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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

Big Ten 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein
Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill
Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe
Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton
Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes
Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson
Iowa JR OF Joel Booker
Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines

Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay
Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer
Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross
Iowa JR RHP/C Blake Hickman
Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner

I’ve noticed that I sometimes struggle when writing about players, hitters especially, that I really like. It’s almost like I don’t know what to say other than I just really, really like him. I just really, really like Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe. His tools don’t jump out at you, but they aren’t half-bad, either: lots of tools in the 45 to 55 range including his glove at second, arm strength, and foot speed. It’s the bat, of course, that makes him an all-caps FAVORITE. Lowe’s hit tool is no joke

Watching Lowe hit is a joy. There’s plenty of bat speed, consistent hard contact from barrel to ball, and undeniable plus pitch recognition. His ability to make adjustments from at bat to at bat and his impressive bat control make him a potentially well above-average big league hitter. And he just flat produces at every stop. He reminds me a good deal of an old favorite, Tommy La Stella. One scout who knew I liked Lowe to an almost unhealthy degree threw a Nick Punto (bat only) comp on him. Most fans would probably take that as an insult, but we both knew it was a compliment. Punto, love him or hate him, lasted 14 years in the big leagues and made over $20 million along the way. Punto’s best full seasons (2006 and 2008) serve as interesting goal posts for what Lowe could do if/when he reaches the top of the mountain. In those years Punto hit around .285/.350/.375. In today’s game that’s a top ten big league hitter at second base. Maybe I’m not crazy enough to project a top ten at his position future for Lowe, but he’ll make an outstanding consolation prize for any team who misses/passes on Alex Bregman, the consensus top college second base prospect, this draft. I’m also not quite crazy enough to think Lowe’s draft ceiling will match that of another similar prospect (Tony Renda of Cal, who went 80th overall in 2012), but the skill sets share a lot of commonalities. Lowe is a little bit like Houston C Ian Rice for me; both players are higher (and will continue to be higher) on my rankings than I’d imagine they’ll get selected in June. Getting one or both with a pick in the middle of the single-digit rounds would be a major victory.

Slow starts have plagued the rest of the top second base prospects in the conference. Minnesota JR 2B/SS Connor Schaefbauer is the consummate heady, athletic steady fielder that you like to see manning the keystone. Like Ohio State JR 2B/3B Troy Kuhn, his cleanest path to the big leagues would be as a utility player capable of manning all the important infield spots. Indiana SR 2B/OF Casey Rodrigue was a sleeper of mine heading into last year after transferring in from LSU-Eunice, but he hasn’t made quite the impact I thought his tools would allow. But back to Lowe: I stayed up about fifteen minutes past my bedtime on a school night (!) to think about and then write about Lowe. That’s how much I like him. You might say things are getting serious between us.

Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein has scuffled to start the year, but that doesn’t dissuade me (much) of pumping him up as a quality big league contributor as he continues to develop. He’ll never be a plus offensively (though there is some bat speed to like here), but should be good enough to allow his strong defensive gifts to play. Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter reminds me a little bit of Alex Bregman. I’ll pause for a second and let that ridiculous statement sink in. I’ve mentioned this before, but so many college-oriented analysts are quite vocal in their belief that Bregman will be able to stick at shortstop in the pros; pro guys, on the other hand, can’t wait to get him off the six-spot. As for Salter, most college guys you read and listen to will push the “hey, he’s improved a lot behind the plate and, sure, he’s not the most agile guy back there, but he’s a leader and pitchers like him, so maybe it’ll work” agenda. That’s cool and all, but then pro guys, literally to a man, respond with NOPE. I have him listed as a catcher for now because I think his drafting team will at least give it a shot. That’s because he might – and I can’t emphasis might enough – be playable back there, but also because it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine his bat playing anywhere else. It’s catcher or bust for Salter if he wants to climb the pro ladder. I actually like the hit tool more than most and think he’s a better athlete than given credit for, but it’ll come down to whether or not he’ll make enough contact to allow his plus power to go to use.

