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Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Detroit in 2016
23 – Matt Manning
105 – Kyle Funkhouser
130 – Daniel Pinero
133 – Zac Houston
169 – Brady Policelli
284 – Mark Ecker
318 – Jacob Robson
363 – Will Savage
387 – Bryan Garcia
486 – Austin Athmann
1.9 – RHP Matt Manning
High school prospects are risky. High school pitching prospects are riskier. Righthanded high school pitching prospects are riskiest. That’s about the only mean thing I can say about Detroit taking Matt Manning (23) with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. Manning is really, really good. If you had to draw up the perfect righthanded high school pitching prospect, Manning would be it. I love his athleticism, easily some of the very best of any player at any position in this class. I love the way he pitches off his electric darting fastball, commanding it to all four corners with relative ease. I love the upside his breaking ball has shown even as it runs between a mid-70s curve and an upper-70s to low-80s slider. I love that he’s shown a changeup with promise even when he knows his fastball is all he ever needed against teenage competition. The only thing I don’t love about Manning is the inherent risk that comes with any high school pitching prospect. If you can get over that as I have, then you can fall in love with Manning, too. Love this pick. Detroit only signed three high school prospects, but Manning has a chance to be so good that no other selection in their draft will really matter.
4.115 – RHP Kyle Funkhouser
I’ve been as all over the place trying to figure out Kyle Funkhouser (105) as I have any other prospect in recent memory. I even devoted an entire post to him back in April 2015. Here’s a quick timeline of events from that post to the present day beginning in May 2015…
I’ve written about why Kyle Funkhouser intrigues me the way he does before, though I still will likely remain the low man on him as he enters pro ball. The narrative on him was kind of weird this spring as he was kind of the guy we all thought he was coming into the year, but the spin — and I was guilty of doing some of this myself — was that he was answering some of the pre-season questions about his game. I worried about his command, control, and third pitch coming into the season, and I still have worries about each of those areas today.
You know what, I think that’s a pretty fair summation of Funkhouser. Shut it down, we don’t need to go any further. I mean, we will because that’s just what we do, but this really does sum the big righthander from Louisville well. Command? Not great. Control? Definitely a concern. Unsure about the development of a third pitch? Heck, you could make a case that he needs to develop a more consistent second pitch right now. Let’s see what we saw in Funkhouser a few months later in October 2015…
Much electronic ink was spilled on Funkhouser last season, so I’ll be brief: he’s good. It’s unclear how good — I’d say more mid-rotation than ace, but reasonable minds may disagree — but he’s good. Of the many comps I threw out for him last year my favorite remains Jordan Zimmermann. If he can up his command and control game like Zimmermann, then he could hit that mid-rotation ceiling and keep pushing upwards.
From a stuff standpoint, I don’t think the Zimmermann comp is that bad. The command and control development, however, lag behind what Zimmermann showed at a similar age. This was the specific passage about Zimmermann that I was referring to…
I bring up Zimmermann not as a direct comp per se, but as a potential developmental path that Funkhouser could mirror once he hits the pro ranks. I think Funkhouser’s change should be given room to grow rather than ditched, but Zimmermann’s below average change was once said to have “promising action,” so what do any of us really know?
Predicting improvements in command and control is difficult for even the most seasoned scouts. Lots of time and effort spent breaking down a guy’s mechanics, athletic ability, aptitude for learning, willingness to receive instruction, and where/why he’s currently missing his spots go into it. Good command requires physical and mental strength, and finding an evaluator able to consistently read a young pitcher in both departments is a rare, if not impossible, thing. I’ve read just about everything written on Cliff Lee’s mid-career transformation and I still have no idea why he suddenly found command like he did. It’s a little bit like what I’ve been told about high school hitters: you can scout them as much as humanly possible, but nothing you’ll ever see them do as a teenage amateur can possibly equate to the day-to-day roller coaster ride of pro ball. They’ll either learn to hit in the pros or not. Same thing with a young guy and command: he’ll either learn it or he won’t. That’s what makes scouting more of an art than a science, and that’s what makes the mystic around it so appealing and frustrating all at once.
