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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals 2015 MLB Draft Picks

I don’t typically put a ton of thought into the organization of these pieces, but this one was a no-brainer. We need to talk about C Nick Dini (407) first. I’d talk about him first, second, third, and forever, but a paragraph or so will have to suffice for now.

Nick Dini hit .392/.489/.625 in his senior season at Wagner. He walked 30 times and struck out only 7 times. He stole 14 bases in 15 tries, a total that boosted his career mark to 33 of 35. He’s relatively new to catching (played it off-and-on throughout his college career), but has taken to it in a full-time role as well as one possibly can. He’s a really good athlete who has experience catching high velocity arm, so the learning curve should continue to be quite manageable for him. At the plate, he’s shown a consistent feel for hitting that puts him years ahead of his peers. His approach is as good as it gets and is power, while not nearly as impressive as his senior season spike suggests, is enough to keep opposing pitching honest enough to let him keep getting on base at a high clip even against better arms. On the downside, he played at Wagner and…he’s short? I guess those are negatives for some, but I don’t care. He’s Austin Barnes 2.0 with a realistic floor of Tucker Barnhart. Just a really good all-around player who will become a fan favorite (and statistically-leaning prospect analyst favorite) sooner rather than later.

(I’m glad we had a chance to do that. People I know in real life are tired of me initiating conversations with “Hey, how about that Nick Dini?” and “Whoa, did you see what Nick Dini did last night?” and “We need to decide on a good nickname for Nick Dini – is ‘Who’ too corny? It works on two levels!”)

1B Taylor Ostrich is a fine senior-sign get in the 34th round. He he can hit, he’ll take a walk, and there’s average or better thunder in the bat. He’s also a strong yet nimble 6-3, 220 pound athlete who has posted average run times underway and fields the position extremely well. With reasonable platoon or bench bat upside (and maybe more…), I’m not really sure what more you could ask for in a pick this late.

Here’s where I was at with C Alex Close before the season…

SR 1B Alex Close (Liberty) has been a favorite for some time – not a FAVORITE, but a favorite – because of his playable present power. If an area guy can sell his bosses on Close as a potential 1B/3B/C hybrid, then he could go higher than even I think.

I stand by the assertion that a 1B/3B/C hybrid is best for his long-term pro future. Even with the defensive versatility, there might be too much swing-and-miss in his approach for him to lock in on his considerable power upside thus negating what he does best as a hitter as a professional. I’m not sure how good his stuff is, but I’ve heard from at least one contact that they’d put him on the mound. That belief was based on his strong senior season as a pitcher, his raw arm strength, and the unfortunate reality that he likely won’t make enough contact to have a real future as a pro hitter. OF Colton Frabasilio gets a lot more interesting when you look back at his college track record (catcher!) and then realize he split time between catcher and left field in his pro debut. The bat isn’t thrilling, but the bar isn’t all that high for a catcher. If he can stick behind the plate, consider him a super deep sleeper to follow.

It appears that the Royals identified outfield as a position group of need heading into the draft. Either that or the board just happened to shake out a whole bunch of outfielders they liked in rounds that made sense. My favorite before the draft was OF Tanner Stanley (67). Stanley does many of the things that I personally like very well: he’s a patient hitter who has a plan at the plate with every at bat, he’s instinctual in the outfield and on the base paths, and he’s got enough physical ability (arm, speed) to make a difference even on days he’s not hitting. As so often is the case in players like Stanley, the transformation of raw power to in-game production is an open question. I put Stanley in the group that has “enough pop to keep opposing pitchers honest” before the draft, but that aspect of his game remains my biggest concern going forward.

Keeping all that about Stanley in mind, I have to admit that I don’t really know why I ranked him quite so highly relative to some of his peers. I’ll wear it, of course, but his was an overly generous ranking that I would scale back if I could do it all again. For example, I’m not sure he’s all that different from OF Cody Jones (495). If anything, Jones runs and defends on a higher level than Stanley. I prefer the latter’s all-around offensive game, but the two are close enough that almost 400 spots on the pre-draft ranking seems silly. The Royals obviously preferred Jones, the sixth rounder, over Stanley, their thirty-sixth rounder.

