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Brendan McKay, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Drew Ellis are the four clear top tier ACC hitting prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft. I’m not sure anybody would quibble with the first three — though you’re free to do so, of course — so that leaves Ellis as the only somewhat controversial pick. I’d like to think my love for him is pretty well established by now, so I won’t go into too much detail why I think the present .405/.500/.759 hitter with plus raw power and more walks than strikeouts deserves serious first round consideration. Some clarity on his long-term defensive home would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily needed with how he’s hitting. As a third baseman, he’s a potential star. Same for a corner outfield spot. At first base, the bar is raised high enough that you’d have to knock him down the board just a bit, but not all that far considering the confidence I have in him continuing to hit past the necessary threshold to start in the big leagues there. There’s more to player evaluation than college production (duh), but worth pointing out that Ellis and McKay, more likely to go out as a hitter with every passing four homer day, have very similar 2017 numbers. If the latter is a slam dunk starter at first at the next level, then why couldn’t Ellis do the same if that’s what it comes down to?
Beyond that foursome, things are wide open. I’d be willing to hear arguments on any of the following seven players being tier one prospects: Taylor Walls, Brian Miller, Colby Fitch, Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Logan Warmoth, and Devin Hairston. That’s six up-the-middle prospects plus the seemingly unstoppable bat of Sheets. The next tier down includes too many players to even bother listing at this point. I mean, I’ll do it anyway because writing more than necessary is true to my #brand, but it’s almost too many names to derive much meaning beyond “damn, the ACC is stacked this year.” There are consensus favorites with impressive tools who have underwhelmed (note: we’re only using “underwhelmed” in the context of incredibly high expectations of on-field numbers; none of these guys are having bad years by any stretch, it’s just that they are showing one or more flaws that would need to be addressed by any interested front office) from a performance standpoint to date (Evan Mendoza, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester, Kyle Datres, Joe Dunand) as well as personal favorites like Rhett Aplin, Wade Bailey, Reed Rohlman, Trevor Craport, Cody Roberts, Ben Breazeale, Robbie Coman (who, incidentally, I’ll be very glad once he’s drafted and gone from my life since my fingers want to spell his last name “Comand” every single time), Ernie Clement, Tyler Lynn, Bruce Stell, and Charlie Cody…damn, the ACC really is stacked this year.
Here are some All-Draft Prospect Teams that I whipped up while my computer was dead last week. I’m going to try to do these for as many conferences as I can squeeze in. The depth of the ACC let me go three teams deep. Here’s the first team…
C – Colby Fitch
1B – Pavin Smith
2B – Taylor Walls
SS – Logan Warmoth
3B – Drew Ellis
OF – Adam Haseley, Brian Miller, Stuart Fairchild
I think every one of these guys has been covered by now with the exception of Stuart Fairchild. The Wake Forest center fielder has one of this year’s most well-rounded skill sets. Averages dot his card with above-averages within range (perhaps a plus for speed) depending on how much you like him. Fairchild is also one of this class’s “great approach, hasn’t really shown it” types. Everybody who has seen him has raved to me about his pitch recognition, ability to spoil good pitchers’s pitches, and general knowledge of the strike zone, but his BB/K ratios have been up (39/42 last year) and down (18/40 as a freshman, 22/37 so far this year) throughout his college career. Count me in as a believer that the results will catch up to his talent in pro ball. Fairchild has the ceiling of a first-division regular in center with a mature enough present skill set that seems too strong across the board to result in a complete flame out. In English, I like both his ceiling and floor quite a bit.
What you think about Taylor Walls‘s defense should dictate how high you’re willing to run him up your board. Indecisive internet draft writer that I am, I vacillate between shortstop and second base on him far more often than I’d like to admit. Case in point: when I wrote this last night, I decided on second base for him. The logic there was simple: his arm may be a bit light for short and erring on the side of caution in cases like these (i.e, if there’s debate on whether or not an amateur guy will stick at a position, chances are he won’t) often proves the smartest strategy in the long run. On the other hand, his range is great, he’s an above-average runner (a solid proxy for athleticism), and some of the mixed opinions on his arm have it closer to playing plus than anything. So…I don’t know. I’m leaning shortstop today after having him as a second baseman yesterday. Ask me again tomorrow and I might make him a free safety. Wherever he plays, he’s a keeper. Maybe you don’t see a regular when looking at him (or maybe you do), but it’s hard not to see a big league player in some capacity.
