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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers 2015 MLB Draft Picks

Many enjoy connecting teams to local geographic areas (Braves and their home state) or universities or even high schools (e.g., the Phillies going with Shane Watson and JP Crawford in back-to-back drafts out of Lakewood HS). I think it’s time we add the Tigers and Michigan State to the mix.

OF Cam Gibson (152) is the headlining Spartan talent with obvious connections to the Tigers organization beyond his collegiate affiliation. Here’s the pre-draft take…

In this class I look at Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson and see a slam dunk top five round draft prospect with the chance to play his way even higher (round two?). Judged solely as a hitter, however, smart people I’ve talked to liken him more to recent college players like Greg Allen, Tyler Holt, Mark Payton, and Taylor Dugas. Those guys, all favorites of mine once upon a time, were drafted in the sixth, fifth, seventh, and eighth rounds, respectively. I’m not sure what that necessarily says about Gibson’s draft stock (if anything!), so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. The “as a hitter” qualifier above is not to be missed. Gibson’s range in center isn’t nearly on the level of any of those players, with one scout simply telling me he was “fine in center, better in a corner.” That corners figures to be left field as his arm is his one clearly below-average tool. Everything else could play average or better making the strong, athletic Gibson a potential regular if he can stick in center. If not, then he could make it work as a regular left fielder in today’s new world order of reduced offense. A plus glove with upside at the plate in left is a property worth investing in these days. An unexpected but amusing comparison I’ve heard for Gibson’s ceiling is Brady Anderson (sans 50 HR season). I like it, though I’m not sure if projecting Anderson’s plate discipline (remember it being good, but shocked how good) on any young hitter is fair.

The early pro returns have been interesting. Small sample size caveats apply, but Gibson’s raw power (average to above-average, held back largely by his swing) was thought by many as being more of a batting practice thing than true in-game present pop. His pro performance to date, however, is highlighted by an impressive showing of power (200+ ISO) and not quite as much plate discipline as his college production and general reputation as a hitter might have suggested. Whether or not it’s a short-season ball small sample anomaly or a indication of things to come remains to be seen. I still think of him of having the tweener profile that most likely ends in him working towards a fourth outfielder ceiling, but you never know.

I once compared Gibson’s teammate at Michigan State, 1B Blaise Salter, the 940th pick in this year’s draft, to the guy selected second overall, Alex Bregman. Stay with me here…

Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter reminds me a little bit of Alex Bregman. I’ll pause for a second and let that ridiculous statement sink in. I’ve mentioned this before, but so many college-oriented analysts are quite vocal in their belief that Bregman will be able to stick at shortstop in the pros; pro guys, on the other hand, can’t wait to get him off the six-spot. As for Salter, most college guys you read and listen to will push the “hey, he’s improved a lot behind the plate and, sure, he’s not the most agile guy back there, but he’s a leader and pitchers like him, so maybe it’ll work” agenda. That’s cool and all, but then pro guys, literally to a man, respond with NOPE. I have him listed as a catcher for now because I think his drafting team will at least give it a shot. That’s because he might – and I can’t emphasis might enough – be playable back there, but also because it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine his bat playing anywhere else. It’s catcher or bust for Salter if he wants to climb the pro ladder. I actually like the hit tool more than most and think he’s a better athlete than given credit for, but it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll make enough contact to allow his plus power to go to use.

The Bregman part there reads funny today as we all know his defense just kept getting better and better as the season went on. Salter went the other direction — actually, that’s not 100% true: his defense remained his defense, but observers began looking him with a more discerning eye as draft day got closer — and the fact I deemed him “catcher or bust” then doesn’t bode well for his future. I still enjoy a team taking a local star with a later pick like this on the off chance you catch lightning in a bottle. It may not be the perfect way to build a roster, but give me a fun narrative in the 31st round any day. You need your fifth round pick (Gibson) to show you something, but why not go with what you know (at least as a tie-breaker) and boost a bit of local morale in round 31?

LHP Cam Vieaux was also drafted out of Michigan State by Detroit, but couldn’t come to terms. He’ll be one of the better returning veteran arms in the conference with a fastball that can hit 93 (88-92), an average or better breaking ball, and a quickly improving change. He’s also got size (6-5, 200) and a track record (two rock solid years) on his side. Good name to store away for 2016…and more on other unsigned Tigers pick to come.

Looking up the updated pro numbers on in-state college player (not a Spartan, but a Chippewa) 2B Pat MacKenzie (418) gave me a very fleeting yet disturbing Dylan Bosheers flashback. I really really really liked Bosheers as a prospect before the draft, but never really deducted enough points for being an older senior (23 this past May) in my overall evaluation of him. MacKenzie is even older (23 this past March) and locked into second base long-term, but damn if I still like him. His early season evaluation…

SR 2B Pat MacKenzie doesn’t have the raw tools of most prospects I’d personally rank him around, but there’s no ignoring his plus-plus plate discipline. How a player can put up a 46 BB to 17 K ratio while slugging just barely over .300 in a full college season I’ll never know, but it’s an impressive feat that earns my respect. If I’m selling MacKenzie to my boss, I’m highlighting his overall hard-working playing style with promises (fine, hopes) that maybe his outstanding mental approach to hitting will rub off some on his new pro teammates. He’s an underdog prospect to be sure, but I just plain like the guy.

That was written before his “power surge” as a senior. His final college season saw him hit a cool .348/.489/.435 in 207 AB. The increased pop looks nice, but most of the gains can be attributed to more singles as his ISO didn’t move as much as you’d think. Still, I stand by liking him as a patient, speedy, dependable middle infielder who is a wonderful addition to a minor league lineup as a 28th rounder.

Detroit also drafted a bunch of guys who didn’t play amateur ball in Michigan, if you can believe it. In fact, you could re-write that opening and come up with a theory that the Tigers love players from Tennessee. The biggest name of that group is OF Christin Stewart (118), formerly of the Volunteers. Here’s the pre-season take on him…

Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.

And the mid-season update…

Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart just keeps getting better and better and better as a hitter. With an above-average hit tool and honest plus raw power, his breakout season (happening right now!) was only a matter of time. I’ve been hard on him in the past because of my perceived disconnect between his consistently praised approach at the plate and below-average BB/K ratios (1/2 for most of his first two seasons), but I’m starting to buy in. When I hear this is a below-average draft, I think of players like Stewart who have emerged as worthwhile top three round picks – not just in this draft, but in any draft – and smile. If a down draft means a few pitching prospect have gotten injured and no stone cold mortal lock for 1-1 exists, then I guess this draft isn’t very good. If it means that there will be future big league regulars selected out of college as late as the fifth round, then I feel like we’re not on the same page. I try not to cheerlead, but the bad draft stuff is just laziness from paid professionals who really ought to try digging a little deeper.

Stewart’s season ended as an unmitigated success. Improvements were made in all areas of his game, most notably in his conversion of raw power to the real in-game stuff. I should have ranked him higher. Long-time readers know I enjoy comps because I think they can be both entertaining and informative so long as you aren’t the super literal type. I also like playing around with the constructs of what a comp is supposed to be in the first place. To that end, I share a prospect comparison so bizarre in the formation that it somehow feels right when it’s said and done…and yet I know I’d killed for it by some of the joyless comp-hating strawmen that exist elsewhere on the internet but haven’t yet realized this place exists. The comp is prefaced with “if you ignore body type, swing mechanics, and handedness…” so keep that in mind as I tell you that lefty hitting Christin Stewart (all 6-0, 200 pounds of him) reminds me of righthander Aaron Judge (6-7, 275 pounds). The two player are very different, obviously. Any multi-celled organism with functioning sight can see that. The comparison is meant to serve as a basis for what kind of professional results Stewart is capable of putting up. The two players go about things differently, but I see similar potential in each. It’s the rare case where I’m cool with focusing on results over process. If only I had passed the comparison on before the draft as I could have used the info to more accurately peg where Stewart (34th overall pick) might be drafted (Judge went 32nd).