An argument could also be made for OF Anderson Miller (145) as the top outfielder taken by the Royals. Heck, in terms of draft position he’s it. Miller shares a lot of the same positive traits as Stanley, but comes with more upside and uncertainty. The former two-way star has a chance to really break out now that the shackles of pitching are off. He leads the way in raw power (average or slightly above) of any Kansas City outfield pick. His chief competitor there would be OF Ben Johnson (238). Johnson is a really neat prospect. I’ll allow past me to explain some…

The outfield is where things get really interesting in the Big 12. I know I say this about so many prospects that it probably renders the distinction meaningless, but Texas JR OF Ben Johnson has to be one of this year’s draft’s most fascinating prospects. Johnson’s name has come up over and over again so far this season as a tooled-up prospect finally turning into a deeply skilled player. Or so I thought. All of the chatter over Johnson excited me because I had assumed he was finally doing the things that he’ll need to do to be a better pro. Full disclosure: I haven’t gotten any updates about him this season (since the fall) from anybody I know who has seen him and (I’M NOT A SCOUT) I’ve only personally seen him twice this year on the tube. So I’m not working with all the needed info to make any overarching statements that should be taken as fact. I’m just theorizing that maybe college analysts (and perhaps certain pro scouting staffs that weigh projection significantly ahead of production [they aren’t wrong for this, by the way]) are getting a little ahead of themselves in proclaiming this to be the start of Johnson’s ascension to day one of the 2015 MLB Draft. Johnson has been absolutely phenomenal this season by most every measure: .432/.463/.659 is damn good work in 88 at bats. Maybe he’s made adjustments as a hitter that the public will hear about as some of the best prospect writers begin doing some digging. Maybe (hopefully) I’ll hear something from one of my contacts sooner rather than later that brings some good news on his outburst. Until then, however, I think Ben Johnson is just doing Ben Johnson things. I won’t say that I anticipated this kind of start, but his numbers aren’t out of line with what you’d expect from a player with his kind of tools at the college level. It’s not crazy to say that he, like about a dozen or so players in this and every class, is too physically gifted for the college game. Johnson is a pro-level glove in center with an average or better arm, average or better raw power, and, most interestingly, the kind of jaw-dropping athleticism and game-changing speed that puts the whole package over the top.

Again, Johnson is putting up a ridiculous .432/.463/.659 line so far this year. That’s really great. With only 2 walks to 12 strikeouts, however, I’m not sure how all his considerable offensive gifts will continue to play as he climbs the ladder. For all the positives he brings to the table he still looks like a very high potential pick since athletes like him often provide value well beyond what they do at the plate (running, defending, you get it). That relatively high floor makes Johnson extra appealing; using a supplemental first, second, or third round pick on him is not likely to completely blow up in your face simply because he’s almost too damn athletic to do nothing. On the off chance he puts it together, watch out. If that paragraph reads like I’m hedging my bets on him, then you’re on the right track.

I’m obviously glad I hedged my bets on him, especially after seeing him fall to the eleventh round. Overslot or not, he was outstanding value there. As was written in his pre-draft blurb: “approach remains a mess, but the raw edge to his game, grinder mentality, and outstanding defense make him intriguing despite his flaws.” That’s the kind of guy to gamble on for a little extra dough in round eleven. A quick prospect-to-prospect comparison could work if you’re willing to buy he’s a more talented version of sixth round pick Cody Jones. An even easier comparison would be to former Longhorn Drew Stubbs. I’m sure others have connected those dots elsewhere.

I really liked the pick of the underrated (including here) OF Roman Collins in the fifth. It’s much earlier than I thought he’d go, but he’s a good player and who knows how the rest of baseball viewed him. Before the year I said…

Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms.

His pro debut was outstanding, though presumably he’s figured out a more palatable sleep schedule. I mean, I like to get up at the last possible second before work as well, but I couldn’t actually suggest somebody try to roll out of bed and hit a 90 MPH fastball. Sounds like a great way to get hurt. Lame jokes aside, Collins can hit. I think he was slept on (no pun intended, I swear…but I’m keeping it) by many because of only playing one year of D-1 baseball. He got on my radar before his one and only season at Florida Atlantic after hitting a decent .435/.512/.766 in 209 at bats at junior college in 2014. Then he more than held his own (.296/.394/.481) at FAU while showing off an impressive display of power and speed (above-average in both areas) on a weekly basis throughout the spring. He would have been ranked much higher by me heading into the draft if I had caught on to how smooth his transition was this year; such is life as a one-man operation. The nice thing is by writing this, I can begin to make up for the error. Roman Collins is really good. You should like him too.