Anyway, back to Funkhouser. This time we jump to April 2016…
I hold out some hope that he’ll be a better pro than college pitcher because his raw stuff at its best is really that good, but there’s just so much inconsistency to his game that I can’t go all-in on him again. Maybe he’s fulfills the promise he showed last year, maybe he winds up more of a consistently inconsistent fifth starter/swingman type, or maybe he’s destined to a life of relief work. I no longer have any clue where his career is heading. I feel liberated.
I settled on this non-answer, and I think I’m really at peace with it all now. Funkhouser has flashed truly dominant stuff at times: 87-94 MPH (96-97 peak) fastball that moves, above-average 79-84 MPH slider, above-average 75-80 MPH curve, average mid-80s changeup, all commanded well enough in spurts. His biggest problem has been a longstanding inability to get all those pitches going at the same time. Some days he’ll scrap the slider for the curve entirely, other days the reverse will be true. On either day, there’s no guarantee that he can throw whatever breaking ball he’s going with for strikes. His changeup has steadily gotten firmer over the years; when his fastball is closer to the upper edge of his velocity band (90-95, 97 peak) then it can work as a nice timing disruptor, but when he’s more 87-91 (92-93 peak) with his heat then the changeup looks more like a batting practice pitch.
The massive deltas in his stuff on an outing by outing basis makes Funkhouser a really tough pitcher to make any bold predictions about. Instinctually, he feels like the kind of guy who just needs to find the right pitching coach at the right time to have the light bulb go off and become the long-time big league starting pitcher that his peak stuff suggests he could be. Or maybe not. Maybe he remains in the rotation, but has a career built on potential more than production; maybe he turns into an innings-eater who flashes upside but can never put it all together, a career path reminiscent of Brett Tomko’s. Or maybe he winds up in the bullpen and is allowed to focus on his fastball and one breaking ball, and his career takes off as a late-inning star. Or he’s more good than great in relief, but still has a long career pitching the sixth and seventh innings for a half-dozen different teams.
5.145 – RHP Mark Ecker
I love Mark Ecker (284). Every draft I struggle with where to rank college relievers and every year it feels like I get it wrong. Not so much with the individual evaluations, but definitely with where to rank straight relievers within the larger draft prospect landscape. One year I’ll overvalue them, the next year I’ll vow to never do that again and undervalue them, the next year I’ll go right back to overvaluing them, then I’ll overvalue just the top tier guys and ignore the next rung…it’s a mess. I think ranking Ecker as a tenth round prospect (give or take) undersells how good he is right now. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see him in the big leagues this upcoming year if that’s what Detroit needs. To make up for my underrating him in June, let’s write way too much about a fifth round college reliever…
Finding a comparable reliever to Ecker is surprisingly difficult. Did you know there are very few plus fastball/plus control relievers in Major League Baseball? It’s true! I’m using arbitrary standards here — more than 8.00 K/9, less than 2.00 BB/9, average fastball velocity 93+ MPH — and the pool of qualified relievers this decade comes out to just eleven possibilities. Of that eleven, none give me the kind of stuff close enough to Ecker to convince me to throw that comp on him. Liam Hendriks has ditched the change as he’s made the full-time transition to relief, Sean Doolittle is lefthanded and throws almost 90% fastballs, Rafael Betancourt is just short on velocity but not a terrible comp otherwise, and Robert Osuna relies more on his slider than his changeup. Junichi Tazawa might be the closest, but he technically throws a splitter rather than a changeup. The pitch serves a similar purpose, so maybe we should just allow it and call it a day. Mark Melancon would be perfect, but he almost literally never throws his changeup these days. Tony Watson is lefthanded, but fits the mold pretty well otherwise. Kelvin Herrera is a little too small and probably throws too many breaking balls, but he’s a decent facsimile for Ecker’s stuff/control combination otherwise. He might be the closest thing to Ecker that I can think of, though I’d be remiss to not at least mention Ryan Madson, my go-to fastball/changeup/control comp in these situations. Some combination of Herrera, Madson, and Melancon would be one heck of a reliever. That’s the kind of impact I think Ecker can have in the big leagues. In fact, there’s this from May 2016…
With a fastball capable of hitting the upper-90s and a mid-80s changeup with plus upside, he’s an honest big league closer candidate with continued development.
