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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Texas Rangers

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Texas in 2016

21 – Alex Speas
86 – Cole Ragans
111 – Charles Leblanc
121 – Kyle Cody
218 – Kobie Taylor
287 – Kyle Roberts
433 – Sam Huff
443 – Kenny Mendoza
485 – Jonah McReynolds

Complete List of 2016 Texas Rangers Draftees

1.30 – LHP Cole Ragans

I didn’t pick up on it at the time but after talking with some friends in the game who know these sort of things, it became pretty clear to me that Cole Ragans (86) entered this past June as one of the most surprisingly divisive prospects in the 2016 MLB Draft. Discussion on Ragans basically split into three different camps. There were those who absolutely loved him as a mid-first round talent and long-term asset, those who liked his upside just fine but would rather another team try to get the best out of him, and those who took him off their board completely on the basis of his seemingly too strong to sign for a fair price commitment to Florida State. Those who love him rave about his athleticism, size, deception, and projection. Goes without saying that all of those are very good things for an 18-year-old pitcher to bring to the table. The belief of the pro-Ragans side is that his athleticism will help him eventually iron out his inconsistent mechanics, his size (6-4, 185) and deception will help all of his stuff play up and lead to lots of ground ball outs in the pros, and his physical projection will lead to far more low-90s fastballs (and eventually mid-90s peaks) than his current 86-92 MPH (93 peak) heat might have you believe. Those less keen on Ragans highlight his present command and control issues, up-and-down present velocity with no guarantee of long-term growth and staying power, and a lack of a clear future knockout offspeed pitch. The best case scenario outcome on the positive side seems to be a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher (or better) while those lower on Ragans seem him more as a pitcher who will top out as one of those quality arms that always seems to struggle with throwing enough strikes and winds up bouncing from team to team and from the rotation to the bullpen.

Because I’m boring and predictable it shouldn’t come as a big shock that I think he’ll likely fall somewhere in between those two potential ceilings. Ragans can be an athletic lefty with size and promising if untested offspeed stuff while also being a teenager with unanswered questions about his control and pitchability. I lean towards the pro-Ragans crowd (“always bet on athletes” is considered a truism around my household) coming out ahead over the long run, but both positions are reasonable. Either way, Ragans is a major talent that will have a fascinating developmental path from where he is to where he’ll wind up.

2.63 – RHP Alex Speas

I have a few friends in baseball that I can rely on for a decent quote every now and then, but even the prospect of anonymity has some of them unwilling to be quoted directly if I can help it. I don’t mind paraphrasing or aggregating multiple different views (see above), but there’s something about a direct quote, anonymous or not, that gets the blood pumping just a little faster. Thankfully when it came to the Rangers draft this year, I had more than one volunteer step up to give their quick view on what Texas did. My favorite: “Nobody thinks of them this way nationally, but of all the teams in the league that get this rep it’s really those guys who think they are smarter than everybody else. They invented baseball and know scouting better than everybody else, so going off the board is treated as a genius thing there rather than a red flag. It’s a nice place to work because being wrong is being right. They just want athletes and live arms and then put it all on the field staff to make it work.”

Lots to take away from there, right? I try to stay away from the HOT TAKES on this site when I can, but I think that one certainly qualifies. The overarching takeaway for me is that the Rangers simply do things different when it comes to the draft. Hey, if that means walking away with Cole Ragans and Alex Speas (21) with your first two picks, then maybe different is the way to go. Speas is great. Normally I’d like to think my takes are a little more nuanced than that, but I really, really like what I’ve seen out of the 6-4, 180 pound righthander. Explosive fastball (88-94, 96-98 peak), ultra-firm but effective change (mid-80s, up to 90 in some looks this past spring), average or better slider (83-86) that flashes plus, and a quality mid- to upper-70s curve that he’ll drop in as his “in case of emergency” pitch. Like Ragans, there’s a lot of dreaming that goes into Speas’s long-term projection with plenty of hoping that his athleticism will translate to a more consistent delivery (and then that will lead to more consistent command and control), but the upside is undeniably immense. There’s a huge gap between what Speas is and what he could be, but I think it’s fair to throw a future ace ceiling on him based on his raw stuff, athleticism, and amateur track record. This could look like a ridiculous second round steal sooner rather than later.

(Didn’t know where to shoehorn this in, but one contact said he thought Speas’s future is as a top five reliever in baseball. He likened him to former Rangers farmhand Carl Edwards. So there you go.)

3.99 – 3B Kole Enright

No getting around it, I completely whiffed on Kole Enright before the draft. I can’t offer much, but I did manage to get get a few names from smarter people that I can pass along to my adoring public. One contact said this pick reminded him of when the Rangers grabbed Josh Morgan earlier than many expected a few years ago. He may or may not have been the same guy who ranted about the Rangers thinking they are smarter than everybody else above. I told him he was just jealous that Texas trusts their area scouts to mine for lesser known gems and he just nodded sadly in agreement. Or at least that’s what I assume he did; tough to pick up on physical cues like that over email.

I’ve also heard a comparison between Enright and surprise 2014 first round pick of the Pirates Cole Tucker. I like that one a lot. Could be because that’s the comparison I thought of when reading up on and asking around about Enright’s skill set. I did run it by somebody who has seen both guys play (Tucker as a pro, Enright as an amateur) and he said it wasn’t crazy. Putting that one on my next (first) business card. Rob Ozga: Not Crazy!

4.129 – SS Charles Leblanc

I’ve probably said this too often that it doesn’t quite carry quite the same meaning as it would otherwise, but, man, Charles Leblanc (111) to Texas in the fourth round might be my favorite pick in the draft. This is in part because I saw Leblanc this past spring and was incredibly impressed in my short three game view, but I think my love of the big infielder from Pittsburgh goes beyond the small sample size eye test. Leblanc checks every box for me: ultra-productive draft year (.405/.494/.513 with 30 BB/29 K), great size and strength (6-4, 200 pounds), clear carrying tools (power and arm), no obvious weaknesses (solid athlete with decent wheels), young for his class (won’t be 21-years-old until next June)…the list goes on and on. His eventual defensive transition to third base will be one to watch closely as the college shortstop has the ability to man the hot corner but not yet the experience. If that goes off without a hitch, I think Leblanc could be the above-average regular at third that so many (myself included) thought Mike Olt could once be. I’m all-in on Leblanc.

(For the record, a quick check of published draft reviews so far for the terms “favorite pick” and “best pick” only turned up two names so far. Those are far from the most conclusive search terms I could use, but my hyperbole still wasn’t quite as bad as I feared. Jake Elliott and Jon Duplantier were the recipients of that praise, FWIW. I didn’t come right out and say it, but Alex Speas in the second round is another one of my favorite picks. Nice work by Texas here.)

5.159 – LHP Kyle Roberts

I won’t pretend to be the foremost expert on Kyle Roberts (287), the Rangers fifth round pick out of Henry Ford CC, but what little information I do have on the big lefthander skews positive. Roberts is a hard-thrower (up to the mid-90s) with a really promising upper-70s to low-80s slider (plus upside) and enough feel for some slower stuff (curve, change) that you can dream on the 6-6, 210 pounder as a potential starter if he keeps moving in the right direction. The fallback is pretty nice as well as I’ve heard that teams value lefties with size, velocity, and nasty sliders in the bullpen quite a bit these days. As an extremely raw prospect, it’s no big shock that one of Roberts’s biggest concerns at this stage is a lack of present control. His awesome K/9 at Henry Ford (14.28) was matched only by the (almost) equal yet opposite ugliness of his BB/9 (8.41). Considering I see the bullpen as Roberts most likely long-term home, getting his control up to an acceptable range is a far more pressing concern than developing a deeper starter’s arsenal of offspeed pitches. Get him firing fastballs and sliders with some clue where they are headed and reap the rewards.

6.189 – RHP Kyle Cody

Wondered about Kyle Cody (121) back in May 2016…

Kyle Cody’s stuff has always outstripped his results on the field. Is he destined to forever be a consistently inconsistent professional in the mold of fellow Wildcat Alex Meyer or is there something more in his game that can be unlocked with the right coaching?

Still wondering about that even after Cody’s really strong (10.08 K/9 and 2.47 BB/9 in 47.1 IP) pro debut. The comparison to Meyer continues when you look at what the one-time Nationals first round pick did (9.70 K/9 and 3.14 BB/9) as a 22-year-old splitting his time between low-A and high-A in his first full pro season. Of course, Meyer’s pro struggles should not be held against Cody as a prospect; as it turns out, I actually like Cody quite a bit as a potential mid-rotation arm (if the changeup comes on) or late-inning relief weapon (a far more likely outcome in my view). He’s athletic for a big man with a potentially lethal power sinker/slider combination that should continue to get him plenty of ground ball outs as he climbs the ladder.

7.219 – C Sam Huff

It would be easy to write off the 6-4, 200 pound Sam Huff (433) as a prime candidate to move out from behind the plate sooner rather than later, but the big guy from Arizona is a far more advanced and natural defender than his size might otherwise suggest. He’s not a total slam dunk to remain a catcher over the long haul — few teenager catchers are, after all — but he’s got a better than 50/50 shot to remain a backstop going forward. If that’s the case, then the upside for a potentially above-average regular is very clearly here. Huff’s calling card is his average to above-average raw power, but he’s also shown impressive plate coverage and disciplined approach as a hitter. Much of the feedback I’ve gotten on Huff this past offseason has been of the “pump the breaks” variety (equal parts concern about his ability to make enough contact and his defense holding up long-term), but my instinctual lean here has me ignoring that and going all-in on Huff as a future big leaguer.

8.249 – RHP Tai Tiedemann

The lack of pre-draft notes on Tai Tiedemann quickly outs me as a recent member of his bandwagon, but better late than never, right? Tiedemann, completely off my radar this past spring, would have likely been a pre-draft FAVORITE if I had known he existed. His numbers at Long Beach CC don’t jump off the page (6.98 K/9 and 3.04 BB/9 in 80.0 IP), but everything else about his scouting profile looks good to me. Tiedemann is an exceptional athlete with great size (6-6, 200), a low-mileage arm, good velocity (90-94 and climbing), feel for offspeed, and a proclivity for getting outs on the ground. Despite being two seasons past his high school graduation, his relative inexperience on the diamond makes him closer to a prep prospect than an established college guy. As long as his development is viewed through that lens (i.e., it’s going to take some time), I think Tiedemann is a keeper. It’s not a direct one-to-one comparison, but there are some distinct similarities between the earlier pick of Kyle Roberts to the Tiedemann selection three rounds later.

9.279 – RHP Hever Bueno

For as much as I can appreciate a three-pitch college righthander like Hever Bueno, the lack of any semblance of a track record (16.0 IP in both 2014 and 2015) kept me from buying in heading into his draft year. I was hoping that would change during his junior season, but, alas, his final college season (as it turned out) was cut short after only 6.1 innings due to a bum UCL that necessitated Tommy John surgery. If you’re into Bueno, you see a potential back-end starter or late-inning reliever with far more stuff (90-94 FB, 97 peak; average to above-average 81-83 CB/SL; average to above-average 84-88 CU) than results to date. I like that optimistic prognostication; it’s not a stretch at all to see better days ahead for Bueno, assuming his rehabilitation goes as planned. I’m still not really buying a pitcher who, depending on that rehab timeline, may not get back on the mound for steady pro innings until he’s a 23-years-old with only 38.1 post-HS innings to his name. The 7.28 BB/9 in said innings doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence, either. That’s closer to the résumé of a guy you sign out of indy ball than a ninth round pick you pay a six-figure bonus. Of course, if I was a fan of the Rangers (or a more informed firsthand observer who had seen Bueno at his best) then I’d be all over this pick as a high reward/minimal risk gamble worth taking. It’s easy to like a pick like this because everybody involved will look really smart if it hits. If Bueno never comes all the way back from Tommy John (or the healthy version of Bueno turns out to be the wild, underdeveloped pitcher his track record suggests), then it’s just another forgotten ninth round pick.

10.309 – OF Josh Merrigan

I like to bust out the old “well-traveled” chestnut every now and then (read: too often), but it really, really applies to Josh Merrigan. The lefthanded outfielder’s path to the draft included stops at Georgia State, Chipola JC, and North Carolina before finally finding a home playing for an absolutely dominant (57-6!) Georgia Gwinnett squad. Merrigan more than did his part by hitting .423/.468/.562 with 23 BB/25 K and 44 SB in 201 AB. Lauded for his speed, arm strength, and overall athleticism, Merrigan’s maturation as a hitter makes him one to watch very closely as he climbs the minor league ladder. If it all works out, there’s some fourth outfielder upside here.

11.339 – RHP Joe Barlow

With a sophomore season split fairly evenly between starting (7 starts) and relieving (6 relief appearances, including 2 saves), Joe Barlow gives the Rangers some flexibility in how he’ll be used in the low-minors. The bullpen seems like the more sensible long-term spot for the effectively wild (9.85 K/9 and 5.79 BB/9 as a sophomore) converted catcher with the expected arm strength (low-90s heat) and rawness that comes with a young man relatively new to pitching.

12.369 – C Alex Kowalczyk

Strong arm, powerful build, and plenty of pop. That’s the short version of Alex Kowalczyk’s game. Maybe not my preferred college catcher at this point, but I still like it all right.