OF Luke Willis can really run and defend in center. I’m sufficiently intrigued by the thirtieth rounder out of George Mason (by way of Coastal Carolina). Like many of these outfielders, he’s a very Royals type of player.

For as much as I like and appreciate what the Royals did in the outfield, I can’t quite put my finger on their infield strategy this year. 2B Jonathan McCray is an intriguing junior college talent who has shown some of the pop/speed combo needed to keep advancing as a second base only prospect.

SS Trey Stover can play any infield spot, but doesn’t have the bat to keep going at the moment. Same could be said for SS Brian Bien. SS Austin Bailey has the most advanced stick of this trio of college senior-sign shortstops, but seems like a better fit at second base over the long haul. Maybe you hit on one of the three as a future utility guy, but I don’t love the odds here.

I do love SS Travis Maezes (169) even though I don’t think he’s a shortstop professionally…

I’ve written about Michigan JR 3B/SS Travis Maezes already, so I’ll just give the short version here: his skill set reminds me of the 25th pick of last year’s draft, Matt Chapman. The biggest noticeable difference in their games comes down to arm strength. Maezes has an outstanding arm, but it’s not in the same class as Chapman’s; that’s how crazy Chapman’s arm is. Besides that, the similarities are striking. I think Maezes has a chance to put an average hit tool with average power (maybe a half-grade above in each area) to good use as a professional ballplayer. Even if he doesn’t hit as much as I’ll think, his defensive value (good at third and playable at short, with intriguing unseen upside at 2B and C) should make him a positive player. It’s not the typical profile we think of as “high-floor,” but it works. I’ve talked to a few people who think I’m overstating Maezes’ upside as a pro. That’s fine and it’s relevant and I’m happy to hear from dissenting viewpoints.

Weird doesn’t have to be bad, so I have no problem being the high man on Michigan JR 3B Travis Maezes for now. His hit tool is legit, his power should play average or better, and he has the athleticism, arm strength, and instincts to be a really strong third baseman in the pros. Real life work commitments and frustration at the death of College Splits put me way behind on writing about last year’s draft. If I had written all that I wanted to, I assure you that many glowing pieces on Cal State Fullerton 3B Matt Chapman would have been written. I absolutely loved Chapman as a draft prospect and think he’ll be an above-average pro player for a long time. I don’t bring him up just to relive the past, of course; from a skills standpoint, Maezes reminds me a lot of Chapman. I swear that’s a comparison that I came by honestly through watching them both, hearing from smarter people than myself, and reading whatever has been written about them from the comfort of my couch. Then I looked at the numbers (top Maezes, bottom Chapman) and…

.307/.403/.444 with 54 BB/64 K in 530 PA
.295/.391/.443 with 73 BB/84 K in 702 PA

…whoa. That’s pretty good. Another player comparison that I’ve heard for Maezes that takes me back to my earliest days as a baseball fan is former Phillies 3B Dave Hollins, he of the 162 game average of .260/.358/.420 with 18 HR, 27 2B, 76 BB, and 113 K*.

Maezes’s down junior season (not included in the statistical comparison above) didn’t quite reward my pre-season faith, but he hit well enough to remain a solid top five to ten round prospect in my eyes. Getting him in round 13 is excellent value for Kansas City. I look forward to seeing what they decide to do with him defensively going forward. The thought of his bat waking back up and him being able to handle the move to catcher is quite appealing, though I acknowledge how difficult getting those two things to go right at the same time can be.

I also kind of like SS Gabriel Cancel even though I know of him more than I know him at this point. Still, when looking at the shortstop group drafted by Kansas City this year (Cancel, Emmanuel Rivera, Bailey, Bien, Stover) from a more detached view, I’d be surprised if they got even one big league contributor five years from now.