Sounds about right. Getting an arm with closer upside in the fifth round is a win every single time for me. Nice work by Detroit here.
6.175 – RHP Bryan Garcia
The Tigers pretty clearly went into this draft with the idea of adding players who will be ready quickly enough to help prop their present window of contention open a little bit longer. Outside of their first round pick (who happens to be a really good prospect and excellent trade capital if they go that route), every other selection all the way through round twenty-two was a college prospect. No snapshot of their draft better exemplifies their win-now philosophy than the back-to-back selections of Mark Ecker and Bryan Garcia (387). Like Ecker one round earlier, Bryan Garcia has the ability to pitch in the big leagues sooner rather than later. From March 2016…
Garcia has late-game reliever stuff (mid-90s FB, good SL) and pedigree (15.88 K/9 this year) to get himself drafted as one of the first true college relievers in his class.
His K/9 dipped all the way down to 13.03 by the end of the season and his low-80s slider morphed more into a curve, but Garcia finished the year more than holding up his end of the bargain. There’s a chance Garcia could be tried in the rotation — a pro contact who saw him this summer came away far more impressed with his changeup than I would have guessed — but letting him fire away in the bullpen with his mid-90s heat and potential plus breaking ball seems like the way to go. Like Ecker, I think he could pitch in the big leagues in 2017 if that’s how the Tigers want to play it.
7.205 – LHP Austin Sodders
Got a Matt Imhof comp for Austin Sodders late in the spring that I think is pretty fair. I don’t love the pick, but can appreciate the logic behind it. Sodders is a big lefthander with solid velocity (88-92), above-average deception and command, and the chance for two average offspeed pitches (CB, CU). If it all comes together for him, that’s a pretty valuable skill set.
8.235 – OF Jacob Robson
I like this one probably more than I should. Every team I’ve written about the past two weeks or so seems to draft at least two college center fielders known for their speed, defense, and minimal pop. I’ve always liked that profile, but lately am beginning to realize that the power component is even more important than conventional wisdom — which believes it to be very, very important, for the record — suggests. I’m sick of writing it, so I can only assume you’re sick of reading it, but the threat of power is an absolute necessity for any young hitter with the hopes of being an above-average offensive contributor in professional ball. Not everybody has to be a power hitter, but if you can’t hit for at least some power then you’re going to have a bad time in pro ball. The threat of an extra base hit changes the way you’re approached as a hitter.
That in mind, Jacob Robson’s (318) lack of pop is concerning. It limits his ceiling dependent on how you feel about his hit tool playing in the pros; you can talk yourself into him being more than a fifth outfielder if you believe, but he’s close to a “what you see is what you get” otherwise. I happen to like him and this pick a ton. That’s the power of the hit tool, I guess. Some guys just have a knack for consistent hard contact. That’s Robson. I’m not a scout so I lack some (but not all) of the reverence to the 20-80 scale that the pros share for it, but tossing around plus grades on an amateur’s hit tool is something even I don’t take lightly. I think Robson might have it. He might be able to hit enough singles and hustle doubles/triples to overcome his lack of power and become a starting quality player. His athleticism, speed, and center field range will also certainly help in that quest, but it’ll be the hit tool that separates him from so many similar players bouncing around the minor leagues. I’d call many players like Robson low-ceiling/moderate-floor types, but Robson himself gets a moderate-ceiling/moderate-floor tag. That’s not a whole lot better, but it is better.
