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As of this writing, RHP Griffin Roberts has a K/9 of 12.70. That’s slightly down from his 2017 peak (13.51), but still an elite mark for a starting pitcher. Also down from 2017 is his walk rate per nine: his 2017 (5.40) number has dipped to a far more palatable 3.38 here in 2018. That’s really good news. Most encouragingly, however, is the number seven. That’s exactly how many innings Roberts has averaged per start so far in 2018. He’s currently sitting at 56 innings in 8 starts. For a converted reliever trying to convince the baseball world he has the stuff and stamina to make it in a professional rotation, it’s hard to overstate how huge that seven really is.
Pitching deep into games is one thing; maintaining premium stuff, missing bats, and keeping runs off the board while doing so is an entirely different beast. So far in 2018, Roberts has done all that and more. The highly athletic 6-3, 210 pound righthander will enter the draft as one of this year’s surest things. His floor — late-inning relief weapon capable of going multiple frames as needed — is clearly evident with every low- to mid-80s breaking ball (more slider than curve) that darts by the opposition. That one pitch alone will lead to tons of success as a pro for Roberts. My mind goes right to a spectrum of bullpen outcomes that includes successful relievers like David Robertson, Greg Holland, AJ Ramos, Drew Storen, and Shawn Kelley. When paired with a sinking fastball at 88-94 MPH (96 peak), Robert’s one-two pitch combination goes to another level. Between those pitches, the aforementioned plus athleticism, and college track record of swings and misses, I could easily see Roberts continuing to start in pro ball. Predicting any young pitcher can remain in a rotation with only two pitches is admittedly a little out there — among qualified 2017 pitchers, only Chris Archer, Patrick Corbin, and Luis Perdomo threw a third pitch less than 10% of the time — but I think the way pitcher usage is evolving (namely how starters aren’t expected to go as deep) could allow Roberts to get away with it. He does have a third pitch — an 81-85 MPH changeup — that he has shown enough command of to think more work will get it to at least serviceable with daily pro instruction/repetition (this is where I should point out I’m bullish on the pitch developing into even more of that based on what I’ve personally seen, what I’ve heard, and what I’ll project thanks to Roberts’s elite athleticism and reported work ethic), so it isn’t as if there isn’t a building block for Roberts to begin.
If it all comes together for Roberts in pro ball as a starter, the name I keep coming back to as a potential comp, both as a draft day standard (42nd overall pick in 2009) and potential pro production arc (minus the injuries, hopefully) is Garrett Richards. Interestingly enough, Richards has been cited as a comp four times on the site over the past decade. Ashe Russell (Dayton Moore), Kyle Serrano (BA), Kyle Funkhouser (me), and Jonathan Gray (consensus) were all compared to Richards at one point or another. Toss out Serrano (injuries) as an outlier and you’ve got the 21st, 115th, and 3rd overall picks respectively. That comes out to around a 46th overall pick average, not too far off from where Richards once went. All of this is to say that I really, really like Roberts (hence the Richards starter comp, plus all those fun reliever comps) and think that if my totally non-scientific guess is anywhere close to accurate, Richards will wind up great value if picked anywhere from around pick forty on.
Quick quiz: RHP Rayne Supple has a) electric stuff, b) little to know idea where the ball is going once it leaves his hand, c) one of this year’s best names, or d) all of the above. His control has gotten better (14.09 BB/9 coming into the year) in 2018 (5.25 BB/9) to the point where we can now call it “effectively wild,” so that’s a big win for Supple’s draft stock. His brand of fastball velocity (88-94, 95 peak) and breaking ball quality (77-78 hybrid, flashes plus) is what teams look for in relief prospects. If pro ball doesn’t work out, there’s always the Novel Sport Mouthguard Device. According to the outstanding Wake Forest team site, Supple holds a United States design patent for that very product. Pretty cool.