There are no first basemen of note in the Big 10 this year. I hate saying that and you know I’m rooting for somebody to emerge, but it doesn’t look great right now. I’ve been a fan of Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill in the past, but supporting that cause is getting harder and harder to justify as the years pass. Krill was a member of the 2011 MLB Draft class of high school first basemen that has flopped in a big way so far. It’s up to Travis Harrison (who I absolutely loved) to rediscover his power and Dan Vogelbach* (who I liked a lot then and still like today) to stay in reasonably good shape to carry this sad group of first basemen out of the doldrums. Krill can still bring the thunder, but contact is a problem and he too often gets himself in bad hitting counts. Here was his HS report from this very site back in the day…

Krill is another prospect I was slow to come around on, but I’m buying into his mix of strong defensive tools, super athleticism, and big upside with the bat. Like Jacob Anderson before him, he’s got the wheels and instincts to play some outfield as a pro. There is enough to like about Krill that you can dream on him being a league average hitter and above-average glove at first down the line if everything works out. That may not sound all that sexy, and there is plenty of risk involved with assuming “everything works out,” but you have to remember how much you have to hit if you want to play first base in the bigs. As much as I like Krill now, I’ll be the first to admit that each and every one of these mid-round high school first basemen will all have to make major strides in pro ball (i.e. have “everything work out”) to begin to reach their upper level projections. Life is tough when you don’t have a fallback plan, I guess.

Ohio State JR 1B/OF Zach Ratcliff is another former big-time HS prospect that hasn’t delivered in college. These are typically the guys I cling to long after they’ve shown they are overmatched. I’m trying to hang in there, honest.

The shortstop group in the conference is similar to the second baseman if you allow for the omission of a Brandon Lowe type prospect at the top. Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton comes closest to taking on that role as a fellow third-year sophomore with clear professional tools (speed, glove). I’ve neither seen nor heard much about Walton as a pro prospect just yet, but players who look like safe bets to stay up the middle with his kind of wheels and pop tend to get noticed over time.

I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints. What I often hear next is what interests me the most. The majority of those who say I’m too high on Maezes have gone on to praise either Maryland JR 3B Jose Cuas or Ohio State 3B/1B Jake Bosiokovic as the better prospect. It’s not this simplistic, but I feel like if we had to boil those conversations down it would be an upside vs certainty debate. I think Maezes’ upside rivals those guys and he’s far more certain to produce positive value going forward; they think Maezes’ upside is limited when compared to Cuas and Bosiokovic, and that he’s far less likely (relative to what I’ve said) to reach that lesser ceiling anyway. Maybe. I get the appeal of Cuas (big raw power and a world of defensive tools) and Bosiokovic (athletic 6-6, 220 pound men who can reasonably stick at third are a rare breed), but, despite what I’ve heard, my loyalty to Maezes is unwavering. (For the record, I realize I’m not going out on a limb here and I’m not patting myself on the back for liking a player who is the consensus top third basemen in the conference. I’m just trying to share some opposing views I’ve personally heard. Also, I do think I like him more than most, but arguing degrees of “like” is a pretty silly exercise.)

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

Iowa JR OF Joel Booker remains a bit of a mystery man to me, but crazy speed, premium athleticism, and considerable arm strength paint the picture of a strong overall prospect. Booker destroyed junior college ball the past two seasons (.403/.451/.699 last year) and has adjusted fairly well to big time college ball so far this year. The big question even as he was annihilating juco pitching was how his high-contact, minimal bases on ball approach would play as the competition tightened. It’s still a concern, but it might just be one of those tradeoffs we have to accept in a flawed prospect. Booker’s aggression nature defines him at the plate; pushing him into more of a leadoff approach could neuter his unusually adept bat-to-ball ability just as easily as it could take him to the next level as a prospect.

All of those names mentioned in the Cameron Gibson paragraph (Allen, Holt, Payton, Dugas) might better apply to Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines. Glines can chase balls down in center with the best of them where he is able to use his above-average foot speed and instincts to get balls others can’t. There aren’t too many senior signs in the country with his kind of future. Speed, CF range, patience, and pop = FAVORITE.

The next tier down of outfielders still has some players to watch. Maryland JR OF LaMonte Wade (arm, power, approach) has upside rivaled only by Cam Gibson among his outfield peers. Indiana rSR OF Scott Donley rolls out of bed ready to hit. Iowa SR OF/2B Eric Toole has speed, Maryland JR OF Anthony Papio has power, and Purdue JR OF Kyle Johnson has a little bit of everything, size included (6-5, 215).

I’m trying to find the right fact that shows how impressive the Big 10’s pitching this year is. Let’s see which sums it up the best…

The top ranked arm, Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay, is an easy first round talent who could keep on striking guys out all the way into the top ten. That could be reason enough to be impressed with the Big 10’s pitching, but, wait, there’s more.

