more. The one and only time (maye) I’ll lift something directly from the always wonderful Baseball America comes now:

[Redacted] has a strong, compact swing and the ability to make consistent, hard contact to all fields. He has a mature, patient offensive approach, excellent pitch recognition and advanced strike-zone awareness. He has above-average power to the pull side and also good power the other way.

That could very easily be written about Rob Brantly, but it was actually the most recent scouting report on Washington’s Derek Norris. The comparison isn’t perfect, but I think it works as a general outline – big bat, professional strike-zone awareness, solid defensive tools, but not yet a reliable backstop. Norris was a fourth round steal out of high school in 2007; Brantly could be the college equivalent, in round and value, here in 2010.

5. Villanova SO C Matt Szczur

I can’t really defend the last two biases on the list, but the first three are things that I know I’m not alone in looking out for. Szczur’s scouting credentials include the following: really impressive hit tool, good speed (not just good for a catcher, either), plus arm, plus athleticism, rapidly emerging power, championship pedigree, worthwhile positional versatility (3B and corner OF collegiate experience, above-average at all three spots), and, as a long-time two-sport star conditioned to split his training two ways since junior high, vast untapped potential on the diamond. I won’t profess to know Szczur’s ultimate upside as a ballplayer, but I have a hard time watching him play and seeing anything but a young man on the cusp of a long big league career. These rankings have been more or less surprise free to this point, but Szczur’s high placement is something I’m willing to roll the dice on.

4. Louisiana State JR C Micah Gibbs

Previously on Micah Gibbs

JR C Micah Gibbs (2010) is currently a potential late first round pick who, even with a subpar junior season, still ought to hear his name called in the first three rounds of the 2010 Draft. Offensively he is more solid than spectacular, though his plate discipline (career 69/76 BB/K ratio) is a skill worth getting somewhat excited about. Scouts have long pegged him as a player with big raw power, especially from the left side, but in two years at LSU he hasn’t been able to show off that batting practice thunder in game situations. Gibbs’ leadership is praised far and wide and his defense is beyond reproach, so expect Gibbs to get a ton of ink as one the chosen players MLB decides to “talk up” with positive press heading into the June draft.

Next week on Micah Gibbs

Unfunny joke aside, not much has really changed from Gibbs’ preseason outlook to now. Only the emergence of his in-game power qualifies, and even that’s a stretch when you consider said emergence was predicted by many heading into the year. Gibbs’ defensive skills make him a solid bet to reach the big leagues in some capacity. His power/speed combination makes him a pretty good bet to reach the big leagues ready to start and put up league average or better numbers for the position. In other words, Gibbs is a relatively safe player with a high floor worth betting on having some semblance of a successful big league career.

3. Minnesota JR C Mike Kvasnicka

I try my best to balance reading as much as possible about the draft as I can while also not allowing any one publication’s rankings influence my own. Kvasnicka at third overall on the list of top college catchers seemed so clever before checking one of the big boys’ lists (ESPN, I think) and seeing Kvasnicka up at the top as well. Oh well, clever doesn’t really suit me all that well anyway. Kvasnicka’s spot near the top is incredibly well deserved. Here’s what was said about him in the preseason:

JR OF/C Mike Kvasnicka (2010) possesses one of the longest swings of any major prospect in the 2010 draft. This is a good thing when he makes contact (I’ve heard both the thwack! of the bat in the Northwoods League and the ping! at Minnesota, both very impressive), but a very bad thing when up against pitchers with effective offspeed stuff. Kvasnicka has struck out 103 times in 438 college at bats. Any regular reader knows that I’m firmly entrenched in the strikeouts are no worse than any other kind of out camp, but that only really applies to big leaguers. There is something to be said for high-K rates being an indicator of poor contact abilities for minor leaguers and amateurs.  If I was told I’d be drafting the current iteration of Kvasnicka, then I’m not sure I’d be too happy selecting a hitter who I won’t think will make enough contact to be a regular. Luckily, nobody is drafting the February version of any potential draft pick. Any team drafting Kvasnicka isn’t getting the Kvasnicka of February, 2010; they’ll get the player he will be someday down the line. Given the fact that Kvasnicka is a plus athlete with a well-rounded toolset (good speed, decent arm, plus raw power), there should be plenty of teams interested to see if he can figure it all out professionally, long swing and strikeouts be damned. His draft stock (already pretty solid – round 4-7 is my current guess) gets a bump if teams buy into his defensive abilities behind the plate.

