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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Chicago White Sox

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Chicago in 2016

6 – Zack Collins
33 – Zack Burdi
38 – Jameson Fisher
64 – Alec Hansen
94 – Luis Curbelo
266 – Alex Call
357 – Ian Hamilton
418 – Mitch Roman

Complete List of 2016 Chicago White Sox Draftees 

And now a few words on some White Sox draft picks…

1.10 – C Zack Collins

The quick ascension of Zack Collins (6) to High-A ball got me curious as to how often a player reaches that level in his draft year. I decided to look back on every high profile college hitter drafted in the first round since this site started up in 2009 to see which hitters, if any, pulled off the same feat. The last college hitter that I found to get any High-A time in his draft season was Kyle Schwarber, who got 120 PA at levels below A+ before getting 191 PA in the Florida State League. I suppose the Cubs figured that Schwarber could handle a path similar to the one they had Kris Bryant embark on the year before. Bryant, the second overall pick in 2013, got 84 PA at levels below A+ before getting 62 PA at High-A. Pittsburgh’s Tony Sanchez also played at High-A in his rookie year, though his appearance at the level amounted to little more than a late season taste (13 PA). Three additional cases jumped out as particularly unique. Mike Zunino got 133 PA in Low-A before skipping High-A altogether and getting 57 PA in AA during his draft year. Then there’s Christian Colon and Grant Green. Both of the alliterative middle infielders were skipped immediately to High-A after their drafts concluded; Colon played the whole year there while Green, a later sign, managed to get his name on a contract just in time to get his first 20 professional PA there. Then there’s Corey Ray, fifth overall pick in the very same draft as Collins (and a native Chicagoan to boot!), who went right from signing to High-A right around the same time Collins was pulling it off. So, you know, maybe it’s not THAT rare after all, but it’s still kind of cool.

Anyway, Zack Collins! I’ve written a lot about this guy here over the years. Lots of love letters and poetry, but some actual baseball analysis mixed in as well. My favorite two blurbs…

April 2016…

I’m close to out of superlatives for Zack Collins’s bat. If he can catch, he’s a superstar. If he can’t, then he’s still a potential big league power bat capable of hitting in the middle of the championship lineup for the next decade. I realize first basemen aren’t typically sought after at the top of the draft. There are perfectly valid reasons for that. But any time you have the chance at a potential top five bat at any given position, I think it’s all right to bend the rules a little. Positional value is important, but so is premium offensive production. Collins hitting and hitting a lot as a professional is one of the things I’m most sure about in this draft class.

May 2016…

He’s the one I’ve comped to Schwarber stylistically. I actually think Collins is the better catcher and could stick there as a pro. Still might be best moving him out from behind the plate. I’ve just come up with a terrifying comp for him…Joey Votto. Maybe he’s one of those hitters that we shouldn’t compare young guys to, but then again…at the same age, Votto hit .256/.330/.425 with 52 BB/122 K in A+ ball. I could see Collins going to A/A+ this year after the draft and doing similar stuff.

As it turns out, we now know that Collins did go to A+ and do similar stuff! Here we go…

.258/.418/.467 – 25.5 K% and 21.6 BB% – 153 PA
.256/.330/.425 – 23.1 K% and 9.8 BB% – 529 PA

Top was Collins, bottom was Votto. Both were 21-years-old at High-A. Votto obviously had more pro time under his belt being a high school draftee. Votto is also obviously Votto. He’s one of a kind. It’s silly to compare anybody to him. But here we are. If moved to first base, I think Collins can be about 90% as good as Votto as a hitter. As a full-time catcher (give or take), I could see him being 80% as good a hitter as Votto. That’s enough for either a .280/.380/.480 line or a .250/.340/.425 line. The former is a little like 2016 Paul Goldschimdt (minus the steals) and the latter is something akin to fellow Hurricane Yasmani Grandal. That’s not Votto, but it’s still a tremendously valuable hitter.

I wrestled with whether or not there was enough value in the following sentence to bother including it here, but why not…I mean, we’re all pals here, right? My gut still says that Collins has a chance to go full Votto performance-wise if things break right. I just have to get that in writing to see how crazy it looks. I don’t know. I’m leaving it. My takes are typically fairly restrained around here, so I think I’m entitled to a scorcher every now and then. I love Zack Collins as a hitter. I can’t hide it.

1.26 – RHP Zack Burdi

On Zack Burdi (33) from October 2015…

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

I actually try not to quote older stuff in these draft reviews (fine, that’s a lie…), but this felt like a special case to me. Despite a wildly successful junior season at Louisville, I approached Burdi with much the same confusion in June as I did way back in fall ball of last year. Here I sit staring at updated scouting reports and 38.0 quality pro innings (mostly in AA and AAA), and I still don’t know what to make of Burdi. At this rate he’ll be kicking back on a beach somewhere long retired before I make any kind of definitive statement about what kind of pitcher Burdi will be. Thankfully, we don’t have to know anything concrete at this stage of his development; all we need to know is that he’s really good at pitching. That last sentence from October summed it up then as it sums it up now: “You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.” Even with Burdi’s potentially translatable gifts working in a starting role, I would have been way too risk-averse to draft a future reliever early in the draft to make a move on him in the top twenty or so picks. The White Sox took him at twenty-six, a spot that felt just about right — I had him 33rd — when it came to balancing the pros and cons of his two potential career paths.