Since I love to bury the lede, a few words on RHP Ashe Russell (17). Russell is pretty close to an ideal version of pitching projection personified. He has the size, arm action, delivery, and present fastball (90-96, 98 peak) that all just scream first round high school righthanded pitching prospect. I happen to love what he’s doing with his fastball (not just the velocity*, but the life) and his breaking ball (78-84 and a little bit of a hybrid SL/CB for now, but best when thrown more as a true slider) already, so you don’t have to sell me on him needing to grow leaps and bounds ahead of where he presently is. There’s obviously still stuff to work out — commanding that darting fastball, gaining more trust and consistency with the breaker, improving the nascent change — but what’s already there is damn impressive. He’s more of a future two than a three for me if it all comes together. Dayton Moore compared him to Garrett Richards immediately after the draft and that sounds about right to me. I think a younger Shelby Miller also fits.

* I ranted on this once in the very early days of the site, but it always bothered me some that “velocity” is the word used when discussing what’s almost always meant to be “speed.” Velocity is speed and direction, so it should imply movement. So often, however, it’s written (I do it all the time) that a pitch is impressive both for it’s velocity AND it’s movement. That’s redundant, right? I realize language is fluid and different words can have different meanings in different contexts, but if I could go back and change one ultimately inconsequential fundamental thing about baseball writing/scouting, that might be it.

The Royals stayed in the great state of Indiana to nab another top high school prospect in RHP Nolan Watson (90). Watson joins Russell as a potential long-term fixture of what could be a loaded Kansas City rotation one day. He jumped out at me early in the draft cycle because of the Vanderbilt commitment attached to his name; it’s become almost a chicken and the egg thing where you can argue what comes first, but if the Vandy staff puts their seal of approval on you as a young pitcher, the scouting community takes notice. Watson is easy to like because he’s one of those guys who seems to get better with every start. He may not have quite the same upside as Russell, but the well-rounded pitching arsenal he brings to the mound each outing (88-94 FB, 96 peak; average or better 76-80 CB; average or better low-80s CU; low-80s SL with promise) makes him an excellent bet to remain a sturdy starting pitcher into the future. If Russell and Watson are two-fifths of a future KC rotation, as I think they’ll be, I wish the rest of the AL Central luck.

Calling a player your favorite doesn’t necessarily make him the best. We’re clear on that, right? Well RHP Josh Staumont (76) might be my favorite player (apologies to BFF Nick Dini) in this class. He’s just so damn authentic. He takes his huge fastball (93-99, 101 peak) that he holds deep into starts, dynamic breaking ball (80-84 CB with plus upside), and a difficult to control because it moves so much low- to mid-80s split-change, and just does what he does. At Azusa Pacific, he struck out 14.38 batters per nine in almost 70 junior year innings pitched. He kept up with that as best he could (13.05 K/9) as a pro. Unfortunately, all those missed bats came with a price. Staumont walked 7.18 BB/9 at Azusa Pacific. Staumont walked 7.20 BB/9 between the Royals AZL team and Idaho Falls. Miraculously, his ERA at Azusa Pacific was 3.67…and his ERA as a pro is 2.48. That’s the definition of “effectively wild” if I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure there’s precedent for a pitcher this wild this early in his pro career to climb the ladder all the way to the top (first thought was Randy Johnson, but I’m not going to touch that one…), but I’m not betting against Staumont, his awesome stuff, and his competitive demeanor. I think he can keep advancing even with his wild ways and if he can ever gain even a semblance of control…damn. If you argued on Staumont’s behalf for highest upside pitcher in the entire class, I wouldn’t get in your way.

(A fun/imperfect comp I got for Staumont recently: former Blue Jay minor leaguer and one half of the Phillies return in the Ben Revere trade, Alberto Tirado. Also: Staumont’s GB% in his first 40 professional innings is 70.89. Not a typo! 70.89 GB%!)

Kansas City went pitching with four of their first five picks. We’ve covered Russell, Watson, and Staumont, so let’s meet lucky number five. LHP Garrett Davila was a very slick pick for the Royals in the fifth round. Considered a tough sign by many all spring, KC did their HW on him and knew just what it would take to get his signature on a contract. What they got for their due diligence is a possible lefthanded starter with average-ish stuff (88-92 FB, 93 peak; mid-70s CB) across the board. A little bit of growth and a more refined third pitch and you might be looking at a back-end starting pitcher in a few years.