To recap: February Kvasnicka, the free swinging outfielder with the long swing, was an intriguing draft prospect, but May Kvasnicka, the catcher with the revamped swing and more mature approach, is a potential big league star. Again, all the positives from the preseason remain; his speed, arm, and power will all work at the big league level. That’s the good news. The better news is the way Kvasnicka has worked to improve across the board this spring. The swing itself is so much better than the last time I saw it. Equally important, however, is the process that went into correcting his long, loopy swing in the first place. The realization of the existence of a correctable problem, implementation of a plan to fix said problem, and successful execution through hard work and practice is exactly what teams are looking for. Remember, most amateur players that are drafted high aren’t prospects that came out of nowhere; these guys have been on the radar for years. Teams spend a lot of time, money, and energy trying to figure out which players in the draft pool have what it takes to successfully adjust their game over time. Kvasnicka’s phenomenal transformation from intriguing draft prospect to potential big league star ought to give big league scouting staffs all over the country confidence that he is one of those players capable of constantly working to improve his game.

2. Miami JR C Yasmani Grandal

From my notes on Grandal: “big lefty power, but with from right side.” If anybody can explain what the heck I was trying to say there, I’d love to know. The part that’s easy to decipher is the “big lefty power” part; the data from College Splits via Jonathan Mayo backs that scouting idea up with empirical evidence: “The left-handed hitting backstop has feasted off of righties to the tune of .485/.592/.897. Southpaws have been a little more challenging: .328/.488/.508.” Can you use a semicolon and a colon in the same sentence? Darned if I know, but I just did. You know who might know? Yasmani Grandal. Why? Well, the guy is on such a roll in 2010 that there’s no reason to put anything past him at this point. Plus lefty power, hit tool with league average potential, above-average throwing arm, and defense that won’t hurt you (the accomplished salsa dancer has shown off some really fancy footwork behind the dish this year) combine to give you a prospect with four potential big league average minimum tools. Sure, there are some things that need to be cleaned up (swing can get long, inconsistent release point on throws to second, etc.) once he gets going in pro ball, but Grandal very clearly has what it takes to be an above-average big league starting catcher from a tools/production standpoint.

1. Community College of Southern Nevada FR C Bryce Harper

.417/.509/.917. With wood. At 17 years old. Even BB/K ratio. 42 extra base hits. No discernable platoon split. I’m only now starting to come around to the idea that moving him off of catcher may give him the best chance to unlock all of the professional potential he has with the bat, but, man, I really do love his defensive tools behind the plate. That’s honestly my biggest question with him right now – will he wind up a great hitting catcher or a really great hitting right fielder? With that as the biggest question about his future, there’s no wonder he’s atop this particular list. Bryce Harper is good.

2010 MLB Draft: Top 30 College Catching Prospects (15-9)

(Sorry to keep stretching out the Top 30 College Catching Prospects bit, but I spent far too much time working on site maintenance — re-tagged and recategorized every post ever — and long-range draft projects that should hopefully pay off big in the coming weeks. Stay tuned…)

15. North Carolina State JR C Chris Schaeffer

Good defensively? Check. Above-average power production? Check. Mature approach at the plate? Check. There really aren’t a lot of obvious chinks in Schaeffer’s prospect armor, especially when stacked up against his draft-eligible college catching competition. Biggest knock on Schaeffer that I’ve heard revolves around his swing. His experience with wood in the past hasn’t inspired a great deal of confidence that his power is more than an aluminum bat mirage. Even if we adjust for a loss of power, Schaeffer’s other aforementioned skills make him an attractive mid-round candidate as a developmental backup catcher type.