It occurs to me now that Burdi will enter 2017 in a fairly similar position to the one Edwin Diaz of Seattle came into this present season. Hmm…

2.49 – RHP Alec Hansen

On Alec Hansen (64) from April 2016…

The biggest current question mark in the college game has to be Alec Hansen. He’s steadily pitched his way from the 1-1 conversation to the top five to the top ten to potentially all the way out of the first round. I’m no doctor — just a man who loves him some unsourced speculation — but the dots that connect Hansen’s summer away from the mound (forearm tightness) to his dreadful 2016 start are enough to raise an eyebrow. Truthfully, disclosure of a potential injury might just be the best thing that could happen to his draft stock at this point. I’ve linked Hansen’s rise and (as it has turned out) fall to that of Michael Matuella’s from last year. Still think that’s likely how this all plays out come June, but we’ll see. A healthy Hansen with the right kind of professional coaching could front a rotation.

Both the lack of an officially diagnosed injury and the delightfully aggressive drafting of the White Sox kept Hansen from falling quite as far as Matuella did (78th overall in 2015). I’d imagine Chicago was pretty pleased with that turn of events. All Hansen did after inking his name to a pro contract was pitch his ass off: 13.35 K/9 and 3.30 BB/9 in 54.2 IP (1.32 ERA). Hindsight is a beautiful thing and 54.2 knockout innings do not a career make, but I have a sneaking suspicion that many, many, many teams will regret not risking a second round pick on a talent like Hansen. Heck, I ranked him 64th and I’m kicking myself over not being more daring on draft day right there with them. As we said in April: “A healthy Hansen with the right kind of professional coaching could front a rotation.” We might be seeing that transformation take place right in front of our faces. Good for Hansen and good for the White Sox.

3.86 – OF Alex Call

The White Sox liked Alex Call (266) about six more rounds than I did, and the early returns have made them look smarter than some weird guy on the internet. Good work, Chicago. Call destroyed opposing pitching while at Ball State to the tune of a .358/.443/.667 line with 29 BB/29 K and 17/21 SB in 243 AB. He then went out and hit .308/.394/.445 with 34 BB/58 K and 14/20 SB in 337 PA split between the Pioneer League and Low-A. Not a bad little pro debut for the well-rounded righthander. Whenever I’m off with a guess like Call’s pre-draft ranking, I like to reach out to smarter people than myself to get more information and create a fuller picture of the player I whiffed on. One person said they “couldn’t see Call not” (quoting this part to point out I’m innocent of the questionable yet emphatic grammar choice) being a useful big league player; his floor is a Ryan Raburn type, a handy fourth outfielder who can knock around lefthanded pitching as well as anybody. The most optimistic comp I got for Call was former White Sox outfielder Nick Swisher, minus the switch-hitting. A comp like that warrants a closer look…

.348/.470/.620 with 43 BB/33 K in 184 AB
.358/.443/.667 with 29 BB/29 K in 243 AB

Top was Swisher’s junior season at Ohio State, bottom was Call at Ball State. I wouldn’t have guessed them as being that close going off of memory. Here’s more…

.242/.360/.410 with 39 BB/59 K in 274 PA (majority in High-A)
.308/.394/.445 with 34 BB/58 K in 337 PA (majority in Low-A)

Top was Swisher’s pro debut, bottom was Call’s pro debut. How about that? Call is a fine prospect that I overlooked to a degree because of this year’s loaded college outfield class. When a guy has his kind of approach with average or better tools across the board, you take notice. I’m noticing later than I would have liked, but still early enough in his pro career that I’ll be ready to bust out the extra obnoxious told-you-so’s if he takes off. That’s one of the joys of having a website, after all. I’m only in it for the sweet sweet told-you-so’s.

4.116 – OF Jameson Fisher

I liked Jameson Fisher (38) enough to rank him in my top 500 — 499th, to be fair — in 2015 even as he was coming off an entire season lost to injury. Now that he’s put together an excellent final season at Southeastern Louisiana and a highly successful run in the Pioneer League, I like him even more. A little history, first going back to March 2015…

In fairness, Southeastern Louisiana JR C Jameson Fisher is a really, really good prospect. The injury is an undeniable bummer not only because it’s a year of lost development in a critical time for a player’s long-term future but also because it brings further into question his long-term defensive home (even more than his raw glove originally did). If Fisher can’t catch, I don’t know what to think about him as a pro prospect. Like many college backstops, so much is dependent on how long and how well they can hold up defensively behind the dish. I believe in Fisher’s bat as being potentially league average or better both in terms of contact rates and power upside, but the doubt about his defense is an issue not to be taken lightly. I know nothing about Fisher’s mindset heading into June, but if I had to guess I’d assume that it’s very unlikely that a team will draft him high enough (and offer enough cold hard cash) to get him to leave college after a year away from the field. If that’s the case, we’re in for another year’s worth of “can he or can’t he” defensive debate. Can’t wait.

And then about a year later in February 2016…

I’ve been on record as being a big C/1B Jameson Fisher fan, so consider me damn excited for his return to the field in 2016. If his arm allows him to show off behind the plate this spring, I could see him rising up into that round five to ten area where he belongs.

So much of the conversation about Fisher on this site has been about his glove that I can only explain the lack of chatter about his bat as proof that I never wavered about it being big league quality. Fisher can flat hit. In a perfect world he’d be healthy and a catcher and one of the best prospects in baseball. In reality, he’s an outfielder with enough stick to be a fixture in a big league club’s lineup. That’ll play. Incidentally, I really like my pre-draft comp to Mark Zagunis, especially now that the two are on crosstown rivals.

