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2015 MLB Draft: HS Outfielders (May Update)

These are good outfielders. So good, in fact, that I don’t even know where to begin when trying to break them down. I mean, there’s always a good outfield group because we live in a big country with a lot of great, hard-working athletes who will always remain willing to pursue a potentially extremely lucrative position playing a game for a living. But, still: this is an unusually good group of outfielders, noticeable both for its upside at the top and depth throughout. I’m excited about this year’s high school outfielders and you should be as well. The rankings are more fluid here than at any other high school position player group, so bear with me as I skip around and try to touch on as many of the top guys as I can.

Mitchell Hansen (Plano HS, Texas) has been compared by Baseball America to both Brandon Nimmo and Shawn Green. The only comp I got on him was a cautionary one: Jeremy Hermida. Like all of my favorite bats in this year’s high school class, Hansen will likely shift from center to an outfield corner before too long in the pros, but the bat speed is legit and the swing works. Demi Orimoloye (St. Matthew HS, Ontario) is all upside. I’m a sucker for upside. Ergo, Orimoloye was one of the earliest high school players to earn the FAVORITE designation from me last summer. To say that he passes the eye test as a ballplayer is an understatement. I like him more than Gareth Morgan (74th overall pick) from last year’s draft and think his game shares many positive elements with Jermaine Dye’s.

OF Eric Jenkins (West Columbus HS, North Carolina) reminds me of Matthew Railey (89th overall pick) from last year’s draft. He has all the speed, athleticism, and center field range you could ask for, plus a surprising bit of pop that could result in double-digit home run power as he continues to fill out. Jahmai Jones (Wesleyan HS, Georgia) is a fantastic athlete with explosive bat speed. I try not to put too much stock in what I see up close, but Jones made a really big impact on me with how he hit just about everything hard in my looks. I think getting into baseball full-time could help take his game to the next level. Alonzo Jones (Columbus HS, Georgia) is my preferred speed option in a class with some good ones. He consistently reminds me of Roman Quinn, a player I know not many national writers have taken to but one I consider a potential first-division regular in center field. A Quinn comp from me is a mighty compliment. I really like Jones.

The Greg Pickett (Legend HS, Colorado) bandwagon has emptied quickly this spring, but I’m sticking with the big raw power, disciplined approach, and average all-around skill set elsewhere all the same. There’s some justified concern that he’ll have to move to first base sooner rather than later, but that’s not an outcome I’m sweating too much just yet.

It’s perhaps a silly distinction to make, but I appreciate those who have hinted at this over the past few months: Daz Cameron, while still an excellent prospect, profiles more as a player with “star” upside than as a potential “superstar.” Both are mostly meaningless terms made up by people with too much time on their hands (like me!), so take this any way you ultimately see fit. The earliest comps on Cameron, or, as he was once known, the third Upton brother, shine a light on the downside of player comparisons. Over the top comps created unrealistic expectations that paint really good players as “failures” in the eyes of those who only really follow the draft/prospects on the surface. Cameron’s game hasn’t taken off the way many thought based on the early promise he showed two plus years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. He is who we thought he was, so to speak. Cameron is an exceptionally well-rounded player with no overwhelming strengths yet no noticeable weaknesses. In reality, his greatest strength is the fact he has no glaring weakness. I’m not sure he has a single tool that you couldn’t project to average or better if you wanted to and a player like that with little to no question (I say no) that he’ll stick in center (I’d say excel) for a long time to come has serious value as a prospect.

Somewhat similar prospects to Cameron that I can think of in recent years include Josh Hart (now with Baltimore) and Anfernee Grier (Auburn). Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs once described him as a similar player to Derek Hill. Cameron has a bit more raw power than all those guys, but I think all are reasonable starting points. The two former big league players that I think Cameron most closely resembles are Steve Finley and Marquis Grissom. Finley’s 162 game average stands out: .271/.332/.442 with 19 HR and 20 SB. I think that’s a fair guess at Cameron’s considerable upside (20/20 guys who can run down balls in center are no joke), though any comparison to Finley’s bizarre career should be made carefully. Finley isn’t quite Raul Ibanez (53 homers in his 40’s and 27 in his 20’s, with 225 in between), but he did manage to sock almost as many home runs in his 40’s (19) as he did in his 20’s (37) with 248 in between. That’s got next to nothing to do with Cameron, but I thought it was weird enough to mention. One other name I heard when asking around on Daz: Jose Cruz Jr. I’m not sure what to do with any of this at this point, so take it however you’d like. I do think that when added together, you’re looking at a player with the chance to be really good for a long time with potential spurts of greatness. The defensive value alone should get him to the big leagues and the development of the bat will determine his role from there. Admittedly, this relatively low ranking of Cameron doesn’t quite match with the preceding wall of text, but it’s that last point about his upside with the bat remaining an open question that keeps me from going all-in on him as a top half of the first round talent.