I’m still not convinced Adam Haseley isn’t a top ten player in this class. Maybe I’m nuts. I can live with that. I also don’t see why the aforementioned Drew Ellis can’t crack the top thirty. These are really good players. The feeling I get about Ellis reminds me a little bit how I felt about Edwin Rios, sixth round steal by the Dodgers in 2015. I loved Rios then (ranked 119, drafted 192) and I love Ellis even more now. The second he inevitably falls out of the first round, he’ll then become one of this draft’s best value picks.
C – Cody Roberts
1B – Brendan McKay
2B – Wade Bailey
SS – Devin Hairston
3B – Charlie Cody
OF – Tyler Lynn, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester
Happy to keep banging the drum for Charlie Cody from now until draft day. He can hit. Putting him back at his high school position of third base in the pros takes a significant leap of faith after he’s spent the past three years splitting time between DH and LF, but I’m enough of a believer in his bat that moving him to an outfield corner wouldn’t torpedo his value altogether. I like Wade Bailey a lot as well; his stock should keep rising considering the general dearth of quality middle infielders in this college class.
I’ve mentally gone back and forth between Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay a dozen times this spring with the expectation I do it another half-dozen times between now and the draft. I’m not really sure you can go wrong with either at this point. Smith feels like the better all-around hitter (by a razor thin margin), but McKay has more present functional power. Add in McKay’s ability as a pitcher and it’s hard to argue he’s the better (and safer) overall prospect. I still like Smith a bit more as a position player, so that’s what gives him the nod over McKay for this particular exercise.
Logan Taylor and Carl Chester are cut from the same cloth. We’re talking speed, defense, and minimal pop. It’s a prospect profile I’ve never been able to quit even as I see players like this get exposed in pro ball year after year. The floor makes it worth it at a certain point in the draft, but I need to stop overrating these types. Will I? Stay tuned!
C – Robbie Coman
1B – Gavin Sheets
2B – Ernie Clement
SS – Bruce Steel
3B – Joe Dunand
OF – Rhett Aplin, Reed Rohlman, Jonathan Pryor
I wrote about Wake Forest in an as yet unpublished piece that will likely never see the light of day. It was half-finished, so I didn’t get to all of the big names on this year’s Demon Deacons team…but I did get to Bruce Steel. Here’s what I wrote about him about three weeks ago…
Bruce Steel makes my head hurt as a low-average, high-OBP, shockingly high-power potential middle infielder. His limited experience as a redshirt-sophomore after tearing ligaments in his thumb in 2016 just makes it all the more confusing. I’m super intrigued by Steel and think he’s getting slept on pretty heavily within the industry. His power and makeup are both legit (first two things I hear about when asking about him), reports about his defense this year at shortstop have been far more good than bad, and he’s young for his class (turns 21 in December). Did I just talk myself into making him a rare in-season FAVORITE? You bet.
Also wrote this about Jonathan Pryor with an lead-in about Ben Breazeale, who was narrowly edged out for this third catcher spot by Robbie Coman…
Ben Breazeale’s hot start brings me great joy. I thought a big year was coming last season, but better late than never. He’s an outstanding senior-sign catcher with more than enough glove to stick behind the plate and enough offensive punch to profile as a big league backup. Jonathan Pryor could do similar things as an outfielder who can hang in center and provide a little something with the stick. It’s early yet, but his 15/20 BB/K ratio is cool to see from somebody who put up an impossibly ugly 5/40 ratio just two seasons ago.
Pryor’s BB/K is now at 23/32 for those of you scoring at home.
Then there’s Gavin Sheets. I have no idea what to do with Gavin Sheets. I think he hits enough to play regularly in the big leagues. As a first baseman, that means I think he’ll hit a whole heck of a lot. If he can do that, he’ll become only the third ever Gavin (Floyd and Cecchini beat him) to play in the majors. I’m leaning towards Sheets as the fifth best draft-eligible bat in the conference and think he’ll represent great value to teams if he winds up sliding on draft day as expected. I know teams pay a premium for up-the-middle talent, but sometimes the allure of a big bat is just too strong to ignore.