LHP Tyler Witt has my full attention as another (we’ll get to some more later) Wake Forest pitching prospect who breaks the mold a bit. Typically when we think sinker/slider relief prospects, we think righthanded pitchers on the shorter end of the spectrum. Witt happens to be a 6-5, 215 pound lefthander. Count me as a big fan…or at least as big a fan as any one draft prospect writer can be of a middle reliever on a below .500 college team can be. For the record, it’s bigger than you’d think.
I hate the expression “it is what it is,” but damn if it doesn’t fit sometimes. Having seen him a bunch at Germantown Academy and one time in each two of the last three seasons at Wake Forest, I feel pretty confident in saying 3B/SS John Aiello is what he is. Aiello has above-average to plus power. Aiello has above-average to plus arm strength when healthy. Aiello has more feel for hitting than often given credit and is a good enough athlete to play above-average defense at the hot corner while being able to fake it at shortstop as needed. Those are all really great qualities to see in a young position player prospect. Aiello’s potential fatal flaw has always been his plate discipline. For all the natural hitting ability, Aiello strikes out a ton. Always has. His first two years at Wake Forest led to this: 29.7 K% and 8.8 BB%. The question scouts will have to answer is whether or not he always will. His early 2018 smaller sample numbers are encouraging: 23.0 K% and 11.2 BB%. His career to date totals look like this…
.287/.381/.527 – 28.1 K% and 9.4 BB%
.282/.374/.468 – 26.7 K% and 11.9 BB%
That’s Aiello on top. The numbers on the bottom belong to 2011 fourth round pick Bobby Dalbec. The two aren’t quite twins, but there are enough similarities in both the numbers and their scouting profiles to make you go “hmm.” I’d give Aiello the edge as a hitter and defender while Dalbec bests him in the power department and as a thrower. Dalbec holds small advantages in both K% and BB% cited above, though it’s worth repeating that Aiello is at least trending the right direction there. I wound up ranking Dalbec about one hundred spots lower (213) than Boston ultimately selected him (118), a decision I obviously stand by. That feels like a similar area where I’m likely to rank Aiello in this class, and I think around round seven or so is when his upside begins to start making sense on the risk/reward matrix every pick is run through. In much the same way I would have stayed away from Dalbec until a few rounds after he was actually selected, Aiello’s swing-and-miss would scare me from popping him too early. At some point, however, Aiello’s makeup, athleticism, and power would all be too much to ignore, strikeouts be damned.
SS/2B Bruce Steel, OF/1B Keegan Maronpot, and RHP Chris Farish are all still suspended indefinitely for violating athletics department rules. Without any more information than that, it’s very difficult to ascertain the extent of damage done to each player’s respective prospect stock. If it’s a dumb NCAA thing, then I’d venture most teams won’t care but for the loss of developmental time and scouting opportunities. If it’s something deeper, all bets are off. As is, I think Maronpot stands to lose the most. The senior .202/.293/.386 career hitter (33.3 K% and 10.3 BB%) was probably not going to get drafted anyway, but now whatever little shot you’d have given him before the year — disappointing numbers aside, Maronpot had a tiny shot as a good athlete with a pro build who can play all four of the corner spots — seems gone. That’s rough, but that’s the way life goes.
Pro ball will likely be inclined to be more forgiving to better prospects Steel and Farish. I’ve liked Steel for a while as a legitimate shortstop with above-average pop, speed, and arm strength. If the approach comes around, I think he can be a potential regular in the big leagues one day. If not, then his defensive versatility makes him a nice bet to get plenty of chances to make it as a utility infielder along the way. Farish has the size (6-4, 220), velocity (88-94, 96 peak), and breaking ball (an average or better 78-82 CB that morphed into a more dangerous mid-80s SL in 2017) to fit in a big league bullpen one day. A 12.98 career K/9 certainly doesn’t hurt the cause. Best not to mention his career 9.47 BB/9, though, since we’re already mentioning it, it’s worth pointing out he did at least drop it down to 4.43 in his 18.1 innings last season. Baby steps.