9.265 – SS Daniel Pinero
There is no version of me in any alternate timeline who doesn’t appreciate a 6-5, 210 pound shortstop prospect. It should be no shock then that I’m an unabashed Daniel Pinero (130) fan. Pinero got better every season at Virginia while flashing big league tools across all areas of the game. I like his defense at shortstop more than anybody I’ve spoken to or read, so take the claim that he can stay at his college position in the pros with that in mind. Even if he has to move off short, he’s got all the skills needed (quick reactions, strong arm, body control) to excel at the hot corner. Offensively, Pinero will always have some swing-and-miss in his game (long levers will do that) and his speed has slowed down to average at best as he’s filled out over the years, but his power is on the rise, his approach is sound, and he goes into every at bat with a plan. I don’t think he’s a future star at the plate, but the chance to be an average offensive player with either average (shortstop) or above-average (third base) defense makes him a really nice prospect.
As far as value goes, it’s worth noting that I ranked Pinero only 54 spots lower than CJ Chatham, Red Sox second round pick who went 214 picks earlier. That may or may not mean something to you, but I look at it as Detroit getting a comparable talent much later in the draft. I think Pinero is a potential regular on the left side of the infield with a very realistic floor as a big league utility guy.
10.295 – OF Sam Machonis
Two years at Polk State (including this sophomore year: .310/.406/.470 with 20 BB/43 K and 14/15 SB in 200 AB) and two years at Florida Southern (combined .365/.443/.607 line with 38 BB/71 K and 26/32 SB in 394 AB) led Sam Machionis to Detroit on draft day 2016. Without being an expert on him from a scouting perspective, I’ll point out that his numbers, while very good on the whole, come with the glaring BB/K red flag that would scare me off using a top ten round pick on him. The scouting notes on him I do have — “strong arm, decent runner, can play all three outfield spots and first base, hits from both sides of the plate, handles velocity” — lean towards a potential bench contributor if he can curb some of his overly aggressive tendencies at the plate.
11.325 – RHP Zac Houston
Zac Houston (133) and his explosive 90-95 FB (97 peak) fastball is a pretty perfect fit in the eleventh round. He’s a live arm with college experience at Mississippi State that has seen ups (11.53 K/9 in 2015, 9.79 K/9 in 2016) and downs (6.47 BB/9 in 2015, 4.43 BB/9 in 2016). He did more of the same in his pro debut (14.90 K/9 and 4.56 BB/9 in 29.2 IP) while dominating on the scoreboard (0.30 ERA). It’s an imperfect comparison, but you can draw a shaky line between Houston and fourth round pick Kyle Funkhouser. Like the former Louisville star, Houston’s future role is as yet undetermined. His fastball will play in any role and his low-80s slider is quickly coming on as a potential second weapon, but the rest of his offspeed spread (cutter, curve, change) remain a work in progress. I think the bullpen is his best bet. If that’s the case, then a long career filled with strikeouts and walks could make him a very fun/frustrating reliever to watch.
With Funkhouser, Ecker, Garcia, Houston, Schreiber, Sittinger, and Schmidt all taken by Detroit in the draft’s top twenty rounds, the Tigers could have just formed the core of a young, electric, and cheap bullpen that will supplement their next contending team. It’s not sexy, but nailing down three or four knockout relievers in one draft class would be a major scouting and development win for a farm system in need of a W or two.
12.355 – OF Daniel Woodrow
Though long a prospect archetype I’ve enjoyed, I’ve grown suspicious of rangy center fielders with plus speed and no power of late. The “no power” thing is just too much of an offensive hurdle to jump; as we often say, it’s not so much the actual lack of power but the lack of power being a credible threat against bigger, smarter, better pitching. Of the many potential backup outfielders that follow the speed/defense/no power pattern in this class, I happen to like Daniel Woodrow of Creighton more than many of the others. There’s such a fine line between no power and very little power, but I think the small difference matters when it comes to how pitchers approach the opposition. Woodrow has just enough pop to continue being an effective table setter in the pros. He makes a ton of contact, has a decent approach, and provides all the aforementioned speed/defense (and arm strength). The upside isn’t huge, but Woodrow has a shot to make it as a fifth outfielder.