Others receiving consideration…
C – Ben Breazeale, Chris Williams, Ryan Lidge
1B – Sam Fragale, Quincy Nieporte, Justin Bellinger, Kel Johnson
2B – Jack Owens, Jake Palomaki, Johnny Ruiz, Kyle Fiala
SS – Justin Novak, Liam Sabino
3B – Trevor Craport, Ryan Tufts, Jack Labosky, Evan Mendoza, Kyle Datres, Dylan Busby, Zack Gahagan
OF – Jacob Wright, Chase Pinder, Coleman Poje, Ryan Peurifoy, Hunter Tackett, Adam Pate, Josh McLain, Brock Deatherage, Mac Caples, Rahiem Cooper
JB Bukauskas is the best 2017 draft-eligible college starting pitching in the country. That may have qualified as a hot take — or at least a warm one — if I had published it over the offseason when the thought first entered my mind, but I have to imagine the rest of the industry is now on board with the idea that Bukauskas, all 6-0, 200 pounds of him, is the real deal. What more does a guy need to do to take over that top spot? Bukauskas was good as a freshman, great as a sophomore, and has been otherworldly so far as a junior. His fastball is an easy plus pitch (91-96, 97-98 peak), his plus to plus-plus 82-89 MPH slider is the best of its kind in this class, and his changeup, appropriately underused against overmatched college competition, has above-average upside. From a stuff standpoint, he checks every box. So what’s the catch? Or is there one? Let’s explore.
When just about the only negative you can say about a guy is that he isn’t quite as tall as you’d like, then he must be pretty good. I don’t mean to be flip, either. Size matters a little bit — there are fair questions about durability, fastball plane, and a lack of historical success for shorter pitchers — but only a little bit. If Bukauskas had the size thing working against him AND another clear question mark surrounding his game, I could see cause for potential concern. But there are literally no non-nitpicky questions about him as a prospect right now outside of his frame. Maybe the delivery? I don’t see much in the way of inconsistencies in how he repeats it, but your mileage might vary.
I feel like I missed on Marcus Stroman even though I ranked him 18th when he went on to be drafted 22nd. Being light on him as long as I was — the summer into his junior year I was comparing him to Kelvim Escobar, Al Alburquerque, and Fautino De Los Santos — taught me a lesson. It even inspired a post a few months later that just so happens to lead us right back to Bukauskas’s prospect stock. The two names mentioned in that post: Stroman (my comp) and Lance McCullers (Perfect Game’s excellent comp). A pitching prospect on that same tier is what you’re buying in Bukauskas. That’s a top ten guy, maybe top five, and, if something happens to Hunter Greene between now and mid-June, a dark horse 1-1 contender.
Trevor Gay and Hansen Butler both need innings, but are more than talented enough to warrant serious draft consideration in June. Gay is a really funky sidearmer who can muster up serious fastball sink to go along with a low-80s slider that flashes plus. Butler is undersized, but damn good when healthy and at his best. “Good yet overlooked” is in my notes on Brett Daniels. I’m a sucker for a good changeup, so my affection for Daniels should make sense. Jason Morgan has a good firm (82-87) changeup of his own plus a pair of average offspeed pitches on top of it (75-81 true breaking ball, 80-85 cut-slider). It also doesn’t hurt that he looks the part at 6-6, 215 pounds.
When jotting quick notes about spring performances down for each 2017 draft-eligible prospect, I’ll write whatever word comes to mind. It’s my own game of free association. Logan Warmoth and Brian Miller got the same one word note: “stud.” With the bar already sky high for both returning stars, Warmoth and Miller have found a way to exceed expectations in the early going of 2017. Their individual production has been stellar, but it’s the scouting buzz both young men have received that has advanced their prospect stock in a major way this spring. I won’t go this far with Warmoth, but a source I trust has told me that he’s the closest thing he’s seen to Alex Bregman since Alex Bregman. True, Bregman has only been out of college for one full season, but the sentiment is understood. Warmoth is a surprisingly polarizing player that clearly has big fans as well as a small yet vocal (to me) group of detractors. Both sides seem to agree that there’s little to no doubting his offensive game at this point. Warmoth is a proven commodity with the stick, hitting for tons of hard line drive contact and legitimate over the fence pop going on fourteen months now. The debate on Warmoth is focused more on his athletic profile and long-term best fit defensively. I’ve gotten grades on his run times to first ranging from 45 to 60 with every increment in between showing up at least once. There is similar uncertainty about his arm strength; some have it as more than enough for the left side of the infield while others see it as the clear reason why second base makes the most sense for him sooner rather than later.
