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We’ve finally made it to the ACC, the last remaining division one baseball conference to get the draft “preview” treatment. Below you’ll find my “preseason” all-prospect teams for the conference as well as links (with brief commentary where applicable) to team previews for eleven of the fourteen teams in the ACC. I’d like to do quick write-ups for the three remaining teams (Louisville, North Carolina, Wake Forest) in the coming days (perhaps all at once in a post for tomorrow) because I’m a completist by nature.
Keep in mind that the preseason teams you see below were more or less decided on coming into the season. I made a few minor tweaks, especially on the pitching side (mostly the second team). The one glaring oddity on this list is John LaPrise hanging on to a first team spot despite missing almost the entire season so far, but there weren’t any alternatives that jumped off the page (senior sign Logan Ratledge makes the strongest case) so I let it stand. The outfield was an unexpected mess to figure out outside of the top four names. Talk about a top heavy position. I didn’t rank the pitchers yet within each team, so don’t take the Matuella, Kirby, and Funkhouser 1-2-3 as where I currently see them falling. I need to think on that a bit more.
North Carolina JR C Korey Dunbar
Boston College JR 1B Chris Shaw
Virginia JR 2B John LaPrise
Clemson JR SS Tyler Krieger
Miami JR 3B David Thompson
Florida State JR OF DJ Stewart
North Carolina JR OF Skye Bolt
Virginia JR OF Joe McCarthy
Duke JR RHP Michael Matuella
Virginia JR LHP Nathan Kirby
Louisville JR RHP Kyle Funkhouser
Miami rJR LHP Andrew Suarez
Clemson JR LHP Matthew Crownover
Miami SR C Garrett Kennedy
Florida State rSR 1B Chris Marconcini
North Carolina State SR 2B Logan Ratledge
Virginia SO SS Daniel Pinero
Miami JR 3B George Iskenderian
Clemson JR OF Steven Duggar
Georgia Tech rJR OF Dan Spingola
North Carolina State SR OF Jake Fincher
Clemson JR LHP Zack Erwin
Virginia JR RHP Josh Sborz
North Carolina SR RHP Benton Moss
Duke JR RHP/SS Kenny Koplove
North Carolina State rSO RHP Johnny Piedmonte
Includes comparing Chris Shaw to Ike Davis and Carlos Pena…
Does not include me comparing Matthew Crownover to Adam Morgan, so let me do that right here, right now. As somebody still holding out hope that Morgan can be a league average-ish big league starter, that’s a compliment.
Includes me comparing Michael Matuella tp Zack Wheeler and Kyle Gibson (and definitely NOT Roy Halladay…)
Includes comparing DJ Stewart to Matt Stairs, Billy Butler, Jeremy Giambi, and Carlos Santana…
Really nice college team, but nobody that moves the needle much for me as a pro prospect at the moment…
Includes some thoughts on their top bat (with apologies to SR C Garrett Kennedy, a guy I considered a sleeper last year who disappointed but has come back with a vengeance as an unstoppable force in the Hurricanes lineup and is now one of this class’s finest potential senior signs) and their top arm, both of which I’ve excerpted below to save you the trouble of clicking through…
Through all the ups and downs physically, his [David Thompson] upside on the diamond remains fully intact from his HS days — I had him ranked as the 56th best overall prospect back then — and a big draft season is very much in play if he can stay healthy throughout the year. The bat will play at the next level (above-average raw power, plenty of bat speed, physically strong, plus athleticism, knows how to use the whole field), so the biggest unknown going into this season is where he’ll eventually call home on the defensive side. I’ve liked his chances to stick at third since his prep days; failing that, I’d prioritize a home in the outfield (he’s not known for his speed, but the athleticism and arm strength should make him at least average in a corner) over going to first, where, overall loss of defensive value aside, at least he’s shown significant upside. His strong showing at the end of the summer on the Cape is an encouraging way to get back into the grind of college ball, though he did appear to sacrifice some patience at the plate for power down the stretch. If he can find a way to marry his two existences — college (approach: 35 BB/45 K in his career) and Cape (power) — in this upcoming season (like in his healthy freshman season), Thompson should find himself off the board early this June.
JR LHP Andrew Suarez has the raw stuff to find himself selected once again in the top two rounds this June, but the peripherals leave something to be desired after two seasons (6.33 K/9 in 2013, 7.16 K/9 in 2014). Still, he’s a rapidly improving arm (especially his changeup) who throws a pair of quality breaking balls and can hit 94/95 from the left side. His control has also been really good and he’s been a workhorse for the Hurricanes after labrum surgery (believed to be as minor as a shoulder surgery can get, for what it’s worth) two years ago. He’s a reasonable ceiling (mid-rotation starting pitcher) prospect with a high floor (if healthy, he’s at least a quick-moving reliever). It’s a profile that’s really easy to like, but fairly difficult to love.