Jay is just one of literally a half-dozen lefthanded pitchers that I have at peaking with their fastballs at 94 or better. There’s Jay (97), Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross (94), Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner (95), Maryland JR LHP Alex Robinson (96), Minnesota JR LHP Dalton Sawyer (94), and Illinois JR LHP Kevin Duchene (94).

One of my quick sorting tools when I’m looking at a class a year or more out (like I just finished up doing with the college class of 2016) is to start with any pitcher capable of throwing three average or better pitches. I had to do the same thing when figuring out how to prioritize this follow list. Jay, Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer, Effross, Iowa JR RHP Blake Hickman, Drossner, Michigan JR RHP/3B Jacob Cronenworth, Duchene, Michigan State SR RHP Mick VanVossen, and Indiana JR RHP Christian Morris all fit the bill based on my notes.

The one-two-three punch of Jay, Hickman, and Cronenworth give the conference as much athleticism and theoretical two-way ability as any group of pitchers as you’d like to see. Jay is a plus athlete with legitimate plus speed, Hickman was once an honest to goodness catching prospect with big power and a plus arm (duh), and, despite a fascinating three-pitch mix (88-92, 94 peak; above-average breaking ball; above-average mid-80s split-CU) Cronenberg might currently be a better prospect as a position player (speed, arm strength, power). As somebody who values athleticism in pitchers very, very highly, this is some exciting stuff.

I’ve managed to namecheck eleven different pitchers so far without mentioning a certain SO RHP at Ohio State by the name of Travis Lakins. All Lakins is capable of is throwing darting mid-90s fastballs with above-average command, an average curve that flashes plus, and a raw but steadily improving changeup. No biggie.

To continue the “how can a guy this good be ranked so low?” theme, there’s are a pair of pitchers just outside of the top ten who have both hit as high as 97 with impressive breaking balls. That would be Maryland JR RHP Jared Price and Ohio State rSO RHP Shea Murray.

The aforementioned Duchene is next with his lively four-pitch mix and stellar track record of success. Then there’s Michigan State rSO LHP Cameron Vieaux, another southpaw who can get swings and misses both with the heat (88-92) and an above-average breaker (CB). It doesn’t hurt that he’s a 6-5, 200 pound athletic son of a gun, either.

I could go on and on and on. A few more quick notes…

I’m as shocked as anybody that I didn’t have Hickman, a massive personal favorite, behind Jay in the two spot. Those Indiana arms (Kelzer and Effross) just got too much love for the smart folks I talked to. Kelzer is the rare big pitcher (6-8, 235) with the fluidity and athleticism in his movements as a smaller man. I’ve yet to hear/see of a true offspeed pitch of note (he’s got the good hard slider and a promising slower curve), but something a touch softer (change, splitter) would be nice. Effross is a more traditionally easy to like prospect: lefthanded, damn good change, misses bats.

Maryland could stock a AA bullpen tomorrow. Jake Drossner has the stuff to start, but Alex Robinson, Kevin Mooney, Jared Price, and Zach Morris (and his comically oversized cell phone) all have at least the fastball/breaking ball combination that could get good pro hitters out right now.

(I wrote this about Jay earlier, but seeing as he’s the top guy I figure it didn’t hurt to run it again)

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.