13.399 – SS Jonah McReynolds

Jonah McReynolds (485) is a sensible bet on tools at this stage in the draft. Athletically, he checks every box. He’s graceful and coordinated around the bag with quick hands, a plus arm, and above-average foot speed. I’m bearish on him ever hitting enough to play regularly, but it’s hard to bet an athlete like this making some noise as a potential utility guy somewhere along the way.

14.429 – RHP Derek Heffel

Asking around about Derek Heffel after the draft elicited this response: “SEC quality arm.” High praise for the native Southerner after two seasons putting up solid numbers (including 8.05 K/9 and 2.55 BB/9 as a sophomore) at decidedly “un-southern” Madison JC. Continued improvement on both his curve and chance will only help his low-90s sinker become more effective in the pros. The vibe I got around this pick from talking to those in the know was that the Rangers nabbed Heffel one year before he was going to blow out and become a top five round prospect at Middle Tennessee State. We’ll see if that’s how it really plays out, but you have to like the size and stuff in the meantime.

15.459 – OF Kobie Taylor

Easy center field range. Above-average to plus speed. Impressive (albeit not super long) track record of squaring up velocity, showing big bat speed, and making lots of hard contact. Strong arm. Solid athleticism. And the Vanderbilt seal of approval that you just love to see with any (signable) high school prospect. I like a lot about Kobie Taylor’s (218) game. Excited to see him back on the field next year after his busted thumb is all healed up. Major steal here.

16.489 – RHP Scott Engler

13.94 K/9 and 4.41 BB/9 in 51 innings as a freshman at Cowley County CC is enough for me to get on the Scott Engler bandwagon.

17.519 – RHP Reid Anderson

I commend the Rangers for taking a substantial leap of faith on their area guy with the selection of Reid Anderson here in round seventeen. Anderson, a low-mileage arm relatively new to pitching after converting from the outfield, put up career marks of 6.57 K/9 and 3.84 BB/9 at Millersville. That right there is not what you want to see out of a Division II draft prospect. Texas went a little deeper and dug what they saw with Anderson’s potential plus fastball (low-90s already with reason to believe that can trend upward with room to grow physically and mechanically) and plus slider (personally seen it flash now, though it’s still as inconsistent as one might expect for a guy with only around 80 college innings under his belt). The numbers guy in me remains dubious, but the wannabe scout keeps trying to look past the lackluster results. Odds are against him as a seventeenth round pick either way, but Anderson should be one of the more interesting mid- to late-round picks to track these next few years. It’s a fun low-stakes spin on the tired scouts vs stats narrative.

18.549 – OF Marcus Mack

Marcus Mack can really run. That’s one thing I know about him. I also know that his plus wheels help him more than hold his own defensively in center. Those are two very good things working in Mack’s favor. A third good thing will be the weight lifted off his shoulders after he records his first pro hit next season. The lefthanded hitting overslot ($175,000) speedster from Texas went an unfortunate 0-20 in his pro debut. An 0-20 stretch during the middle of the season feels bad, but ultimately gets lost in the shuffle of the day-to-day grind of pro ball. Going 0-20 to start a career and then having to put it on ice for six plus months…damn, that’s just no fun at all.

19.579 – RHP Alex Daniele

All I have on Alex Daniele: ideal size (6-5, 225), older for class (23 in April), and has shown strikeout ability (12.44 K/9 in small sample final year at Oklahoma) to go along with potential control red flags (8.05 BB/9 in same small sample). He’s done more of the same in stints at New Jersey Tech (9.90 K/9 and 4.20 BB/9) and in his brief pro debut (7.85 K/9 and 5.77 BB/9). Without any scouting notes on him it’s hard to say what his future may hold, but the patterns in his results across multiple spots can certainly give us a hint.

20.609 – 3B Stephen Lohr

Stephen Lohr had a monster junior season at Cal Baptist that included a.403/.496/.665 batting line with 36 BB/22 K in 206 AB. Good enough for me to start paying attention, I’d say.

21.639 – RHP Kaleb Fontenot

I like Kaleb Fontenot just about as much as any potential big league reliever drafted past the twentieth round. His age (24 in June of his first pro season) and size (6-1, 180) work against him, but his stuff is good enough (88-92 FB, pair of average or so offspeed pitches) to get good hitters out. Probably nothing more than last man out of the bullpen type ceiling — and I don’t mean last man in terms of the guy you use in the last inning, clearly — but at least that’s something to hang your hat on in the twenty-first round.

22.669 – C Clay Middleton

Two weeks before the draft on Clay Middleton…

Clay Middleton is a steady defender behind the plate and a useful contributor at it; in a class awash with college catching, I think he fits in the mid-rounds for a team willing to do a deep dive into the MEAC.

The Rangers wisely took the plunge with Middleton, a solid defensive player with a sound offensive approach. There’s backup catcher upside here if everything works out. Can’t hate that in the twenty-second round.

23.699 – RHP Dylan Bice

As I’ve said in a few other draft reviews, any high school prospect signed past the tenth round is automatically a good pick. Dylan Bice is a good pick for that reason. Athleticism, size, velocity (low-90s fastball, peaks a little higher than that), and feel for offspeed (change, slider) make him a really good pick.

24.729 – LHP Kenny Mendoza

Kenny Mendoza’s (443) velocity climbed as the weather warmed up this spring. Proof of that comes in my embarrassing pre-draft mix-up…

LHP Ken Mendoza (Clearview HS, New Jersey): 86-89 FB; 6-4, 215 pounds

LHP Kenneth Mendoza (Clearview Regional HS, New Jersey): 88-92 FB, 93 peak; 6-4, 215 pounds

So if you search for “Mendoza” on my site, these two gentleman will pop up. Ken is the late-summer/fall version of Mendoza while Kenneth (or Kenny) is the spring version the Rangers drafted in the twenty-fourth round. That’s a Jimbo. Mendoza is a lefthander with size, appealing velocity, and a strong aptitude for the art of pitching. By any name, it’s a really nice pick by Texas this late.

26.789 – RHP Tyree Thompson

Tyree Thompson, older for his class as a 19-year-old when drafted, is another win for Texas as we institute the “any high school prospect signed past the tenth round is a good pick” rule yet again. Tons of athleticism, physical projection (6-4, 165 feels like a frame that could put on some good weight), and present fastball velocity (88-92, 93 peak) make it a really good pick. Feels like we’ve done this before…

27.819 – LHP Lucas Jacobsen

Lucas Jacobsen shares many superficial similarities (height, whiffs, walks) to Alex Daniele. Jacobsen has a little bit of youth, a little more projection, and his lefthandeness on his side.

28.849 – RHP Marc Iseneker

A sidearming reliever from St. John Fisher College? Sure! That’s what the twenty-eighth round is all about. The rubber-armed Marc Iseneker had a nice run (8.49 K/9 and 3.55 BB/9) during his time as a Cardinal.

30.909 – LHP Christian Torres

Christian Torres (8.17 K/9 and 3.60 BB/9 at Faulker this past season) showed Texas enough to get a shot at Low-A after a few rookie ball innings. He took that opportunity and ran with it to the tune of a 8.80 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, and 1.47 ERA in 30.2 IP. Pretty impressive way to start a pro career, especially if you look past that earned run per inning clip he was on while with Spokane. Have you picked up on my trick of talking about a guy’s debut when I don’t have any worthwhile scouting notes to share?

32.969 – OF Travis Bolin

Travis Bolin makes four 2016 MLB Draft picks out of Davenport University that I’ve now written about in these draft reviews. Bolin’s 2016 season there (.412/.472/.819 with 19 BB/30 K and 17/24 SB in 226 AB) makes him as deserving as any of the three Panthers pitchers to be drafted ahead of him. He was productive albeit prone to swings and misses in his debut. I’m into it as a super late round sleeper to store away. For what it’s worth, the next few Davenport teams should have some players up for draft consideration as well. I’ve already got 1B/OF Brian Sobieski (2017) and Central Michigan transfer LHP Grant Wolfram (2018) in my sights.

33.999 – RHP Mark Vasquez

This one leaves me conflicted. On one hand, teams drafting multiple players from NAIA schools — even great ones like Faulkner — remains a sore subject. Sure there’s a chance that the Rangers organically came to the conclusion that two of the top thirty-three players in their draft pool both happened to attend Faulkner, but it sure as heck doesn’t seem statistically likely to me. Convenience scouting is a thing and while I understand the pros that come with it (all of this has been talked to death in other draft reviews by now, BTW), it will always set me off just a little bit. If nothing else, I think examples like Texas going with Christian Torres and Mark Vasquez, both out of a NAIA school with around 3000 students enrolled, show that that big league teams have finite resources they can and will spend on amateur scouting. Don’t listen to those who constantly throw the “appeal to authority” logical fallacy at you when it comes to pro teams knowing so much more than we could ever possibly imagine as outsiders.

On the other hand (took a while but we got here), the actual player selected (Vasquez) looks pretty interesting. Definitely can’t hate a team getting a workhorse pitcher coming off a senior year with peripherals (11.26 K/9 and 2.10 BB/9) like his. He’s older for his class (25 in May) and highly unlikely to reach the big leagues (as anybody picked in the thirty-third round would be), but it’s far from a throwaway pick. I don’t know what to think about this one. All I know is that I’ve spent more time on pick 999 than about 99.9% of the population and I’m all right with that.

34.1029 – OF Preston Scott

From 2012…

3B Preston Scott (Hanford HS, California): really quick bat; big power upside; promising defender

Four years later, Preston Scott got himself drafted and signed to pro ball after a .339/.418/.579 (22 BB/20 K) season at Fresno Pacific. That line is made all the more impressive when viewed through the prism of his team’s .265/.350/.348 overall line. Scott’s power plays and his athleticism helps him both in the field defensively and on the base paths. I like this pick. The only downside is that it makes me thing of an old friend of mine named Scott Preston who I’ve lost touch with over the years. Haven’t seen him since middle school…that’s almost twenty years ago now. Wonder how he’s doing…

35.1059 – RHP Jean Casanova

Jean Casanova, who grew up in the Dominican Republic, is yet another high school pitcher signed by Texas late in the draft. Really nice work by their area guys in gauging signability this year. For his part, Casanova has a solid heater (88-92) and a full assortment of secondary offerings (none stand out just yet, maybe the change if you had to pick one). Worth a shot.

37.1119 – OF Austin O’Banion

Austin O’Banion hit .335/.429/.588 with 24 BB/40 K in 170 AB at Fullerton JC. This March 3, 2016 article offered a fine bit of foreshadowing…

Last week, Fuscardo said a good friend of his who scouts for the Texas Rangers recently left the field wowed by O’Banion’s fielding chops and raw power.

38.1149 – RHP Reilly Peltier

An easy to spot Texas 2016 MLB Draft trend that I probably should have mentioned sooner: pitchers with size. Just about every pitcher the Rangers drafted this past year is a physical monster. Coming in at 6-5, 215 pounds, Reilly Peltier, fresh off a fine season McHenry County JC (12.73 K/9 and 4.20 BB/9 in 68.2 IP), is no different.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Brent Burgess (Spartanburg Methodist), Tyler Walsh (Belmont), Herbie Good (Santa Barbara CC), Blair Calvo (Pittsburgh), Robert Harris (?), Tra’Mayne Holmes (Alabama State)

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2016 MLB Draft – SEC Pitching 2.0

After we get past the Magnificent Seven of the SEC, we get to a tier of pitchers with tons of promise but with compelling questions that will need answering at the pro level. Check the whole list here and then swing back below for some actual analysis — an attempt, at least — of some of the standout pitchers who didn’t make the cut in the top tier yet still have big potential pro futures. Let’s first look at some of the talented guys with question marks that kept them just out of that top tier…

Keegan Thompson and Kyle Serrano are both very talented, but how will they bounce back from Tommy John surgeries that cost them (or are in the process of costing them) a full year of development? Wil Crowe, the talented righthander from South Carolina, is in the same boat a little bit further down the list. Kyle Cody’s stuff has always outstripped his results on the field. Is he destined to forever be a consistently inconsistent professional in the mold of fellow Wildcat Alex Meyer or is there something more in his game that can be unlocked with the right coaching? Is the fact that you could say similar things about his teammate Zack Brown a good thing (get them out of Kentucky and watch them flourish) or a not so good thing (these are just the types they recruit and develop)? Shaun Anderson and Dane Dunning have flashed outstanding stuff in their own right, but do they have what it takes to transition back to the rotation after spending so much time pitching out of the bullpen as part of the ridiculously deep Florida staff? You could ask the same question of Ben Bowden of Vanderbilt, though I think his body of work is proof enough that his pitching style and far more explosive fastball in shorter bursts make sticking in the bullpen a very attractive long-term plan. What do we do with Austin Bain and Brigham Hill, a pair of draft-eligible sophomores with less of a track record than many of their 2016 draft class counterparts?

The list just keeps going. Look at the lefthanders alone: John Kilichowski, Daniel Brown, Connor Jones, Scott Moss, Jared Poche’. All of those young pitchers have considerable pro upside, yet the likelihood of more than two landing in the top five rounds next month feels like a long shot. Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons. Brown doesn’t have the same imposing frame at just 5-10, 180 pounds, but, like Kilichowski, he can miss bats with a solid fastball and three average or better offspeed pitches. It may be a little out there, but a case could be made that the other Connor Jones actually has more long-term upside than the righthanded Virginia ace. This Jones has gotten good yet wild results on the strength of an above-average or better fastball from the left side and a particularly intriguing splitter. Moss is a wild card as another good yet wild performer with the size (6-5, 215) and stuff (90-94 FB, solid breaking ball and low-80s CU) to make a big impact at the end of games as a professional. The further he gets from his own Tommy John surgery, the better he’s been. Then there’s Poche’, the LSU lefty who fits in some with our Logan Shore discussion from yesterday with a K/9 that has gone from 5.11 to 5.94 to 7.52 in his three years as a Tiger. I still think of him more as a really good college pitcher than a premium pro prospect, but that progress is at least somewhat encouraging. At his best, Poche’ is more than capable of offspeeding a lineup to death. There’s some fifth starter/solid matchup reliever upside with him.

