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Through absolutely no fault of his own, Central Arizona JC (AZ) OF Keenyn Walker (134th ranked draft prospect) drives me nuts. A few months ago I had just finished writing up a particularly insightful piece (if I do say so myself) on 2011’s junior college prospects (Walker included) when a wayward first grader sent my laptop crashing to the floor. Most, but not all, of my work was recovered. Losing my notes on the junior college prospects was rough, but I’ll do my best not to associate that sad, expensive day when evaluating Walker. I wrote about him a bit last year after the Phillies drafted him (see below). I felt that report was fairly positive, but I now feel even better about Walker’s prospects. He should be an above-average defender in center with top of the lineup speed and double digit home run power.
I like him more than your typical toolsy junior college outfielder because of his history dating back to his high school days as a guy with serious thunder from the left side. Whether or not that power plays professionally remains to be seen, but his plus athleticism, good speed, and strong arm will all help if the bat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Guys like California RHP Erik Johnson (205th ranked draft prospect) are what make scouting tricky. At his best, Johnson looks like a mid-rotation horse with two quality offspeed offerings that flash plus. On his rougher days – like the day I saw him throw this past spring – he is a one pitch pitcher (fastballs only) that profiles best as a reliever. I realize this could be said about so many prospects, but I’ll state the obvious anyway: so much of this player’s development will come down to his adjustment to the pro game. If Johnson stays in shape/drops a few pounds and finds himself a consistent release point on the mound, he’s a big league starter. If not, he’s a reliever at best.
California JR RHP Erik Johnson: heavy 90-92 FB, 93-94 peak; emerging 76-78 CB that is now a weapon; 81-84 CU needs work, but is now plus pitch with added velo; command needs work; decent 85-88 SL that could also be a cutter; no sure fire consistent plus offering; 6-3, 240 pounds
Johnson County CC (KS) RHP Jeff Soptic (250th ranked draft prospect) is like a watered down version of the guy taken by the White Sox one round earlier. He’s got a big league fastball and has shown flashes of quality offspeed stuff, but has struggled with consistency, both command and control, and his mechanics.
Johnson County CC SO RHP Jeff Soptic: 93-96 FB, 98-100 peak; flashes plus 83-84 SL; average CU on his best day; control issues; 6-6, 200
Kent State RHP Kyle McMillen and Stanford LHP Scott Snodgress are more than just quality pitching prospects; they are data points for those (like me) who make the case that the 2011 draft had a once in a generation group of college pitchers. These two guys were buried on the college pitching prospect depth chart, but they both have big league talent. Snodgress, the more likely of the two to remain a starter, is particularly interesting as a lefthander with an above-average to plus fastball and the makings of a pair of average or better offspeed pitches. McMillen lacks a putaway breaking ball at this point, but has a solid heater and outstanding athleticism.
Kent State JR RHP/1B Kyle McMillen (2011): 89-92 FB, 93-94 peak; decent SL; average CU; power potential; 6-2, 185 pounds
Stanford JR LHP Scott Snodgress (2011): low- to mid- 90s FB, touches 96; potentially above-average CB and CU; 6-5, 210 pounds; sitting 90-92 in 2011; also at 88-91, 92 peak
I’m not a huge fan of California SS Marcus Semien (utility infielder ceiling), but he’s decent value as a sixth rounder. Pittsburgh C Kevan Smith (186th ranked draft prospect), however, is a totally different story. I’m an unabashed huge fan of his and consider him way more than just decent value as a seventh rounder; he’s a flat out steal. The tools have turned into skills, and I’m willing to go out on a limb and say I think Smith is a future big league starting catcher.
Semien is considered a draft sleeper by many, but I don’t see it. He probably has the range and arm to stay at short, so that’s a plus, but without much in the way of a hit tool, power, or speed, there isn’t enough there to project him as a big leaguer at this point.
