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Brendan McKay, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Drew Ellis are the four clear top tier ACC hitting prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft. I’m not sure anybody would quibble with the first three — though you’re free to do so, of course — so that leaves Ellis as the only somewhat controversial pick. I’d like to think my love for him is pretty well established by now, so I won’t go into too much detail why I think the present .405/.500/.759 hitter with plus raw power and more walks than strikeouts deserves serious first round consideration. Some clarity on his long-term defensive home would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily needed with how he’s hitting. As a third baseman, he’s a potential star. Same for a corner outfield spot. At first base, the bar is raised high enough that you’d have to knock him down the board just a bit, but not all that far considering the confidence I have in him continuing to hit past the necessary threshold to start in the big leagues there. There’s more to player evaluation than college production (duh), but worth pointing out that Ellis and McKay, more likely to go out as a hitter with every passing four homer day, have very similar 2017 numbers. If the latter is a slam dunk starter at first at the next level, then why couldn’t Ellis do the same if that’s what it comes down to?
Beyond that foursome, things are wide open. I’d be willing to hear arguments on any of the following seven players being tier one prospects: Taylor Walls, Brian Miller, Colby Fitch, Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Logan Warmoth, and Devin Hairston. That’s six up-the-middle prospects plus the seemingly unstoppable bat of Sheets. The next tier down includes too many players to even bother listing at this point. I mean, I’ll do it anyway because writing more than necessary is true to my #brand, but it’s almost too many names to derive much meaning beyond “damn, the ACC is stacked this year.” There are consensus favorites with impressive tools who have underwhelmed (note: we’re only using “underwhelmed” in the context of incredibly high expectations of on-field numbers; none of these guys are having bad years by any stretch, it’s just that they are showing one or more flaws that would need to be addressed by any interested front office) from a performance standpoint to date (Evan Mendoza, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester, Kyle Datres, Joe Dunand) as well as personal favorites like Rhett Aplin, Wade Bailey, Reed Rohlman, Trevor Craport, Cody Roberts, Ben Breazeale, Robbie Coman (who, incidentally, I’ll be very glad once he’s drafted and gone from my life since my fingers want to spell his last name “Comand” every single time), Ernie Clement, Tyler Lynn, Bruce Stell, and Charlie Cody…damn, the ACC really is stacked this year.
Here are some All-Draft Prospect Teams that I whipped up while my computer was dead last week. I’m going to try to do these for as many conferences as I can squeeze in. The depth of the ACC let me go three teams deep. Here’s the first team…
C – Colby Fitch
1B – Pavin Smith
2B – Taylor Walls
SS – Logan Warmoth
3B – Drew Ellis
OF – Adam Haseley, Brian Miller, Stuart Fairchild
I think every one of these guys has been covered by now with the exception of Stuart Fairchild. The Wake Forest center fielder has one of this year’s most well-rounded skill sets. Averages dot his card with above-averages within range (perhaps a plus for speed) depending on how much you like him. Fairchild is also one of this class’s “great approach, hasn’t really shown it” types. Everybody who has seen him has raved to me about his pitch recognition, ability to spoil good pitchers’s pitches, and general knowledge of the strike zone, but his BB/K ratios have been up (39/42 last year) and down (18/40 as a freshman, 22/37 so far this year) throughout his college career. Count me in as a believer that the results will catch up to his talent in pro ball. Fairchild has the ceiling of a first-division regular in center with a mature enough present skill set that seems too strong across the board to result in a complete flame out. In English, I like both his ceiling and floor quite a bit.
What you think about Taylor Walls‘s defense should dictate how high you’re willing to run him up your board. Indecisive internet draft writer that I am, I vacillate between shortstop and second base on him far more often than I’d like to admit. Case in point: when I wrote this last night, I decided on second base for him. The logic there was simple: his arm may be a bit light for short and erring on the side of caution in cases like these (i.e, if there’s debate on whether or not an amateur guy will stick at a position, chances are he won’t) often proves the smartest strategy in the long run. On the other hand, his range is great, he’s an above-average runner (a solid proxy for athleticism), and some of the mixed opinions on his arm have it closer to playing plus than anything. So…I don’t know. I’m leaning shortstop today after having him as a second baseman yesterday. Ask me again tomorrow and I might make him a free safety. Wherever he plays, he’s a keeper. Maybe you don’t see a regular when looking at him (or maybe you do), but it’s hard not to see a big league player in some capacity.
I’m still not convinced Adam Haseley isn’t a top ten player in this class. Maybe I’m nuts. I can live with that. I also don’t see why the aforementioned Drew Ellis can’t crack the top thirty. These are really good players. The feeling I get about Ellis reminds me a little bit how I felt about Edwin Rios, sixth round steal by the Dodgers in 2015. I loved Rios then (ranked 119, drafted 192) and I love Ellis even more now. The second he inevitably falls out of the first round, he’ll then become one of this draft’s best value picks.