There are also a host of fascinating relievers that could go off the board sooner than many currently would guess. Mark Ecker has dominated this year to the tune of 28 K and 3 BB in 25.0 innings of 0.36 ERA ball. With a fastball capable of hitting the upper-90s and a mid-80s changeup with plus upside, he’s an honest big league closer candidate with continued development. His teammate Ryan Hendrix hasn’t been quite as good – more whiffs, more walks, and a lot more runs allowed – but remains a good bet to go high in the draft because of his premium stuff (94-98 FB, 83-86 breaking ball that flashes plus) and correctable flaws. I have no feel at all how the industry will come down on Hayden Stone on draft day, but I’ve personally gone back and forth on him as a pro prospect more times than I can remember. If you want him twenty spots higher on this list, I wouldn’t argue. Working against Stone is a lack of knockout velocity, his relatively small stature, and an injury history that includes last year’s Tommy John procedure. In his favor is a special mid-80s breaking ball – consistently plus, flashing plus-plus – and a very strong track record of success coming out of the Vandy bullpen. It seems like there are handful of college relievers without mid- to upper-90s fastballs that sneak their way to the big leagues quicker than their flame-throwing peers every season, and Stone is as good a bet as any to be one of those guys in 2016.

2016 MLB Draft Mock Draft – March Madness 2.0

The 2016 MLB Draft will be here before we know it, so that can only mean one thing: it’s MOCK DRAFT season. It’s been a few years since I published a mock draft around here, but I figured it was finally time to get back in the game. Of course, since I can’t offer much in the way of insider intel — I’m not BA-era peak Jim Callis over here — putting together a mock would be pretty much pointless. With the proper analysis attached to each pick mock drafts can be fun and interesting reads, not to mention a great way of exposing casual fans — the number of people who Google “2016 mlb mock draft” that find this site is insane, at least relative to the four people who read on their own volition otherwise — to players they might have not yet heard of. I might attempt a mock like that between now and June. Or not. Either way, this ain’t it.

So until then (or not) we’ll have some fun and take the idea of a mock draft to the logical extreme. If “mock” means to make something seem laughably unreal or impossible, let’s make our mock draft as unreal or impossible as we can. Our second edition of this 2016 MLB Mock Draft is based on the top 34 teams (by pre-tournament seeding) in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The top 34 schools (listed below) are the only universities that teams were allowed to draft from in this mock. Unlike last week’s, however, there is no limit to how many players can be drafted off of any one school. That means some teams get nobody selected while others have multiple picks to celebrate. It’s not fair, but it’s life. Here were the universities eligible for this mock listed in descending order based on their pre-tournament seeding…

34. Butler
33. Providence
32. St. Joseph’s
31. USC
30. Colorado
29. Texas Tech
28. Oregon State
27. Iowa
26. Dayton
25. Wisconsin
24. Seton Hall
23. Arizona
22. Notre Dame
21. Texas
20. Baylor
19. Maryland
18. Purdue
17. Indiana
16. Iowa State
15. Kentucky
14. California
13. Duke
12. Texas A&M
11. Utah
10. Miami (FL)
9. West Virginia
8. Xavier
7. Villanova
6. Oklahoma
5. Michigan State
4. Oregon
3. Virginia
2. North Carolina
1. Kansas

Any 2016 MLB draft-eligible player from any of those schools is up for grabs. Let’s get mocking…

*****

1 – Philadelphia Phillies – Miami C Zack Collins

The Phillies would be tasked from picking from an impressive group of college talent if forced to comply with these ridiculous rules. Three of the arms rumored to be in the 1-1 mix in the real world — Matt Krook, Alec Hansen, and Connor Jones — would all be available to them thanks to the impressive basketball being played at Oregon, Oklahoma, and Virginia, respectively. Interestingly enough, all three are plagued with the same general concern: wildness. Jones has the most complete résumé and the least overall concern about his control (4.03 BB/9 last year, down to 2.11 BB/9 so far this year). Much has been made about Hansen’s consistently inconsistent start (6.99 BB/9) while Krook’s wild ways (7.92 BB/9) have largely been glossed over. Part of that is likely due to giving Krook an early season mulligan as he makes his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery and part is probably due to Hansen being the higher profile player nationally, but the fact that some of the most talented arms in this college class come with major control (and command and consistency and changeup) questions can’t be ignored. The risk with either at 1-1 is just too high. As mentioned, Jones is the less risky play, but, as so often happens, comes with a little less upside. Much as I like Jones, if I’m going with a college arm with the first overall pick in a draft I want a guy I can confidently project as a potential ace. He may show enough to reach that point in the coming months, but as of today I can’t do it.

With the top pitchers out of the running, Collins becomes the clear pick. His bat is too special to pass up. The pick is made easier when you factor in the Phillies being particularly deep as an organization behind the plate. With Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro set to begin the year at AAA and AA respectively, there would be little pressure for the Phils to play Collins as a catcher if they deemed him unlikely to remain there over the long haul. Ideally he’d impress as a catcher and they’d have the great eventual problem of having too many catchers — a predicted problem for hundreds of teams throughout the history of the game that has not once come to fruition — but shifting him to first and letting him know his job is to hit, hit, and hit some more isn’t the worst idea in the world. Knapp/Alfaro, Collins, Kingery, Crawford, Franco, Randolph, Herrera/Quinn, and Williams may not quite rival the Cubs young core, but it’s not half-bad either.

(I have this very underdeveloped idea about how taking Collins at 1-1 in a real draft wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world based on a comparison of using a top ten pick in the NFL Draft on a running back like Ezekiel Elliott. New conventional wisdom says you don’t draft a 1B or a HB early in the draft because you can find good ones later on, but if it’s a guy who projects to be well above-average at the position and a long-term fixture for you that you don’t have to worry about replacing otherwise…then you have to at least consider it, right? I say this as a dumb Eagles fan who has convinced himself that Elliott with the eighth pick is an attractive option depending on who else is there. With no clear cut college player emerging at 1-1 besides Corey Ray and Kyle Lewis, maybe Collins isn’t the worst idea in the world. I know I’m out on an island with that one, but so be it.)

2 – Cincinnati Reds – Oregon LHP Matt Krook

Everything written about Krook above still applies. He’s been very wild, his command still isn’t back to his pre-injury self, and his velocity (topping at 92, down from his younger peak of 95) remains a work in progress. But he’s still a lefty with a devastating slider, good size (6-3, 200), and a history of missing bats (12.00 K/9 in 2014, 13.33 K/9 this year). When part of the reason for the walks can be explained by throwing a ball that just moves so damn much naturally, it’s a little bit easier to take. At his best (healthiest), Krook features three clearly above-average pitches and the wise beyond his year’s mound savvy to allow you to dream on him heading a rotation for a long time. Adding him to Stephenson, Reed (who Krook shares some similar traits with), and Garrett (among others) would be a lot of fun.

3 – Atlanta Braves – Virginia RHP Connor Jones

Krook to the Braves would have made more sense, what with MLB’s secret mandate that Atlanta collect as many Tommy John reclamation projects as possible. Maybe having Hansen fall past them is a blessing for his formerly tight right forearm. As it is, Jones gets the call. A consistent performer like Jones with a ready-made big league out-pitch (mid-80s cut-slider) would serve as a nice balance to the mix of boom/bust pitching prospects acquired by Atlanta over the past year or two.

4 – Colorado Rockies – Oklahoma RHP Alec Hansen

Because taking just one top-four righthander from Oklahoma within a five year stretch just isn’t enough. Hansen’s fastball is an explosive enough pitch that maybe he’d be a good fit for Coors Field.

5 – Milwaukee Brewers – Virginia C Matt Thaiss

Not everybody is convinced that Thaiss is the real deal, but I am. His one big remaining question heading into the year (defense) has been answered in a decidedly positive manner this spring. He showed enough in high school to garner Brian McCann comps from Baseball America, he hit as a sophomore, and he’s off to a blistering start (including a nifty 15 BB/2 K ratio) in 2016. He’s going early in this draft due in part to our odd rules, but he’s a first round selection on merit. The Brewers have done an excellent job in the early stages of their rebuild and adding a backstop like Thaiss to push Jacob Nottingham (and perhaps make trading Jonathan Lucroy easier to sell to the fans) gives them even more options going forward.

6 – Oakland Athletics – California RHP Daulton Jefferies

A high performing college player who defies conventional scouting wisdom going to Oakland? That’ll work. Jefferies is really, really good.

7 – Miami Marlins – Kentucky 2B JaVon Shelby

I’ve mentioned the comparison before, but Shelby’s prospect profile reads similarly to me to Ian Happ’s. Happ went ninth overall last year, so Shelby going seventh in our weird little mock seems fair. Shelby is also really, really good.

8 – San Diego Padres – Notre Dame 2B Cavan Biggio

Sometimes I feel as though I’m the last remaining Cavan Biggio fan. I know that’s not literally true, but I do still believe in him as a potential long-time big league regular. Offensively he strikes me as the kind of player who will hit better as a pro than he ever did as a college player. I don’t have much of anything to back that opinion up, but this is a mock draft so unsubstantiated claims are part of the deal.

9 – Detroit Tigers – Oregon State C Logan Ice

This pick works on multiple levels for me. Most obviously, Ice’s fast start at the plate and well-established reputation behind it warrants a top ten pick in this draft over some other higher profile college peers. It also works because Detroit seems to have a thing for college catchers. As somebody with a similar thing, I get it. In recent years they’ve plucked James McCann, Bryan Holaday, Kade Scivicque, Grayson Greiner, and Shane Zeile from the college ranks, aggressively promoting many of them along the way. Holaday, a sixth rounder back in 2010, was the only one of that bunch not picked within the draft’s first five rounds. That’s where Ice was expected to land coming into the year, but he could rise up to McCann draft levels (second round) if he keeps mashing.

10 – Chicago White Sox – Oklahoma 3B Sheldon Neuse

Recently got a Mike Olt draft comparison for Sheldon Neuse. Thought that was a pretty strong comp. Also liked that it was a draft comparison and not necessarily a pro prospect match. Olt’s big league disappointments don’t change the fact that he’s a really talented ballplayer capable of looking really good for long stretches at a time. Players develop in all kinds of different ways, so expecting one guy to follow another’s path is unwise. Maybe Neuse will fulfill his promise professionally in a way that Olt wasn’t able. Maybe he’ll experience similar developmental road blocks and see his game stall in a similar manner. Olt went 49th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft; snagging Neuse at any point after that would be a steal in 2016.

11 – Seattle Mariners – Arizona 3B Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec deserves a lot of credit for battling back from a slow start to now have a more than respectable 2016 overall batting line. He also deserves respect for being one of the realest 2016 MLB Draft prospects out there. What you see is what you get with Dalbec: massive power, lots of whiffs, and a fair amount of walks. His arm and athleticism help make up for a lack of easy lateral quickness at the hot corner, so sticking at third should remain an option for the foreseeable future. The older, popular, and common comp for him has been Troy Glaus; on the flip side, I’ve heard Chris Dominguez as a possible outcome. The Glaus ship appears to have sailed, so something in between that and Dominguez would be a fine professional result.

12 – Boston Red Sox – North Carolina RHP Zac Gallen

It’ll be really interesting to see how high Gallen will rise in the real draft come June. He’s the kind of relatively safe, high-floor starting pitching prospect who either sticks in the rotation for a decade or tops out as a sixth starter better served moving to the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up there. This aggressive (pretend) pick by Boston should point to what side of that debate I side with. Gallen doesn’t do any one thing particularly well — stellar fastball command and a willingness to keep pounding in cutters stand out — but he throws five (FB, cutter, truer SL, CB, CU) pitches for strikes and competes deep into just about every start. There’s serious value in that.

13 – Tampa Bay Rays – Duke RHP Bailey Clark

On the other end of the spectrum is a guy like Bailey Clark. Clark has dynamite stuff: 90-96 FB (98 peak), mid-80s cut-SL that flashes plus, and an extra firm 87-90 split-CU with some promise. The fastball alone is a serious weapon capable of getting big league hitters out thanks the combination of velocity and natural movement. What continues to hold Clark back is pedestrian command: having great stuff is key, but falling behind every hitter undercuts that advantage. Questions about his delivery — I personally don’t stress about that so much, but it’s worth noting — and that inconsistent command could force him into the bullpen sooner rather than later. He’d be a knockout reliever if that winds up being the case, but the prospect of pro development keeping him as a starter is too tantalizing to give up on just yet.

14 – Cleveland Indians – Kentucky RHP Kyle Cody

There’s a reason Clark and Cody are back-to-back here. Just about everything written about Clark above can apply to Cody here. The big righthander from Kentucky also has the natural comparison to fellow big righthander from Kentucky Alex Meyer looming over him. I did the Twins a favor by having him go off the board one pick before they could get tempted all over again.

