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Chicago White Sox 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Chicago White Sox 2011 Draft Selections

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.

Game Notes: Connecticut @ Villanova

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft First Round Prospect George Springer

Connecticut JR OF George Springer

JR OF George Springer looked nothing like the player I had read so much about this spring. His results may not have been what you’d like to see, but the improved process stood out. Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

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He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on. He’s also probably an organizational guy at this point, but he can always take pride that he’s the player featured in my header.

SO OF Billy Ferriter disappointed me a bit. Definite pro body, but he made a habit of swinging at junk and watching meaty fastballs go by. Small sample size, I know, but scouts made note that he’s made a habit of getting himself out all year long. Still like the upside, but have to keep telling myself he is only in his second year college ball. He’s draft-eligible this year, but unlikely to sign.

Really impressed by SO 2B LJ Mazzilli‘s swing and approach at the plate. He has a little toe-tap timing mechanism that reminds me a little bit of Mark Reynolds’ swing, only without the swing-and-miss length. Good speed, good athleticism, and good hands should keep him up the middle, and a little physical maturation at the plate could help turn him into one of those super annoying scrappy middle infielders we all know and love (or hate, depending on the player).

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.

Villanova JR LHP Kyle Helisek has one of the most extreme wrist wraps/curls in the back during his delivery that I can remember. I won’t pretend to be an expert on pitching mechanics, but his windup looked painful to me. My main focus on the day was watching the Connecticut bats, so I didn’t notice much more than that, but I’ll probably see Helisek a few more times before the end of the year and/or next season.

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft Prospect Nick Ahmed

Connecticut JR SS Nick Ahmed

I’m way more excited about JR SS Nick Ahmed‘s pro prospects after a weekend watching him play. My favorite sequence came after a 1-1 bunt attempt. Ahmed was hit with a pitch, but the umpire ruled he didn’t pull the bat back as he attempted to bunt for a hit. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the first base line until the umpire actually made the call. Ahmed was visibly upset with the call and kept repeating “no chance, no chance…” as he took to himself and anybody that would listen. Fast forward to later in the at bat: 3-2 count, fastball up in the zone, home run drilled deep and gone to left. No woofing afterwards, just a quick sprint around the bases, and back to the dugout. I’m still not totally sold on his power upside, but think he’ll hit enough to be league average with the bat assuming he plays a premium defensive position. On that note…

Ahmed is more difficult to judge in the field. He doesn’t look like a traditional shortstop (listed at 6-2, 205, though he was eye-to-eye with the 6-3 Springer), but he’s got a plus arm (not a direct comparison, but he has a similar flick of the wrist style throw to Jose Reyes) and more than enough athleticism to range in both directions. If he’s not a pro shortstop, and I really think he is, then he’d be best served moving to center, so as to better utilize his athleticism and surprising first step quickness, with third base as a backup to the backup. He has a long way to go before he becomes the player he’ll eventually be (if you can follow that), but I feel pretty comfortable slapping a big league utility guy floor on him.

Quick College Look Ahead – UConn, LSU, and Kansas

Not sure what direction to take now that I’m finally staring at almost four months without “meaningful” baseball. Right now the plan is to go back and respond to any comments I’ve missed over the past few weeks, continue plugging away with college/high school draft scouting reports, and sharing out any interesting tidbits that I happen to run across – probably doing that last bit on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. I’m open to providing just about any kind of content (college team profiles, closer look at high school player groups, top ten positional rankings, whatever), so if there is anything in particular that anybody wants to see, drop me a comment or an email. It’s a loooooooooong offseason and this normally a pretty dead period for any kind of draft news, but reading and writing about faraway prospects may help the next couple of frigid months go a little quicker. For now, here are a couple notes about some interesting college teams and players to watch heading into 2010.

Connecticut

The Huskies feature one of the nation’s most intriguing pair of two-way talents in SO RHP/SS Nick Ahmed (2011) and SO RHP/3B Kevin Vance (2011). Ahmed turned some serious heads in summer league play with a fastball sitting in the low-90s, a low-70s curve with promise, and a presently league average change. Ahmed may have been the hotter name over the summer, but Vance’s stuff is currently a touch better. He has similar velocity to Ahmed (normally sitting 90-92 with the FB), but a better overall breaking ball and plus command give him the overall edge. Both players figure to see plenty of time on the mound in 2010, though neither should be limited to just pitching. Ahmed and Vance will each fight for time on the left side of the infield, an area that Connecticut has well covered between the two two-way guys and returning star Mike Olt. If Ahmed locks down either the 3B or SS spot on a semi-regular basis (with Olt manning the other spot), don’t be surprised to see Vance get a shot working behind the plate.

LSU

The defending champs bring back an absolutely loaded squad. There are some questions on the pitching side that will need to be sorted out, but the Tigers outfield depth is just silly. SO OF Mike Mahtook (2011), JR OF Leon Landry (2010), and SO Johnny Dishon (2011) would have been my guesses as the starting outfielders heading into the spring, but the return of SR OF Blake Dean (2010) and the arrival of SO OF Trey Watkins (2011) give LSU five legit pro prospects in the outfield. Mahtook is a definite five-tool talent who just looks like a future first rounder, Landry will draw plenty of Jared Mitchell comps due to his football playing background and impressive raw physical tools, and Dishon profiles similarly to Mahtook but may be just a little bit short in each tool category when directly compared to his outfield mate. Dean is slowly rounding back into baseball shape after a run of bad luck offseason medical work. Meanwhile, all early buzz on Trey Watkins has been nothing but positive. Reports of his plus-plus speed have not been exaggerated as Watkins really is a joy to watch run, especially when he is doing the running after having driven a ball into the gap for a triple.

Kansas

The folks in Lawrence figure to be pretty occupied by a different kind of bball through early April, but the left side of the Jayhawks infield deserves an early mention before getting buried in the avalanche that is KU basketball. JR 3B Tony Thompson (2010) has special potential with the bat and a cannon for an arm at third. His 6-5, 220 pound frame, power potential, and questionable future at third base (even with the big arm he may have to slide across the diamond as a pro) garner late career Troy Glaus comps. The man to his left will be JR SS Brandon Macias (2010), another Kansas infielder with plus arm strength. Macias has very good defensive tools that should play up with as he gains experience playing at the highest level of collegiate ball. He has enough pop in his bat to go along with above-average speed to make him an interesting five-tool player to watch this spring.