5.146 – RHP Jimmy Lambert

A weird line in Low-A is what initially caught my eye about Jimmy Lambert: good peripherals (9.10 K/9 and 3.34 BB/9), iffy run prevention (5.76 ERA), and some rotten luck with his record (0-5 in just 29.2 IP). Losing five games in 29.2 innings of work seems kind of hard to do, no? Whatever. Since none of that tells us all that much about his future, let’s get into what convinced Chicago to take him in this past year’s fifth round. Lambert has a live arm (88-92, 94 peak), plenty of baseball smarts (high degree of pitchability, if you care for the term), and solid control. It’s a back-end starter strike-throwing profile that could ultimately prove more effective in a relief role. That’s where I see Lambert making it, if he does in fact make it at all. I’m bearish on his future. Baseball is hard, you know?

6.176 – SS Luis Curbelo

Luis Curbelo (94), drafted as a shortstop, was expected by many (including me) to make the transition to third base sooner rather than later as a pro. So far, that hasn’t been the case as the native Puerto Rican has instead played predominantly short and second in his young career. You never know what you’re going to get with a high school hitter due to the varying levels of competition, so the narrative on Curbelo isn’t entirely dissimilar to many of his 2016 prep peers. The tools — power and arm strength, most notably — are impressive, as is the very high likelihood that he’ll remain an infielder in some capacity be it second, third, or maybe against all odds short. Whether or not he can hit advanced pitching, however, will remain a question until it’s not. There was enough good in his rocky debut to keep the same hope felt pre-draft alive for now.

(I wasn’t sure where to wedge this in above because I’m a bad/lazy writer, so I’ll do it parenthetically after the fact: one of the post-draft comps I got on Curbelo is former third round pick and current Phillies minor leaguer Jan Hernandez. Do what you will with that.)

7.206 – LHP Bernardo Flores

For some players, timing is everything. Bernando Flores, a lefty with plenty of good days and plenty of not so good days this past spring at USC, is one of those players. On his best days, Flores threw darts. We’re talking consistent low-90s heat (up to 95) with a pair of average or better offspeed pitches. On those not so good days, he was more mid- to upper-80s with his fastball with little to no confidence in his otherwise solid changeup. On a good day, that’s an arm worth a top five round pick. On a less good day, it’s a profile more typical of a mid-teens lottery ticket. The White Sox split the difference (favoring the good) and popped Flores in the seventh round. If he can achieve his back-end starting pitcher destiny, then he’ll have done more than enough to justify Chicago’s faith in him. Even if he has to transition to the pen at some point — a distinct possibility as shorter outings could lead to more consistency stuff-wise from game to game — Flores remains talented enough to bring back more than his share of value. I’ll borrow from the White Sox thinking and split the difference: I see him as a fifth starter/swingman good enough to reach the highest level, though perhaps not without a few ups and downs (and maybe a different organization or two) along the way.

8.236 – C Nate Nolan

I say it often, but one of the few pieces of interesting constructive criticism I frequently get here is that I’m too positive. Anybody who knows me in real life would surely disagree with such claims, but when it comes to talking on the internet about young baseball players chasing a dream, I suppose I can get a little too “best case scenario” at times. Well, there’s no way to sugarcoat Nate Nolan’s start in pro ball. The former St. Mary’s catcher had just about as bad a debut as possible. The most depressing thing about his bad start is that it was wholly predictable; there’s a reason why he didn’t crack my top 500 (and landed 66th among college catchers), so when the White Sox took him at 236 I was a little taken aback. There’s no questioning Nolan’s plus raw power and above-average or better arm strength. Those two factors alone are enough to get a chance in pro ball. His approach, however, is a mess.

Nolan hit .264/.364/.481 as a junior at St. Mary’s with 28 BB and 81 (!) K. His college career BB to K ratio was 47 to 167. Then he went out and hit .138/.241/.203 with 14 BB and 62 K in his pro debut. That’s 61 BB to 229 K total. There isn’t a baseball fan among us who doesn’t enjoy catchers with big power and strong arms, but that approach is too much to get past. I don’t understand this pick at all.

9.266 – SS Max Dutto

Everybody who’s into this draft thing knows about Lucas Erceg going from Cal to Menlo College. Few realized (myself included) that he wasn’t the only Golden Bear to jump ship. Max Dutto went from hitting .222/.411/.346 with 22 BB/28 K in 81 AB in the PAC-12 to a far more robust .276/.456/.594 with 44 BB/56 K in 170 AB in the Golden State Athletics Conference. I’ll be honest: his pop, glove, and plate discipline make me mad that I missed on him this past spring. He’s interesting.

10.296 – 3B Zach Remillard

The White Sox continue to be one of the most refreshingly aggressive franchises when it comes to where they opt to place their most recent class of draftees. Getting a tenth round pick like Zach Remillard up to full-season ball (Kannapolis in the South Atlantic League) for 116 PA is Exhibit Z for supporting said aggression. One might wonder about the wisdom of pushing a guy like Remillard — ironically enough, “too aggressive for his own good” was a phrase used in his pre-draft report here — but I support the decision. There are no rules that can’t be broken, but, generally speaking, if you think enough of a college prospect to draft him in the first place, then he should be ready enough to spend at least a little time outside of short-season ball in his debut. Major college players, especially hitters, don’t need to go to rookie ball. Good for Chicago for realizing this.

As for Remillard the player and not the abstract organizational concept, not much has changed from when I wrote about him way back in January 2015…

The breakout season for JR 3B Zach Remillard (Coastal Carolina) is coming. It has to be since it hasn’t happened yet. That’s infallible logic if I’ve ever heard it. Remillard is a really well-rounded talent who sometimes gets himself in trouble by expanding the zone and trying to do too much at the plate. If he can just ease up just a touch with his overly aggressive approach, then he could begin to produce enough overall offensive value to project as a potential regular at the hot corner. The more realistic forecast is as an offense-first utility player capable of playing 1B, 2B, 3B, and maybe the outfield corners.