15 – Minnesota Twins – Kentucky RHP Zack Brown

Brown is a college righty with the three pitches to keep starting but questionable command that could necessitate a move to relief down the line. There are a lot of guys like him in every class, but I like Brown’s steady improvement across the board over the years as the tie-breaker.

16 – Los Angeles Angels – Oregon LHP Cole Irvin

Irvin is living proof that the second full year back from Tommy John surgery is when a pitcher really starts to get it all back. I can only hope that teammate Matt Krook is noticing. I guess it would be weird if he wasn’t, right? Irvin has his velocity back (88-92), his changeup remains a weapon, and the results (5.01 K/9 last year up to 9.10 K/9 this year) are trending in the right (healthy) direction.

17 – Houston Astros – USC C Jeremy Martinez

I’ve long thought that Jeremy Martinez has been underrated as a college player, so I’m happy to get a few sentences off about how much I like him here. Martinez was born to catch with a reliable glove and accurate arm. His offensive game is equally well-rounded with the chance for an average hit tool and average raw power to go along with his standout approach. His ceiling may not be high enough for all teams to fall in love, but he’s as good a bet as any of the college catchers in this class to have a long big league career in some capacity or another.

18 – New York Yankees – Texas A&M OF Nick Banks

Hunter Renfroe went thirteenth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, so his 2016 doppelganger Nick Banks going a few spots later seems appropriate. Banks is one of the many hitters with questionable BB/K marks before the season that scouts insisted had more mature approaches at the plate than the raw numbers suggested. The scouts have been redeemed by most of those hitters — Kyle Lewis most famously — but Banks has continued to struggle (5 BB/10 K) out of the gate so far. He could still have a fine pro career without polishing up his approach — he’s a legit five-tool guy with no singular grade falling below average on most scout cards — but plugging that last remaining hole could mean the difference between good and great. Apologies here to Boomer White and JB Moss, two excellent senior-sign outfield prospects out of A&M that have decidedly outperformed Banks so far in the early going. Both guys may have hit their way into top ten round money saving pick consideration.

19 – New York Mets – Texas A&M Ryan Hendrix

Zach Jackson out of Arkansas has consistently been mentioned as my favorite college reliever who might just be able to start in the pros, but Ryan Hendrix is coming on really fast. He’s got the heat (mid-90s peak), breaking ball (low- to mid-80s CB flashes plus), and enough of a changeup (83-86) to potentially make the switch to the rotation at the next level. If not, he’s a potential quick-moving reliever with late-inning upside. Win-win!

20 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Maryland RHP Mike Shawaryn

Few players have seen their stock dip as much as Shawaryn has so far this spring. Considered by many (or just me, who can remember…) to be on the same tier as the Daulton Jefferies’ of the world coming into the season, Shawaryn has struggled with pitching effectively while dealing with a decrease in fastball velocity and flattened out offspeed stuff. He’s still a top five round prospect with big league starter upside, but no longer the potential first day pick many were hoping to see coming into the year. The positive spin is that it’s entirely possible he’s just going through a bit of a dead arm period brought about by general fatigue right now and that a little bit of rest after the draft in June will bring back the kind of stuff that looked more mid-rotation caliber than fifth starter. If that’s the case, the moment he slips out of the top two rounds would represent major value for whatever team takes a shot on him.

21 – Toronto Blue Jays – Oregon RHP Stephen Nogosek

Another college reliever! Stephen Nogosek is one of the most interesting of his kind in this year’s class. He’s not the two-pitch fire-balling righthander with the plus breaking ball that teams view as a classic late-inning type. Nogosek commands four pitches for strikes, relying more on the overall depth of his repertoire than any one singular go-to offering. Many speculate that his delivery lends itself to shorter outings, but I’m not convinced that a pro team won’t at least consider using him in the rotation at some point.

22 – Pittsburgh Pirates – Oregon State SS Trever Morrison

Morrison came into the year known more for his glove than his bat, but the junior’s hot start had many upgrading his ceiling from utility guy to potential regular. He’s cooled off a bit since then, but his glove, arm, and speed all remain intriguing above-average tools. I think really good utility guy is a more appropriate ceiling for him at the moment, but there’s still a lot of season left to play. Morrison is a surprisingly divisive prospect among those I’ve talked to, so any guesses about his draft range would be nothing more than guesses. He does feel like the kind of guy who would wind up a Pirate, so at least we’ve got that going for us.

23 – St. Louis Cardinals – Miami OF Willie Abreu

The Cardinals throw caution to the wind and bet big on tools by selecting Abreu and his ugly 7 BB/25 K ratio here in the first round. With three picks in the first, you can take a gamble like this. Abreu’s raw power is at or near the top of this class, so the logic in such a pick is easy to see.

24 – San Diego Padres – California C Brett Cumberland

I’m not sure too many casual prospect fans realize that true sophomore Cumberland, set to turn 21 on June 25, is eligible for this year’s draft. I know I have a lot less scouting notes on him than I’d typically have for a draft-eligible prospect in the midst of one of the best seasons of any position player in college baseball. The steady receiver hit really well as a freshman last year (.429 SLG with 33 BB/41 K), but has taken it to the next level so far in 2016. Good defense, very real power, and success at the college level from day one? Just what this class needs, one more top five round college catcher.

25 – San Diego Padres – Indiana RHP Jake Kelzer

The real draft will no doubt be much kinder to the Padres, but grabbing Biggio, Cumberland, and Kelzer in this universe’s draft isn’t anything to be disappointed in. Two mature bats at up-the-middle defensive positions would help San Diego continue their stated goal of building that way (the return for trade backs that up) and Kelzer, a highly athletic 6-8, 235 pound righthander with a nasty hard slider, would be a fine addition to their growing collection of arms.

26 – Chicago White Sox – Texas Tech RHP Ryan Moseley

Much like the Willie Abreu pick above, taking Moseley this high is gambling on tools over performance. I’ve long been a fan of the sinker/slider archetype and Moseley does it about as well as any pitcher in this class. When I start digging into batted ball data to find GB% in the coming weeks, he’ll be the first name I look up. On physical ability, a case could be made that Moseley deserves this first round spot. If we’re talking early season production…not so much. As we mentioned before, some young pitchers throw with so much natural movement that they are unable to effectively harness the raw stuff with which they’ve been blessed. Moseley’s track record suggests just that. Taking him this high would be a gamble that the developmental side of your organization can straighten him out. There are too many teams besides the White Sox that I’d be so confident they could pull off the trick.

27 – Baltimore Orioles – Baylor LHP Daniel Castano

I haven’t heard Daniel Castano’s name mentioned as a top ten round pick much this spring, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be in the mix. He’s a big lefty with three average or better pitches who has made the long-awaited leap (8.51 K/9 this year, up from the 5 or so K/9 of his first two seasons). I’m in.

28 – Washington Nationals – Michigan State LHP Cameron Vieaux

Everything written about Castano above applies to Vieaux here. The only notable difference is that Vieaux’s jump in performance is a little less pronounced (8.61 K/9 this year, up from the 7 or so K/9 the two previous seasons) yet no less impressive. Vieaux also have the chance to be a four-pitch lefty in the pros, so I guess that makes two differences.

29 – Washington Nationals – Texas A&M 2B Ryne Birk

Birk has worked his tail off to become a competent defender at the keystone, so selecting him this early is a vote of confidence in his glove passing the professional barrier of quality in the eyes of his first wave of pro coaches. I think he’s more than good enough at second with an intriguing enough upside as a hitter to make a top five round pick worth it. Offensively he’s shown average power, above-average speed, and good feel for contact. Sorting out his approach will be the difference between fun utility option or solid starter once he hits pro ball. He reminds me a good bit of Trever Morrison as a prospect, right down to the slightly off spellings of their respective first names.

30 – Texas Rangers – North Carolina OF Tyler Ramirez

Ramirez doesn’t have a carrying tool that makes him an obvious future big league player, but he does a lot of things well (power, speed, glove) and leverages an ultra-patient approach to put himself in consistently positive hitter’s counts. His profile is a little bit similar to his teammate Zac Gallen’s in that both are relatively high-floor prospects without the kind of massive ceilings one would expect in a first day pick. Gallen is the better prospect, but I think many of the national guys are sleeping on Ramirez. I’ve been guilty of overrating Tar Heels hitters in the past, but Ramirez looks like the real deal. Former Carolina outfielder Tim Fedroff, a seventh round pick in 2008, seems like a reasonable draft day expectation in terms of round selected. I’d happily snap up a guy like Ramirez in that range.

31 – New York Mets – Miami OF Jacob Heyward

Steady year-to-year improvement has been the name of Heyward’s game as a Hurricane. It’s more of a fourth outfielder profile than a slam dunk future regular ceiling, but he’s a solid, well-rounded player capable of doing just enough of everything to keep you invested.

32 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Miami RHP Bryan Garcia

Garcia has late-game reliever stuff (mid-90s FB, good SL) and pedigree (15.88 K/9 this year) to get himself drafted as one of the first true college relievers in his class.

33 – St. Louis Cardinals – Michigan State RHP Dakota Mekkes

If you read this site and/or follow college ball closely, this might be the first pick to surprise in some way, shape, or form. Mekkes wasn’t a pitcher mentioned in many 2016 draft preview pieces before the start of the season, but the 6-7, 250 pound righty has opened plenty of eyes in getting off to a dominant (16.36 K/9) albeit wild (7.16 BB/9) start to 2016. His stuff backs it up (FB up to 94, interesting SL, deceptive delivery), so he’s more than just a large college man mowing down overmatched amateurs. He’s a top ten round possibility now.

34 – St. Louis Cardinals – Duke LHP Jim Ziemba

A 6-10, 230 pound lefthander who goes after hitters from a funky sidearm delivery is a great way to cap this weird mock off. The obvious Michael Freeman comp is too good to ignore here.

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

I don’t typically get into rankings this early in the process because doing it the right way as a research/writing staff of one takes me literally hundreds of hours. Realistically putting together what I feel is representative of my better stuff just hasn’t been possible in the past unless I pushed other micro baseball projects — for the site and elsewhere — aside and instead looked took the time to cover a nation’s worth of prospects on the macro level. Having a draft site that spends more time on players on the fringes who may or may not wind up drafted at all while failing to address the prospects at the top of the food chain seems a bit silly, so I’m trying to balance things out a little bit better this year. There will still be lots of the usual draft minutiae I enjoy so much, but a rededicated focus on the draft’s first day just makes sense. With all of this in mind I put other baseball duties on hold for the last ten or so days to put this list together. It’s imperfect, but I like it as a starting point. Some notes on what you’ll see below…

*** I didn’t include any non-D1 players at this point because I haven’t yet had the time to go as deep into other levels of competition and junior college ball just yet. Nick Shumpert would have made the top fifty for sure. Lucas Erceg likely would have been considered.  After a quick skim of my notes, I’d say Kep Brown, Tekwaan Whyte, Ryan January, Ethan Skender, Liam Scafariello, Jesus Gamez, Curtis Taylor, Willie Rios, Shane Billings, Brett Morales, Hunter Tackett, Devin Smeltzer, and Tyson Miller would be just a few of the names also in the mix for me right now. I said it a lot last year, but it bears repeating: I’d love to find the time/energy to go deeper with non-D1 baseball this year. The finite number of hours I have to devote to this site might get in the way, but I’m going to try.

*** This is going to sound bad and I apologize in advance, but I don’t believe I left anybody off that I intended to include. It’s possible, of course, but I don’t think that’s the case here. A ton of really, really good prospects, many of whom will be future big league players, didn’t make the cut as of yet. It’s not personal, obviously. I would have loved to include any player that even remotely interested me, but I had to have a cut-off point somewhere. If you think I whiffed on somebody, I’m happy to listen. Reasonable minds can disagree.

*** There is no consensus top player in this college class. The hitter at the top could wind up out of the first round by June. The top pitcher listed has medical red flags reminiscent of Michael Matuella last season. And — SPOILER ALERT — the top overall player in this class isn’t included on the list below. There are players ranked in the twenties that may be in your top five and there are players in the thirties that may not crack somebody else’s top seventy-five. It’s a fun year that way.

*** If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

*** The words that go along with the rankings are a bit more positive than what long-time readers might be used to. My early take is that this appears to be an above-average draft, but a friend who saw an early draft (no pun intended) of this told me that 2016 must be an incredibly talented group of amateurs. He said that reading through led him to believe that every pitcher is a future big league starter and every hitter is a future above-average regular. Guilty. I admit that I generally skew positive at this site (elsewhere…not so much) because I like baseball, enjoy focusing on what young players do well, and believe highlighting the good can help grow the college game, but being fair is always the ultimate goal. That said, there will be plenty of time to get deeper into each prospect’s individual strengths and weaknesses over the next seven or so months. In October a little extra dose of positivity is nice.

With no further ado, here are the 2016 MLB Draft’s top fifty prospects (with a whole lot more names to know beyond that)…

(Fine, just a bit more ado: A very rough HS list and maybe a combined overall ranking will come after Jupiter…)

  1. Mercer JR OF Kyle Lewis

The popular comp for Lewis has been Alfonso Soriano (originated at D1 Baseball, I believe), but I see more of Yasiel Puig in his game. He’s an honest five-tool player with a rapidly improving approach at the plate. There’s still some roughness around the edges there, but if it clicks then he’s a monster. There’s obvious risk in the profile, but it’s easy to be excited by somebody who legitimately gets better with every watch.