Comparing Daz to his father is lazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong. I mean, I don’t think it’s an ideal comparison – Daz is more polished at the same stage as his father, Mike was more athletic with arguably more natural ability – but it’s not wrong just because it’s lazy. Take this excerpt from a Cameron scouting report…

“Good tools, good make-up, must adjust bat little, has hands and bat speed to hit, centerfield type, long strider, glider, will become plus outfielder.”

Sounds like Daz to me, but that’s actually a report written on Mike by Rod Fridley back in the elder Cameron’s senior year of high school. Fridley graded Mike’s tools as all having average or better upside with the exception being power (40). Sounds a little like Daz to me. Still, the best comp I’ve gotten to date on the younger Cameron’s ceiling is Vernon Wells. Before his massive contract made him (unfairly) a walking punchline, Wells was regarded as an outstanding prospect and a young player capable of putting together consistently above-average seasons. Through his age 27 season he put up a .288/.336/.492 line (112 OPS+), averaging 28 HR, 40 2B, and 11 SB per 162 games. Through his six years of club control he put up 18.5 fWAR with above-average defense in center in all but one season. His bWAR (28.7) ranks as the fourth highest of any signed first round pick that year behind only Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, and Jayson Werth, and it’s good for fifth overall (add Tim Hudson to the mix) of any player signed in the first ten rounds that year. Some of the scouting notes from Wells during his senior season of high school…

  • “Polished player, who looks to be having a lot of fun playing.”
  • “Has the foundation to be a regular at the major league level.”
  • “Should be a five-tool player with bat leading [the] way. Line-drive stroke puts some ?? on power but think HRs will come naturally.”

All three reports were littered with future 60s and 55s for his tools, which might be a touch rich for Cameron in my view – I could see going 60 on his defense, but that’s it – yet still falls fairly close to how he’s viewed by many in and around the game. The comparison to Wells takes a fun and unexpected turn when you consider that Cameron, widely speculated to be in the mix for Houston with the fifth pick, could wind up being selected in the same spot as Wells eighteen years after Toronto took Vernon fifth overall. That’s a largely pointless coincidence, but I think it’s neat so there.

I’ve waited to get into too much detail on Garrett Whitley (Niskayuna HS, New York) because he’s at or near the top of the list of prospects that most confound me in this class. Quite frankly, I don’t have much detail to get into outside of what you, Mr./Mrs. Informed Reader, already know. His natural ability is obvious and there’s a chance he does enough outside of the batter’s box to contribute to a big league team one day even if he doesn’t hit as much as his peers, but the nagging doubts I have about him developing into the kind of hitter that winds up being a true difference-maker keep me from pumping him up as a potential top ten pick. That said, I’ve heard and read – and much of this is public info that you (yes, you!) might have read as well – that he’s made a huge leap as a hitter this spring. I haven’t had independent sources corroborate this – the geography of the situation is killing me here – but even just seeing the national guys talk him up is obviously quite encouraging. It certainly makes me feel as though my lukewarm opinion on his bat based largely on what I saw last summer (I’m not a scout, but I am a human who will have biases that seep into my evaluations) isn’t a fair way to judge him anymore, if it ever was at all (see previous parenthetical). That’s a long way of saying that I genuinely don’t know what to make of Whitley. One of the failings of trying to coverage a country’s worth of prospects by myself as a hobby means that certain players, even top guys like Whitley, can fall through the cracks.