Still waiting on a true breakout season, so it seems like it is time to accept the reality that he’s a bat-first utility guy if he makes it all. I’m less hopeful than I’d like to be based on his approach, but his physical gifts give him a shot.

11.326 – RHP Ian Hamilton

I’m pretty comfortable with where I finished with Ian Hamilton (357) back in April…

It’s back of the rotation type starter stuff if it continues to come back. Ian Hamilton could have similar upside (or better) if you’re the type who believes in him as a starter at the next level. He’s got the offspeed stuff (above-average 80-86 SL that flashes plus and an average 80-84 CU) to go through a lineup multiple times. He’s also highly athletic. Those are the points in his favor if you like him as a starter. I’m willing to be talked into it, but the way his fastball plays up in short bursts (consistently 92-96, up to 99) as opposed to the 90-93 he sits as a starter has me still liking him more as a fireman out of the pen.

The White Sox had him get a few starts in at Low-A before the season finished, so clearly they want to see him starting up close and personal before making any long-term change to his role. I can certainly appreciate that. It could be because I recently finished up a draft review for Philadelphia, but I can’t help but see some similarities between Hamilton and Grant Dyer, formerly of UCLA and currently part of the Phillies organization. Both profile best (to me) as pro relievers, but were pushed into starting roles by their PAC-12 school for the good of the team. I could see both having long fruitful careers pitching out of big league bullpens, with Dyer being more the middle innings type and Hamilton potentially working the late inning relief. I don’t question Chicago doing everything in their power to make it work in the rotation first, but I still see Hamilton eventually becoming a reliever, though potentially a very good one. All else being equal, give me upper-90s in relief over low-90s as a starter.

12.356 – SS Mitch Roman

Mitch Roman (418) played SS and 2B after signing and pretty well at both spots. As a potential high-contact, solid fielding, above-average to plus running utility infielder, the former Wright State standout was very good value in the twelfth round. I approve.

13.386 – C Michael Hickman

Michael Hickman is living proof that sometimes players fall through the cracks here. That’s the downside of this being a one-man show. Hickman went from being ranked 242 out of high school in 2015 to being unranked after a solid junior college season (.345/.442/.610 with 17 BB/38 K in 177 AB) at powerhouse Chipola in 2016. Technically he was only unranked nationally on the final board; he came in 48th on my college catcher list. Buying Hickman is buying his lefthanded power and impressive bat speed while living with some swing-and-miss and rough defensive edges. At this point in the draft, that trade-off is well worth a shot.

14.416 – RHP Bryan Saucedo

I had nothing on Bryan Saucedo before the draft. Big, Canadian, and a Hard Thrower. That’s what should go on Saucedo’s business cards. He was one of four player selected out of Davenport University, a NAIA school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Davenport University! Of course! I really should have seen it coming. I’ll do better next year.

15.446 – RHP Jake Elliott

The White Sox drafted both Alec Hansen and Jake Elliott from the Sooners staff, so that makes the following from April all the more relevant…

I had some friends come into the season armed and ready with a Jake Elliott is the better long-term prospect than Alec Hansen take. That talk has quieted down as Elliott’s start has just about equaled Hansen’s…and not in a good way. His arm talent is still really impressive: 86-92 FB (94 peak), average 75-80 breaking ball, and a 77-80 change that borders on plus.

Elliott’s disastrous 2016 season at Oklahoma knocked him way down draft boards this spring. The White Sox had him fall into their laps in round fifteen. I’ll bust out the all-caps to announce this pick as one of the draft’s biggest STEALS. There’s no other way to look at it. Elliott has a great arm, great frame, and has shown flashes of great all-around stuff. Whatever issues he had in his draft year — I know nothing concrete, but one source said it was nothing more than “draft year-itis” — seem well on their way to getting sorted out in the professional ranks. Things fell apart quickly for Elliott in the college half of his 2016. Things appeared to come back together just as quickly on the pro side. Things could swing back the other way at some point in the near future. Nobody knows. But gambling on a talent like Elliott figuring things out (again, so far so good here) for the low low price of a fifteenth round pick and $100,000? That’s a no-brainer. This isn’t just one of my favorite Chicago picks, this is one of my favorite picks in the entire 2016 MLB Draft. If the breaking ball doesn’t improve, then stick him in the bullpen and let him do his best Ryan Madson impression.

16.476 – RHP Ben Wright

Ben Wright was challenged with an assignment to Low-A. Ben Wright succeeded in said challenge, holding his own in 30.2 solid if unspectacular innings for the Intimidators. I can’t quite say for sure what drew the White Sox to Ben Wright in the first place (I have no scouting buzz to offer on him and his 2016 college stats were #bad), but, hey, so far so good.

17.506 – RHP Brad Haymes

Upper-80s fastball that can scrape 90, a decent curve, and good size. Those are the things a scout might use to try to sell his or her team on Brad Haymes. A more analytically motivated thinker could point to his outstanding four years at Gardner-Webb, a run that culminated in a year-long stretch of ace-level pitching as a senior. Put those two approaches together and you’ve got yourself a seventeenth round draft pick.

18.536 – RHP Lane Hobbs

I’m not a Lane Hobbs expert. I could pretend, but that would only kill whatever shred of credibility I still possess. I do know that he had a good debut. I also know that the White Sox saw enough in him coming out of Concordia (where I know he had an awesome junior year) to give him a nifty little $80,000 bonus. I know that he’s big. If you didn’t know those things, well, now you do. If you did know them, then maybe it’s time to start your own draft site. I’d read it.