13.385 – C Brady Policelli
I’m an absolute sucker for Brady Policelli’s (169) defensive versatility, athleticism, and ability to excel at all of the little things. It’s dangerous territory for me because I’ve fallen in love with prospects like Policelli before with many topping out as fun college players and little more, but I can’t help but appreciate a legitimate defensive catcher with a really strong arm and footwork good enough to play shortstop for his college team in his draft year. I’ll go bold and say that Policelli has a long big league career as a standout defensive catcher with enough thump in his bat to have a few years worthy of being an everyday player.
14.415 – C Austin Athmann
This year’s college class has a chance to be viewed as one of the best of all-time. The talent level at the position . Detroit waited it out and landed a top ten round talent in most years all the way down in round fourteen. Austin Athmann (486) is a lock to stay behind the plate thanks to solid mobility, an average or better arm (more accurate than strong), and pro-level smarts in knowing how to handle a pitching staff. That alone gives him value this late in the draft, but Athmann adds on to it as a more than capable hitter with a chance for topping out as an average hitter with average power. The very optimistic forecast calls for starting catcher upside, but I’m more comfortable calling him a potential quality backup. That’s really nice value this late in the draft.
15.445 – RHP John Schreiber
John Schreiber dominated at Northwestern Ohio as a senior using a nasty fastball (90-95 MPH) and slider one-two punch. Definite middle relief upside here. Is this my shortest prospect breakdown so far? I think it is. Only problem is every word I write now artificially inflates the total. If you just skimmed through this and saw this nice little block of text, you’d have no real idea that the only bit of analysis I had to share on Schreiber this year.
16.475 – 2B Will Savage
As an self-proclaimed Ivy League baseball aficionado, I’ve seen a lot of Will Savage (363) over the years. Without fail, I’ve come away impressed with his game. There’s little flashy about Savage, but he’s got a knack for hard contact, above-average speed, and a chance to be a solid defender at second with more work. The problem with Savage is that he’s likely a second baseman and second baseman only in the pros; his arm and range are both stretched considerably on the left side of the infield. As much as I like him as a college hitter, I’m not sure the bat will be enough to carry him if his only path to the big leagues is as a second baseman. If Detroit can squeeze even a little defensive versatility out of him, then he’ll be in a much better position to climb the ladder.
17.505 – RHP Brandyn Sittinger
Brandyn Sittinger dominated at Ashland as a junior using a low- to mid-90s fastball and little else. He’s a consistent second pitch away from having the same middle relief upside as fellow state of Ohio product John Schreiber.
18.535 – 1B Niko Buentello
Niko Buentello as a lefthanded power bat with a decent approach and a shot to destroy righthanded pitching in the pros is enough for me to buy into him as a viable eighteenth round pick. It’s tough sledding making it as a first base only prospect, but, hey, somebody has to man the position, right?
19.565 – OF Dustin Frailey
I really like Dustin Frailey, a Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunner by way of Mt. San Antonio College who stayed under my radar until fairly late in the draft process. His draft year was outstanding by any measure (.376/.479/.593 with 30 BB/19 K and 23/27 SB) and his offensive game is a well-rounded blend of average power and above-average speed. There’s some sneaky fourth outfielder upside with Frailey.
20.595 – RHP Clate Schmidt
On Clate Schmidt from December 2015…
SR RHP Clate Schmidt has overcome a great deal to get back to position himself to a return to the mound this spring. His athleticism, fastball (90-94, 96 peak), and impressive low-80s slider make him a prospect to watch, and his story of perseverance makes him a player to appreciate. If the return to health in 2016 has him feeling more like himself this spring (i.e., he’s more 2014 than 2015), then his feel-good story should end with a potential top ten round draft selection and honest shot in pro ball.