Smith has been awesome at the plate and on the base paths (10/11 SB). It is great to see a player with such special physical gifts who is able to translate raw upside into big time college production. I never really have much of a clue how actual big league front offices view draft prospects and I haven’t heard any buzz about Smith’s draft stock, but I sure like him. Definitely on my short list of top senior signs.
Not signing eight round pick Angelina JC (TX) RHP Ian Gardeck is rough. I’ve seen him a few times over the years, from his time at Dayton to his days playing summer ball up in New England, and always came away impressed. His biggest current issues are, in order, poor command, a violent delivery, and a lack of any semblance of a third pitch. I tend to think his command has a chance to at least ramp up to average if his delivery – featuring a pronounced herky jerky head movement – gets cleaned up. That takes care of the first two issues. If, and that’s an “if” with a capital I, the coaches at Alabama can help with his delivery/command, Gardeck will be in the running for first college reliever off the board next June. That, in a way, takes care of the third issues; no need for a third pitch when you’ve got two plus offerings as a reliever.
Angelina JC SO RHP Ian Gardeck (2011): 91-93 FB, 94-96 peak, now hitting 98; good mid- to upper-80s SL; huge command issues; good athlete; Dayton transfer; holds velocity really well; violent delivery; 6-2, 210
Northwest Florida State JC (FL) LHP Matt Lane continues the trend of Chicago selecting big pitchers with quality fastballs and questionable breaking stuff. Unsigned Santa Fe CC (FL) LHP Ben O’Shea also happens to be a big pitcher (6-6, 250 pounds) with a quality fastball and questionable breaking stuff, though his change is more advanced than Lane’s. He’ll head to Maryland and be eligible for next year’s draft.
On account of the White Sox frugality and unwillingness to bust slot, there are a ton of college prospects outside of the top ten rounds to discuss. For reference’s sake, a “ton” in this case is equal to 32 rounds worth of college or junior college players. That’s crazy. Kicking things off we have California C Chadd Krist (Round 13). Krist has the defensive chops to play pro ball, but will have to ply his wares at the college level another year. He’s a backup catcher at best for now, but continued offensive improvement would make him an easy top ten round senior sign catching prospect in 2012.
Krist’s defense has been dinged as inconsistent in the past, but having seen him play a couple times in 2011 I have to say I think he’s underrated behind the plate. His arm might not rate above average and his power upside is limited, but he does enough just well enough to have backup catcher upside.
Chicago also couldn’t sign their next pick Oklahoma State 3B Mark Ginther (Round 14). Ginther has a world of untapped upside who could emerge as a top five round prospect and future big league starter at the hot corner.
I came into the year thinking Ginther was a better player than he has shown, and I still feel that way after another good but not great college season. His athleticism is up there with any college third baseman in the class and his arm strength is an asset defensively, but his hit tool hasn’t shown much progress in his three years with the Cowboys. Ginther certainly looks the part of a potential big league third baseman with three well above-average tools (defense, arm, power) and special athleticism, but it’ll take much more contact and a less loopy swing if he wants to make it as a regular.
James Madison SS David Herbek (Round 15) was good value in the fifteenth round as a high floor player with the upside of an offense-first infielder off the bench. The Bill Mueller comp from last year represents his absolute ceiling.
Last year I wrote: “Herbek is a certifiable draft sleeper. He currently has gap power to all fields, but his beautifully level line drive stroke (reminiscent of Bill Mueller’s righthanded swing) has me thinking there is double digit home run potential if he can add some strength in the coming years.”
I didn’t anticipate that double digit home run totals to come in just over 200 senior year at bats, but there you go. His bat ranks up there with almost any other college shortstop in his class, but the relatively low ranking can be owed to his occasionally spotty defense. As an offense-first infielder off the bench he’ll do just fine.
Arkansas OF Collin Kuhn (Round 17) does everything pretty well but throw. Jack of all trades, master of none players often find homes as reserve outfielders if they show enough of the hit tool early on.