19.566 – 1B Anthony Villa

A fine if otherwise nondescript debut for Anthony Villa’s pro career was made notable (for me) by his starting four games at the hot corner in addition to his regular duty at first base. If he can handle third, a position he does have experience at going back to his days at St. Mary’s (second Gael taken by the White Sox, if you’re scoring at home), then he’s got a sliver of a shot of making it. As a first baseman only, however, it would be a steep uphill battle.

20.596 – RHP Matt Foster

Size doesn’t really seem to matter much to the White Sox as they continue to tick off college relievers with the selection of Matt Foster. What Foster lacks in size, he makes up for with an above-average fastball (90-94) and breaking ball mix. It’s rare that a pitcher from the SEC with good stuff and great results (11.03 K/9 and 2.92 ERA in 40.0 IP) could be this overlooked. Nice work by Chicago here as Foster did more of the same (12.47 K/9 and 0.61 ERA in 29.2 IP) as a pro.

21.626 – LHP Michael Horejsei

Michael Horejsei is on the older side for a recent draft pick — he turned 24-years-old about a month into his pro career — but there’s no denying his effectiveness. His final year at Ohio State: 11.32 K/9 and 2.61 BB/9 in 31.0 IP (2.61 ERA). His first year in the pros, the majority of which was spent in Low-A: 9.23 K/9 and 2.48 BB/9 in 40.0 IP (0.90 ERA). I’ve heard from a source who told me that the White Sox believe Horejsei is more or less ready to pitch in the big leagues now (in part because he’s done developing and is what he is at this point) and expect him to potentially get a shot at doing just that as early as mid-season next year. There’s nothing sexy about taking an undersized matchup lefty lacking premium stuff, but that’s a pretty damn sexy potential outcome for a twenty-first round pick.

22.656 – OF Joel Booker

On Joel Booker from March 2015…

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.

He wound up struggling for much of his junior season at Iowa before taking off as a senior in 2016. He kept those positive vibes going with a really strong debut pro season. His approach is still a little too aggressive for his own good and his in-game power remains a bit of a question mark, but, as I said back in the day, crazy speed, premium athleticism, and considerable arm strength paint the picture of a strong overall prospect. There’s enough here to think of him as a potential quality backup outfielder.

23.686 – SS Sam Dexter

The pride of Southern Maine, Sam Dexter is now one of the four players named Dexter to get a mention on this site. Previously, they’ve all been first names: Dexter Kjerstad, Dexter Spitsnogle, and Dexter Bobo. Sam Dexter, announced as a shortstop at the time of the draft, played exclusively second and third in his pro debut. He’s also just one of an even dozen players to be drafted out of Southern Maine in the school’s history.

24.716 – 3B Brady Conlan

I didn’t have have Brady Conlan in my notes prior to the draft, but if I had I think I would have championed his cause leading up to the big day. His numbers at Cal State Dominguez were excellent (.413/.469/.550 with 14 BB/12 K in 189 AB), though the usual caution that comes with senior season stats applies for the 23-year-old third baseman. “Older, but a little interesting” is how I jotted down my feelings on Conlan as the draft concluded. Sounds about right.

27.806 – RHP Mike Morrison

I don’t quite know how one of college baseball’s best relievers lasted past pick eight hundred. Mike Morrison has come up huge on the biggest stages of college ball, put up consistently stellar strikeout rates (10.04 K/9 in 2014, 11.37 K/9 in 2015, 12.81 K/9 in 2016), and improved his control with every season at Coastal Carolina. That’s all well and good, one might think, but maybe he’s one of those great college pitchers who lack the stuff to make it in the pros. Lots of guys can get by with junk right up until the exact moment that they can’t. Morrison isn’t that kind of guy. Nobody will tell you he has big league closer stuff (nobody I know, anyway) and nor should they, but what Morrison brings to the mound is more than enough to get pro hitters swinging and missing. Morrison’s average fastball (87-92) plays up thanks to good command, and his 75-78 curve is a potential out pitch against even the most advanced hitting. I’ll admit that it’s at least possible that Morrison will be one of those guys consistently gets results at lower-levels until the moment opposing offenses begin to outclass his stuff (some guys sell their souls for college magic and can never replicate that success in the pros…I get it), but I’m not going to be the one to bet against him. Mike Morrison: twenty-seventh round pick and future big league pitcher.

28.836 – OF Aaron Schnurbusch

It’s hard not to be a little intrigued at Aaron Schnurbusch after his outstanding debut. He gets even more appealing when you consider his two-way past. The big (6-5, 235), athletic, power-hitting lefty could be set to take off now that he can focus 100% of his attention on the finer aspects of mashing taters. Or he could just be another mid-round slugger taking advantage of younger competition in a relatively small sample. Hopefully, some of those questions will begin to be answered next spring. Like Fisher and Booker, Schnurbusch should get a chance to go right to High-A next season. All of these guys will be 23-years-old, so the clock is ticking a little louder than it would normally be for such recent picks. Between those three and Alex Call, the Winston-Salem outfield could be quite interesting next season. I had initially worried that there could be a logjam there, but it should work out. Landon Lassiter and Michael Suiter should both move to AA while Louie Lechich, one of my all-time biggest draft whiffs, could be heading towards unemployment. Micker Adolfo could join the aforementioned four to start the year in the Carolina League, as could Tyler Sullivan. All in all, it’s a fun group. Knowing the White Sox, it wouldn’t be a shocker if one (Call) or more (Fisher) either start the year in AA or move there very quickly.