Another Volunteer, SS AJ Simcox (302), fascinates me and I think you’ll see why in his pre-season report…

Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why.

And then again from later in the season…

I haven’t heard a player get the “he’ll be a better pro than college player” treatment in a long time quite like Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox. I’m not sure how to take that exactly. It almost sounds like a dig on the Tennessee coaching staff, but I find that hard to believe knowing what I do about the people they have in place there. I think it’s more likely explained by the differences in the pro grind – all baseball, all the time – versus the multitude of various interested parties pulling one’s attention away from the game in college. I don’t know anything specific to Simcox here, for the record. He could be as focused as can be and simply in need of an all-encompassing baseball environment because of personal preference.

I always take those kinds of bits of information with a healthy dose of skepticism, but hearing it multiple times from multiple people (none with an ax to grind re: Tennessee and their staff) makes you wonder. From a big picture perspective, I’d love to know how a belief like that gets started in the first place and whether or not there’s any legitimacy behind it as a general theory to explain why certain underachieving amateur players play better ball after signing pro contracts. It strikes me as something that can’t be “proven” one way or another, but could be sussed out for individual prospects by enterprising area scouts who still do the job of digging deep into getting to know a player’s entire backstory. Of course, it could also have no firm basis in reality and simply be used as a rationalization tool to prop up players that a scout still likes, be it personally or professionally, despite lackluster amateur performances. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, either: a big part of an area scout’s job once June comes is salesmanship, and any way that you can get a player drafted you believe in is all right with me.

Anyway, perhaps because I’ve been brainwashed by what I’ve been told, I like Simcox more than his college track record would suggest I might. If it all works, he has the chance to be an average all-around offensive player with a really good shot to stay at shortstop. The approach is still not where it needs to be, so projecting a utility future feels like the most logical realistic ceiling as of now. Interestingly enough, Simcox hit .293/.362/.378 in his draft year at Tennessee. So far as a professional he’s hit .310/.345/.370. I don’t know what that means (if anything), but there you go.

1B Tanner Donnels was announced as an infielder, but has predictably played the majority of his pro games thus far in right field. The former Loyola Marymount outfielder is a long shot, but his senior year production (.308/.401/.498 with 31 BB/24 K) makes him a reasonable gamble in round 21. 3B Josh Lester from Missouri is pretty much the infield version (.280/.363/.436 with 30 BB/30 K) while OF Cole Bauml (.350/.445/.663 with 22 BB/28 K) and OF Joey Havrilak (.347/.436/.507 with 32 BB/31 K) round out the outfield with Donnels. There aren’t big tools here, but Detroit deserves credit for putting a premium on college production with mid- to late-round picks. It’s very unlikely there’s a future big league player here, but adding individuals emotionally ready to handle the pro game can have an effect beyond the box score for minor league clubs.

I think the bat of SS Keaton Jones is too light to get him to the big leagues, but the glove remains pretty damn special. Not much has changed on his evaluation since the beginning of the draft season…

I also have to mention TCU rJR SS Keaton Jones, a player so good with the glove that he’ll get drafted almost no matter what he does at the plate this spring. The fact that he’s more than holding his own as a hitter for the first time collegiately is icing on the mid-round cake.

He finished the year “holding his own” to the tune of a .254/.333/.333 (20 BB/35 K) batting line. That’s…not great. So you can see what I’m saying about his glove considering he hit like that and still got himself drafted in the fifteenth round.

C Kade Scivicque (340) follows in the recent Tigers tradition of valuing defense and leadership ability in college catching prospects. I don’t think this is a bad way to do things: high-floor prospects like Bryan Holaday, James McCann, and now Scivicque that project to be quality big league backups at an important and historically difficult to develop position are net positives for your franchise. Guys like this also help give any minor league team a boost if you believe in the immeasurable positive impact of high-makeup players helping those around them grow and improve as I do (to a point). Additionally, paying backup catchers, utility infielders, fourth outfielders, and middle relievers the league minimum for three seasons is a great way to save some bucks to pay stars to fill out the top of the roster. It also goes without saying that the very idea of a player’s ceiling is something that we as fans of the game (evaluators, too) place on prospects. You draft enough high-floor future backup types and, who knows, one might just surpass expectations and turn into something real.

(A more negative view might be that drafting high-floor future backup types is fool’s gold because prospects like that often look better than their peers early on since they peak early for whatever reason. Or perhaps one might note that overdoing it with these types — and I’m not saying Detroit has done that — leads to a mediocre team of overextended backups incapable of playing winning ball together at the big league level, defense and leadership be damned. It’s almost as if taking a diversified approach to drafting is an important part of successful long-term roster construction. Crazy, right?)

It might be time to stop trying to figure out what makes LHP Matt Hall (270) work and just appreciate that it does. His fastball doesn’t lit up the gun (86-90), but he puts it where he wants it as consistently as any lefthander in the college game. He has three pitches that he can throw for a strike in any count and game situation (above-average 75-79 CB that flashes better and an average 80-82 CU) and an unimpeachable track record of success (12.67 K/9 in 108 IP of 2.17 ERA ball as a junior). He’s another player that I think I undervalued some (he was picked 190th overall), but I’m now on board. Nice grab by the Tigers pulling a potential quick-moving big league starting pitcher in the sixth round.

Even though I admitted to underrating Hall before the draft, I still had him fifty spots ahead of LHP Tyler Alexander (320). Detroit saw things differently and used a second round pick (65th overall) on Alexander. The two are actually pretty darn similar prospects with Alexander bringing in a bit more heat (87-92), a better change (87-81), and a breaking ball in need of refinement. Both guys are known for outstanding command — I wouldn’t call you crazy for preferring Alexander’s to Hall’s — while Alexander in particular has ridiculous control (1.00 BB/9 in 99 IP his freshman year, 0.92 BB/9 in 78 IP his sophomore year). Hall got the edge for me before the draft because of his history of missing more bats, but Detroit could very well be on to something with Alexander. Like Hall, he could be a quick-moving big league starter if it all keeps working with a realistic middle relief floor as a viable fallback.

There really should be an entire post devoted to RHP Trey Teakell (432). The TCU redshirt-senior might is one of this year’s most intriguing Rorschach test prospects. You can look at him and see whatever it is you’d like. The positive spin is that he’s a 6-5, 175 pound athlete with projection left, the ability to command four average or better pitches, and easy velocity (87-91, 93 peak) who steadily improved before his breakout final college season (8.31 K/9, almost two more strikeouts per nine than his previous best). The less positive look might counter with the reality that some guys don’t fill out and add velocity (6-5, 175 at 18 years old would be a different story), the lack of a clear put-away pitch, and a senior year spike in performance that can be explained by his advanced age (23) and/or success in a small sample (39 IP, the second fewest in his college career). The beauty of Teakell in my mind is that his draft position (9th round) almost perfectly splits the difference between the two possibilities. That first player sounds like an early pick while the second player is more of a mid- to late-round roster filling type. The ninth round is on the money. As for his future, I’d think getting a middle reliever out of the deal would represent coming out ahead.