I think it’s good club policy to target college relievers with solid stuff (86-92 FB, really good 82-84 kCB) and dynamite results (8.50 K/9 to 10.04 K/9 to 11.00 K/9 in three healthy seasons) past round fifteen or so. By that point you’re out of the top ten rounds and you’ve given yourself some time to target potential overslot prospects in the first few double-digit rounds. The Royals did just that this year in waiting until round 16 to make a play for one of college ball’s most accomplished relief pitchers. As noted above, RHP Matt Ditman (402), has had great success with a quality on-two punch of pitches and good control. He’s no spring chicken (23 already), so he’ll have to move quickly, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for a guy ready to pitch in AA at the start of next season. Love this pick.

I also like the 27th round shot on RHP Jacob Bodner. The Xavier product flashes wipeout stuff at times, but the three C’s (command, control, consistency) have kept him from much more than marginal collegiate results.

I’ve stuck with Xavier rJR RHP Jacob Bodner through the good (flashes of dominance in 2013) and the bad (consistently inconsistent control, 2014 season wiped out due to injury), so might as well stick it out to the end. At his best he has the look of a really good big league reliever, flashing a mid-90s fastball and an above-average slider. His stature (5-11, 180 pounds) will turn some teams off, but he more than makes up for his lack of physicality with some of the best athleticism of any pitcher in his class. He’s an arm strength/athleticism gamble at this point, but one I feel comfortable with considering the lack of relative upside among his Big East pitching brethren.

If he can get one of those C’s under control, he’s a prospect to keep in mind. If he fixes two, he’s the real deal. All three and he’s a no-doubter big league reliever. Easier said then done, naturally, but the talent is there.

RHP Alex Luna is identified in my notes as a “ground ball machine” thanks to a sinking fastball and impressive extension coming out of a 6-5, 200 pound frame. The pro data so far (59.15 GB%) backs it up, but he’ll have to start missing more bats to be taken more seriously as a pro prospect. LHP Andre Davis matches Luna in stature (6-6, 230 pounds), but outstrips him when it comes to velocity (upper-90s when right). It’s a beautiful thing when a SWAC player gets taken this early (8th round), so I’ve got nothing but love for Davis as a pro. If he can begin to harness his newfound crazy velo, he’s one to watch. LHP Joseph Markus matches Davis and Luna in stature (6-7, 220 pounds…and perhaps we’re seeing the start of a theme) with big stuff but little idea where it’s heading. I like that the Royals double-upped with lefthanders with big projection even though the odds of these types of college projects working out aren’t great.

RHP Daniel Concepcion has a little middle relief upside with solid stuff (88-92 FB, good CU), good size (6-4, 225), and a strong track record. LHP Mark McCoy does much of the same, but from the left side. LHP Matt Portland offers similar strengths to McCoy, but with a curveball as his primary secondary offering. LHP Jake Kalish has the goods to start for a bit, but that has as much to do with his decent yet diverse repertoire of pitches as it does with his advanced age (24 already).

One thing that jumped out to me about the Kansas City draft as I wrap this up is the willingness to look past a player’s geographical location in order to find talent. The Royals drafted players from seemingly everywhere. Whether this was a stated mission from within the front office or a happy coincidence, consider the following. The Royals first two picks were pitchers from Indiana high schools. That bit of weirdness set the tone. From there, they drafted players out of Azusa Pacific, Delta State, St. Joseph’s (IN), Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Wagner, and Hartford. Slightly more traditional baseball schools like Xavier, Old Dominion, Liberty, Florida Atlantic (two), and George Mason (two) were also on the menu. Sure, they hit up bigger universities like Rice, Texas, Northwestern (I’m stretching), Rutgers (still stretching), TCU, Michigan, Richmond, San Diego, and VCU, but they also selected seven junior college players including one straight from a Puerto Rican juco. Maybe you could do this with more teams than just the Royals — I’m far too lazy to do an exhaustive search of what team drafted the “weirdest” — but it’s an impressive collection of talent found from places big and small. That scouting staff earned their keep this year, Mike Farrell especially.