  1. Oklahoma JR RHP Alec Hansen

Hansen would rank first overall (college, not overall) if not for some recent reports of forearm troubles. His injury history probably should have been enough to temper enthusiasm for his nasty stuff (huge FB and chance for two plus offspeed pitches), but the upside is just that exciting. The popular Gerrit Cole makes sense as Hansen is a big guy (6-7, 235) with outstanding athleticism who holds his plus velocity late into games.

  1. Florida JR OF Buddy Reed

Reed’s relative newness to playing the game full-time makes his already considerable upside all the more intriguing. More reps against quality pitching could turn the dynamic center fielder (plus range, plus speed, plus arm) into the top overall pick.

  1. Oregon rSO LHP Matt Krook

This may be a touch more speculative that some of the other names on the list since Krook missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery, but I’m buying all the Krook shares I can right now. He came back and impressed on the Cape enough to warrant consideration as a potential 1-1 riser. There’s no squaring up his fastball and there’s more than enough offspeed (CB and CU) to miss bats (12 K/9 in 45 freshman innings). He’s not as physical as AJ Puk, but the more advanced secondaries give him the edge for now.

  1. Florida JR LHP/1B AJ Puk

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

  1. Wake Forest JR 1B/RHP Will Craig

Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…

  1. Louisville JR OF Corey Ray

If you prefer Ray to Lewis and Reed, you’re not wrong. They are all different flavors of a similar overall quality. Like those guys, Ray can do enough of everything well on the diamond to earn the much coveted label of “five-tool player.” The most enthusiastic comp I got from him was a “more compact Kirk Gibson.” That’s a thinker.

  1. Arkansas JR RHP Zach Jackson

We’ll know a lot more about Buddy Reed (and other SEC hitters) by June after he runs the gauntlet of SEC pitching. In addition to teammate AJ Puk, I’ve got three other SEC arms with realistic top ten draft hopes. Jackson’s chance for rising up to the 1-1 discussion depends almost entirely on his delivery and command. If those two things can be smoothed out this spring — they often go hand-in-hand — then his fastball (90-94, 96 peak), curve (deadly), and change (inconsistent but very promising) make him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.

  1. Georgia JR RHP Robert Tyler

Just about everything said about Jackson can be said about Tyler. The Georgia righthander has the bigger fastball (90-96, 100 peak) and his two offspeed pitches are flip-flopped (love the change, still tinkering with his spike curve), so getting his delivery worked out enough to convince onlookers that he can hold up over 30 plus starts a year could make him the first college arm off the board.

  1. Mississippi State JR RHP Dakota Hudson

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

  1. Tennessee JR 2B/3B Nick Senzel

Arguably the safest of this year’s potential first round college bats, Senzel has electric bat speed, a patient approach, and as good a hit tool as any player listed. His defensive gifts are almost on that same level and his power upside separates him from the rest of what looks like a pretty intriguing overall college group of second basemen.

  1. Notre Dame JR 2B/3B Cavan Biggio

Without having seen every Notre Dame game the past two years — I’m good, but not that good — one might be confused as to how a player with Biggio’s pedigree and collection of scouting accolades (“line drive machine; born to hit; great pitch recognition; great approach, patient and aggressive all at once”…and that’s just what has been written here) could hit .250ish through two college seasons. I say we all agree to chalk it up to bad BABIP luck and eagerly anticipate a monster junior season that puts him squarely back in the first round mix where he belongs.

  1. Nebraska JR OF Ryan Boldt

World Wide Wes said it best: “You can’t chase the night.” Of course that doesn’t stop me from trying to chase missed players from previous draft classes. Nobody was talking about Andrew Benintendi last year at this time — in part because of the confusion that comes with draft-eligible true sophomores, but still — so attempting to get a head-start on the “next Benintendi” seems like a thing to do. As a well-rounded center fielder with a sweet swing and impressive plate coverage, Boldt could be that guy.

  1. Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Bryan Reynolds

CTRL C “Ryan Boldt paragraph”, CTRL V “Ryan Boldt paragraph.” Reynolds also reminds me somewhat of Kyle Lewis in the way that both guys have rapidly improved their plate discipline in ways that haven’t yet shown up consistently on the stat sheet. If or when it does, Reynolds could join Lewis as a potential future impact big league outfielder.

  1. Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones

Jones, the number one guy on a list designed to serve the same purpose as the one created over seven months ago, hasn’t actually done anything to slip this far down the board; competition at the top this year is just that fierce. I like guys with fastballs that move every which way but straight, so Jones’s future looks bright from here. His mid-80s splitter has looked so good at times that he’s gotten one of my all-time favorite cross-culture comps: Masahiro Tanaka.

  1. Stanford JR RHP Cal Quantrill

A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.

  1. Virginia JR C Matt Thaiss

Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.

  1. Clemson JR C Chris Okey

Okey doesn’t have quite the same thunder in his bat as Thaiss, but his strong hands, agile movements behind the plate, and average or better arm give him enough ammo to be in the mix for first college catching off the board. The days of the big, strong-armed, plus power, and questionable contact catcher seem to be dwindling as more and more teams appear willing to go back to placing athleticism atop their list of desired attributes for young catching prospects. Hard to say that’s wrong based on where today’s speed and defense style of game looks like it’s heading.

  1. California JR RHP Daulton Jefferies

To have Jefferies, maybe my favorite draft-eligible college pitcher to watch, this low says way more about the quality at the top of this year’s class then his long-term pro ability. Jefferies brings three potential above-average to plus pitches to the mound on any given night. I like the D1 Baseball comparison to Walker Buehler, last year’s 24th overall pick. Getting Jefferies in a similar spot this year would be something to be excited about.

  1. LSU JR OF Jake Fraley

In a class with potential superstars like Lewis, Reed, and Ray roaming outfields at the top, it would be easy to overlook Fraley, a tooled-up center fielder with lightning in his wrists, an unusually balanced swing, and the patient approach of a future leadoff hitter. Do so at your own discretion. Since I started the site in 2009 there’s been at least one LSU outfielder drafted every year. That includes five top-three round picks (Mitchell, Landry, Mahtook, Jones, and Stevenson) in seven classes. Outfielder U seems poised to keep the overall streak alive and make the top three round run a cool six out of eight in 2016.

  1. Vanderbilt rSO RHP Jordan Sheffield

It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten guy no matter his height.

  1. Wright State JR C Sean Murphy

Watching Murphy do his thing behind the plate is worth the price of admission alone. We’re talking “Queen Bee” level arm strength, ample lateral quicks on balls in the dirt, and dependable hands with an ever-improving ability to frame borderline pitches. He’s second in the class behind Jake Rogers defensively — not just as a catcher, but arguably at any position — but with enough bat (unlike Rogers) to project as a potential above-average all-around regular in time. I expect the battle for top college catching prospect to be closely contested all year with Thaiss, Okey, and Murphy all taking turns atop team-specific draft boards all spring long.

  1. Texas A&M JR OF Nick Banks

If you’ve ever wondered what the right field prototype looked liked, take a gander at the star outfielder in College Station. The combination of speed, strength, power, and one of the country’s most accurate and formidable outfield arms make taking the chance on him continuing to figure things out as a hitter well worth a potential first round pick.

  1. Tennessee JR RHP Kyle Serrano

Serrano is the second guy on this list that reminds me of Walker Buehler from last year, though I still like my own Jarrod Parker comp best. He’s transitioned into more of a sinker/slider pitcher as he’s refined his breaking ball and lost some feel for his change over the years, but as a firm believer in the idea that once you have a skill you own it forever I remain intrigued as to how good he could be once he learns to effectively harness his changeup once again.

  1. Kentucky JR 2B/OF JaVon Shelby

In yet another weird example of an odd comp that I haven’t been able to shake all year, there’s something about JaVon Shelby’s game that takes me back to watching Ian Happ at Cincinnati. Maybe the offensive game isn’t as far along at similar developmental points, but Shelby’s odds at sticking in the dirt have always been higher.

  1. Miami JR 1B/C Zack Collins

If I had more confidence that Collins could play regularly behind the plate at the highest level, he’s shoot up the board ten spots (minimum) in a hurry. He’s a fastball-hunting power-hitting force of nature at the plate with the potential for the kind of prodigious home run blasts that make Twitter lose control of its collective mind. I stand by the Travis Hafner ceiling comp from last December.

  1. Arizona JR 3B Bobby Dalbec

The good popular comp here is Troy Glaus. The less good comp that I’ve heard is Chris Dominguez. The truth, as it so often does, will likely fall in the middle somewhere.

  1. Georgia JR OF Stephen Wrenn

Wrenn is a burner who has looked good enough in center field at times that you wonder if he could handle all three outfield spots by himself at the same time. He’s an athletic outfielder who remains raw at the plate despite two years of regular playing time — making him seemingly one of forty-five of the type in this year’s top fifty — so you’re gambling on skills catching up to the tools. The fact that his glove alone will get him to the big leagues mitigates some of the risk with his bat.

  1. Winthrop JR LHP Matt Crohan

Premium fastball velocity from the left side is always a welcomed sight. Crohan can get it up to the upper-90s (sits 90-94) with a pair of worthwhile offspeed pitches (mid-80s cut-slider and a slowly improving change). He’s got the size, command, and smarts to pitch in a big league rotation for a long time.

  1. Louisville SR RHP Kyle Funkhouser

Much electronic ink was spilled on Funkhouser last season, so I’ll be brief: he’s good. It’s unclear how good — I’d say more mid-rotation than ace, but reasonable minds may disagree — but he’s good. Of the many comps I threw out for him last year my favorite remains Jordan Zimmermann. If he can up his command and control game like Zimmermann, then he could hit that mid-rotation ceiling and keep pushing upwards.

  1. Louisville JR RHP Zack Burdi

Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.

  1. Samford JR OF Heath Quinn

Just what this class needed: another outfielder loaded with tools that comes with some question marks about the utility of his big-time power because he’s still learning how to hit against serious pitching.

  1. Miami JR OF Willie Abreu

Nick Banks gets a lot of deserved attention for being a potential early first round pick — somebody even once called him the “right field prototype,” if you can believe it — but Willie Abreu’s tool set is on the same shelf. There’s power, mobility, arm strength, and athleticism to profile as a damn fine regular if it all clicks.

  1. TCU rJR RHP Mitchell Traver

Traver was featured plenty on this site last year as a redshirt-sophomore, so that gives me the chance to rehash the three fun comps I’ve gotten for him over the years: Gil Meche, Nick Masset, and Dustin McGowan. Based on years of doing this — so, entirely anecdotal evidence and not hard data — I’ve found that bigger pitchers (say, 6-6 or taller) have an equal (if not higher) bust rate when compared to the smaller guys (6-0ish) that are typically associated with being higher risk. There are always exceptions and years of scouting biases has created a flawed sample to choose from, but pitching seems like a chore best done for smaller bodies that are easier to consistently contort into the kind of unnatural throwing motions needed to withstand chucking balls 90+ MPH over and over and over again. Maintaining body control, tempo, and command at a certain size can be done, but it sure as heck isn’t easy. Like almost everybody, I see a big pitcher and get excited because with size also often comes velocity, extension, and the intangible intimidation factor. Maybe it’s time to start balancing that excitement with some of the known risks that come with oversized pitchers.

  1. Maryland JR RHP Mike Shawaryn

A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.

  1. Louisiana JR RHP Reagan Bazar

Bazar is one of the bigger gambles to grace this list. He hasn’t done enough yet at Louisiana to warrant such a placement, but when he’s feeling it his stuff (mid- to upper-90s FB, promising low-80s SL) can suffocate even good hitting. Yes, I realize ranking the 6-7, 250+ pound righthander this high undermines a lot of what I said directly above. I’ll always be a sucker for big velocity and Bazar hitting 100+ certainly qualifies.

  1. Rice rSO RHP Jon Duplantier

Athleticism, projection, and wildness currently define Duplantier as a prospect. Key elements or not, those facets of his game shouldn’t obfuscate how strong his big league starter stuff is. That’s a mixed bag of qualities, but there’s clearly more good than bad when it comes to his future.

  1. San Diego SO 2B/SS Bryson Brigman

Middle infielders are always a need for big league clubs, so it only makes sense that the better ones at the amateur level get pushed up ahead of where you might want to first slot them in when simply breaking down tools. The extra credit for Brigman’s smooth fielding action is deserved, as is the acclaim he gets for his mature approach and sneaky pop.

  1. Vanderbilt JR LHP John Kilichowski

Vanderbilt pumps out so much quality pitching that it’s almost boring to discuss their latest and greatest. Kilichowski (and Sheffield and Bowden and Stone) find themselves sandwiched between last year’s special group of arms and a freshman class that includes Donny Everett and Chandler Day. The big lefty has impeccable control, easy velocity (86-92, 94 peak), and the exact assortment of offspeed pitches (CB, SL, and CU, all average or better) needed to keep hitters off-balance in any count. It’s not ace-type stuff, but it’s the kind of overall package that can do damage in the middle of a rotation for a long time.

  1. Oklahoma State JR LHP Garrett Williams

The scene on Friday night for the Hansen/Williams matchup is going to be something special for college ball. Scouts in attendance will likewise be pretty pleased that they can do some one-stop shopping for not only a potential 1-1 guy in Hansen but also a real threat to wind up in the first round in Williams. Continued maturation of Williams’s curve (a weapon already), change (getting there), and control (work in progress) could get him there.

  1. Nevada JR OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

Brooks is a two-way athlete good enough to play center field or keep progressing as a lefthanded reliever with a plus approach and an all-out style of play. How can you not like a guy like that?