The upside of RHP Mike Vinson exceeds that, as the redshirt-sophomore from Florida looks to have the goods to potentially pitch at the end of games out of the bullpen. The Tigers deserve a lot of credit for sticking with him despite his lack of work (under 30 innings total) since high school. Vinson’s upper-80s cutter is one of the best in this class and he’s able to combine it with a good fastball (88-93) to generate a lot of awkward swings. I really like this pick. The guy drafted one round earlier, RHP Ryan Milton, has similar swing-and-miss stuff (low-90s FB, good cutter) and has hit the ground running in pro ball. There’s some wildness with him, but he’s still a really nice get in round 23. Undersized RHP Dominic Moreno joins Milton as another solid senior sign relief option that put up big numbers in college (11.33 K/9 and 1.86 ERA in 58 senior year IP). He’s got that sinker/slider thing going for him that should help him to advance high enough in the minors to be one of those proverbial “one phone call away” types of AAA arms.

The college reliever with the highest upside is easily RHP Drew Smith (286). I’m not a wizened talent evaluator by any stretch and there’s plenty I haven’t seen and don’t yet know, so do try to hide your shock at the following statement, but seeing Smith throw is a really confusing experience. He has explosive stuff — 90-96 FB, 98-99 peak; average or better mid-70s CB; enough of a low-80s changeup that you can start imagining a future beyond the bullpen — and livable control, but rarely did college hitters appear fooled by what he threw up there. There’s enough noise with straight run prevention in small samples with unreliable defenses and scoring decisions and playing conditions and you get the point, but Smith’s two full seasons at Dallas Baptist resulted in ERAs of 5.79 and 4.39. That alone doesn’t bug me much, but a guy with his kind of stuff only striking out 7ish batters per nine is just hard to explain. I obviously still like him a whole heck of a lot as a prospect and could see him working himself into the relief ace that his physical talent suggests, it’s just that it might take some time for him to smooth out the delivery some and harness what he’s got. Of course, what do I know: Smith, in an effort to be as confusing as possible, has started his pro career with a pretty good ERA (0.29) with decent peripherals (11.0 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9) in 31 innings.

Finally we get to RHP Beau Burrows (18). I’ve said it before, but I really do find there to be almost an inverse relationship between a prospect’s talent and how much I’m able to write about him. First round no-brainers as talented as Burrows are hard to dive into it. He’s good, you know? I like his chances of being an above-average mid-rotation starting pitcher with a number two starter ceiling and a late-inning reliever best-case scenario floor (as always, any real floor is not escaping the minor leagues because baseball is a very hard game, but reading that over and over gets tiresome). Here were my pre-draft notes…

RHP Beau Burrows (Weatherford HS, Texas): 88-96 FB, 98 peak; FB moves a ton; 84-88 CU flashes above-average, moves it down to 81-85 at times; promising 78-82 CB, flashes above-average to plus; good command; good athlete; PG mechanics comp: Mike Mussina; PG comp: Grant Holmes; FAVORITE; 6-2, 200 pounds

I like Perfect Game’s Grant Holmes comparison a lot as a reference point. For fun, here are their debut seasons compared…

10.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 48.1 IP
10.6 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 in 28 IP

Top is Holmes, bottom is Burrows. On target so far. Burrows is a very easy to like prospect: big fastball that moves and he commands, breaking ball that could be a real weapon, more than good enough changeup, all with sound mechanics, athleticism, and the mound demeanor one would expect out of Texas high schooler who flirts with triple-digits. Now it’s just a matter of guiding him through the ups and downs of pro ball, tweaking and refining what needs polishing, and hoping he stays healthy enough to toe the rubber on a big league mound. I clearly like the pick for the Tigers (ranked him 18, drafted him 22), so we’ll see where it goes from here.

This might be a little unfair to pick on the Tigers and no other team so far, but it was definitely striking to see how much unsigned talent there was left on the table for Detroit after the signing deadline came and went. You could do this with a lot of teams and there are very logical reasons why some of these players didn’t sign that is of no fault at all to Detroit (losing Shumpert stings, but the rest were all fliers). Still, you could build a pretty strong team out of the ones who got away…

C Nick Dalesandro (346)
3B Daniel Pinero (98)
SS Nick Shumpert (101)
SS Trey Dawson (124)
OF Bryant Harris
OF Dayton Dugas (225)

RHP Cole McKay (74)
LHP Cam Vieaux
LHP Andrew Naderer
LHP Grant Wolfram

I don’t think it’s crazy to prefer McKay, Pinero, Shumpert, Dawson, and Dugas (the top five unsigned prospects by Detroit according to me) to Burrows, Stewart, Alexander, Smith, and Scivicque (their top five picks). It’s obviously a completely different risk profile and a moot point regardless, but it’s an interesting alternate timeline “what-if” that will never be resolved on this plane of existence. Pity. Here are the top 500 prospects that Detroit did manage to sign (again, according to me)…

18 – Beau Burrows
118 – Christin Stewart
152 – Cam Gibson
270 – Matt Hall
286 – Drew Smith
302 – AJ Simcox
320 – Tyler Alexander
340 – Kade Scivicque
418 – Pat MacKenzie
432 – Trey Teakell

SEC 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team – HITTERS

First Team

Louisiana State JR C Chris Chinea
South Carolina SR 1B Kyle Martin
Louisiana State JR 2B Alex Bregman
Vanderbilt JR SS Dansby Swanson
Florida SR 3B Josh Tobias
Florida JR OF Harrison Bader
Louisiana State JR OF Andrew Stevenson
Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart

Second Team

Georgia JR C Zack Bowers
Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel
South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock
Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom
Florida SR 3B Josh Tobias
Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson
Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman
Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi

There are so many prospects here that I’m going to do my best to touch on as many as possible as we whip around the diamond. There are some quoted bits from previous entries when applicable so this isn’t entirely original content, but it’s over 6,000 words…and that’s before we get to the pitching. Buckle up.

LSU JR C Chris Chinea is a good athlete with a big raw power and a solid defensive reputation. His teammate SR C Kade Scivicque joins him in what has to be one of college ball’s top catching tandems. It would hardly be a surprise to see the talented Scivicque get selected before Chinea with the former’s senior sign status giving him the edge for teams that view them as comparable talents. I look at Texas A&M SR C Mitchell Nau in a similar way to Scivicque: both are solid senior signs that should come relatively cheaply, provide a steadying presence for young arms, and give you a chance at a big league backup catcher down the line.

Alabama SO C Will Haynie has obvious upside in his 6-5, 230 pound frame. Catchers built like that with plus raw power and plus arm strength get chances even when the overall package – Haynie struggled badly last season and has only made modest improvements in 2015 — doesn’t amount to what you’d expect. A team might bet on his tools higher than expected, but I think the most realistic outcome would be a return to Tuscaloosa in 2016. No need to rush Haynie just because he’s a draft-eligible sophomore, though I suppose the question as to whether or not his development would be better served in college or in the pros going forward is one worth asking. I typically side with the pro side on matters like these, but Haynie needs the kind of at bats that playing every day in the SEC would give him. He’s almost too raw a player to take on the pros right now; I’d worry that he’d get lost in the shuffle of pro ball as even the best player development staffs can only take on so many projects at any one time.