Circling back to the question about who gets hurt the most by these suspensions, I’ll stick with Maronpot as the answer because going from maybe drafted to definitely not drafted has to sting in a special kind of way. However, thinking this over a bit has me believing that all three guys are really going to get hurt by this. Steel and Farish are both talented prospects who had a ton to prove this spring. Being unable to do so on the field is a killer for their long-term chances at pro success. I would have boldly guessed that Steel could have played his way into the top five rounds as one of the country’s best shortstop prospects and Farish would have been a stone cold mortal lock to be a true senior-sign that saves a team money in the top ten rounds while also being a damn good prospect in his own right. With both being out of sight and out of mind this spring, I honestly have no idea how pro teams will consider them come June.
2B Jake Mueller is a good athlete who can both defend and hit. If a team talks themselves into his potential on the left side of the infield as well, then he has a shot to get drafted higher than most think as a potential backup infielder. Even if that’s not the case — I’ve heard his arm would be too far stretched at short and third — he’s still a damn intriguing second base prospect. That may be an oxymoron to some, but not for me. C Logan Harvey is a good enough defender to work himself into the 2019 senior-sign mix.
SS/OF Patrick Frick is very high on my list of players I know little about but want to learn everything about this upcoming summer. OF/SS DJ Poteet and OF Chris Lanzilli seem like interesting follows for 2020. Same goes for 1B Bobby Seymour. LHP Carter Bach is a really weird prospect in that he’s a lefty who relies more on good offspeed stuff than premium fastball velocity (88-92) yet is still ridiculously wild. Like, if RHP Colin Peluse was that wild then it would make a little more sense. Big righthanders with big fastballs (Peluse is up to 95) fit that high velocity/high walk rate pitching prospect archetype more easily in my brain, but it’s very much not the case here. RHP Morgan McSweeney gets us closer to said archetype, but is too good to get stuck with that tag. Any narrative you want to attach to it, the Demon Deacons have a nice foursome (the aforementioned three plus RHP Rhyse Dee) of sophomore arms to build on.
JR RHP Griffin Roberts (2018)
rSR RHP Chris Farish (2018)
JR RHP Rayne Supple (2018)
JR LHP Tyler Witt (2018)
JR 3B/SS John Aiello (2018)
rJR SS/2B Bruce Steel (2018)
JR 2B Jake Mueller (2018)
JR C Logan Harvey (2018)
SR OF/1B Keegan Maronpot (2018)
SO LHP Carter Bach (2019)
SO RHP Colin Peluse (2019)
SO RHP Morgan McSweeney (2019)
SO RHP Rhyse Dee (2019)
SO OF Nick DiPonzio (2019)
SO SS/OF Patrick Frick (2019)
SO SS/3B Chase Mascolo (2019)
SO OF Christian Long (2019)
FR RHP/1B Cole McNamee (2020)
FR LHP/OF Jared Shuster (2020)
FR C/RHP Shane Muntz (2020)
FR OF/LHP Michael Ludowig (2020)
FR OF/SS DJ Poteet (2020)
FR OF Chris Lanzilli (2020)
FR 1B Bobby Seymour (2020)
I’ve stalled on this piece for two reasons. The most honest reason is that it’s because I don’t feel like I have much to say about this year’s high school third base class that you can’t find elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t have any original insight – I saw three of the names below multiple times this spring, including one guy who played home games five minutes from the house I grew up in – but it’s more that the top few names on any ranking of this position are all so closely bunched that I don’t know how to cleverly come up with ways to separate them. That blends into the second reason for the delay. I’ve played a long waiting game over the past few weeks trying to hear from somebody – anybody – who could help shed a little light on the cloudy high school third base picture. Maybe an original take, maybe a comp or two, maybe something that differentiated what I could run from anything else you might read. No such luck. Everybody I’ve talked to has their own top guy in this class. No less than a half-dozen players were mentioned to me as the best high school third base prospect this year; interestingly enough, almost every time that a player was mentioned as a favorite it was quickly followed with a “but I still wouldn’t take him until late in the first, if that” sentiment. All in all, appealing depth with minimal consensus star talent sounds like a pretty fair descriptor of a group of players I once called “rough,” an adjective that qualifies as just about as mean as I’ll publicly get when discussing teenage athletes. Nobody has truly emerged since last summer, but nobody has drastically fallen off, either.
Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia) heads the class as a potential plus hitter with above-average power upside. He’s at or around average elsewhere (speed, glove, arm), so it’ll be the continued development of the bat that will define him. I threw out a weird and wild Gregg Jefferies comp on him last time his name came up. Recently I heard from somebody who said that there were aspects of his game (namely his stick) that reminded him of the high school version of Anthony Rendon. Both of those comparisons are bold and exciting, but I keep coming back to a lefthanded version of Edgardo Alfonzo. The issue with that comp is the difference in approach between the two hitters. I couldn’t unearth an old Alfonzo scouting report to make a direct comparison, but it stands to reason that his career BB/K ratio of 596/617 hardly came as a surprise after posting more walks than strikeouts as a quick-moving minor league talent. Even without the benefit of those old reports, it’s clear that Alfonzo was a preternaturally mature hitter from the day the ink dried on his first pro contract. Excellent plate discipline numbers like that are impossible to project on any high school prospect, but I’d be especially wary of expecting anything close to Randolph, a player who will have to answer many of the same questions of approach that I brought up in the recent Brendan Rodgers deep dive. Present concerns aside, I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that Randolph can be an impact big league hitter with average or better plate discipline in time.
Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas) is in many ways a similar offensive player to Randolph right down to the shared concerns about his approach translating to pro ball. I’ve heard more positive things concerning Hayes’s approach – you’d think the bloodlines wouldn’t hurt in this area, though there’s hardly a direct correlation – and I prefer his defensive upside to Randolph’s, though I still give Cornelius the overall edge because of a stronger belief in the bat. Hayes was one of the guys I was hunting for a good comp for, but couldn’t think of anything worth making public. I suppose that makes him a fairly unique player, if you want to look at it that way.
I said earlier that nobody had emerged, but Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California) qualifies as the closest thing to a breakout player in this group. Of course, that’s cheating because he hasn’t really broken out in terms of showing anything in the way of new and improved talent (that’s not a knock as he was damn good to begin with and has reinforced that belief with a good spring), but rather by getting and staying healthy this spring. I’m a huge fan of his game based on what I’ve seen and heard, and wouldn’t discount the idea that he’ll wind up the best overall player to come out of his position group. Everybody was waiting on to see and hear how his arm would bounce back after Tommy John surgery, but the current word is so far so good. That’s great news for a guy already with elite defensive tools and plenty of upside with the bat. Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee) is probably the better example of a player breaking out on merit in this group. He checks just about every box for me when looking at a high school prospect: chance to hit, average or better raw power, athleticism, knowledge of the strike zone, cool name, etc.
I said earlier that nobody had drastically fallen off, but John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania) qualifies as the closest to a player who might have slipped enough to be thinking more about college (Wake Forest) than professional baseball. Without going into too much detail – as I’ve mentioned before, I have to be a bit coy about the eastern PA, south Jersey, and Delaware prospects I’ve seen a bunch firsthand due to some part-time consulting work – the 2015 season has been a series of struggles for Aiello, who has been slow to get his timing back at the plate after Tommy John surgery last fall. It hasn’t helped matters that he’s one of the lone offensive bright spots on an otherwise disappointing high school team (7-15 regular season record). I saw a lot of Aiello this spring and only witnessed one extra base hit (a double) in well over thirty plate appearances.