  1. Coastal Carolina JR SS/2B Michael Paez

Our first college shortstop, finally. Paez hasn’t yet gotten a lot of national prospect love that I know of, but he’s deserving. He can hit, run, and sneak the occasional ball over the fence all while being steady enough in the field that I don’t know why you’d have to move him off of shortstop. I wouldn’t quite call it a comp, but my appreciate for Paez resembles what I felt about Blake Trahan in last year’s draft.

  1. Oklahoma JR 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse

Neuse could still fulfill the promise many (myself included) saw in him during his excellent freshman season back when he looked like a potential Gold Glove defender at third with the kind of bat you’d happily stick in the middle of the order. He could also get more of a look this spring on the mound where he can properly put his mid-90s heat and promising pair of secondary offerings (SL, CU) to use. Or he could have something of a repeat of his 2015 season leaving us unsure how good he really is and thinking of him more of a second to fifth round project (a super talented one, mind you) than a first round prospect.

  1. Wake Forest JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou

Second basemen with power, feel for hitting, and an idea at the plate are damn useful players. The comp I got a few weeks ago on Mondou is about as topical as it gets: Daniel Murphy.

  1. Kent State JR LHP Eric Lauer

I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.

  1. Florida JR 1B Pete Alonso

The Gators have so much talent that it’s inevitable that even a top guy or three can lay claim to getting overlooked by the national media. Alonso, with plus bat speed and power to match, is that guy for me. The burgeoning plate discipline is the cherry on top. I’m not in the national media, but maybe I’ll look back and see how I overlooked him as he rises up boards next spring.

  1. Duke JR RHP Bailey Clark

Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking look foolish by June.

  1. Louisville JR 2B/OF Nick Solak

The day you find me unwilling to champion a natural born hitter with a preternatural sense of the strike zone is the day I hang up the keyboard. Solak is a tough guy to project because so much of his value is tied up in his bat, but if he build on an already impressive first two seasons at Louisville in 2016 then he might just hit his way into the draft’s top two rounds.

  1. Ohio State JR OF Ronnie Dawson

You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.

  1. Kentucky SR RHP Kyle Cody

As an outsider with no knowledge of how Cody’s negotiations with Minnesota actually went down, I’m still surprised that a fair deal for both sides couldn’t be reached last summer. The big righthander (here we go again…) is what we thought he was: big, righthanded, erratic with his command, and an absolute handful for the opposition when his three pitches (mid-90s FB, average 76-82 kCB that flashes plus, hard CU with average upside) are working. There are no real surprises left in his amateur development, so the leap to the pro game seemed inevitable. Maybe he’s got a trick or two up his sleeve yet…

*****

Best of the rest position players…

  • Austin Peay JR SS/3B Logan Gray
  • College of Charleston JR OF/SS Bradley Jones
  • Oklahoma State JR OF Ryan Sluder
  • Ohio State JR OF Troy Montgomery
  • Virginia JR SS/3B Daniel Pinero
  • Vanderbilt SO 3B/SS Will Toffey
  • Auburn JR OF Anfernee Grier
  • Tulane JR SS Stephen Alemais
  • NC State JR C/3B Andrew Knizner
  • Pacific SR OF Giovanni Brusa
  • Hawaii JR 2B Josh Rojas
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee rJR SS/3B Eric Solberg
  • Murray State JR C Tyler Lawrence
  • Miami JR OF Jacob Heyward
  • Louisville rSO 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
  • Florida State JR OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
  • Illinois SR C Jason Goldstein
  • Texas JR C Tres Barrera
  • Oregon State JR SS Trevor Morrison
  • Missouri JR SS/3B Ryan Howard
  • Mississippi State rSO OF Brent Rooker
  • Stony Brook JR OF Toby Handley
  • Virginia Commonwealth JR OF/2B Logan Farrar
  • Belmont JR SS Tyler Walsh
  • Southern Mississippi SR 1B Tim Lynch
  • Old Dominion JR SS/OF Nick Walker
  • Maryland JR C/1B Nick Cieri
  • Coastal Carolina SO OF Dalton Ewing
  • St. John’s JR OF Michael Donadio
  • Stanford JR SS/2B Tommy Edman
  • Arizona State JR SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
  • Tulane JR C Jake Rogers
  • Texas A&M JR 2B/OF Ryne Birk
  • Mercer JR C Charlie Madden
  • Saint Louis SR 3B Braxton Martinez
  • UC Santa Barbara rJR OF Andrew Calica
  • South Alabama rJR OF/LHP Cole Billingsley
  • USC JR C/1B Jeremy Martinez
  • Texas State JR OF/1B Granger Studdard
  • Bradley JR 3B Spencer Gaa
  • Long Beach State JR SS/2B Garrett Hampson
  • Gonzaga SR 1B/RHP Taylor Jones
  • NC State JR 1B Preston Palmeiro
  • Mississippi State rJR OF Jacob Robson
  • Jacksonville JR OF Austin Hays
  • Louisiana Tech rSR SS/2B Taylor Love
  • Oral Roberts JR C Brent Williams
  • Southeast Missouri State JR OF Dan Holst
  • Dallas Baptist SR OF Daniel Sweet
  • St. John’s SR OF Alex Caruso

*****

Best of the rest pitchers…

  • Vanderbilt JR LHP Ben Bowden
  • Central Michigan JR LHP/1B Nick Deeg
  • Auburn JR RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
  • Georgia JR LHP Connor Jones
  • Illinois JR RHP Cody Sedlock
  • Florida JR RHP Logan Shore
  • Florida JR RHP Dane Dunning
  • Florida JR RHP Shaun Anderson
  • Sacred Heart JR RHP Jason Foley
  • Michigan JR LHP/1B Carmen Beneditti
  • Air Force JR LHP Jacob DeVries
  • St. Mary’s JR RHP Corbin Burnes
  • Albany JR RHP Stephen Woods
  • Indiana rJR RHP Jake Kelzer
  • Oregon JR RHP Stephen Nogosek
  • Connecticut JR LHP Anthony Kay
  • Oregon rJR LHP Cole Irvin
  • Mississippi State JR LHP Daniel Brown
  • Liberty JR RHP/OF Parker Bean
  • Pacific JR RHP Vince Arobio
  • Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch
  • Loyola Marymount JR RHP JD Busfield
  • Washington State JR RHP Ian Hamilton
  • Michigan State rJR LHP Cameron Vieaux
  • Michigan JR LHP Brett Adcock
  • Gonzaga JR RHP Brandon Bailey
  • South Carolina JR RHP Wil Crowe

2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Minnesota Twins

Minnesota Twins 2015 MLB Draft Picks

I’ve done all of this so far in a non-linear way, jumping from player to player with only the slightest bit of organizational thought spent on an attempt to go around the diamond by position at times. Minnesota’s draft has inspired me to actually take a closer look at their top ten round picks in order. I just like their top ten rounds that much.

1.6 LHP Tyler Jay

My only real question with LHP Tyler Jay (5) going forward is how Minnesota is planning on handling him. That’s a testament both to how confident I am in his ability to pitch effectively at the big league level (and soon) and how uncertain I am about how the Twins honestly perceive his long-term role. He’s currently on track to start next year in AA and I see no reason why he won’t be up in the big leagues by early to mid-summer, but the starter or reliever question remains an open one. Personally, I’m all-in on Jay as a starter as you can read about in my in-season take below; he wouldn’t be ranked as the fifth overall draft prospect if I thought he’d be a reliever professionally. The Twins, however, have yet to ask me what I think, so where I see him heading holds no bearing on reality. I’ll assume Minnesota also views him as a starting pitching prospect since they took him with the sixth overall pick. There is, however, a wrinkle. Read on and see (or skip past the quoted text and I’ll give the short version)…

Even though I included him in the tier with Fulmer, Funkhouser, and Bickford and ranked him in the seven spot on my “preseason” draft rankings, I still think I’ve given short shrift to Tyler Jay. It’s fairly stunning to me that so much was made before the year by many (Keith Law, most famously) about UCSB’s curious decision to leave Dillon Tate in the bullpen, but I haven’t heard one peep about Jay’s usage. We all know by now that a last minute injury opened the door for Tate to start and the script has more or less written itself since then. What I don’t understand is how quiet the internet has been concerning Jay, a wildly talented young lefthander left to pitch only in short, unpredictable outings as Illinois’ closer. I’m not particularly interested in getting into the moral debate about what is best for the player versus what will most benefit the team (fine, real quick here’s my non-morals, all-baseball take: it’s crazy not to start a pitcher like Jay if the pitcher can in fact start), but I’d really like to see a potential first round player play on a regular schedule that would more easily allow as many well-earned eyeballs on him as possible. It’s nuts that literally everybody I’ve talked to, most everything I’ve read, and my own dumb intuition/common sense hybrid approach to this kind of thing (four pitches? great athlete? repeatable delivery?) point towards Jay entering pro ball as a starting pitcher despite never getting an opportunity to take the mound in the first inning in three years of college. If he’s good enough to start professionally three months from now, then he’s damn sure good enough to start in the Big 10. (This is the part where I’ll at least mention that Illinois’ pitching staff is loaded and whatever the coaches want to do with their team is their call. Still, for both short-term [Jay is awesome, so give him more innings] and long-term [Jay getting more innings will show everybody he is awesome, he’ll go higher in the draft because of it, and you can tell recruits you had a guy go top five rather than top twenty-five] reasons, I’d think the decision to start your best pitcher would be a no-brainer. I won’t kill them because it’s quite possible that the Illini coaching staff has information about Jay’s ability to start [relative to his teammates, if nothing else] that we don’t know from the outside looking in. Either that or they are being irrational and buying into old school baseball tropes that will only make their team worse anyway. Where were we?) If Jay goes as high as his raw talent merits (he’s easily a first round pick), then we’re talking about a college reliever being drafted right into a professional rotation. Such a move feels unprecedented to me; a quick check back through the archives reveals only one other similar first round case in the six drafts I’ve covered in depth since starting the site. The only first round college reliever drafted with the idea of converting him to the rotation professionally was Chris Reed. More on that from back in November 2011…

As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.

I swear I didn’t copy/paste that just because it’s one of my few predictions to have held up really well so far. I mean, that was a big part of it, sure, but not the only reason. I guess I just find the case of Jay continuously flying just under the radar to be more bizarre than anything. I’m almost at the point where I’m starting to question what negatives I’m missing. A smart team in the mid- to late-first round is going to get a crazy value when Jay inevitably slips due to the unknown of how he’ll hold up as a starter. Between his extreme athleticism, a repertoire bursting at the seams with above-average to plus offerings (plus FB, above-average CB that flashes plus, above-average SL that flashes plus, average or better CU with plus upside), and dominant results to date at the college level (reliever or not), there’s little doubt in my mind that Jay can do big things in a big league rotation sooner rather than later. There two questions that will need to be answered as he gets stretched out as a starter will be how effective he’ll be going through lineups multiple times (with the depth of his arsenal I’m confident he’ll be fine here) and how hot his fastball will remain (and how crisp his breaking stuff stays) when pitch counts climb. That’s a tough one to answer at the present moment, but the athleticism, balance, and tempo in Jay’s delivery give me hope.

It’s hard to mention Jay without also mentioning Tate (multiple times, apparently), the fastest rising of this year’s college group of starter/reliever question marks (Carson Fulmer being the third). Tate’s turn in the rotation this year has allowed him to begin to answer all of those questions emphatically in the positive. His fastball has dipped some late in games so far this year (95-98 early to 91-93 late), but that’s less of a problem when you’re already starting at easy plus to plus-plus velocities; we should all be so lucky to throw in the low-90s when tired. Jay has shown similar velocity to Tate so far out of the bullpen (mid- to upper-90s), so even knocking a few MPHs off his peaks in short bursts would allow his fastball to play at a more than acceptable level in the pros. Just because Tate has done it obviously doesn’t mean Jay is a lock to do it when he gets his chance, but it’s a nice parallel to draw from two fairly similarly talented prospects.

To reiterate (or to mention it to anybody who wisely skipped that wall of text): the only first round college reliever drafted with the intention of converting to the starting rotation since I began the site in 2009 is Chris Reed. I’ve long argued that draft precedent is overrated — factors that typically create precedent don’t really apply to the act of drafting, especially as more forward-thinking front offices take power — but the complete lack of recent historical successful attempt (or any attempt, really) to convert a reliever to a starter is striking. It might sound crazy, but I’m a little concerned that the Twins will give into peer-pressure (like managers who are afraid to go against “The Book”) and take the easy, safe way out with Jay in the bullpen.

A worthwhile recent example to consider, for better or worse, is Brett Cecil. Cecil came out of the pen in 66 of his 74 college appearances at Maryland including 28 of 30 times in his draft year. He then went right into the rotation as a pro and remained a starting pitcher through his first three big league seasons. After a disappointing third season in the rotation, Toronto opted to return him to the pen starting in 2012. That’s where he’s lived since. There’s a happy ending now that Cecil has established himself as one of baseball’s nastier lefthanded relievers — something I’m sure Jay could match if it came to it — but there’s a part of me that wonders if the Jays pulled the plug on him as a starter too soon. I know there are injury questions with him and the not insignificant matter of some guys having stuff that plays up above and beyond in the short bursts, but Cecil’s peripherals as a starting pitcher were decent. They weren’t anywhere as good as he is as a reliever, but an argument for more patience for a lefty with 6.45 K/9 and 3.13 BB/9 as a starter can be made.