14. North Carolina JR C Jesse Wierzbicki

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

13. Santa Clara SR C Tommy Medica

Medica was profiled last year:

Tommy Medica brings tons of experience with 92 starts behind plate in his first two years at Santa Clara. He offers up good size (6-1 215), gap power, a very fine throwing arm, above-average athleticism (he’s played a decent LF in the past), and a classic sounding baseball player name, but he hasn’t seen live action since leaving a game with what has been since diagnosed  as a separated shoulder on March 7th. That makes Medica a unique prospect to evaluate – what do we make of a solid mid-round catcher considered by many to have untapped potential with the bat (good!) who is on the mend rehabbing a pretty serious injury (bad!)?

He doesn’t necessarily have a standout tool (though his arm is darn good), but he also doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. I think I remember coming to the conclusion that catchers who are billed as solid players unspectacular in any one area tend to disappoint, yet I still can’t help but like Medica’s game. I need to fight that like and go with what my hastily thrown together research told me – Medica fits the profile of a player who faces a long climb towards attaining the ultimate goal of making himself a useful big leaguer.

He’s healthy this year and producing at about the level expected of his tools. The outfield experiment hasn’t gone quite as well as it has in the past, but the positional versatility still helps his stock. Teams that were in on him last year before the injury should probably be after him in the mid-rounds once again in 2010.

12. TCU SR C Bryan Holaday

Off the charts leadership, plus raw strength, excellent gap power, elite defender, and a plus arm. That description immediately makes me think of the guy ranked number four on this list. Quick conclusion: Bryan Holaday is about 90% of the player Micah Gibbs is with only about 9% of the hype. Of course, their respective placement on the list makes me guilty of overlooking Holaday as well. He’s a relatively safe investment in the mid-rounds for a team in need of a high floor backup with the upside of a solid second division starting player.

11. Coastal Carolina SR C Jose Iglesias

Iglesias started 2009 with as much helium as any college catcher in the country. I remembered talking to a scout really early in the season about Iglesias. He told me that from a body/tools/projection standpoint, Iglesias was as good a bet as any college catcher in the country, Tony Sanchez included. His junior season (.306/.381/.570) was a letdown for many, but only because of the tremendous expectations placed on his head during the winter. His numbers in 2010 are better across the board, and his skills, especially his batting eye and power potential, remain strong. As much as any catcher on the list so far, Iglesias has what it takes to be a big league starter behind the plate.

10. Tennessee JR C Blake Forsythe

As one of my favorite players in the country heading in the year, Forsythe, no doubt already feeling the heat as a key bat on a top SEC school expected to compete in 2010, had the added pressure of keeping this faceless internet stranger happy with a big season at and behind the plate. He’s responded with a season reminiscent of Jose Iglesias’s 2009 – good, but certainly not top five round worthy like many had hoped. Like Iglesias, it may be in his best interest to return for a senior season to rehabilitate his slipping draft stock. As it stands, his stock isn’t completely down the tubes; legit power potential and super plate discipline will get a guy chances, down year or not. I also think he’s a better athlete and runner than he often gets credit for, but those skills aren’t going to be what gets him paid. If he hits like expected, he’s a big leaguer.

9. Vanderbilt JR C Curt Casali

Casali has an almost perfect big league body, incredible athleticism for a catcher, and great physical strength. That’s all well and good (and I don’t say that derisively, it really is both well and good), but can he play baseball? Well, he’s an above-average defender who has caught a wide array of pitchers while at Vanderbilt, and his throwing arm has made a slow, but steady recovery from Tommy John surgery. His bat has some serious juice (near-plus power may be the tool that comes most naturally to him) and his patient approach makes him a legit candidate to play every day professionally.