30.896 – RHP Pat Cashman

Undersized righthander with a nice fastball (up to 93) coming off a senior season with strong peripherals (9.13 K/9 and 2.68 BB/9). That’s Pat Cashman.

32.956 – RHP Sean Renzi

I think the White Sox did very well for themselves as they shopped for late-round senior-sign relief help. The odds against any of these guys making it are obviously quite long, but it seems to me they took some smart chances. Perhaps more importantly, they took a lot of chances. You have to play to win, they say, and more lottery tickets equals more chances at that jackpot. In this case, the big money prize likely amounts to a decent middle reliever, but every little bit of cheap, homegrown talent helps in the big picture. Anyway, Sean Renzi is a big guy with a good arm (low-90s heat) and a delivery that’s tough on righthanders to pick up. He’s got some wildness to overcome, but the raw arm talent is appealing.

33.986 – LHP Ryan Boelter

I’m not sure he has the potential to move quite as quick as Michael Horejsei (see my slightly informed speculation about that above), but Ryan Boelter seems to have the two-pitch combo working enough for him that a quick rise up the chain wouldn’t come as much of a shock. With a solid fastball (86-91) and a similarly useful change, the big lefty can miss bats. He’s the second pitcher selected by the White Sox out of Gardner-Webb here in 2016. That makes the White Sox guilty of doubling up at six different universities this spring: Chipola JC, Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Oklahoma, Southeastern Louisiana, and St. Mary’s. That means 30% of their total 2016 MLB Draft picks came from just six schools. Around 300 universities play DI baseball. Around 500 schools offer junior college baseball. Out of 800+ D1 and junior college schools (to say nothing of the roughly 800 or so combined D2, D3, and NAIA baseball schools), the White Sox found 40% of their college talent from six schools. I don’t know what to make of that. 30% total and 40% college, all from six schools. Are pro teams really doing all that they can be doing to cover as much ground as possible in 2016? Or are we still taking shortcuts and relying too much on narrow views and old school connections?

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Caleb Henderson (New Mexico State), Reese Cooley (Miami), Drew Puglielli (Barry), Tyler Gordon (Prairie View A&M), Zach Farrar (Oklahoma), Leo Kaplan (Northwestern), Justin Lavey (Louisville), Brandon Bossard (Heartland CC), Garrett Acton (Saint Louis), Charlie Madden (Mercer)

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2016 MLB Draft – High School Third Basemen

I still have a few weeks left to finalize things, so don’t consider the following statement set in stone just yet. However, I feel pretty good about this particular 2016 MLB Draft take: the top two high school third base prospects are better than the top two high school outfield prospects. I’ll take Josh Lowe and Nolan Jones over Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford. I’m not quite plugged in enough to know if that’s a bold statement or not, but it feels at least a little out there. Allow me to explain.

First off, I’m incredibly biased when it comes to Jones. I’m pleased to admit that out front because said admission of bias was well worth getting to watch him play a bunch this spring at Holy Ghost Prep. Getting the chance to see a young man with his kind of talent thirty minutes play his home games thirty minutes from the office was an incredible experience. Jones is an electrifying player who really can do it all as a prospect. In about twenty minutes of game time in his most recent appearance, he was able to hit a homer (one of two on the day), swipe a bag, and turn a slick double play at short. That run was topped only by an earlier game when he smoked the ball every time up before ending the game in extras with an opposite field rocket that cleared the fence in left. He’s outstanding. I think the sky is the limit for him as a professional ballplayer. I’ve seen him more frequently than any other top prospect in this class, which gives me a little more insight to his strengths and weaknesses as a player (whether or not said insight should be trusted is up to the reader) but also presents a challenge in fighting human nature. It’s only natural to want to see a player you’ve come to watch and appreciate throughout the past year succeed going forward. My assessment of him as a player won’t help him or hurt him in any conceivable way, but there’s definitely some subconscious work going on that pushes players we’re more familiar with up the board.

Of course, all of those firsthand observations can be a double-edged sword when it comes down to doing what I attempt to accomplish with this site. My process for evaluating players here includes all kinds of inputs, the least critical of which being what I see with my own two eyes. It’s not that I lack confidence my own personal evaluations; quite the opposite, really, so realizing that my ego needs to be in check brings me to not wanting to fall into the trap that has led to more botched first round picks than any other singular mistake. The easiest way to ruin all the hard work of so many is to have one supposed “expert” come in and make decisions with little regard to the opinions of the group. When a general manager overrules the collective decision of the scouting staff to select a first round player that he has fallen in love with after just a few short views, the resulting pick is almost always a disaster. It’s admittedly a rare occurrence – there’s a reason real analysis of a team’s drafting record gets pinned on the scouting director and not the general manager – but it does happen. Whether it’s ego, pressure to find a quick-mover to potentially save jobs (including his own), or actual conviction in the prospect (the most palatable option for sure, but still tough to stomach when dealing with small firsthand scouting samples), it happens.

Long story short: I don’t want to be like one of those GM’s. I like trusting what I read and hear, both publicly and privately, because those are the closest analogues to a “scouting staff” that any one outsider like me can hope to assemble. That will never stop me from going to games and showcases to form my own opinions, but I’d prefer to use those to supplement the larger scouting dossier assembled than to make up the basis of it. In many ways I consider what I see up close as a tie-breaker and not much more.