That said, three years watching a pitcher up close get the ball every fifth day is ample time to come up with a decision on his future. I’d be thrilled if Jay got three seasons in a big league rotation to show everybody how good he really is. If that happens, I think he seizes a job and keeps it until he’s ready to hang ’em up. If it doesn’t happen, then I’m really not sure Minnesota had quite the long-term vision required for a team drafting such a unique prospect. Let him start. Watch him do number two starter things.

2.73 RHP Kyle Cody

I didn’t love the pick of Chris Paul, as you’ll soon read. I also don’t fully understand Sean Miller in the tenth, but questioning picks down close to anything that starts with a 3 and ends in multiple digits is nit-picky even for me. Those two aside, the Twins top ten rounds are a thing of beauty. They checked almost every box: quick-moving college arm, well-rounded high school standouts, a power lefty and a finesse lefty, a slugger with arguably the best raw power in his class, and a college bat off to as good a pro debut as even the most enthusiastic supporter could hope. It’s a diverse blend of talent — 2 college arms, 1 HS arm, 3 college bats, 3 HS bats — that shows exactly what a team can do with a little scouting creativity. The big bummer here is the math involved: 2 + 1 + 3 + 3 = 9. Signing nine out of your top ten isn’t necessarily a killer, but whiffing on your second round pick hurts a whole heck of a lot.

Missing out on RHP Kyle Cody (66, unsigned) isn’t so much about Cody himself, but about the wasted opportunity to add somebody. The Twins are on the verge of another nice long run of sustained success, so maximizing early picks while you still are in a spot to get them is more important than ever. As for the player in question, Cody will return to Kentucky for a senior season. It’s a lazy but unmistakable comp, but Cody reminds me of a less explosive Alex Meyer with a better shot to continue starting as a pro. He’ll give pro ball a try next June.

3.80 3B Travis Blankenhorn

4.110 3B Trey Cabbage

Getting 3B Travis Blankenhorn (99) and 3B Trey Cabbage (104) with back-to-back picks is really nice. Both struggled some in their pro debuts — less so Blankenhorn, both in terms of raw numbers and contextually (he was a level ahead) — but retain plenty of their pre-draft future big league regular sheen. I saw Blankenhorn this spring and had this to say…

Blankenhorn played home games about ninety minutes from where I grew up, so I saw him a fair amount this spring. Again, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I really, really like Blankenhorn’s game. It’s a bit of a lame hedge to rank a guy fourth on a given list and then call him a FAVORITE prospect (for what it’s worth, Nevin was the only other HS third basemen to get the all-caps FAVORITE treatment in my notes), but here we are. Blankenhorn is a favorite because of his athleticism, approach, and phenomenal feel for hitting. Perfect Game recently threw out a fascinating Alex Gordon ceiling comp. I’ll throw out the name he reminded me of: lefty Jeff Cirillo. If it all comes together I can see a high average, high on-base hitter who will wear out the gaps at the plate and play above-average to plus defense in the field.

Neither Blankenhorn nor Cabbage profile as big power bats, but the well-roundedness fundamental to both of their overall games makes them very appealing prospects. I’ve long advocated for “stacking” at draft positions (e.g., following the selection of a HS catcher early with a mid-round college catcher) and the Twins took it to another level with two high school third basemen in a row. The one year age gap between the two — something to keep in mind now that I didn’t pay close enough attention to pre-draft — should help the two progress at different levels throughout the system, as will the positional versatility (Blankenhorn played 3B, SS, LF, and 1B; Cabbage played 3B, SS, LF, and RF) both men possess. You’d still want both to stay at the hot corner as long as possible, obviously, though getting them at bats at a level appropriate for their hitting ability should be the top priority at the moment. The expectation here is that both players could one day hit enough to be big league regulars; more realistically, by taking two similarly talented prospects this early, the Twins tilted the odds in their favor of getting at least one long-term keeper. Job well done.

5.140 LHP Alex Robinson

LHP Alex Robinson (213) in bad haiku form…

kind of young for class
northeast arm out of New York
so far, yeah, it shows

Robinson keeps with recent Twins history as a power-armed reliever who looks like a shutdown reliever when it all works. The problem with Robinson is that those times when it all works are too few and far between. Arm strength lefties with deception and his temperament (“pitches like a closer” was a remark I heard this spring) don’t grown on trees, so the thought process behind the pick is sound. If pro instruction can help Robinson find something in his delivery or approach that helps upgrade his control from dangerous to effectively wild, he’s a future late-inning reliever. Even improving his command a touch — he’s a classic case of a guy with a fastball that moves so much that it vacillates between a great pitch and a useless one — would make him a viable big league pitcher. I tend to think that’s what will happen here, but it’s going to take time and perhaps a few different organizations before it clicks for him.

6.170 OF Chris Paul

I’ve been the low guy on OF Chris Paul (273) for some time now, but it’s nice to see him get off to a nice start in pro ball. I still don’t see a big league future for him — he’s more senior season mirage than accomplished college bat and I question his patience and long-term defensive home as a pro — though he’s already exceeded my modest expectations for him, so who knows. I mentioned pre-draft that I would have loved to see his drafting team give him an honest shot at second or third before shipping him more permanently to first or a corner outfield spot. He dabbled at third (3 games), so maybe there’s hope for him as a funky utility player yet.

7.200 LHP Jovani Moran

The first of three high school prospects taken out of Puerto Rico, LHP Jovani Moran is a crafty young lefty with solid stuff (86-90 FB, chance for average mid-70s CB) and a little bit of growth left. You can debate the merits of the actual pick all you’d like, but I’m most excited by the Twins flexing their international scouting muscle beyond the scope of the international free agency period. Minnesota does international free agency exceptionally well (with not enough fanfare, I’d say), so it only makes sense to utilize some of the same personnel to potentially unearth some underscouted gems from outside the continental US during the draft.

8.230 1B Kolton Kendrick

Plus to plus-plus raw power with a questionable approach that might make it difficult for him to ever hit enough to tap into said power. That was the pre-draft Twitter-sized scouting report on the bat of 1B Kolton Kendrick (87). Then he went out and had one of the weirder debuts I’ve seen: .200/.371/.271 with 18 BB/24 K in 89 PA. So that’s surprising plate discipline with minimal power…got it. It should go without saying that 89 PA doesn’t render the scouting reports obsolete, so consider the preceding bit more amusing aside than cogent point about Kendrick’s professional future. Weird pro start or not, I remain high on him as a hitter. It took me almost all spring to get there, but power like his is so hard to find that I’m not sure why a team wouldn’t at least considering him in round three or so. Getting him all the way down in round eight is a major draft victory for Minnesota. It’s clearly a high boom/bust profile (not entirely dissimilar to Greg Pickett, taken just four picks later by the Phillies) to gamble on, but impossible to dislike as it was done at the perfect time.

9.260 OF LaMonte Wade

OF LaMonte Wade (134) is coming off as good as a debut as I’ve noticed so far, especially in terms of non-first round players. He consistently showed off all of what made him great throughout his run at Maryland in the Appalachian League: power, patience, speed, and defense. I thought before the draft that he profiled as somebody with enough ability to make it as an everyday player and nothing he’s done on the field since has changed my mind. At worst, I think you’re getting an elite fourth outfielder who tears up righthanders and is capable of playing all three outfield spots (and first base!) at a high level. I’m bullish on his future as a regular.

10.290 SS Sean Miller

As much as I value a good glove, I have a hard time using a top ten round pick on a player that will never approach an honest big league caliber bat. That’s how I see SS Sean Miller: big-time glove, small-time bat. The usual caveat that Miller hits better than 99.99% of the general population applies, of course, but that .01% represents his direct competition going forward. I get a little bit of an Emmanuel Marrero (7th round pick last year) vibe from him. I could be wrong, of course. John McDonald played 16 seasons and made over $13 million on the strength of a plus glove alone.

For as much as I praised Minnesota’s top ten selections (nine signed, technically), rounds eleven to forty were a bit underwhelming. There are a few hidden gems (hopefully), but anecdotally the talent here doesn’t match what other teams were able to pull. I realize the constricting rules of draft signing slots likely has something to do with it, but at the end of the day I only care about the talent brought in, however it may have been accomplished. It’s not a bad group by any stretch — I’d put the over/under on future big league players here at 2.5, which is pretty damn all right all things considered — so let’s get into it.

We’ll start off with some good news in the way of two power-hitting college guys who ranked in my top 500. 1B Zander Wiel (229) was a nice find as a 12th round pick (350 overall) with above-average to plus raw power, ample physicality, and a decent approach. Like Ziel, C AJ Murray (456) has big raw power. In fact, the two had very similar college numbers at big time programs (Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech respectively). Despite my pre-draft rankings, I think you could easily flip-flop Wiel and Murray as prospects; Murray’s pedigree intrigues me to no end and the Twins willingness to try him behind the plate again has me back on the bandwagon. He’s such a great athlete that I have a hard time betting against him.

OF Daniel Kihle has more swing-and-miss in his game for a player of his type, but his tools are impressive enough that he’ll have a long pro career even if he doesn’t clean up the approach. He has a plus arm, above-average speed, and average or better raw power. Not a bad set of tools for an 18th round pick. Speaking of toolsy mid-round college draft picks, come on down OF Jaylin Davis. Davis didn’t get a chance to make his pro debut this year due to his recovery from a torn labrum, so Twins fans haven’t had the chance to see him just yet. When they do, I think they’ll be impressed at what their scouting staff managed to find and sign with pick 710. His pre-season report…

Appalachian State JR OF Jaylin Davis has as many 55’s on his card as any outfielder here. He’s above-average or better in center, throwing, and in terms of raw power, and just a touch above average as a runner. I think he’s smart enough, athletic enough, and in possession of a quick enough bat to hit enough to make all those tools work, so don’t forget the name.

Unfortunately his labrum injury cut short his junior season (only 65 AB), so we really don’t yet know how far along he is when it comes to putting his considerable physical ability on display at a more consistent basis. There’s way more upside with Davis than your typical college 24th round pick. Just ask Carlos Rodon.

C Brian Olson was a pre-season favorite who didn’t have quite the breakout senior season needed to push him up into top ten round money-saving consideration. Still, he continued to show strong plate discipline, steady defense behind the plate, and enough power to be a threat on mistake pitches. Getting a potential big league backup catcher in the 34th round works for me. C Brad Hartong didn’t catch a ton after signing, so it remains to be seen what Minnesota’s long-term plan with him will be. He’s a good enough athlete to get real playing time in the outfield, but the bat looks a heck of a lot better if he’s a catcher. Bold take, right?

SS Alex Perez is a long shot — he is a 23rd round pick, after all — but you can see what Minnesota was thinking taking a chance on a middle infielder (he’s played 2B as a pro) coming off a monster senior season. There’s little to suggest in his skill set or overall track record that said senior year was the start of a new trend, but why not find out for sure firsthand at the low cost of pick 680?

Puerto Rican prospect C Kerby Camacho struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June. Puerto Rican prospect OF Lean Marrero struggled mightily in his first pro season, but some of that is to be expected considering he’s one of the youngest players drafted (17 all season) this June.

RHP Cody Stashak was a workhorse at St. John’s who has a solid track record of missing bats with average or better stuff (88-92 FB, usable CU and SL). LHP Anthony McIver is an older prospect (24 in April), but with good size and a history of missing bats (10.6 K/9 his senior year, 10.2 K/9 in his pro career) he’s worth keeping in the back of your mind. RHP Logan Lombana has missed bats (8.4 K/9 at Long Beach, 9.6 K/9 in Elizabethton) as well. RHP Rich Condeelis is a bit wild, but has maintained a reputation as a guy who can miss bats. RHP Max Cordy, unsigned as of MLB.com but clearly signed by the Twins (clear assuming you have any common sense and a willingness to Google as pitching in pro games is a pretty good clue a guy signed), throws hard (up to the mid-90s) with an average or better slider that flashes even better than that. Control is his biggest problem by far, but it’s the kind of stuff that has missed bats in the past and should continue to do so. Noticing a trend here? As I’ve said in other team draft reviews, I’d be surprised if any of these mid- to late-round picks even become factors at the big league level, but it’s admirable when a club puts an emphasis on production (not to mention solid stuff and strong, physical frames) to find a potential hidden gem.