C – Cody Roberts
1B – Brendan McKay
2B – Wade Bailey
SS – Devin Hairston
3B – Charlie Cody
OF – Tyler Lynn, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester
Happy to keep banging the drum for Charlie Cody from now until draft day. He can hit. Putting him back at his high school position of third base in the pros takes a significant leap of faith after he’s spent the past three years splitting time between DH and LF, but I’m enough of a believer in his bat that moving him to an outfield corner wouldn’t torpedo his value altogether. I like Wade Bailey a lot as well; his stock should keep rising considering the general dearth of quality middle infielders in this college class.
I’ve mentally gone back and forth between Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay a dozen times this spring with the expectation I do it another half-dozen times between now and the draft. I’m not really sure you can go wrong with either at this point. Smith feels like the better all-around hitter (by a razor thin margin), but McKay has more present functional power. Add in McKay’s ability as a pitcher and it’s hard to argue he’s the better (and safer) overall prospect. I still like Smith a bit more as a position player, so that’s what gives him the nod over McKay for this particular exercise.
Logan Taylor and Carl Chester are cut from the same cloth. We’re talking speed, defense, and minimal pop. It’s a prospect profile I’ve never been able to quit even as I see players like this get exposed in pro ball year after year. The floor makes it worth it at a certain point in the draft, but I need to stop overrating these types. Will I? Stay tuned!
C – Robbie Coman
1B – Gavin Sheets
2B – Ernie Clement
SS – Bruce Steel
3B – Joe Dunand
OF – Rhett Aplin, Reed Rohlman, Jonathan Pryor
I wrote about Wake Forest in an as yet unpublished piece that will likely never see the light of day. It was half-finished, so I didn’t get to all of the big names on this year’s Demon Deacons team…but I did get to Bruce Steel. Here’s what I wrote about him about three weeks ago…
Bruce Steel makes my head hurt as a low-average, high-OBP, shockingly high-power potential middle infielder. His limited experience as a redshirt-sophomore after tearing ligaments in his thumb in 2016 just makes it all the more confusing. I’m super intrigued by Steel and think he’s getting slept on pretty heavily within the industry. His power and makeup are both legit (first two things I hear about when asking about him), reports about his defense this year at shortstop have been far more good than bad, and he’s young for his class (turns 21 in December). Did I just talk myself into making him a rare in-season FAVORITE? You bet.
Also wrote this about Jonathan Pryor with an lead-in about Ben Breazeale, who was narrowly edged out for this third catcher spot by Robbie Coman…
Ben Breazeale’s hot start brings me great joy. I thought a big year was coming last season, but better late than never. He’s an outstanding senior-sign catcher with more than enough glove to stick behind the plate and enough offensive punch to profile as a big league backup. Jonathan Pryor could do similar things as an outfielder who can hang in center and provide a little something with the stick. It’s early yet, but his 15/20 BB/K ratio is cool to see from somebody who put up an impossibly ugly 5/40 ratio just two seasons ago.
Pryor’s BB/K is now at 23/32 for those of you scoring at home.
Then there’s Gavin Sheets. I have no idea what to do with Gavin Sheets. I think he hits enough to play regularly in the big leagues. As a first baseman, that means I think he’ll hit a whole heck of a lot. If he can do that, he’ll become only the third ever Gavin (Floyd and Cecchini beat him) to play in the majors. I’m leaning towards Sheets as the fifth best draft-eligible bat in the conference and think he’ll represent great value to teams if he winds up sliding on draft day as expected. I know teams pay a premium for up-the-middle talent, but sometimes the allure of a big bat is just too strong to ignore.
Others receiving consideration…
C – Ben Breazeale, Chris Williams, Ryan Lidge
1B – Sam Fragale, Quincy Nieporte, Justin Bellinger, Kel Johnson
2B – Jack Owens, Jake Palomaki, Johnny Ruiz, Kyle Fiala
SS – Justin Novak, Liam Sabino
3B – Trevor Craport, Ryan Tufts, Jack Labosky, Evan Mendoza, Kyle Datres, Dylan Busby, Zack Gahagan
OF – Jacob Wright, Chase Pinder, Coleman Poje, Ryan Peurifoy, Hunter Tackett, Adam Pate, Josh McLain, Brock Deatherage, Mac Caples, Rahiem Cooper
I have notes on twelve different draft-eligible North Carolina state pitching prospects. Let’s put them into groups for easier readability…
Naughton has late-inning reliever stuff (94-97 FB, mid-80s SL that flashes plus), but needs innings. Keglovits is a fifth-year senior who feels like a tenth-year senior. He could be a sinker/slider/splitter type if he could ever stay healthy. That’s exactly what Clenney is (minus the splitter)…or that’s what we assume he’d be if he was currently pitching.