It is, however, quite nice when what I’ve heard is backed up by what I’ve seen. That’s exactly what has happened with Jones this spring. The total package is awfully enticing: chance for a legit plus hit tool (lightning fast hands, advanced pitch recognition, consistent hard contact), plus arm strength (confirmed via the eye and the low-90s fastballs on the gun) that is also uncannily accurate, average or better run times, prodigious raw power (have seen him go deep to all fields this spring), and loads of athleticism. I’d even go so far as to suggest he’s shown enough in the way of shortstop actions to at least get certain teams thinking about letting him try to stay up the middle for a bit, but that might be pushing it. Recent big shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have reversed the trend somewhat, but I still think Jones would be best served getting third base down pat as a pro.

Finding reasonable comps for a lefthanded hitting third baseman – which, naturally, just so happens to be what our top three prospects here happen to be – is unreasonably challenging. I’ll start with the WHOA (not to be confused with wOBA, BTW) comp and work backwards.

One older fan – not a scout, not a Holy Ghost Prep booster, but just a fan of the game – was at frequent games this spring. I got friendly enough with the gentleman, around the same age (late-60s) as my father if I had to guess, over the course of the spring that he felt good about dropping an Eddie Mathews comp on Jones as an all-around player. Now that’s a name that gets your attention. My dad raves about Mathews’s physical tools to this day. All of the numbers suggest that he’s on the very short list of best lefthanded third basemen ever to play the game, so that’s not a comparison to be taken lightly. I’ll repeat that it was coming from a fan – though, again, not one with a vested interest in the team or the player, only the sport – and I’m nowhere near qualified to say whether or not he was on the right path with such a lofty comp, but, hey, Hall of Fame comps are fun, so there you go.

Two additional names that came up that I think fit the lefthanded hitting third base profile pretty well were Hank Blalock (strictly as a hitter, though I think the raw power difference between the two makes this one questionable) and Corey Koskie. The Koskie comparison is one I find particularly intriguing. Koskie, a criminally underrated player during his time, was good for a career 162 game average of .275/.367/.458 with 20 HR, 12 SB, and 75 BB/130 K. We’re totally pulling numbers out of thin air with any amateur prospect projection – doubly so with teenagers – but that seems like a reasonable hope based on what I’ve seen out of Jones. Offense like that combined with plus defense at third would make one heck of a player in today’s game. For reference’s sake, that’s almost like a better version of late-career Adrian Beltre. Of course, the mention of Beltre is not meant to serve as a direct comparison but rather a potential production comp.

Now if I wanted to drop a righthanded hitting third baseman comparison on Jones that wasn’t Beltre, I think I’d go with a young Ryan Zimmerman. His 162 game average to date: .282/.347/.473 with 25 HR, 5 SB, and 64 BB/124 K. Not entirely dissimilar to Koskie, right? A young Zimmerman/Koskie type is a tremendously valuable player, with those two each clocking in right around 4.0 fWAR average (Zimmerman a bit more, Koskie a hair less) during years of club control. Going back to our lefthanded third base comp in Koskie brings us to this final “hey, maybe Jones should be a top five pick in this class” moment of the day. Koskie, the 715th overall pick in 1994, finished his career with 24.6 rWAR. That total would have placed him fourth behind only Javier Vazquez (46.0), Nomar Garciaparra (44.2), and Paul Konerko (27.6) in his draft class. He’s just ahead of Jason Varitek (24.3) and AJ Pierzynski (24.0). My non-comprehensive look on the Fangraphs leaderboards has him ahead of all but Vazquez and Garciaparra. We live in a world where Corey Koskie ranked in the top three (or four) in a given draft class, so why not Nolan Jones?

Jones really is that good. Believe the hype. And yet I have him second to Josh Lowe. That should tell you a good bit about what I think about Lowe as a player. He’s a little bit of a higher variance prospect than Jones – more upside if it all clicks, but less certainty he turns into a solid professional than I’d put on Jones – so if I was a real scouting director with real future earnings on the line, I’m not sure I’d take him quite as high as he could wind up on my final rankings. The possibility, however, that he winds up as the best player to come out of this class is very real. He reminds me just a little bit of an opposite-hand version of this guy

Bryant entered the summer with lofty expectations, but he often looked overmatched at the plate during the showcase circuit last summer. When he’s on, he’s a treat to watch. He has a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and light-tower power that draws comparisons to a young Troy Glaus. The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he’s struggling. He’s athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn’t be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound. Some scouts love Bryant’s power enough to take him in the back half of the first round, while others turned him in as a token gesture and have little interest in him–especially for the price it will take to lure him away from his San Diego commitment.

I really, really like Josh Lowe, if that’s not already clear. I mean, I did once kind of compare him to Babe Ruth. I think a team would be justified taking either Lowe or Jones in the top ten…and quite possibly the top five…or maybe even top three. Let me stop now before I really get too far ahead of myself.

Drew Mendoza is a third potential first round high school third baseman with the kind of physical tools to project a long-term above-average regular at the hot corner. Opinions about his hit tool run the gamut from “love” (above-average to plus) to “wait, what’s the opposite of love again?” (too much swing-and-miss with exploitable holes against more advanced pitching), but I tend to side more with those who really liked him over the summer than those who have cooled on him some this spring. That again shows a little bit of the bias that I’d ideally eliminate from these evaluations – summer showcase performances are still generally given too much weight by many, myself included – but figuring out the right balance of so many informational inputs is the ongoing challenge of any talent evaluator. One interesting head-to-head prospect comparison I’ve had scouts debate over the past few months is Mendoza vs Carter Kieboom; I prefer the latter by a healthy margin, but there was little consensus among people I’ve talked to. My hunch is that Kieboom will be off the board first, but if the chatter I’ve heard is any indication, it’ll be very close.