Whitley is this class’s biggest mystery to me. He could wind up a star. He could wind up topping out in AA unable to hit anything but average-ish fastballs. Consider any attempt at my ranking him with his peers with a gigantic block of salt. The few responses I’ve gotten when asking about Whitley (all from guys working well outside Whitley’s area) haven’t helped me achieve increased clarity. One friend thought I was nuts for liking Plummer over Whitley, calling the latter a carbon copy of a young Adam Jones. That’s a comp I haven’t heard before or since, yet I don’t hate it. Another simply shared his own confusion about what to do with Whitley, calling him “the most likely prospect to make or break an executive’s career” in this year’s class. That actually made a lot of sense to me. Whitley has been such a tricky player to scout fairly this spring that hitting on him would be a tremendous victory for a scouting staff. Missing on him, however, would mean blowing an early first round pick. I think picking him at any point after the first few picks or so is justified, but still damn risky. Can’t wait to see which brave team takes the gamble.

(Preliminary ranking outside of the top three to come later in the day…I need a few hours to get my best guesses in order)

OF Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida)
OF Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan)
OF Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas)

Nick Plummer and Trenton Clark

I wrote a whole mess of words on Kyle Tucker (and other things) yesterday, but didn’t get the comp I truly wanted for him until today: Paul O’Neill. Stylistically it works, and I think O’Neill’s production (162 game average: .288/.363/.470 with 22 HR, 11 SB, and 70 BB/92 K) is a reasonable ceiling for Tucker’s skill set. Toss in some above-average corner outfield defense and you get why I’d be so high on him.

Anyway, believe it or not, there are other non-Tucker outfielders to talk about. My favorite is Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan), which should come as no shock to any regular reader who knows how I feel about a player described to me as “so smart about the strike zone, umpires have waited for him to react before calling balls and strikes.” The two published comps on him that I’ve read (both from Perfect Game) are Jon Jay and Ray Lankford. The two that I’ve gotten are Raimel Tapia (love prospect to prospect comps) and Bobby Higginson.

Let’s unpack the Higginson comparison a bit because I both liked him as a player and like the specific comparison to Plummer. I was surprised to see Higginson, who in my memory had a strong compact build bordering on bulky (in a good way), listed at 5-11, 175 pounds back in 1992 after his senior season at Temple. One report had him up to 190 pounds, which puts him right around the same listed height/weight of what I have on Plummer (5-11, 200) as of now. That works as a good reminder for me to remember to compare players at similar stages of their development physically. This is still an imperfect player to player comparison since we’re talking about a HS senior and a college senior, but at least we’re not mixing in a guy in his mid-30s to confuse things further. For more on Higginson at that time I went searching for any old scouting reports on him. Here are the unedited excerpts from the five scouting reports at Diamond Minds written by Billy Blitzer, Ed Creech, Joe Frisina, Brad Kohler, and Phil Rossi about Bobby Higginson.

  • “QUICK BAT, CAN REALLY TURN ON PITCH.” “OK ON BASES.” “EASY THROWING MOTION, ARM BIT SHORT BUT PLAYABLE.” “WILL GO AS FAR AS BAT TAKES HIM.”
  • “GOOD STROKE, HEADY OF, IDEA AT THE PLATE AND ON DEF…NO GLARING WEAKNESSES.”
  • “THIS KID CAN SWING THE BAT, KNOWS THE STRIKE ZONE…BAT BEST TOOL NOW.”
  • “Live bat, quick short stroke, ball jumps from bat.” Line drive hitter to all fields.”
  • “Generates bat-head ‘quickly’ thru hitting zone, w/ consistently hard-contact; Will have some power; Sl[lightly] below to avg. throwing arm, that has carry; Runs bases well.”

The Rossi report ended with this note that I think applies to Plummer: “Bat will carry to M.L.” I’d be remiss to not also mention the comps those scouts mentioned in their reports. Here I was thinking only internet hacks used comps, but guess I was wrong. Physical comparisons made included Johnny Callison, Jack Daugherty, Phil Plantier, and Mike Greenwell. That last one really caught my attention, so I asked around and got some emphatic support for a Greenwell/Plummer comparison. Mike Greenwell was an outstanding hitter when healthy (162 game average: .303/.368/.463 with 17 HR, 10 SB, and 59 BB/46 K), so that’s a lofty comparison but I can see it fitting for those who really believe in Plummer’s bat. Higginson’s 162 game average puts you in the same ballpark: .272/.358/.455 with 22 HR, 11 SB, and 77 BB/95 K. It’s hard to find a more modern comp that fits similarly with that kind of production in today’s game, but I could see some Denard Span with more pop to Plummer’s offensive future if things break right. That’s obviously a bat only comparison as Span’s defense and base running make him a different all-around player altogether.