Schmidt finished his final season at Clemson with the following numbers: 7.15 K/9, 2.21 BB/9, 4.83 ERA, 85.2 IP. I’d say that definitely puts him closer to the 2014 version (7.23 K/9 and 3.82 BB/9) than the 2015 version (5.54 K/9 and 3.98 BB/9), and that’s an encouraging sign for Schmidt’s career going forward. His stuff wasn’t quite back to what he showed at 100% — he was more 86-91 MPH with his fastball in 2016, though his 78-82 MPH changeup remained outstanding and his low-80s slider solidified itself as a solid third offering — but it’s still good enough to make a little noise in the pros. Giving him the ball in shorter outings with the instructions to let it fly (and sink) might prove to be the best move for him and the Tigers. As a reliever, I think Schmidt could pile up ground balls and miss enough bats to be really effective. That upside combined with the hidden value of bringing such a hard worker and positive influence like Schmidt into the organization makes this one of my favorite picks in the whole draft.
21.625 – RHP Joe Navilhon
The first of back-to-back undersized college righthanders taken by Detroit, Joe Navilhon has a decent fastball (88-92) that he dresses up with a highly effective low-80s changeup. Toss in a mid-70s breaking ball and the Tommy John survivor has enough going for him to get his chances as a potential middle relief prospect. I’m bearish on his odds of breaking through compared to some of the other intriguing relief arms stockpiled by Detroit in this class, but you never know.
22.655 – RHP Burris Warner
I’m always happy to see an undersized flame-thrower like Burris Warner get his shot in pro ball. Even if things don’t work out for Warner in the long run, remember that Detroit got an established college reliever capable of hitting the mid-90s (seen him up to 95 personally) with his fastball in the twenty-second round next time one of the national guys refuses to rank more than fifty or so prospects in a given class.
23.685 – C Bryan Torres
The Tigers signed only three high school prospects in this class. Matt Manning is the obvious headliner, but getting deals done with Bryan Torres here and Geraldo Gonzalez later is a nice little bonus. A really rough small sample debut doesn’t change the fact that Torres was a worthwhile gamble here in the twenty-third round.
24.715 – LHP Evan Hill
On any given outing you might see Evan Hill hit just about every single 80-something MPH with his fastball. At his best, Hill is more mid- to upper-80s (up to 92-93 peaks at his bestest best), but the long and lean lefthander could have more in the tank (or at least more consistency in what he’s already flashed) with pro strength training and instruction ahead of him. He could use the extra tick or two on his fastball because of his offspeed stuff is more functional than fabulous. I like what I’ve seen out of a mid- to upper-70s breaking ball that’ll flash above-average at times, but his cutter and changeup are nothing to write home about. A shift to the bullpen could accelerate some of those hopeful velocity gains and potentially sharpen up his breaking ball. That feels like his best shot at an extended pro career.
25.745 – RHP John Hayes
Joe Navilhon and Burris Warner were back-to-back undersized college righthanders taken by Detroit in rounds twenty-one and twenty-two. Now the Tigers go back-to-back with big college righthanders with John Hayes leading off. Hayes missed bats as a redshirt-senior at Wichita State (10.57 K/9), but didn’t quite get the job done when it came to run prevention (7.12 ERA). I’m glad Detroit saw past his struggles to see the good (88-93 FB, quality CU, usable SL) in Hayes.
26.775 – RHP Colyn O’Connell
Colyn O’Connell has the fastball (89-93, 95 peak) and frame (6-5, 215) to excite, but his junior year at Florida Atlantic (6.33 K/9 and 3.33 BB/9) was mostly underwhelming. To his credit, O’Connell did keep runs off the board (2.00 ERA in 27.0 IP). Things took a turn for the better in pro ball (8.40 K/9 and 3.60 BB/9) even as the ERA climbed a bit (3.90 in 30.0 IP). You’ll make that trade-off any day when it comes to projecting a pitcher’s future.