Here are the pre-draft top 500 players selected by Minnesota…

5 – Tyler Jay
87 – Kolton Kendrick
99 – Travis Blankenhorn
104 – Trey Cabbage
134 – LaMonte Wade
213 – Alex Robinson
229 – Zander Wiel
273 – Chris Paul
456 – AJ Murray

SEC 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team – PITCHERS

First Team

Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long

Second Team

Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski

Before we get to some updated stuff, here are a few words I’ve written about some of the SEC’s top pitching prospects (or so I thought…if I could get a do-over on some of those Second Team picks above, I sure would) from before the season…

Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler

Beyond his smarts, pitchability, command, athleticism, and groundball tendencies, Buehler sticks out to me for having two legitimate, distinct above-average to plus breaking balls. They can run into each other at times — I’ve seen an unhealthy amount of baseball in my life and consider myself reasonably bright, but distinguishing between curves, sliders, and even cutters isn’t a personal strength — especially when they are both in the low-80 MPH range, but there’s enough separation between his mostly upper-70s curve (77-83, really) and his “hard CB” from high school (then 78-82) that is now a fully formed 80-85 slider that both get swings and misses. I will say that in my experience viewing him and talking to smarter people who have seen him way more, the two pitches don’t often seem to be in that above-average to plus range within the same game. I’d like to chart a few of his starts to test the validity of this claim, but it’s been said to me that he’ll figure out which breaking ball is working early in the game and then lean on it almost exclusively as his breaker of choice throughout the game. The ability to spin two quality breaking balls on top of an impressive fastball (90-94, 96 peak) and average mid-80s sinking changeup that flashes much better on top of all of Buehler’s previous strengths and two arguable weaknesses (size and inconsistencies with his breaking balls) make him a difficult pitcher to find an instructive comparable player for. Some of the names I’ve tossed out as ceiling comparisons over the past few years include Roy Oswalt, Javier Vazquez, and Julio Teheran. All of those work and don’t work for various reasons, I think. I also think I like Buehler so much as a prospect that I’m cool with dropping the Zack Greinke with a harder curve comp that’s been on my mind with him for a while now. It’s not meant to be a comparison we all get crazy carried away with — Greinke was already in the big leagues at Buehler’s current age, after all — but in terms of the total present prospect package of stuff, pitchability, build, and frame, I think it works very well.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer

Fulmer has had almost as much success as Buehler through two college seasons with their only significant difference coming in the former’s more common bouts of wildness. It’s not the kind of wildness that raises any kind of red flags, but rather something that falls somewhere between the typical developmental path of an electric young arm and the potential start of a long, fruitful run of being “effectively wild” from now until the day he retires. That aside, the biggest real question about Fulmer will be future big league role. I’d like to think I’ve long shown a willingness to allow players to play themselves from bigger roles (starting, up-the-middle defensive spots, etc.) to smaller roles, so it should be no shock that I’d run Fulmer out as a starter for as long as he shows he is capable of holding down the job in pro ball. A big part of believing in Fulmer as a starter is the fact that his stuff does not appear to appreciably suffer in longer outings. He has the three pitches he’ll need to go through lineups multiple times (mid-90s FB, honest 99 peak; plus low-80s breaking ball; mid-80s changeup with promise) and more than enough deception in his delivery to make him a tough matchup in almost any circumstance. There is some fair cause for concern that his delivery — I’m not expert on these things and I mostly only care that it’s repeatable, but it’s rough enough that even I can see what the fuss is about — won’t allow him to hold up throwing 200+ innings a season. This isn’t the only reason why Buehler is universally regarded as the better prospect (see the silly amount of fawning I do over him above for more), but it’s a big one. Not all drafts are created equal, but I have a hard time imagining Fulmer falling too far on draft day one year after a very similar pitcher in Grant Holmes went 22nd overall.

Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter

Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.

Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash

Rash has been a hot name in prospect circles (78th ranked prospect in 2012 here) since his high school days. He couldn’t come to terms with the Phillies that same year after being selected with the 95th overall pick. Things haven’t gone quite according to script for him at Missouri (less than 50 combined innings pitched to date), but he’s missed bats when called upon (8.15 K/9 last year) and still flashes pro-caliber stuff. The lack of innings only presents an issue in how it’s limited opportunities for him to further develop the third pitch he’d likely need to start as a professional. Nobody questions his fastball (90-95), slider (low-80s, flashes plus), frame (6-6, 200), athleticism, or work ethic, so it’ll mostly come down to how he looks in an expanded role and whether or not his mid-80s changeup impresses evaluators enough to project him in a starting role going forward. He’ll be a high pick either way, but showing he can start could mean the difference between a top three round selection and a top seven round selection.

Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian

JR RHP Trey Killian’s performances through two year are confusing. His first year was quite strong (8.59 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9), but he did it in limited innings (36.2). Last year he proved to be more of a workhorse (94 IP) and he did a great job of keeping runs off the board (2.30 ERA), but he missed way less bats (5.94 K/9) yet wound up improving his control (1.72 BB/9). Good, less good, good, good, less good, good…you see how he can confuse even the most brilliant internet baseball writers, right? His track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good cutter; really good yet underused low-80s CU; above-average slider; usable curve), command, and athleticism all add up to strong back of the rotation starter material, so maybe I’m overthinking it with him anyway. Or maybe I’m still waiting on a year when he combines really good peripherals with really good run prevention and we all point to him as a guy who figured it out enough to get the bump to middle of the rotation material. That’s my hope — I want to say expectation, but I’m not quite there — for Killian in 2015. He’s the best returning arm on the Arkansas staff either way.

Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby

JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good.

*****

I’ll personally champion Walker Buehler as a candidate to go 1-1 because there’s little in his profile to suggest anything but a consistently above-average big league starting pitcher. Zack Greinke Lite with a firmer curve was my original comparison for him, and I’m sticking with it. Though I’d be fairly surprised if the Diamondbacks of all teams considered either Vandy arm with their pick, I personally believe that Carson Fulmer deserves to be in the 1-1 on merit. There’s something about so many tripping over themselves to talk about Dillon Tate (who is also awesome, just so we’re clear), but unwilling to go there with Fulmer that makes me laugh a bit. Worst case scenario he’s a better version of Joel Peralta (and much quicker moving), middle ground has him becoming an impact reliever like David Robertson, and his ceiling could be a little bit like a (WARNING: weird comp not to be taken literally ahead!) righthanded Gio Gonzalez. Or, if you hate my comps, just think solid middle reliever or elite closer or electric if a tad wild above-average starter. It’s a fun spectrum with both a reasonably high floor and pretty thrilling ceiling.

The third member of the presumed Vanderbilt weekend rotation also happened to rank third on the pre-season version of this list. I had to make a rare edit, however, because keeping Tyler Ferguson that high just straight up makes no sense at all. I hate saying that because he’s a really talented young pitcher, but until he can figure out the root cause for his serious control problems (categorized by some as a case of the dreaded “yips”) then he’ll remain one of the draft’s most mysterious prospects. Area scouts will earn their money and then some if they can properly identify whether or not whatever Ferguson’s got going on is correctable because it’s a fantastic arm otherwise.

Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody takes Ferguson’s place in the three spot (jumping all the way up from four!), which is only right because he has been really good this year. Good year + big guy (6-7, 250) + big stuff (mid-90s FB peaking at 98, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) = serious prospect. I’ve seen and heard some top ten talk for Cody, but that seems a little much. Still, he’s a good one. I go back and forth on him, Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter (covered above and having a solid year), and Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long for the best non-Vanderbilt pitching prospect in the conference. It’s Cody for now, but Long seems like the stiffest competition going forward.

As far as unsigned 2012 high school pitchers go, only Buehler, Hunter Virant, Kyle Twomey, Trey Killian, and Keaton Haack ranked ahead of Long. Right behind him were Fulmer, Justin Garza, Alec Rash, Ryan Burr, and Cody Poteet. I dug that up initially because of wanting to talk about Long, but look at those names again. Long is obviously in the SEC now, and check out the rest (in order): SEC, Pac-12, Pac-12, SEC, SEC (Haack started at Alabama), SEC, Big West, SEC, Pac-12, and Pac-12. As a dispassionate observer of who actually wins and loses these games, I stay out of the conference pissing contests…so draw your own conclusions there. As for Long, here’s what I wrote about him back in his HS days…

62. RHP Grayson Long (Barbers Hill HS, Texas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 80 CU; 75-77 CB with upside; SL with plus upside, but still a really inconsistent pitch; delivery ready for the pros; similar prospect to Walker Weickel in many ways, for better or worse; love his FB – command and movement make it a plus pitch even without big present velocity; has fallen off in the eyes of many this spring, but the long-term value is still very high; 6-6, 190 pounds

I like the Weickel comparison not because it was particularly prescient or anything (at this point in each player’s respective development, who knows), but, assuming it has even the slightest shed of validity, we can then compare/contrast each player’s career as if they are the same person living alternate timelines. Or not. It’s an admittedly silly exercise because there are way too many factors to ever pull off a realistic enough experiment to draw conclusions, but I still find it amusing. Anyway….

Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.

If Tyler Ferguson is one of this draft’s bigger mysteries, then Alec Rash and Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold have to be right there with him. Rash (see above) might be my favorite pitcher who hasn’t actually pitched. Hanhold hasn’t pitched much either (12.1 IP as of 4/11) and been wild when given his shot (7 BB), but I still like the overall package. I’ll stubbornly hold out hope for both because the arm talent is hard to give up on, inconsistent college careers be damned.

Ferguson’s stumble this season has opened the door for draft-eligible sophomore (he’ll be 21 in May) LHP John Kilichowski to slide in as Vanderbilt’s third best 2015 pro pitching prospect. He was great as a freshman last year (8.61 K/9 and 1.57 ERA in 23 IP) and has continued to do good things in 2015 (44 K/11 BB in 37.2 IP). His fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch (86-92), so he wisely leans on a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) to help him miss bats. Good stuff, solid track record, relatively fresh arm, and plenty of size (6-5, 210) all coming in from the left side? Nice. Statistically he’s had a very similar season to teammate rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer, yet another potential early pick off the Commodores staff. Pfeifer can’t match Kilichowski’s size or track record as a starter, but his fastball is a tick faster (94 peak) and his curve a bit sharper. How much of that can be attributed to his fastball/curveball combo playing up in shorter outings – in fairness, though he’s pitched out of the bullpen exclusively this season he almost always goes multiple innings at a time – or just having flat better stuff is up for the smarter area guys to decide. I give Kilichowski the edge for now based on what I know, but I can see it being a coin flip for many.

Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson is another pitcher who hasn’t pitched much, but when he has he’s had the chance to show off a nasty cutter that ranks as one of the nation’s best pitches of its kind. I’ve banged the drum for Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby before, so what’s one more bold statement with a ton of weird qualifiers: of all of college baseball’s current relievers who aren’t primary closing options for their team, he’s the safest bet to pitch in the big leagues.

Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee is a fascinating two-way prospect currently killing it on both ends. When he finally gets a chance to concentrate full time on pitching then he could really take off. His teammate, LHP Andy Cox, is one of my favorite “sleepers,” thanks in part to his well-rounded arsenal (88-91 FB, average or better low-80s SL, average or better CU) that could make him an interesting relief to rotation project in the pro ranks.

There are a ton of pitchers that I don’t yet have the time to cover as much as they deserve, but rest assured all of the following have had really good starts to the season worthy of more attention than they are getting: Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp, Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner, LSU rSO RHP Hunter Newman, Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett, Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor, Georgia JR RHP Sean McLaughlin, Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee, Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts, Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks, Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain (the most famous name of the bunch and arguably the best), Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams, South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop, Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks, Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent, Texas A&M JR RHP Andrew Vinson, and Texas A&M LHP AJ Minter. All of those players will be higher on an updated ranking.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
  2. Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
  3. Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
  4. Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
  5. Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
  6. Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
  7. Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
  8. Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
  9. Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
  10. Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
  11. Vanderbilt JR RHP Tyler Ferguson
  12. Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain
  13. Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson
  14. Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby
  15. Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee
  16. Tennessee JR LHP Andy Cox
  17. Texas A&M JR LHP/OF AJ Minter
  18. Florida rJR RHP Aaron Rhodes
  19. Kentucky JR RHP Dustin Beggs
  20. Alabama rJR RHP Jake Hubbard
  21. Alabama JR RHP Ray Castillo
  22. Alabama JR RHP Will Carter
  23. Louisiana State rSO RHP Hunter Newman
  24. Mississippi rJR LHP Christian Trent
  25. Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett
  26. Texas A&M SO LHP Tyler Stubblefield
  27. Mississippi rSO RHP Jacob Waguespack
  28. Mississippi JR RHP Sean Johnson
  29. Auburn SR RHP Rocky McCord
  30. Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams
  31. Texas A&M JR RHP/INF Andrew Vinson
  32. Texas A&M JR LHP Ty Schlottmann
  33. South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop
  34. Arkansas SR RHP Jacob Stone
  35. Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks
  36. Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts
  37. Louisiana State SR RHP Zac Person
  38. Tennessee SR RHP Eric Martin
  39. Tennessee JR RHP Steven Kane
  40. South Carolina SR LHP Vincent Fiori
  41. Alabama SR LHP Taylor Guilbeau
  42. Louisiana State rSO RHP Russell Reynolds
  43. Tennessee SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm
  44. South Carolina SR RHP Cody Mincey
  45. Alabama SR LHP Jonathan Keller
  46. Mississippi SR RHP Sam Smith
  47. Kentucky rJR LHP Matt Snyder
  48. Alabama rSO LHP/OF Colton Freeman
  49. Alabama JR RHP/C Mitch Greer
  50. Georgia JR RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin
  51. Texas A&M SO RHP Cody Whiting
  52. Mississippi State rSO RHP Paul Young
  53. Missouri JR RHP Brandon Mahovlich
  54. Florida JR LHP Danny Young
  55. Missouri rJR RHP John Miles
  56. Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner
  57. Texas A&M SR RHP Jason Freeman
  58. Kentucky JR LHP Dylan Dwyer
  59. Georgia SR RHP Jared Cheek
  60. Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee
  61. Kentucky JR LHP Ryne Combs
  62. Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor
  63. Georgia JR RHP David Gonzalez
  64. Florida JR RHP Taylor Lewis
  65. Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp
  66. Kentucky SR RHP Andrew Nelson
  67. Vanderbilt rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer
  68. Mississippi State JR RHP Myles Gentry
  69. Kentucky SR RHP Spencer Jack
  70. Arkansas rSR RHP Jackson Lowery
  71. Auburn SR RHP Jacob Milliman
  72. Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks
  73. Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent
  74. Louisiana State SR LHP Kyle Bouman
  75. Missouri SR RHP Jace James