Georgia JR C Zack Bowers can’t match Haynie in terms of sheer mass (Bowers is listed at 6-1, 200), but offers a similarly appealing plus raw power/plus arm strength package. His glove remains a work in progress, but the strides he has made as a hitter this year have been encouraging. He’s still going to swing and miss more than you’d like, but there’s a chance with continued work he can get that aspect under enough control to put his big raw power to use. I’ve personally moved away from the arm/power catcher archetype in recent years (I know lean towards athleticism and plate discipline), but the upside of a player like Bowers is undeniable. To an extent, how much you like Bowers (and Haynie, for that matter) comes down to how much confidence you have in your player development staff working with these kinds of players. If you believe that you can coach up defense and approach, then the raw talent of the arm/power catchers supersedes any concerns. I can buy that defense can always be improved – the Cubs sure seem to think so – but changing a guy’s approach at the plate is a gigantic challenge.

If he can convince teams that he can work defensively as a four-corners (1B/3B/LF/RF) prospect, then South Carolina JR 1B Kyle Martin could wind up drafted higher than most other straight college first basemen in his class. He has the athleticism and arm strength to pull off such a move, though it remains to be seen if the primary first baseman can make the transition in pro ball. As a hitter he’s improved every season – especially in the power department – enough to make a case that he could just keep mashing enough to get a shot down the line even if he’s locked into first base only. Of course, we say it every year and it bears repeating yet again: the tremendous offensive demands of the position makes projecting any amateur first basemen as a regular a long shot. Guys who can play multiple spots – like Martin potentially, as well as LSU SR 1B Conner Hale (who has also seen time at 2B and 3B), Georgia JR 1B Morgan Bunting (3B/OF…when he plays), and Auburn JR 1B Dylan Smith (OF…when he plays) – tend to wind up the most interesting prospects on draft day.

I liked Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel last season as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore, so it should be no shock that I like him again as a draft-eligible redshirt junior. Power, strength, and enough patience make him one of college ball’s better first base prospects. When I wonder here about why certain guys don’t get talked about more, I sometimes stop and think, “Well, how much have I publicly praised the player?” Almost always, I haven’t. I’ve thought about him a lot and maybe fired off some behind-the-scenes type things about the guy, but never given him the public recognition he deserves. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I did this conference previews even if they did monopolize much of my free time over the past few months. There are so many more players that aren’t projected to be top ten picks that baseball fans should know about, and a quality first base prospect at one of the best programs in the country is one of them.

And now for something totally different. Mississippi SR 1B Sikes Orvis is one of college ball’s most famous names. His colorful personality, noteworthy facial hair (since lopped off, sadly), egg-like bod, and near weekly appearances on ESPN’s coverage of the SEC make him a worthy ambassador for the game and one of the most well-known players to casual college baseball/draft fans (if you’re an athlete who my wife recognizes on TV as she flicks by, then you’re famous). On top of all that, he’s also a pretty good college baseball player. He’s a better athlete and defender than his body suggests, and his power bat is nothing to mess with. The profile is a long shot to ever top out as anything but a 4A slugger, but it’ll be a fun ride. Equally entertaining plus-sized Mississippi State rSR 1B Wes Rea is in the same boat. I don’t know how high he’ll climb in the minors, but all eyes will be on the 6-5, 275 pound ATHLETE at every minor league park he sets foot in. That’s more than most mid-round prospects can say, so I’d argue he’s already ahead of the game.

LSU JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman and South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock have been covered already, so I’ll be brief with each here. On Bregman…DID YOU KNOW that as of 4/3/15, he has more home runs (7) than strikeouts (5)? That’s good, right? His defense has also universally lauded this spring, enough so that some smart people are starting to lead the Bregman as pro shortstop charge once again. Two things about that: 1) I think whatever team drafts him does so with playing him at shortstop for at least the remainder of 2015 and possibly even 2016. I’m not sure what happens after that, but my hunch is that he’ll be given every shot to stay at shortstop despite what haters like me write. I mean, if Corey Seager is still technically a shortstop, then why won’t a team stick with Bregman at the six-spot as long as possible? 2) As a “hater,” I’m encouraged about the positive reports about his defense, but more so because now I’m more sure than ever that he could be a plus glove at second rather than a future pro shortstop. Any way you look at it his improved defense is a good thing even if it does muddle the Bregman narrative up a bit.

That wasn’t particularly brief, so I’ll try again with Schrock. I’ve read in multiple places how Schrock has been a disappointment this year for South Carolina. We’re not talking from a draft perspective, but from a 2015 college production point of view. His batting average is over fifty points lower so far this year, so I guess that has to be why I keep hearing about his struggles this year. It’s certainly not about his OBP because, lower average or not, he’s getting on base at a higher clip this year (.379) than he did last year (.366). You could fairly point to his decrease in power so far this year, but it’s not so far off – especially with the added OBP value – to say he’s having a down year relative to what he’s done in the past. From a draft prospect perspective I was hoping for last year’s numbers plus improvements across the board (I’m selfish like that), but he’s hardly been disappointing through 105 at bats. I know this doesn’t have much to do with anything, but I feel better for getting that off my chest.

Alabama JR 2B/SS Mikey White’s power breakout has had many talking him up as a possible third baseman as a professional. I don’t think the power spike is real – he’s a really good hitter, but not somebody I would have had down for much more than average power going forward – but it’s the scouts he has to convince, not me. I had somebody smart (and, because I know he wouldn’t mind me saying this, also super old) recently compare him to a righthanded Graig Nettles. That feels a little rich for me – Nettles’ raw numbers don’t blow you away, but he’s a borderline HOF third baseman if going off of JAWS – but it’s an interesting comparison to a historically underrated player who once made the transition from second base to third. Lost in this whole conversation is White’s potential to remain at shortstop. Like those who will fight you to the death on Alex Bregman’s future position, there are some college baseball loyalists who will get very mad if you suggest White will have to move out of the six-spot as a pro. Believe it or not, I understand where those fans of White’s game are coming from: he’s as hard working as any prospect you’ll find, a tremendous team leader, and his baseball instincts are off the charts. Do those intangibles make up for average at best foot speed and suboptimal range? Despite the leading question, White has more of a shot to stick a shortstop for a few years than I had thought coming into the year. I still think either second or third makes more sense, and I’m not entirely sold on the bat being good enough to make him an everyday player, but the comparisons to former Alabama star Josh Rutledge…wait, this felt familiar so I searched my site for my last Rutledge reference and turns out I’ve written almost all this before. Turns out writing 10,000 words a week about college baseball for two months on end leaves you with mush for brains. Here’s my section on White from January…

It goes against a lot of what I’ve written previously, most notably in the LSU preview when discussing Alex Bregman, so don’t read too much into my listing of JR 2B/SS Mikey White’s two most likely pro positions in that precise (2B/SS) order. White could very well wind up sticking at short as a professional; in fact, I reserve the right to switch that up a half-dozen times in my mind (and in print!) over the next few months. Working very much for him are his tremendous instincts, which rank among the best I’ve seen at the amateur level. Though impossible for the amateur eye to quantify, he’s one of those players who always seems to be in the middle of the action on the field, almost always doing something positive after finding himself in the right place at the right time. Watch him for a game or even a series and you might chalk it up as a coincidence, but we’ve now got two years of college, plenty of high-level summer ball, and, depending on who you are lucky enough to talk to, a year or more of tracking him in high school to go off of at this point. If his preternatural ability to be at the right place at the right time is just a coincidence, then I no longer understand the meaning of the word.