27.805 – SS Chad Sedio
The Tigers gave Chad Sedio an honest shot to play shortstop in pro ball and the early buzz on his defense there — in as much as there can ever be buzz about Chad Sedio’s glove — has been positive. The versatile defender also has experience at second, third (where I listed him pre-draft), and in the outfield, so a future as a bat-first utility player isn’t out of the question.
29.865 – 3B Hunter Swilling
Two big power years in a row at Samford (.324/.415/.622 and .292/.393/.557) were enough to get Hunter Swilling his shot in pro ball. His combined walk to strikeout ratio during that same stretch (60 BB/124 K) probably would have kept me away, but I understand the inclination to buy power when you can. To his credit, Swilling can do more than just swing for the fences. The righthanded power bat is also a pretty solid athlete with a strong arm well-suited for third base. I had him as a first base prospect in my notes (with some upside on the mound), but early returns on his glove at third in the pros have been decent. The overall package is still not really my cup of tea, but in the twenty-ninth round sometimes you have to open your mind to players you might not have considered otherwise.
30.895 – LHP Dalton Lundeen
Dalton Lundeen’s pro debut (6.48 K/9 and 2.52 BB/9) looked a whole heck of a lot like his senior season at Valparaiso (6.65 K/9 and 1.91 BB/9). That should give some indication as to what kind of pitcher he is, but I’ll do my part to paint a fuller picture by noting that Lundeen’s fastball lives mostly in the mid- to upper-80s and his slider is his primary out-pitch.
31.925 – SS Dalton Britt
First time in MLB Draft history a team has drafted back-to-back Dalton’s. Or so I’ll assume, anyway. Dalton Britt joins Dalton Lundeen in the Tigers organization after going off the board in the thirty-first round. Britt has always been one of those guys described to me as a better potential pro hitter than what he ever showed at Liberty. That persistent noise was what had me continuing to push the “strong hit tool” scouting note for Britt even as the college shortstop hovered just below a .300 batting average (.299 in 2014, .294 in 2015, .292 in 2016) during his last three college seasons. Of course there’s more to projecting a hit tool than just looking at past performance, but ignoring what has actually happened on the field isn’t a very sound evaluation strategy, either. Britt hasn’t been so bad that I’d toss out the positive scouting notes, so we’re more in the “wait and see” stage of his larger evaluation as he transitions to pro ball. If the scouting reports prove true, then the Tigers got themselves a really nice potential steal this late. Britt can certainly hold up his end of the bargain defensively (steady work at 2B, 3B, and SS), so even a slightly below-average big league bat would make him an interesting utility option down the line.
34.1015 – SS Gerardo Gonzalez
Finally, we get to the third signed high school prospect. I’ll admit that I was a little bit more excited about this one when I mistyped Gerardo Gonzalez’s first name as Geraldo, the name most of the internet has him listed under. Pro ball could really use a star named Geraldo. Gerardo Gonzalez had a rough debut, but he earned his fair share of walks, played solid defense at second, and finished the season as one of the younger 2016 draftees (not 18 until 12/21/16). There’s no such thing as a bad high school signing past round ten, so no shame in focusing on his modest strengths for now.
Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017
Alex Cunningham (Coastal Carolina), Conner O’Neill (Cal State Northridge), Keegan Thompson (Auburn), Jacob White (Weatherford JC), Drew Mendoza (Florida State), David Fleita (Cowley County JC), Josh Smith (LSU), Garrett Milchin (Florida), Dalton Feeney (North Carolina State)
After we get past the Magnificent Seven of the SEC, we get to a tier of pitchers with tons of promise but with compelling questions that will need answering at the pro level. Check the whole list here and then swing back below for some actual analysis — an attempt, at least — of some of the standout pitchers who didn’t make the cut in the top tier yet still have big potential pro futures. Let’s first look at some of the talented guys with question marks that kept them just out of that top tier…
Keegan Thompson and Kyle Serrano are both very talented, but how will they bounce back from Tommy John surgeries that cost them (or are in the process of costing them) a full year of development? Wil Crowe, the talented righthander from South Carolina, is in the same boat a little bit further down the list. Kyle Cody’s stuff has always outstripped his results on the field. Is he destined to forever be a consistently inconsistent professional in the mold of fellow Wildcat Alex Meyer or is there something more in his game that can be unlocked with the right coaching? Is the fact that you could say similar things about his teammate Zack Brown a good thing (get them out of Kentucky and watch them flourish) or a not so good thing (these are just the types they recruit and develop)? Shaun Anderson and Dane Dunning have flashed outstanding stuff in their own right, but do they have what it takes to transition back to the rotation after spending so much time pitching out of the bullpen as part of the ridiculously deep Florida staff? You could ask the same question of Ben Bowden of Vanderbilt, though I think his body of work is proof enough that his pitching style and far more explosive fastball in shorter bursts make sticking in the bullpen a very attractive long-term plan. What do we do with Austin Bain and Brigham Hill, a pair of draft-eligible sophomores with less of a track record than many of their 2016 draft class counterparts?
The list just keeps going. Look at the lefthanders alone: John Kilichowski, Daniel Brown, Connor Jones, Scott Moss, Jared Poche’. All of those young pitchers have considerable pro upside, yet the likelihood of more than two landing in the top five rounds next month feels like a long shot. Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons. Brown doesn’t have the same imposing frame at just 5-10, 180 pounds, but, like Kilichowski, he can miss bats with a solid fastball and three average or better offspeed pitches. It may be a little out there, but a case could be made that the other Connor Jones actually has more long-term upside than the righthanded Virginia ace. This Jones has gotten good yet wild results on the strength of an above-average or better fastball from the left side and a particularly intriguing splitter. Moss is a wild card as another good yet wild performer with the size (6-5, 215) and stuff (90-94 FB, solid breaking ball and low-80s CU) to make a big impact at the end of games as a professional. The further he gets from his own Tommy John surgery, the better he’s been. Then there’s Poche’, the LSU lefty who fits in some with our Logan Shore discussion from yesterday with a K/9 that has gone from 5.11 to 5.94 to 7.52 in his three years as a Tiger. I still think of him more as a really good college pitcher than a premium pro prospect, but that progress is at least somewhat encouraging. At his best, Poche’ is more than capable of offspeeding a lineup to death. There’s some fifth starter/solid matchup reliever upside with him.
There are also a host of fascinating relievers that could go off the board sooner than many currently would guess. Mark Ecker has dominated this year to the tune of 28 K and 3 BB in 25.0 innings of 0.36 ERA ball. With a fastball capable of hitting the upper-90s and a mid-80s changeup with plus upside, he’s an honest big league closer candidate with continued development. His teammate Ryan Hendrix hasn’t been quite as good – more whiffs, more walks, and a lot more runs allowed – but remains a good bet to go high in the draft because of his premium stuff (94-98 FB, 83-86 breaking ball that flashes plus) and correctable flaws. I have no feel at all how the industry will come down on Hayden Stone on draft day, but I’ve personally gone back and forth on him as a pro prospect more times than I can remember. If you want him twenty spots higher on this list, I wouldn’t argue. Working against Stone is a lack of knockout velocity, his relatively small stature, and an injury history that includes last year’s Tommy John procedure. In his favor is a special mid-80s breaking ball – consistently plus, flashing plus-plus – and a very strong track record of success coming out of the Vandy bullpen. It seems like there are handful of college relievers without mid- to upper-90s fastballs that sneak their way to the big leagues quicker than their flame-throwing peers every season, and Stone is as good a bet as any to be one of those guys in 2016.