I’d personally mark him off as a slightly above-average hit, average raw power (touch less in-game), average to above-average runner, average thrower, and average (maybe a tick more) defender. That’s a monster prospect at shortstop and a damn near elite one at second. Once you factor in his extended track record of success against high-level amateur pitching and the loads of positive chatter about his work ethic, it’s easy to see why many are calling him a first round lock. Maybe the Bregman comp isn’t as far off as I first thought…
Brian Miller is another premium Tar Heel prospect with a fun mix of athleticism and skills. I’m more bullish on his physical profile than most — like Warmoth, you’ll see his speed range from above-average all the way up to plus-plus — and think he grades out very similarly to his middle infield counterpart across the board. Above-average hit, average raw power (some like it a bit more, so I could still be swayed), plus speed, average arm, and above-average center field range all add up to another potential North Carolina first round pick. That’s three so far if you’re scoring at home. This team is really damn good.
Zack Gahagan is yet another divisive prospect with some defensive questions that will need to be answered in pro ball. Is he a second baseman or a third baseman? Will his plus raw power ever translate to anything more than average in-game production? Does he have the approach to profile as a regular? All open questions at the moment. Kyle Datres is a FAVORITE for his wide array of above-average to plus tools. Like every other position player profiled already, Datres does everything well with no clear weaknesses in his game. As much as I like Warmoth, I could see a case for Datres, an easy plus athlete, being the better long-term investment for a team willing to buy him out of his last two years of college. I’m not yet ready to make that case and the few smart people I’ve ran the idea by all said I was nuts (also, for the record, they all said they expect him back in Chapel Hill next year), but it’s a strong enough hunch that I’ll be following the two guys extra closely these next two months.
As of this writing, Adam Pate has one of the weirder early season lines you’ll ever see: .056/.414/.056 with 11 BB/5 K. 88% of his OPS is tied to his OBP. Wacky stuff. If we look past the odd start, we can see that Pate is a solid senior-sign potential backup outfielder in the pros. He runs well, has a plus arm, and can go get it in center. His understanding of the strike zone and willingness to take what is given at the plate even in the face of (small sample) offensive struggles is another nice perk to his game. Fellow senior outfielder Tyler Lynn is a FAVORITE from last season. He was more good than great in his first year as a Tar Heel, but has stepped his game up this spring. I’m buying his bat in a big way. Lynn is one of the nation’s best potential senior-signs.
I didn’t realize that Cody Roberts was an age-eligible sophomore back when I was putting that list of top 2017 MLB Draft catching prospects together. Roberts is a phenomenal athlete with a great arm and a bat that finally seems to be catching up to his glove. He’s my type of catching prospect. It’s a really interesting year for college catching and the addition of Roberts name into the mix makes it that much more exciting.
JR RHP JB Bukauskas (2017)
JR RHP Jason Morgan (2017)
JR RHP Hansen Butler (2017)
JR RHP Brett Daniels (2017)
rSO RHP Trevor Gay (2017)
SO C/RHP Cody Roberts (2017)
JR 2B/SS Logan Warmoth (2017)
JR OF Brian Miller (2017)
JR 3B/SS Zack Gahagan (2017)
SR OF Adam Pate (2017)
SO 3B Kyle Datres (2017)
SR OF Tyler Lynn (2017)
FR RHP Austin Bergner (2018)
SO RHP Taylor Sugg (2018)
SO RHP Cole Aker (2018)
rFR RHP Josh Hiatt (2018)
SO RHP Rodney Hutchison (2018)
SO SS Utah Jones (2018)
SO OF Brandon Riley (2018)
SO C Brendan Illies (2018)
SO OF Josh Ladowski (2018)
FR RHP Tyler Baum (2019)
FR RHP Luca Dalatri (2019)
FR RHP Robbie Peto (2019)
FR RHP Bo Weiss (2019)
FR LHP Zach Attianese (2019)
FR C Brandon Martorano (2019)
FR 2B/SS Ike Freeman (2019)
FR 1B Michael Busch (2019)
FR OF Laney Orr (2019)
FR 3B/2B Ashton McGee (2019)
FR RHP Evan Odum (2019)