Includes an homage to Rick Pitino, which I stand by but admit could be a little harsh looking back on things. SR 2B/3B Logan Ratledge and rSO RHP Johnny Piedmonte aren’t Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon, but they aren’t half-bad, either.
Waiting on next year for 2B/3B Cavan Biggio…
(Also, a good college team like Georgia Tech. Not loaded with 2015 talent, but getting the job done all the same. That’s worth mentioning even as a cold-hearted fan of the pro game only…)
Waiting on next year for RHP TJ Zeuch…
(Not a very good college team like GT and ND, but not every team can be a winning team, right?)
I’m a little bit back and forth with LHP Nathan Kirby yet, though I think the recent overreaction to his below-average (for him) velocity and all-around stuff that can (maybe) be explained away (to a point) due to his recently diagnosed strained lat was a bit much. I still view him as a high-floor, TBD ceiling prospect worthy of the top half of the first round conversation.
rSO OF Saige Jenco’s year hasn’t gone quite the way I was hoping, but SR 2B/SS Alex Perez, SR 1B/RHP Brendon Hayden, and SR LHP/1B Sean Keselica have all done their part to pick up the slack.
JR OF Joe McCarthy (2015)
JR 2B/3B John LaPrise (2015)
SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero (2015)
SR 3B Kenny Towns (2015)
JR C/RHP Robbie Coman (2015)
JR LHP Brandon Waddell (2015)
JR LHP Nathan Kirby (2015)
JR RHP Josh Sborz (2015)
JR LHP David Rosenberger (2015)
SO RHP Connor Jones (2016)
SO C Matt Thaiss (2016)
SO RHP Jack Roberts (2016)
SO RHP Alec Bettinger (2016)
FR 2B Jack Gerstenmaier (2017)
FR 1B/RHP Pavin Smith (2017)
FR RHP Derek Casey (2017)
FR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
FR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
FR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
FR 3B Charlie Cody (2017)
FR C/2B Justin Novak (2017)
FR OF Christian Lowry (2017):
FR INF/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
Virginia has spoiled us all when we look at the talent above and think “yeah, it’s good but I’m just not feeling blown away.” That was my initial reaction to seeing the team laid out like this, but then you start doing the math. We’ve got a super athletic corner outfielder with a plus approach and strong hit tool (JR OF Joe McCarthy), a 6-5, 210 pound defensively gifted middle infielder (SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero), a crafty lefty with a plus curve who struck out almost a batter an inning his last healthy season (JR LHP Brandon Waddell), and a power-armed potential professional closer who lives in the mid-90s with three average or better secondaries including a hard cut-SL that could be a major weapon in time (JR RHP Josh Sborz). Then there’s JR LHP Nathan Kirby. All he’s done since getting to Virginia is a) strike out a batter an inning while consistently shutting down some of the stronger lineups in the country each week, b) see his stuff tick up to where he’s now hitting 94/95 with a knuckle curve at 76-84 that is unhittable when on, and c) retain his always above-average or better athleticism and command. He also had that no-hitter with 18 strikeouts against Pittsburgh last season, a performance so dominating he now has his own Wikipedia page. I am far too lazy to do a comprehensive list of all 2015 college draft prospects with Wikipedia pages, so you’ll just have to buy that the only ones I found in my two minutes of research are Kirby, Alex Bregman, Carson Fulmer, and Phil Bickford, though I suppose once Brady Aiken is officially enrolled at a junior college he can be added to the mix. Add those players to a potential first round pick in Kirby (who could be joined in the first by McCarthy, it should be noted) and you’ve got yet another talented Virginia squad. What else is new?
Kirby fascinates me not only because he’s achieved my dream of someday being important enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry but also because I really don’t have a firm grasp on what he is nor what he will be. I mean, I think he’s a high-floor future big league starting pitcher, but I’m not quite sure how high I’m willing to go with his ceiling. Perhaps I’m waiting to see more out of the changeup, a pitch that, as mentioned, seems to get a little better looking every time out. I got a comp from an area guy who has seen Kirby pitch more than 99.99% of human beings on the planet who actually compared him to a lefthanded Ian Kennedy, but with the caveat that his changeup still had some improvement left to truly “earn” such a comp. In terms of repertoire only (future performance as well, I suppose), I see some Alex Wood in Kirby. That comes with the big difference of Kirby’s Danny Hultzen style delivery replacing Wood’s painful looking arm action. Hultzen, the most logical comparison, doesn’t really work because of their flip-flopped stuff (Hultzen had the plus change and emerging breaking ball, Kirby is the other way around) but it’s not the craziest thing in the world. It’s yet another imperfect comp — a familiar refrain if you’ve been paying attention — but of all the recent first round lefties you’ll read about below, I think the closest comp at the same developmental stage is Andrew Heaney.