There’s a perfectly reasonable and logical Josh Rutledge comp out there (can’t recall the origin) for White that I don’t hate, though I think White is a truer traditional middle infielder (better glove, less power) than Rutledge ever was. There’s also been a Nolan Fontana comparison floating around with Baseball America as the source. I think the Fontana comp is a little bit stronger (both players relying as much on smarts and positioning than raw athleticism as defenders), but, like all comps, it’s still imperfect: Fontana always had an elite approach as a hitter as well as, in my personal view, a surer path to remain at shortstop professionally. The best comparison that comes to mind for me is current Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer. Both guys have good size, strong arms, and have been universally praised over the years for having high baseball IQs. All that, and their sophomore year numbers aren’t all that far off…

JM: .299/.359/.481 – 15 BB/28 K – 5/7 SB
MW: .300/.399/.443 – 27 BB/44 K – 3/5 SB

Mercer followed that up with another quality season highlighted by a power spike significant enough to get him popped with the 79th overall pick in 2008. He then experienced a slow and steady climb through the Pirates minor league system before breaking through as a legitimate regular at short for Pittsburgh in 2013. If Mikey White follows the same path then we can pencil him as a third round pick this June with the chance to hit the big leagues by 2020. Doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me, though I think you could at least argue that he’ll be a faster riser but with more of a utility upside. The latter was often said about Mercer throughout the earliest portion of his career, so you never know.

White has blown past what Mercer did his junior season, especially from a power standpoint. I’ve touched on the veracity of the realness of that power before, but without much evidence against it I’m inclined to believe something good is going on with either his swing, strength, or some combination thereof. A third round selection might be a little light based on what White has done so far this year, though I remain skeptical of a heretofore non-power bat hitting for this kind of pop with the kind of plate discipline red flags evident in White’s game.

I’m about as confused on White as I’ve been on a college player so far this season. I’m no scout, but, as a baseball fan, he is exactly the kind of player I feel like I legitimately need to see more of with my own two eyes in order to better understand his strengths and weaknesses. I want to keep putting him into certain restrictive places in my mind – he’s a scrappy utility player with a “true middle infield” glove, he’s an underappreciated (by me!) power hitter who will be best at third, he’s an overrated mirage, he’s an underrated grinder – but he doesn’t seem to fit nicely in any one player archetype. Mikey White has broken me, and I think that’s a good thing. I lean towards him turning into a potential quality utility player with a chance to play regularly at second with continued progress, but will likely go back and forth a few more times between now and June.

I haven’t heard a player get the “he’ll be a better pro than college player” treatment in a long time quite like Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox. I’m not sure how to take that exactly. It almost sounds like a dig on the Tennessee coaching staff, but I find that hard to believe knowing what I do about the people they have in place there. I think it’s more likely explained by the differences in the pro grind – all baseball, all the time – versus the multitude of various interested parties pulling one’s attention away from the day in college. I don’t know anything specific to Simcox here, for the record. He could be as focused as can be and simply in need of an all-encompassing baseball environment because of personal preference.

It’s just now occurred to me that the SEC shortstops have a pretty clear tier system. It gets even more clearly defined if we include maybe shortstops like Bregman and White. The top tier includes Vanderbilt JR SS/2B Dansby Swanson and Bregman, then there’s Florida JR SS/OF Richie Martin and White, then a big step down to Simcox, Auburn JR SS Cody Nulph, and Mississippi State SR SS Seth Heck, and a final tier of South Carolina JR SS Marcus Mooney, Arkansas rJR SS Brett McAfee, and whomever else I missed.

I’m still holding out on JR 3B Xavier Turner (formerly of Vanderbilt, though technically he’s still enrolled at school there and just not playing ball this year) as the conference’s best third base prospect. That’s as much as because of Turner’s talent (ample athleticism, bat speed in spades, and average or better raw power, speed, and arm strength) as it is the relative void at the position without him. I had Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom as the next in line, but his transition to the SEC hasn’t been all that it could be so far. He still gives you intriguing power, defensive upside, and size. Since it was a close battle for second pre-season anyway, I don’t’ feel too bad about editing my list a bit and flipping Florida SR 3B/2B Josh Tobias to the two spot for now. Tobias has always flashed talent (above-average speed, more pop than his size suggests, and a steady, versatile glove), so it’s been nice to see him put together a strong senior season. As a senior sign with a possible utility future (the approach keeps him from being a starter for me), he could find his way into the late single-digit rounds. Similar things apply to Texas A&M JR 3B/SS Logan Taylor, another versatile defender (potentially plus at third, average at both short and second) with some pop who could find a role off a big league bench one day.

I want to say that Florida JR OF Harrison Bader can do a little bit of everything, but that would be a lie. Harrison Bader can do a lot of everything. He’s a legitimate five-tool player and I’ll fight anybody who says otherwise. I’d take him over any bat in the conference not named Bregman or Swanson without a second thought. Above-average raw power, above-average to plus speed, and the ability to play center make him a lot like Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman to me, but with a markedly better approach at the plate. If he’s there in the second, it’s an easy call. Also, I’m not a scout and smarter people have disagreed with me, but I love his swing. It’s not conventionally pretty, but his lower half and upper half are coordinated really well and there’s just enough of an uppercut (but not too much) to suggest his power surge is real.

LSU JR OF Andrew Stevenson could step into a AA lineup tomorrow (just in time for opening day!) because his defense in center (plus-plus), speed (plus), and hit tool (above-average) are all professional quality right now. He’s one of those players that it would be very hard to imagine not someday carving out a big league role for himself on the basis of his defensive prowess and game-changing speed on the base paths alone. When you add in that hit tool, his emerging pop, and an improved approach at the plate, it’s easy to envision him maturing into a table-setting leadoff hitter guaranteed to give you years of positive defensive and base running value in the bigs. I was high on Stevenson before writing this paragraph, but now I’m more pumped about him than ever.

Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart just keeps getting better and better and better as a hitter. With an above-average hit tool and honest plus raw power, his breakout season (happening right now!) was only a matter of time. I’ve been hard on him in the past because of my perceived disconnect between his consistently praised approach at the plate and below-average BB/K ratios (1/2 for most of his first two seasons), but I’m starting to buy in. When I hear this is a below-average draft, I think of players like Stewart who have emerged as worthwhile top three round picks – not just in this draft, but in any draft – and smile. If a down draft means a few pitching prospect have gotten injured and no stone cold mortal lock for 1-1 exists, then I guess this draft isn’t very good. If it means that there will be future big league regulars selected out of college as late as the fifth round, then I feel like we’re not on the same page. I try not to cheerlead, but the bad draft stuff is just laziness from paid professionals who really ought to try digging a little deeper.

I’ve written a lot about many SEC prospects already (links to the teams that had rosters in early are found below), but there are a few players I’d like to quickly revisit based on updated information and performance. I didn’t realize it until after the fact that almost every blurb has a BUT in it, so I did my best to sneak one into each.

  • Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson – still love the tools, but where’s the power?
  • Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman – status unchanged (solid tools across the board), but approach still holds him back
  • Auburn JR 2B/OF Jordan Ebert – hoping his early season struggles are more attributable to bad BABIP luck, but his BB/K is still strong enough to give me hope that he’ll hit
  • LSU JR OF Mark Laird – now view him as Stevenson without the ceiling, but still a ML player
  • Tennessee SR OF Jonathan Youngblood – tools remain elite, but hasn’t played at all; could see a fan raging about his IDIOT team drafting somebody with such “bad” college numbers without knowing how damn toolsy Youngblood actually is just as easily as he could go undrafted
  • Alabama JR OF Georgie Salem – had a hunch that he was in line for a breakout season, but I’ve been told (haven’t seen him in person this year) he’s actually regressed at the plate and looks lost at times

I didn’t get to a few SEC schools that were late to post rosters, so special mention should be made about outfielders from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama. Here are their quick blurbs, all decidedly BUT free…

  • Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi – well-rounded with above-average speed, solid pop, CF range, and a live bat; somehow leading the nation in homers as of this writing at only 5-10, 175 pounds, which says about his strength and swing
  • Alabama SO OF Casey Hughston – swings and misses too much for my taste, though he’s still one of the draft’s best athletes and power hitters who is having a giant second season
  • Kentucky JR OF Kyle Barrett – reminds me a little bit of Laird as a speedy center fielder with fourth outfielder upside, might be a better all-around player
  • Kentucky JR OF Ka’aI Tom – size and tools don’t blow you away, yet he’s found a way to produce at every stop

LSU

Wherever he lands defensively, Bregman is going to hit. The ability to play one of the middle infield spots and hit while doing it is what makes him as close to a first round lock as there is in this college class. If that sounds like exceedingly simple analysis, well, that’s because it is. He has an easy to identify above-average or better hit tool, average to above-average speed that plays up due to his impressive feel for the game, average raw power with an emphasis on splitting the gaps, plenty of bat speed, and a consistently smart approach at the plate. There aren’t a lot of holes you can poke in his game from an offensive standpoint. One thing I’ve found particularly fascinating about Bregman as a prospect is the response you get when his name comes up within the game. I think I’ve heard more comps on Bregman than literally any player I can remember. Something about his game just evokes that “every man” feeling deep inside talent evaluators, I guess. Take a look at the list I currently have of comps I’ve personally heard for Bregman: Mike Lansing, Mark Ellis (BA has used this), Robby Thompson, Orlando Hudson, Tony Renda, Randy Velarde, Bill Mueller, Jose Vidro, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Ray Durham, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark DeRosa. There’s also the increasingly popular Dustin Pedroia comp, which makes sense on the surface but is a scary comparison for anybody due to the unique set of circumstances (or, more plainly, an obsessive/borderline maniacal drive to be great) that has led to Pedroia’s rise in the game. I’ve also heard the cautionary comp of Bobby Crosby, though I’m not sure I buy the two being all the similar at similar points in their respective development. A statistical look comparing Bregman and Crosby makes for an interesting conversation starter (if, you know, you’re friends with other obsessive college baseball/draft fans)…

AB: .344/.408/.504 – 51 BB/46 K – 28/35 SB – 526 AB
BC: .340/.417/.496 – 70 BB/103 K – 40/51 SB – 635 AB

Top is Bregman so far, bottom is Crosby’s career college numbers. It would have worked better if I had left out the BB/K ratios, but that would have been intellectually dishonest and I’m far too morally upstanding to stoop to statistical manipulation to make a point. I’d never dream of doing such a thing. Hey, look at this comparison…

AB: .369/.419/.546 – 25 BB/24 K – 17/18 SB – 282 AB
AH: .329/.391/.550 – 20 BB/20 K – 10/11 SB – 222 AB

The top is Bregman’s first year at LSU, the bottom is Aaron Hill’s first year at LSU. Notice how I didn’t say freshman year: Hill transferred from Southern Illinois to LSU after his freshman season. Since we’ve already gone down this dark and twisted road of statistical manipulation, let’s go even deeper…

AB: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
AH: .299/.375/.463 – 15 BB/27 K – 6/7 SB – 134 AB

Those would be Bregman and Hill’s “other” college season; more specifically, you’re looking at Hill’s freshman year at Southern Illinois and Bregman’s more recent season. I’m not sure what could be gained from comparing these two seasons, but, hey, look how similar! Jokes aside — though, seriously, those are some freaky similar numbers — I think the comparison between Alex Bregman and Aaron Hill is probably the most apt comp out there at this point. If the numbers don’t sway you, just check Hill’s playing card from his draft year at Baseball America…

In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he’ll get the shot to prove he can’t. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his tools–which aren’t lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He’s not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn’t have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps.

I don’t normally post full sections like that, but come on! Replace Hill for Bregman and that’s pretty much spot-on! Well, the bit about this being a draft thin on shortstops might not work that well — if the 2015 draft is strong at any one position player group in the college game, it’s shortstop — but still. Interesting to me that this quick scouting report glossed over Hill’s offensive promise much in the same way I coincidentally (I swear!) did with Bregman above. It’s almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Hill would hit enough to play somewhere, just like how many, myself included, view Bregman today. I like Bregman to hit a little bit more than Hill, run a little bit better than Hill, and field a little bit better than Hill. Otherwise, I think the comparison is pretty damn good.

Tennessee

Of all the teams profiled so far, none have a 1-2 outfield punch of 2015 draft prospects quite like Tennessee’s duo of JR OFs Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson. Neither are likely first round prospects, so there are imperfections in their respective games that will be watched closely this spring. Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.

The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.

Alabama
Georgia
Mississippi
Arkansas
Vanderbilt

Swanson broke out last season in a big, big way. His first real test at the college level was hardly a test at all as he hit .333/.411/.475 with 37 BB and 39 K in 282 AB. He also added 22 steals in 27 attempts for good measure. The numbers obviously speak for themselves, but it’s still nice when the scouting reports back it up. Swanson can really play. I’ll indirectly piggyback a bit on Baseball America’s Trea Turner (with less speed) comp and reuse one of my comps for Turner last year for Swanson. It actually fits a lot better now, so I don’t feel too bad going to the Brett Gardner well in back-to-back drafts. The package of athleticism, speed, defensive upside at a critical up-the-middle spot with an above-average hit tool and average-ish power (little less, probably) works out to a consistently above-average regular with the chance for stardom — certainly flashes of it — within reach.

There’s a bit of a gap between Vanderbilt’s (draft) class of 2015 and Wiseman, but that speaks to the strength of having four likely first round picks more so than any major deficits in Wiseman’s game. I’ve run into two interesting schools of thought about Wiseman while putting this together. The first, and I’ll admit that this was my initial view from the start, is that he’s still more tools than skills right now. The tools are quite strong, but the fact that they haven’t turned into the skills many expected by now gives some pause. Still, those tools that were clear to almost all going back to his high school days are still real and still worth getting excited about. The breakout could come any day now for him and when it does we’ll be looking at a potential first-division regular in the outfield. The opposing view believes that Wiseman’s development has gone as scripted and what we’re seeing right now is more or less what we’re going to get with him. He’s a great athlete and a far more cerebral hitter than given credit, but the tools were overstated across the board at the onset of his amateur career and now we’re seeing expectations for him correcting themselves based on what he really is. There really are no pluses in his game and no carrying tool that will help him rise above his future fourth outfielder station. I’m a believer that it’s always wise to bet on athletes having the light bulb turn on before too long, so count me in as still leaning closer to the former (and my original) position. I do understand the concerns about Wiseman potentially topping out as a “tweener” outfield prospect — he hasn’t shown the power yet to work in a corner, but that’s where he’s clearly best defensively — so going on the first day might be off the table. He’s still an intriguing blend of production (good, not mind-blowing) and tools (same) who could wind up a relative bargain if he slips much later than that. I could see him both being ranked and drafted in the same area that I had him listed (110th overall) out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols.