On a happier note, competition and timing issues aside, Aiello still looked like the potential future quality pro that everybody took note of over the summer. He’s got a big league frame that balances current mature strength with enough lankiness (for lack of a better word) that you can still project future physical gains, surprising athleticism and speed (he improved in both areas since the summer, especially the latter), and an approach tailor-made for pro ball that stayed consistent (more total walks than strikeouts in the games I saw) despite teams pitching him very carefully all spring. Defensively, without seeing him play the field since last summer, it’s hard to apply some of the aforementioned athletic gains to his long-term positional prognostication. Like many, I’m inclined to believe he’s still a long-term pro third baseman, but I now can at least see a path where he sticks up the middle either initially at Wake or in pro ball, depending on which way he is leaning. To that point, without getting myself into trouble, I’ve heard some chatter that Aiello is destined for college almost no matter what goes down on draft day. When a high school prospect as prominent as Aiello attracts so little attention from the scouting community in his spring season it’s typically a sign that he’s made it fairly clear college is happening. There is the unusual wrinkle of Aiello being banged up and unable to play the field that could be keeping scouting heat away, but I think the combined number of pro guys I saw at his games this spring was less than what I saw at a single Penn-Princeton game. Maybe that doesn’t mean what I think it means, but time will tell.
We’ve hit Randolph, Hayes, Nevin, and Cabbage already, so it would be silly to touch on four of the top five and leave Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania) hanging. Blankenhorn played home games about ninety minutes from where I grew up, so I saw him a fair amount this spring. Again, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I really, really like Blankenhorn’s game. It’s a bit of a lame hedge to rank a guy fourth on a given list and then call him a FAVORITE prospect (for what it’s worth, Nevin was the only other HS third basemen to get the all-caps FAVORITE treatment in my notes), but here we are. Blankenhorn is a favorite because of his athleticism, approach, and phenomenal feel for hitting. Perfect Game recently threw out a fascinating Alex Gordon ceiling comp. I’ll throw out the name he reminded me of: lefty Jeff Cirillo. If it all comes together I can see a high average, high on-base hitter who will wear out the gaps at the plate and play above-average to plus defense in the field.
3B/OF Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
3B Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California)
3B/2B Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee)
3B Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty HS, Florida)
3B/OF Bryce Denton (Ravenwood HS, Tennessee)
3B/SS John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania)
3B Ryan Karstetter (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B/SS Matt Kroon (Horizon HS, Arizona)
3B Cody Brickhouse (Sarasota HS, Florida)
3B John Cresto (Cathedral Catholic HS, California)
3B/C Willie Burger (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B Alec Bohm (Roncalli Catholic HS, Nebraska)
3B Zack Kone (Pine Crest HS, Florida)
3B Brendon Davis (Lakewood HS, California)
3B/RHP Julian Infante (Westminster Prep, Florida)
3B/RHP Parker Kelly (Westview HS, Oregon)
3B Brenton Burgess (Chamblee Charter HS, Georgia)
3B Ben Ellis (Briarcrest Christian HS, Tennessee)
3B LJ Talley (Charlton County HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Tyler Wyatt (Liberty HS, Arizona)
3B Jake Franklin (Jefferson HS, Georgia)
3B David Chabut (Loganville HS, Georgia)
3B/SS Lucas Larson (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
3B/RHP Ty Buck (Red Wing HS, Minnesota)
3B Ross Dodds (Buchanan HS, California)
3B Jack Mattson (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
3B/SS Austin Pharr (Cherokee HS, Georgia)
3B Zack Quintal (Marshwood HS, Maine)
3B Jared Mang (Los Alamos HS, New Mexico)
3B/1B Greyson Jenista (De Soto HS, Kansas)
3B/RHP Ryan Mantle (Linn HS, Missouri)
3B/1B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
3B/RHP Blake Burton (Mater Dei HS, California)
3B/RHP Grant Sloan (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
3B/SS Jack Johnson (Roosevelt HS, Washington)
3B Graham Mitchell (Eastside HS, South Carolina)
3B Jacob Williams (Heritage Christian Academy, California)
3B Jared Melone (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)