The five names above are the wild bunch so far in 2017. Beckman has the three pitches needed to be a quality college starter or multi-inning fireman, but control has been his bugaboo. Brown, a pitcher with plus command once compared by D1 as a “lefty Preston Morrison,” being included here is odd, but a 5.96 BB/9 is a 5.96 BB/9. I still like Brown a lot as another of this class’s many crafty lefties — he’s got the command, mid-80s heat, and above-average to plus mid-70s changeup to qualify — so I’ll be watching closely to see if he can turn around his small sample size mojo. Wilder has great stuff, but a lack of control is unfortunately nothing new for him. Brabrand has the fastball (88-93) and slider (average or better at 82-84) to be a mid-round relief prospect if he throw more strikes. DeJuneas reminds me a little bit of the pitching version of some of the Wolfpack’s toolsy yet frustrating hitting prospects. He’s slowed down his stuff to improve his command/control, but I’d rather him let it fly in the mid- to upper-90s like the good old days and let the chips fall where they may.
Hey, these guys have all been pretty good so far this year! Sean Adler is yet another crafty lefty (upper-80s fastball, three usable offspeed pitches, hides the ball well) with the added twist of being effectively wild over his career. Like DeJuneas, O’Donnell’s fastball has lost a little heat over the years. He’s more upper-80s now, but he’s retained his quality breaking ball and decent command. I could see him being a high priority senior-sign for some teams, but there are other money-savers out there I prefer. One such guy would be Johnny Piedmonte, the 6-8, 240 pounder with a shot at middle relief at the next level. Austin Staley’s stuff is standard enough (88-91 FB, good 78 breaker) that he may get lost in the shuffle, but he’s been pretty consistently above-average since first getting regular work last season. I like him.
Only two members of the Wolfpack’s lineup (as of this writing) have more walks than strikeouts. Those two players are both slugging under .300. Taken together, that goes down as a bit of an auspicious start to the 2017 season for North Carolina’s big-name hitting prospects. I really liked Evan Mendoza coming into the year as a legit third base prospect with the chance for an average hit tool and above-average raw power. I still like him, but he’s got some serious work to do to climb out of his early season hole. I’ve always been lukewarm on Joe Dunand, a tooled-up left side of the infield standout (shortstop for some, third base for me) with a prospect stock built more on projection than present ability. Dunand will flash big power, impressive defensive tools, and elite athleticism, but he still has a ways to go as a hitter. It’s a boom/bust profile that will either make a scouting director look like a genius or a dope.
Josh McLain operates a little bit like the an outfield version of Dunand. He can run and defend with the best of this class, but offensively has shown only flashes to this point. Same goes for Brock Deatherage. Opportunities are there for talented players like Shane Shepard (power bat at first), Stephen Pitarra (versatile glove, competent bat), and Andy Cosgrove (should be able to stick behind plate) to rise up within their respective position rankings if they can turn around their springs. That’s kind of the overall theme for the North Carolina State team at this point. There’s talent there and I could easily see some of these guys being better pros than college performers, but identifying who/when/why/how is a headache.
rJR LHP Cody Beckman (2017)
rSO RHP Tim Naughton (2017)
JR LHP Brian Brown (2017)
SR RHP Cory Wilder (2017)
rSR LHP Sean Adler (2017)
SR RHP Joe O’Donnell (2017)
rSR RHP Johnny Piedmonte (2017)
rSR RHP Karl Keglovits (2017)
JR RHP Evan Brabrand (2017)
JR RHP Nolan Clenney (2017)
rSO RHP Austin Staley (2017)
JR RHP/1B Tommy DeJuneas (2017)
JR 3B Evan Mendoza (2017)
JR 3B/SS Joe Dunand (2017)
JR OF Josh McLain (2017)
JR OF Brock Deatherage (2017)
JR 1B/OF Shane Shepard (2017)
JR 2B Stephen Pitarra (2017)
rJR OF Garrett Suggs (2017)
JR C Andy Cosgrove (2017)
FR RHP Dalton Feeney (2018)
SO RHP Christian Demby (2018)
SO OF Brett Kinneman (2018)
SO C Jack Conley (2018)
FR RHP Michael Bienlien (2019)
FR RHP Mathieu Gauthier (2019)
FR LHP James Ferguson (2019)
FR RHP James Vaughn (2019)
FR C Brad Debo (2019)
FR SS Will Wilson (2019)
FR OF EP Reese (2019)