As with Tucker, if you’re buying Plummer as an early first round caliber talent (as I do), then you’re going all-in on the bat carrying him to the big leagues. The rest of his tools are more good than great and I’d argue, like Tucker, that his long-term home is in a corner outfield spot (left field since his arm is his weakest tool) once he starts to lose a step as a runner, but his pitch recognition, disciplined approach, and ability to make pitchers throw his pitches that he can drive are unique for such a young hitter. One last name that he reminds me of a bit because I just can’t help myself: a slower Johnny Damon.

Almost all of the above can be applied to Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas). He’s another elite hitter with a great feel for the game and unparalleled baseball IQ. I think that last part is what has confounded some this spring, as, like Plummer, his non-hitting tools are all more good than great (other reasonable minds disagree, for the record), but his smarts can help literally every aspect of his overall game play up. I’d actually put his speed, arm (no doubt), and likelihood to stick in center ahead of Plummer, but his overall future contributions with the bat just a tick behind. As such, arguing for one over the other is fair game. In fact, the mention of Span as a potential bat comp for Plummer actually fits better for Clark – even more so when you account for other facets of his game – so let’s just go ahead and use that for now.

Or we can get into another comp I like for Clark that I’ve actually gotten for a certain SEC outfielder as well. Trenton Clark is Mark Kotsay is Andrew Benintendi, if you believe in the Transitive Property of Equality. I’ll spare you the bullet by bullet breakdown of this comparison, but go here and search for Kotsay and see for yourself. Though you could say he didn’t quite live up to all the expectations that his younger self once teased, Kotsay had a fantastic big league run. He put up 20.2 fWAR, was a near league average bat for a long time (95 wRC+, 96 OPS+), played parts of 17 seasons in the big leagues, and took home just over $50 million for his work on the diamond. Getting a player like him (forget the fact his last eight seasons were all below-average, focus on the 19.2 fWAR in his years of club control) with a top ten pick is a win by any measure, expectations be damned.

Kyle Tucker

I currently have Kyle Tucker (Plant HS, Florida), Nick Plummer (Brother Rice HS, Michigan), and Trenton Clark (Richland HS, Texas) all in my unofficial tentative subject to change on a whim no good very bad top ten overall draft prospects. In terms of just looking at high school outfielders, I think after Clark there’s a drop, but not a particularly steep one to the next tier. That second grouping is probably the most interesting collection of players to discuss because it includes a greater variety of prospect types. There are speed guys, bat guys, big name guys, undervalued guys…you name it. We’ll get to them soon. After that, it’s a gigantic mashup of prospects that are truly “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” types. I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: there’s no such thing as a consensus draft prospect ranking. Every team values players, and player types, differently. It sounds so obvious to say, but when watching the draft unfold we actually learn a lot more about what the drafting teams are all about than how a given year’s drafted players are thought of. This logic can be applied just as easily to the internet experts (or wannabes, like me) who make pre-draft rankings. Clearly, my ranking Tucker, Plummer, and Clark in the first three spots says something about what I personally value in a high school outfield prospect in this particular draft. My preference for BATS over sure-fire center field tools doesn’t represent a baseball belief I hold in perpetuity. It exemplifies that in this moment of time, for a variety of contextual reasons, that’s where my preference lies. No more, no less. If Garrett Whitley, for example, winds up as the first high school outfielder selected, then I won’t feel any better or worse about this rankings. Reasonable minds can disagree on player value, after all. There seems to be more disagreement about the top of this high school class than any other spot and that in part is what makes this my favorite high school position group to discuss. And there’s arguably no more interesting player to talk about than the man atop the list, Kyle Tucker.