*I don’t know if this comp has ever been made – Google doesn’t seem to think so – but I see a lot of Brett Wallace, for better or worse, in Vogelbach. I say for better despite Wallace not working out professionally because I’m sure he was a well above-average first base bat in one of our world’s parallel universes. Or something like that. Anyway, Vogelbach’s minor league numbers to date: .285/.375/.481. Wallace is a career .304/.376/.480 minor league hitter. Hmm.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes
  2. Maryland rSO 2B Brandon Lowe
  3. Michigan State JR OF Cameron Gibson
  4. Maryland JR 3B Jose Cuas
  5. Iowa JR OF Joel Booker
  6. Illinois JR C Jason Goldstein
  7. Michigan SR OF Jackson Glines
  8. Maryland JR OF/LHP LaMonte Wade
  9. Illinois rSO SS Adam Walton
  10. Michigan State SR C/1B Blaise Salter
  11. Indiana rSR OF Scott Donley
  12. Michigan State SR 1B Ryan Krill
  13. Minnesota JR 2B/SS Connor Schaefbauer
  14. Ohio State JR 2B/3B Troy Kuhn
  15. Iowa SR OF/2B Eric Toole
  16. Nebraska SR C Tanner Lubach
  17. Maryland JR OF Anthony Papio
  18. Indiana SR C/OF Brian Hartong
  19. Purdue JR OF/RHP Kyle Johnson
  20. Minnesota SR OF Jake Bergren
  21. Nebraska SR OF Austin Darby
  22. Illinois SR 1B/SS David Kerian
  23. Nebraska SR 3B/1B Blake Headley
  24. Maryland JR C Kevin Martir
  25. Ohio State JR 3B/1B Jake Bosiokovic
  26. Northwestern rSR C Scott Heelan
  27. Minnesota rSR SS Michael Handel
  28. Rutgers SR OF Vinny Zarrillo
  29. Iowa JR 1B/RHP Tyler Peyton
  30. Indiana SR 2B/OF Casey Rodrigue
  31. Iowa SR OF Dan Potempa
  32. Illinois SR OF Casey Fletcher
  33. Ohio State SR C Aaron Gretz
  34. Nebraska JR 2B/SS Jake Placzek
  35. Nebraska SR SS Steven Reveles
  36. Iowa rSR 2B Jake Mangler
  37. Ohio State SR C Connor Sabanosh
  38. Penn State JR OF James Coates
  39. Ohio State JR 1B/OF Zach Ratcliff
  40. Michigan SR C/OF Kevin White
  41. Purdue JR 2B Michael Vilardo

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching 

  1. Illinois JR LHP Tyler Jay
  2. Indiana rSO RHP Jake Kelzer
  3. Indiana JR LHP Scott Effross
  4. Iowa JR RHP/C Blake Hickman
  5. Maryland JR LHP Jake Drossner
  6. Ohio State SO RHP Travis Lakins
  7. Maryland JR LHP Alex Robinson
  8. Maryland JR RHP Kevin Mooney
  9. Minnesota JR LHP Dalton Sawyer
  10. Michigan JR RHP/3B Jacob Cronenworth
  11. Maryland JR RHP Jared Price
  12. Ohio State rSO RHP Shea Murray
  13. Illinois JR LHP Kevin Duchene
  14. Michigan State rSO LHP Cameron Vieaux
  15. Nebraska SR RHP Josh Roeder
  16. Michigan State SR RHP Mick VanVossen
  17. Minnesota rJR RHP Lance Thonvold
  18. Nebraska JR RHP Colton Howell
  19. Illinois rSR RHP Drasen Johnson
  20. Indiana SR RHP Luke Harrison
  21. Iowa JR RHP Calvin Mathews
  22. Michigan State JR LHP Anthony Misiewicz
  23. Indiana JR RHP Christian Morris
  24. Iowa JR RHP Tyler Radtke
  25. Maryland rJR LHP Zach Morris
  26. Ohio State SR RHP Trace Dempsey
  27. Illinois rSR RHP/2B Reid Roper
  28. Northwestern SR RHP Brandon Magallones
  29. Nebraska SR LHP Kyle Kubat
  30. Michigan JR LHP Evan Hill
  31. Ohio State SR LHP Ryan Riga
  32. Ohio State JR RHP Jake Post
  33. Rutgers JR LHP Mark McCoy
  34. Michigan State rSR LHP/OF Jeff Kinley
  35. Nebraska SR RHP Chance Sinclair
  36. Indiana JR LHP Will Coursen-Carr
  37. Iowa SR RHP Nick Hibbing
  38. Maryland SR RHP Bobby Ruse
  39. Minnesota SR RHP Ben Meyer
  40. Indiana JR LHP Sullivan Stadler
  41. Illinois JR LHP JD Nielsen
  42. Illinois rSR LHP Rob McDonnell
  43. Indiana rSO RHP Thomas Belcher
  44. Indiana JR RHP Evan Bell
  45. Indiana rJR LHP Kyle Hart
  46. Indiana rSR RHP Ryan Halstead
  47. Michigan rJR RHP Matthew Ogden
  48. Minnesota rJR LHP Jordan Jess
  49. Rutgers rSO LHP Max Herrmann
  50. Indiana rSO RHP Kent Williams
  51. Iowa JR LHP Ryan Erickson