That leads into the other reason why Kirby fascinates me so. College lefties are weird. College lefthanded pitchers have had a surprisingly (to me) spotty track record since I’ve started this site up in 2009. If we take a look back through the years, you’ll see what I mean. Off the top, let’s be clear that Carlos Rodon is a separate animal altogether. I haven’t written a ton about him because this was a quiet last year for me on the site, but he’s not a guy I’m willing to compare to any other young arm at this point. He’s a man on the mound, and trying to shoehorn him into this discussion would be fruitless. Last year we also saw Kyle Freeland, Sean Newcomb, and Brandon Finnegan off the board in the first fifteen picks. Marco Gonzales went 19th in 2013 while Sean Manaea fell to 34th overall albeit for unique (injury, bonus demands) circumstances. Heaney (9th overall) and Brian Johnson (31st) were first round picks in 2012. Hultzen, Jed Bradley, Chris Reed, Tyler Anderson, Sean Gilmartin, Andrew Chafin, and Grayson Garvin all went in what we now know as a highly disappointing first round (for lefthanded college pitchers, at least) in 2011. Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale were both popped early in 2010. Mike Minor was the only real first round college lefty in 2009, but a run of ill-advised southpaws saw Rex Brothers (fine, he’s good), Aaron Miller, James Paxton (good, but unsigned), Mike Belfiore, Matt Bashore, and Tyler Kehrer all taken within the top fifty overall picks in the sandwich round.
We’ll leave the two most recent drafts alone because we need at least a little bit of time before rushing to crazy conclusions. So far, however, Rodon, Finnegan, and Gonzales all look good, as each guy is expected to play an important role in the big leagues at some point in 2015. Heaney, Johnson, and Paxton are all still probably too young to say, but each guy has done enough that I think we can call them successes at this point. Pomeranz appears to finally have something cooking with Oakland. Minor is an easy win. Brothers is a maybe, but I’ll be generous and say he’s shown enough at his best to be a positive. I guess that Chris Sale guy is pretty good, too. Not counting 2014 and 2013, that’s seven happy endings from the past four first and supplemental first rounds. On the downside, I count eight pitchers (Bradley, Reed, Anderson, Gilmartin, Miller, Belfiore, Bashore, Kehrer) that have disappointed, and that’s at least partly generous in some respects (still giving time to Hultzen, Chafin, Garvin). For the record, it’s really painful for me to call anybody a disappointment, but I’m trying to be as objective as I can here. I still have plenty of hope for Bradley, Anderson, and maybe even Reed to be average or better big leaguers. Anyway, by draft standards, even when taking into account we’re talking first round picks, that’s not necessarily a devastatingly low number of successes, but college pitching really should be a spot where you have a higher hit rate.
Anyway, diversion aside, I think a Kennedy, Wood, or Heaney type career path is well within reach for Kirby at this point. On the highest of high ends is a ceiling reminiscent of none other than Cliff Lee. We’re talking young Cliff Lee (i.e. before the plus command), so don’t think I’m 100% crazy (just 75% or so). Maybe you can bump that figure up a little higher, as I’ve previously compared two draft prospects (both righties, go figure) to Lee in the past: Chris Stratton (still love him, but whoops) and Trevor Bauer. That last comp remains one worth watching, I think. Bauer hit the big leagues before Lee, so we can’t do a straight age comparison but here’s a rough comparison by innings…
Lee: 7.9 K/9 – 4.1 BB/9 – 90 ERA+ – 241.2 IP
Bauer: 8.3 K/9 – 4.3 BB/9 – 85 ERA+ – 186.1 IP
We can’t finish up writing about Virginia by referencing two players with no connections to the program. That’s my stilted attempt at a transition to a quick discussion of the “other” UVA 2015 draft-eligible players and the many interesting Cavalier underclassmen. SR 3B Kenny Towns (steady glove, has flashed at times with the bat), JR C Robbie Coman (strong arm, good approach), and JR LHP David Rosenberger are all solid college role players that could sneak into the late round mix with bigger than anticipated seasons. The battery of SO RHP Connor Jones and SO C Matt Thaiss could both find themselves as first round picks in a year. SO RHP Alex Bettinger really impressed as a freshman (32 K in 36.2 IP) despite a less than stellar fastball. There are plenty of potential impact players in the freshman class, most notably 3B Charlie Cody, LHP Bennett Sousa, 1B/RHP Pavin Smith, and 2B Jack Gerstenmaier.