As of today, Tucker is my current second overall player and top high school prospect in this year’s draft. Coming to that realization got me was thinking about him the other day, specifically about who his game reminds me of on the pro side. That simple passing thought turned into a multi-day obsession with finding a reasonable comp for Tucker going forward. By now everybody has heard the swing comparisons to decent hitters of the past like Ted Williams and Ken Griffey Jr. Those are obviously lofty comps even when taken for what they are (swing only) and not what some fans might want them to be (Kyle Tucker = HOF LOCK!), but both make sense. I have a really hard time matching up Tucker’s unique upright approach with contemporaries in today’s game. The closest established big league player that I see in him is Adrian Gonzalez. I like the more powerful Jesse Winker comp (from BA, I think) that has been circulating for a few weeks. Ultimately, as a hitter and all-around prospect, he reminds me quite a bit of Christian Yelich with more power.

Yelich is a fascinating player to be compared to because, based entirely on anecdotal evidence, there doesn’t appear to be much of a consensus on what kind of player he is or will be just yet. That’s not atypical for a 23-year old player, but Yelich has already put up a 4.3 fWAR season so you’d think the dissenters wouldn’t have much to back up their anti-Yelich (as a star/future star) views. As a staunchly pro-Yelich loudmouth, I’ve argued on his behalf in real life more times than a so-called adult with a wife, job, and mortgage should admit that he’s a future batting champ capable of ripping off a string of seasons like his 2014 campaign with the chance to grow into more power as he fills out physically and makes a few slight adjustments to his swing. The argument against him has been based largely on favorable BABIP luck (counter: he’s the kind of hitter immune to that, as his minor league numbers indicate) and that burgeoning power being more theoretical than grounded in reality. I don’t have much of a counter to that last point, at least from a statistical point of view. In fact, the numbers suggest that Yelich has even more work to do in the power department than I would have assumed at first blush. The only player with a higher K% (22.3) and lower ISO (.111) since his debut is Michael Bourn. That ISO is also the 23rd lowest of all qualifying players (158 total) in that same span. Yikes. What side was I on again?

Thankfully, Yelich does a lot of other things really well and has plenty of time (he’s a relative baby at 23) to improve in the areas he’s short in. I’ll also continue to hedge my bets by calling Tucker a more powerful version of Yelich, so that covers my backside when it comes to guessing on long-term power upside. Still, even after all those ups and downs in Yelich’s game, in a first round only re-draft of the 2010 class, I have to imagine that he would go in the top five. I’d say he’s only clearly behind Bryce Harper, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, and Manny Machado right now. You can’t really compare draft class to draft class, but it’s still comforting to have Tucker as high as I do knowing that Yelich, his closest comp as I see it, would have been justified being taken in a similar range in his draft year. Calling Yelich a top five talent in that class at the time would have been incredibly bold, but also incredibly smart in hindsight.

The twist in all of this is that I am Team Yelich now, but was actively rooting against my hometown team selecting him back in 2010. If that whiff makes you want to quit reading now, I wouldn’t hold it against you. Mike Trout will forever be my big miss of all big misses, but Yelich is up there. I really didn’t think he’d hit enough to play first base in the pros, a position I thought he’d be locked into because of average at best athleticism and a really wonky throwing motion. Shows what I know. Early on the process, I did write this…

 Yelich is like the hitting version of Stetson Allie, an up and down prospect that can look like a late first rounder one day and a fifth round lottery ticket on the next.

…which felt like a fair assessment at the time and hasn’t aged too badly in the past five years. I mean, he was inconsistent at the time, and I at least acknowledged the possibility of him ending up in the first round fairly early on in the draft cycle. Ranking him 43rd overall that year, directly behind fellow high school bats Kris Bryant, Marcus Littlewood, Chevy Clarke, and Brian Ragira, is tougher to live down today. One out of four ain’t bad, I suppose.