In any event, I don’t think Wiseman’s viewed by many as quite the prospect he was back in high school and a good part of that was the way many — me included — viewed his rawness, age, and relative inexperience as a New England high school product as positives. We all are guilty of assuming there are concretely meaningful patterns we can expect from prospect development and that all young players will continue to get better with age and experience. Development is not linear and can be wildly unpredictable. Some guys are as good as they are going to get at 17 while others don’t figure it out (unfortunately) until way after their physical peak. This speaks to the heart of what makes assessing and drafting amateurs so much fun. We’re all just trying to gather as much information on as many players as possible and then making the best possible guesses as to what we’ll wind up with.

Auburn

The surest bet in the Auburn lineup is JR OF/2B Jordan Ebert. Ebert doesn’t get enough love as one of the college game’s best pure hitters. That above-average or better hit tool combined with enough pop and speed allow him to potentially profile as an above-average regular offensively. I think his glove will play at any of the spots he’s tried — 2B, 3B, OF — but think his value will likely lie in his ability to play multiple spots — especially those where he can show off his plus arm — well. If you only knew what I just wrote about Ebert, you’d surely think he’s a big-time 2015 draft prospect, but, at least for now, an overly aggressive approach at the plate (31 BB/54 K) holds back his appeal to a degree. I still like him quite a bit; quite simply, guys with hit tools like his are not to be dismissed. If Ebert can settle in to a spot defensively (likely a corner OF spot), flash a touch more power, and clean up his approach a bit, he’ll become a prime candidate to become one of college ball’s fastest risers in 2015. I still think a pro team will try to keep him in the dirt for as long as humanly possible after signing. As an outfielder, he profiles as a high-level backup, especially if he can hang in center a bit. As an infielder, however, he’s a potential everyday contributor.

Missouri

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting

(This was my pre-season list with a few minor tweaks where I could remember to update certain position rankings. Outside of the first five picks or so, it doesn’t really reflect where I’m at roughly three months after putting it together initially. I considered not publishing it at all and waiting until I have time to do a full revision to get it up, but so long as everybody understands it is already a bit dated I figured there’s no harm sharing. Consider it a glorified follow list, if nothing else.)

  1. Vanderbilt JR SS/2B Dansby Swanson
  2. Louisiana State JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman
  3. Florida JR OF Harrison Bader
  4. Louisiana State JR OF Andrew Stevenson
  5. Florida JR SS/OF Richie Martin
  6. Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart
  7. South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock
  8. Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson
  9. Alabama JR 2B/SS Mikey White
  10. Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman
  11. Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi
  12. Auburn JR OF/2B Jordan Ebert
  13. Louisiana State JR OF Mark Laird
  14. Alabama SO OF Casey Hughston
  15. Tennessee SR OF Jonathan Youngblood
  16. Kentucky JR OF Kyle Barrett
  17. Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox
  18. South Carolina SR 1B Kyle Martin
  19. Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel
  20. Florida SR 3B/2B Josh Tobias
  21. Auburn JR SS Cody Nulph
  22. Alabama JR OF Georgie Salem
  23. Alabama JR 2B/RHP Kyle Overstreet
  24. Louisiana State JR C Chris Chinea
  25. Alabama SO C Will Haynie
  26. Mississippi SR 1B/C Sikes Orvis
  27. Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom
  28. Kentucky JR OF Ka’ai Tom
  29. Texas A&M JR OF/1B Jonathan Moroney
  30. Arkansas rJR OF Tyler Spoon
  31. South Carolina JR SS Marcus Mooney
  32. South Carolina JR 2B/SS DC Arendas
  33. Georgia JR C Zack Bowers
  34. Louisiana State SR C Kade Scivicque
  35. Arkansas SR OF Joe Serrano
  36. Louisiana State SR 1B/3B Conner Hale
  37. Texas A&M SR 2B/SS Blake Allemand
  38. Texas A&M SR 3B/RHP Logan Nottebrok
  39. Arkansas rJR SS Brett McAfee
  40. Vanderbilt JR OF/RHP Kyle Smith
  41. Auburn JR OF Sam Gillikin
  42. Mississippi State rSR 1B Wes Rea
  43. Texas A&M JR C/OF Boomer White
  44. Georgia JR 1B Morgan Bunting
  45. Kentucky rSO OF Storm Wilson
  46. Auburn JR 1B/OF Dylan Smith
  47. Tennessee JR OF Chris Hall
  48. Mississippi State rSO OF Cody Brown
  49. Alabama JR 3B Daniel Cucjen
  50. Mississippi State SR SS Seth Heck
  51. Texas A&M JR 3B/SS Logan Taylor
  52. Texas A&M JR 1B/RHP Hunter Melton
  53. Texas A&M SR C Mitchell Nau
  54. Kentucky JR C Zach Arnold
  55. Texas A&M JR OF JB Moss
  56. Georgia SR OF/RHP Heath Holder

2015 MLB Draft Prospects – Louisiana State

JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman (2015)
JR OF Andrew Stevenson (2015)
JR OF Mark Laird (2015)
JR C Chris Chinea (2015)
SR 1B Conner Hale (2015)
SR OF Jared Foster (2015)
SR C Kade Scivicque (2015)
SR OF Chris Sciambra (2015)
SR RHP Brady Domangue (2015)
SR RHP Zac Person (2015)
SR LHP Kyle Bouman (2015)
rSO RHP Hunter Newman (2015)
rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (2015)
JR LHP Hunter Devall (2015)
SO OF Jake Fraley (2016)
SO LHP Jared Poche (2016)
SO RHP Parker Bugg (2016)
SO 2B Danny Zardon (2016)
SO 2B Kramer Robertson (2016)
SO RHP Collin Strall (2016)
SO RHP Alden Cartwright (2016)
FR RHP Alex Lange (2017)
FR RHP Jake Godfrey (2017)
FR LHP Jake Latz (2017)
FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (2017)
FR C Mike Papierski (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bain (2017)
FR SS Grayson Byrd (2017)
FR RHP Doug Norman (2017)
FR OF Beau Jordan (2017)
FR C/1B Bryce Jordan (2017)

There seem to be a pair of highly defensive sides developing when it comes to making a definitive declaration about JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman’s eventual defensive home. One side — the college baseball writers — seem personally offended whenever the other side — the draft writers — suggest Bregman will have to play anything but shortstop as a professional. The whole disagreement speaks to the uneasy relationship so many — players, coaches, parents, fans — have with balancing enjoying the college game for what it is with understanding the different level of analysis needed to determine the likelihood a player’s tools will continue to grow into skills when bumped to the professional game. Part of the logic from the college baseball watching side makes sense to me — bat, ball, glove…baseball is baseball, so if you can play then you can play — but scouting strictly based on performance and outcomes is a very bad road to travel. In any given at bat, game, or season, sure, the outcome trumps all else. If you get the big hit, big run, or big win, then, in that defining moment, it only should matter that it happened, not how it happened. But when trying to make projections about an all too uncertain future, understanding why and how something happened is ultimately far more valuable. Sometimes a limited process can get you desirable outcomes, but eventually that’s going to catch up with you.