Arkansas JR OF Collin Kuhn (2011): strong hit tool; good runner; good power; great range; good approach; great athlete
Connecticut RHP Kevin Vance (Round 19) was outstanding value this late in the draft. I like his stuff at least as much if not more than Chicago’s fourth round pick, Kyle McMillen. The evidence that we just witnessed a crazy strong college pitching draft continues to mount.
Connecticut JR RHP/3B Kevin Vance (2011): 88-92 FB; plus CB; plus command; has some experience behind plate; average power; 6-0, 200 pounds
Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.
Between rounds 20 and 25 the White Sox selected college players from the state of California with five out of six picks. Two of those players are Southern California 2B Joe DePinto (Round 21) and UC Santa Barbara OF Mark Haddow (Round 24). DePinto fell as a prospect due to an ACL injury, but is now back to full health. Haddow was a nice senior sign who shows flashes of four of the five tools, but the one that is lacking (the hit tool) is a biggie.
UC Santa Barbara SR OF Mark Haddow (2011): good athlete; plus power potential; too many K’s; good runner; solid-average RF arm; 6-2, 215 pounds; (263/365/409 – 22 BB/48 K – 17/21 SB – 198 AB)
JR OF Mark Haddow (2010 – UC Santa Barbara) offers up plus power potential, but also strikeouts about as much as you’d expected from a raw college player with plus power potential. Luckily, power isn’t his only claim to fame. Haddow can also rely on his solid athleticism, better than you’d think speed, and slightly above-average big league right field arm. He has the raw tools to dramatically rise up draft boards, but first needs to take a more disciplined approach at the plate to show big league clubs he’d cut it as something more than a backup outfielder professionally. If he begins even to hint at improvement in those deficient areas in his game, I’d bet good money some team out there will draft him with the idea that he’ll be a big league starter in right someday.
West Virginia 3B Grant Buckner (Round 26) went from relative unknown (to me, at least) to legitimate senior sign draft pick. His arm and raw power are his two best tools, but what I like most about him as a prospect is his defensive versatility.
Valhalla HS (CA) C Bryce Mosier (Round 33) will go down in the history books as Chicago’s first American high school draftee in 2011. He’s also a solid catching prospect who many teams didn’t think of as signable after round 15. The White Sox, much to their credit, did their homework and stuck with him as he fell down the board. I’m a big fan of his ability behind the plate and believe his arm is one of the best of any 2011 high school catcher. The White Sox followed up the pick of Mosier with another prep player, Washington HS (IA) RHP Dakota Freese (Round 34). Don’t go uncorking the champagne just yet because, unfortunately, they didn’t sign him. He’s off to LSU-Eunice where he’ll have the opportunity to pitch early and put himself in position to go in the top ten rounds in 2012. Irresponsible anonymous source alert: a scout friend praised his stuff this past spring before quickly saying they couldn’t recommend him to higher ups because of questions about how he’d handle the professional part of pro ball.
RHP Dakota Freese (Washington HS, Iowa): 88-90 FB, 92 peak; good CB; 6-4, 190
Our quick high school interlude is over; like young adults all over the country this week, it is time to head back to college. I’ve written a disproportionate amount on Virginia RHP Cody Winiarski (Round 36) over the years. He looks like a solid minor league arm at this point. Liberty RHP Keegan Linza (Round 38), he of the bigger fastball, looks like he could be a little more than that.
Virginia SR RHP Cody Winiarski (2011): high-80s fastball, 88-90, 92 peak; good 81-83 CU; average SL
Liberty SR RHP Keegan Linza (2011): low-90s
The unsigned trio of Helix Charter HS (CA) RHP Jake Reed (Round 40), Lawrence County HS (KY) RHP Chandler Shepherd (Round 41), and Madison JC (WI) RHP Joel Effertz (Round 43) all should be heard from in the coming years. Reed and Shepherd are especially intriguing prospects; both are athletic, have frames to put on some size, and better than expected (for late round high school pitchers) breaking stuff.