I’ll turn thirty exactly six months from yesterday. While thirty as a number sounds older than I feel, there’s really no denying the inevitably of going from young and full of fresh ideas about the game (and life, I guess) to old and cynical and perhaps even untrusting of some of the new stuff being presented by those who came after you’ve already tried to make your mark. I’m obviously not a crusty old scout who thinks things were better in my day nor do I buy into the belief that there is any one right way to credibly assess a player’s future in this sport. I do my best to apply logic and reason, professional experience and firsthand accounts, and statistical analysis and new biomechanical studies into my analysis. There’s no one right way to do this. Still, I can’t help but get a little bit of a laugh out of the generation behind me – I’ve argued with others before about the need for changing the definition of a “generation”; I think technology moves too quick to stick to the old definition (a biological generation is considered to be 20-25 years), so I propose moving it closer to every graduating class or so (we can round it up to every 5 years to make it nice and neat) because that’s what most people mean when they talk about generations today anyway – that has made going to games and writing about them as technically as possible and full of baseball cant a “thing.” Unbelievably enough, this sells!

Jargon that isn’t used anywhere but the internet baseball community (i.e., not by actual baseball scouting departments) is held up with the highest esteem by certain editors, quick to scold any outsider who they’ve deemed unworthy of writing about baseball because they haven’t been to X amount of games on Cactus League backfields, at many of the biggest prospect outlets. You probably shouldn’t hire somebody to head your prospect coverage who is literally the type of person you’re complaining about – made-up scout quotes are so lame, at least try to mask them with a different voice other than your own, man — ruining your most special internet baseball club, but whatever. Going to games is massively important. Developing a network of people you trust in the game is massively important. Doing the total wannabe scout thing and breaking down every big of a player’s mechanics to the prove you really did see him up close enough to make a grand proclamation about his future (inconsistent frontward facing load with too much pronation and an unappealing bat wrap with fat hands that will give him trouble against better pitching even though he’s currently hitting .350/.500/.650 against the equivalent of A-Ball competition = NP!) is just not necessary. The arrogance of those who do it that way and demean anybody who doesn’t is breathtaking.

This brings me back to a hobby of mine. I watch baseball, I listen to baseball, I play baseball, and I write about baseball. When I’m not doing those things, I’m reading about baseball. No, I’m not Adam Jones, but the overarching impact this game has on my life is kind of funny now that I’m seeing the preceding few sentences in print and realizing how tight a grip baseball has on me. Still, I love reading about baseball with the specific focus on the history of scouting whenever possible. Everybody loves Dollar Sign on the Muscle (and rightfully so, it’s a yearly read that is as important and great as you’ve heard), but there are a ton of other books written in a similar vein including my personal favorite Prophet of the Sandlots, a book as interesting for the character study of the late Tony Lucadello as the baseball wisdom interspersed throughout. You can get it used for a penny on Amazon, by the way. Anyway, at no point in any old scouting report – you can also read a ton of old reports through the magic of the device you’re currently reading this very post on – have I ever read any of the stuff that sells as expertise on the internet today. I’m not saying that those who write in that style today are wrong for doing so – I kid about some of the technical jargon used to make baseball try to be more important than it is, but those that are good at it find a way to cut through the extra fluff and paint a great picture of what a player looks like while swinging or throwing that is almost as good as seeing the guy for yourself – but merely pointing out that those who fall on the side of believing that “this is how scouting reports are supposed to be written” couldn’t be more wrong. There’s no right or wrong way to write about prospects. There’s no right or wrong way to attempt to write a scouting report. Write what you see, hear, and think, and eventually the work you’ve put in (or not) will become evident.

All of this brings me back to Kyle Tucker, somehow. Tucker can hit. He can really, really hit. We can get deeper than that if we really have to, but I don’t personally find it necessary. I swear I had no idea of the HS connection at the time, but his feel for hitting instantly reminded me of Wade Boggs the first time I saw him. Obviously the extent of such a comp is quite limited, so just think bat control and the ability to consistently catch the ball with the fat part of his bat. The way he keeps his hands and head back is pretty special for a young hitter. The rest of the tools will all play, though I’m less bullish on his long-term future in center than most. Typically when the pre-draft chatter about an amateur is along the lines of “you know, he just might be athletic enough to stick in center,” then the opposite winds up being true. I think as his lanky frame fills out he’ll lose enough speed to make left field his primary home during his best offensive seasons. Even as a corner outfielder, I think he hits enough to be a well above-average regular with surges of stardom sprinkled throughout a long career. You know, a little bit like what I expect out of Christian Yelich (except with more power).