I’m not writing all this to say that Bregman’s current success at shortstop in college masks the physical limitations that scouts see when trying to project a big league future for him. That does seem to be the consensus view of those on the side who watch and follow college baseball solely to find the next generation of professional players, a group of which I’ve made no bones about being a part of. I, however, am not yet willing to go there because I honestly don’t yet know what to make of Bregman’s defense. The safe bet would be to write him off as a future shortstop and go forward thinking of him as a second baseman. Forced to guess, I’d say that’s his most likely outcome. That doesn’t mean I think it’s crazy to think he could start his career off at shortstop for a few cheap, cost-controlled seasons. Thank goodness we all have another season’s worth of games to evaluate him before making a “final” decision (note: this decision is in no way final and can and likely will be changed multiple times early on his pro career, if not on the actual field than certainly in the internal conversations had by the player development staff of whatever team selects him) on his future. Ultimately, I think his defensive future will come down to a fairly simple either/or: you can have a slightly below-average shortstop with the chance to play his way to average before his lack of foot speed necessitates a move back to second OR you can have an average to above-average second baseman with the chance to play his way to plus with continued work on developing the finer points (e.g., footwork around the bag on the turn, positioning with each hitter, improving the first step on a ball hit to either side of him) of the position.

Wherever he lands defensively, Bregman is going to hit. The ability to play one of the middle infield spots and hit while doing it is what makes him as close to a first round lock as there is in this college class. If that sounds like exceedingly simple analysis, well, that’s because it is. He has an easy to identify above-average or better hit tool, average to above-average speed that plays up due to his impressive feel for the game, average raw power with an emphasis on splitting the gaps, plenty of bat speed, and a consistently smart approach at the plate. There aren’t a lot of holes you can poke in his game from an offensive standpoint. One thing I’ve found particularly fascinating about Bregman as a prospect is the response you get when his name comes up within the game. I think I’ve heard more comps on Bregman than literally any player I can remember. Something about his game just evokes that “every man” feeling deep inside talent evaluators, I guess. Take a look at the list I currently have of comps I’ve personally heard for Bregman: Mike Lansing, Mark Ellis (BA has used this), Robby Thompson, Orlando Hudson, Tony Renda, Randy Velarde, Bill Mueller, Jose Vidro, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Ray Durham, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark DeRosa. There’s also the increasingly popular Dustin Pedroia comp, which makes sense on the surface but is a scary comparison for anybody due to the unique set of circumstances (or, more plainly, an obsessive/borderline maniacal drive to be great) that has led to Pedroia’s rise in the game. I’ve also heard the cautionary comp of Bobby Crosby, though I’m not sure I buy the two being all the similar at similar points in their respective development. A statistical look comparing Bregman and Crosby makes for an interesting conversation starter (if, you know, you’re friends with other obsessive college baseball/draft fans)…

AB: .344/.408/.504 – 51 BB/46 K – 28/35 SB – 526 AB
BC: .340/.417/.496 – 70 BB/103 K – 40/51 SB – 635 AB

Top is Bregman so far, bottom is Crosby’s career college numbers. It would have worked better if I had left out the BB/K ratios, but that would have been intellectually dishonest and I’m far too morally upstanding to stoop to statistical manipulation to make a point. I’d never dream of doing such a thing. Hey, look at this comparison…

AB: .369/.419/.546 – 25 BB/24 K – 17/18 SB – 282 AB
AH: .329/.391/.550 – 20 BB/20 K – 10/11 SB – 222 AB

The top is Bregman’s first year at LSU, the bottom is Aaron Hill’s first year at LSU. Notice how I didn’t say freshman year: Hill transferred from Southern Illinois to LSU after his freshman season. Since we’ve already gone down this dark and twisted road of statistical manipulation, let’s go even deeper…

AB: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
AH: .299/.375/.463 – 15 BB/27 K – 6/7 SB – 134 AB

Those would be Bregman and Hill’s “other” college season; more specifically, you’re looking at Hill’s freshman year at Southern Illinois and Bregman’s more recent season. I’m not sure what could be gained from comparing these two seasons, but, hey, look how similar! Jokes aside — though, seriously, those are some freaky similar numbers — I think the comparison between Alex Bregman and Aaron Hill is probably the most apt comp out there at this point. If the numbers don’t sway you, just check Hill’s playing card from his draft year at Baseball America

In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he’ll get the shot to prove he can’t. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his tools–which aren’t lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He’s not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn’t have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps.

I don’t normally post full sections like that, but come on! Replace Hill for Bregman and that’s pretty much spot-on! Well, the bit about this being a draft thin on shortstops might not work that well — if the 2015 draft is strong at any one position player group in the college game, it’s shortstop — but still. Interesting to me that this quick scouting report glossed over Hill’s offensive promise much in the same way I coincidentally (I swear!) did with Bregman above. It’s almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Hill would hit enough to play somewhere, just like how many, myself included, view Bregman today. I like Bregman to hit a little bit more than Hill, run a little bit better than Hill, and field a little bit better than Hill. Otherwise, I think the comparison is pretty damn good.

JR OFs Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird are both elite runners and defenders in center field. I prefer Laird by the tiniest of margins (little more patience), but both have skill sets that will keep them employed for years in the minors, perhaps even long enough to one day break through at the big league level as a fourth/fifth outfielder. Stevenson might actually be the better bet going forward, but it’ll take flipping his BB/K numbers around (25 BB/53 K career mark) to really take off as a prospect. It’s incredibly difficult to predict a sudden jump in plate discipline, but I think there are some interesting indicators in Stevenson’s approach that could help get him where he needs to be. SR OF Jared Foster might get squeezed out in this crowded outfield yet again — SO OF Jake Fraley (.372/.419/.521 in 121 freshman AB) needs time, too — but he’s a great athlete who can really run and throw. It’s hard to imagine a better defensive outfield in the country than Stevenson, Laird, and Foster. For as much as I believe Stevenson is on the verge of a breakout season, JR C Chris Chinea’s expected 2015 should rival whatever he winds up doing. Chinea is a strong, mobile defender behind the plate who has held his own as a hitter in limited at bats to date. If he gets steady time — the underrated SR C Kade Scivicque could stand in his way — then I could see his patient approach and big raw power leading to big things at the plate. SR 1B Conner Hale had a similar offensive season to Scivicque’s 2014 and if the two build on those performances, it would be a surprise to see them passed over as senior signs this June.

There’s no Aaron Nola in this year’s pitching class, but rather a collection of good but not great arms with varying degrees of pro upside. If healthy, rSO RHP Russell Reynolds (88-93 FB, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) might be the best prospect. A case could also be made for another inexperienced pitcher, rSO RHP Hunter Newman. Newman’s fastball is in that same range, but he’s flashes a better breaking ball (mid-70s CB with plus upside) and brings a frame with more projection (6-3, 185 pounds) to the mound. SR LHP Kyle Bouman and RHPs Brady Domangue and Zac Person all live in the mid- to upper-80s with nice offspeed stuff. Person’s numbers jump out (9.32 K/9 and 3.86 BB/9 in 28 IP) over the rest, but all have at least a chance to be senior signs with big years.

With Bregman this year and guys like SO 2B Danny Zardon, SO 2B Kramer Robertson, FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann (if he’s not a star for this team, I’m quitting the internet draft game), and FR SS Grayson Byrd all in the pipeline, LSU has a chance to be known as “Middle Infield U” in the coming years. They’d have the chance to continue in the tradition of Ryan Schmipf, DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Hanover, Raph Rhymes, Austin Nola, and Jacoby Jones as recent Tiger middle infield prospects (yes, I realize I’m cheating some by including Rhymes and Jones) turned professional ballplayers. And even though the talent on the mound this year won’t blow you away, LSU also always seems to have a steady stream of useful arms coming through the program. Look at some the underclass talent poised to take over in the next year or three: SO LHP Jared Poche, SO RHP Parker Bugg, SO RHP Alden Cartwright, FR RHPs Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey, and FR LHP Jake Latz. This team is loaded.