Andres Sosa is neither built like Pope, Jones, nor Mendoz and he does not quite match any of those young lefthanders in the power department, but the righthander from Texas has a sweet stroke, a mature beyond his years approach to hitting, average or better speed, and high level defensive tools. He comes by it differently, but there are some similarities that I can see between Sosa, potential future Longhorn, and CJ Hinojosa, former Longhorn and current Giants prospect.

It’s easy to ignore high school statistics for top draft prospects. There are way too many complicating factors that make relying on performance indicators little more than a waste of time at that level, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with some of the outstanding efforts put forth by some of this country’s best hitters. Take Bo Bichette, for example. All he’s done as a high school ballplayer is hit .545/.650/1.272 in 200 HS PA since his sophomore season. That line includes fifty extra base hits (almost half of which being home runs) with 52 BB and just 18 K. When you’re flirting with an OPS that begins with 2.something, you’re doing something right. It’s hard to put up such monster numbers in a competitive baseball state like Florida without having some pretty intriguing physical abilities to match. Interestingly enough, one of his physical traits that seems to have talked about the most is something that not all agree is a good thing. Bichette’s “weird back elbow thing” has been brought up by multiple contacts as a potential point of concern going forward; others, however, aren’t bothered by it in the least. I suppose like any unique swing setup, it’s only an issue for those who don’t believe in him as a hitter in the first place. If you like him, it’s a fun quirk that will either work as a pro or be smoothed out just enough to keep working after getting in the cage a few dozen times with pro coaching.

If you don’t like him, then it’s hard to get past. This is far from a one-to-one comparison, but the never-ending discussion among scouts about Bichette’s mechanics at the plate reminds me of the internet’s incessant chatter about Maikel Franco’s “arm-bar swing.” Breaking down players’ mechanics to the point that no pro team ever does makes you stand out as super smart on the internet, you see. Less cynically, I’d acknowledge that young hitters are hard to judge, so it’s hard to blame a neutral observer tasked with making a long-term assessment on a prospect’s future for being concerned with a hitter who does something different at the plate. Different can get you fired in this business, after all.

My own stance on hitting/pitching mechanics hasn’t changed much over the years: if it works for the individual and he is comfortable repeating it consistently, let it ride. I get that there are instances where guys can get away with mechanical quirks against lesser competition that need to be noted and potentially tweaked as they advance, but, for the most part, positive results beget positive results. If a kid can hit, let them do what they do until they stop hitting. Then and only then do you swoop in and start making peripheral changes to the approach. Of course, this makes me sound like a caveman: results over process is a terrible way to analyze anything, especially if we’re trying to make any kind of predictive critical assessments. Process is critical, no doubt, but I’m open to all kinds of processes that get results; it should go without saying but just in case, there’s no “right” way to swing a bat. Open-mindedness about the process is as important as any other factor when scouting.

I guess my positive spin on players with unique mechanics is simple: if a guy like Bichette can hit the ball hard consistently with a “wrong” swing, then, as a scout confident in my team’s minor league coaching and development staff, I’d be pretty excited to get him signed to a contract to see what he could do once they “fix” him. Said fix would ideally be a tweak more than a total reconstruction – why completely tear down a productive player’s swing when you don’t have to? – but drafting a player you plan on drastically altering mechanically doesn’t make a ton of sense in the first place anyway.

Draft Bichette for his electric bat speed, above-average to plus raw power, and drastically improved whole-fields approach as a hitter. Draft him because he’s a solid runner who has flashed enough defensive tools to profile at multiple spots (3B, 2B, corner OF) on the diamond. Draft him because you believe that his “weird back elbow thing” can be channeled in a positive direction and turned into a helpful trigger when facing off against high-caliber arms. Don’t draft him to reinvent him as something he’s not.

*****

3B Austin Shenton (Bellingham HS, Washington)
3B Blake Berry (Casa Grande HS, California)
3B Braden Shewmake (Wylie East HS, Texas)
3B Brett Esau (Foothills Composite SS, Saskatchewan)
3B Chad McClanahan (Brophy College Prep, Arizona)
3B Cole Henderson (Valhalla HS, California)
3B Colin Ludwig (Chandler HS, Arizona)
3B Jake Slaughter (Ouachita Christian HS, Louisiana)
3B Joey Polak (Quincy Notre Dame HS, Illinois)
3B Joey Rose (Toms River North HS, New Jersey)
3B Kyle Johnson (Jackson Memorial HS, New Jersey)
3B Laney Orr (Reynolds HS, North Carolina)
3B Mason Templet (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana)
3B Matthew Miller (Paintsville HS, Kentucky)
3B Mitchell Caskey (Westside HS, Texas)
3B Peyton Russoniello (Quaker Valley HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Riley Hogan (Edgewater HS, Florida)
3B Spencer Steer (Millikan HS, California)
3B William Matthiessen (West Linn HS, Oregon)
3B Zach Weller (Coronado HS, California)
3B/2B Bo Bichette (Lakewood HS, Florida)
3B/OF Anthony Gonnella (Riverside HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Grant Judkins (Pella HS, Iowa)
3B/RHP Josh Lowe (Pope HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Mason Studstill (Rockledge HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Matt Mervis (Georgetown Prep, Maryland)
3B/RHP Rylan Thomas (Windermere Prep, Florida)
3B/SS Andres Sosa (Reagan HS, Texas)
3B/SS Colton Welker (Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Florida)
3B/SS Daniel Bakst (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
3B/SS Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS, Florida)
3B/SS Kevin Brophy (Morristown-Beard School, New Jersey)
3B/SS Luis Curbelo (Cocoa HS, Florida)
3B/SS Matt Burkart (Eaton HS, Colorado)
3B/SS Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep, Pennsylvania)