Some of the players drafted from all over that wound up on my pre-draft top 500 prospect list…

17 – Ashe Russell
67 – Tanner Stanley
76 – Josh Staumont
90 – Nolan Watson
145 – Anderson Miller
169 – Travis Maezes
238 – Ben Johnson
402 – Matt Ditman
407 – Nick Dini
495 – Cody Jones

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Conference USA 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team

Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
Charlotte SR 2B Brad Elwood
Louisiana Tech rJR SS Taylor Love
Florida International JR 3B Edwin Rios
Florida Atlantic JR OF Brendon Sanger
Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy

Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
Rice rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap

A pair of solid senior signs in John Clay Reeves (Rice) and Michael Adkins (Middle Tennessee State) highlight Conference USA’s 2015 crop of draft-eligible catchers. Reeves is a mature defender with enough pop to profile somewhere between a fringe starter or high-level backup. As an elite defender and light bat, Adkins fits the more traditional future backup catcher profile. A gamble on upside at the position could lead you to rJR C Esteban Tresgallo (UAB), a steady glove with as yet unrealized promise at the plate. The Miami transfer held his own as a freshman (.243/.335/.379 in 140 AB), but almost two years of lost developmental time make him a far bigger mystery at this point than most (maybe all) fourth-year college players. It could be a good year for Estebans in C-USA as another hitter by the same first name ranks as my favorite first base prospect in the conference. That would be rSO 1B Esteban Puerta (Florida Atlantic), a smart, patient hitter with breakout potential. He gets the nod over a thin overall group, though the power upsides of JR 1B Ryne Dean (Marshall) and SR 1B Ryan Church (Western Kentucky) are fun to dream on.

Neither SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood (Charlotte) nor SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback (Rice) experienced the breakthrough junior season that many (like me) expected in 2014. Both players seemed on the verge of finding a way to combine their steady defense, plate discipline, and emerging pop into something draft-worthy, but saw their numbers take a dive in their first year of collegiate draft-eligibility. Elwood missed a significant portion of the season due to injury, so his dip in production can be more easily explained away; the clearer explanation as to why he slumped in 2014 is partially why I have him ahead of Stainback on this list. Another more substantial reason is Elwood’s edge in power, though neither player figures to have anything but below-average power as a professional. We’re now at over 100 words on two players with utility infielder ceilings with very long roads ahead to even get to that point, so let’s call it a day and move on.

I’m a big fan of rJR SS/2B Taylor Love (Louisiana Tech) for his blend of patience, speed, defense, and sneaky pop. Along with JR SS/OF Leon Byrd (Rice), he’s probably the player with the highest probability of reaching his destiny as a big league utility infielder on the list. Byrd has a strong argument for top prospect in the middle infield group due to his plus speed and positional versatility (2B, SS, CF). He has the exact type of skill set that is easy to see working in the big leagues for years. In between Love and Byrd stands rJR SS Jason McMurray (Old Dominion), a speculative inclusion that ranks highly for the overwhelmingly positive things I’ve heard about his power/speed mix.

Then there’s SR SS Julius Gaines (Florida International), a player that ranks among the most famous in all of college baseball for those that obsessively follow this stuff as much as I assume anybody currently reading does. Gaines has been on the prospect radar for as long as my sleep-deprived mind can remember. I actually had Gaines ranked as high as fifth among all college shortstops on a mid-season shortstop follow list from last year. That’s after having him ranked fifth in the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. It should be mentioned, however, that said list turned out to be littered with busts from every angle. I don’t even know how I’d answer if somebody asked me how to retroactively rank the HS shortstops from 2011. It would go Francisco Lindor (big gap), Trevor Story (another gap), and…somebody else. Chris Mariscal, maybe? Anyway, I think a lot of what was said about Gaines back in high school holds true today…

There are about a dozen prep shortstops who can realistically lay claim to “potential big league shortstop,” a statement that is more about their defensive futures than any kind of upside at the plate. When projecting shortstops long-term, defense is king. If there is one thing we are sure Gaines can do, it’s defense. How the bat develops is a whole other story, but his range and hands at short are so good that his hit tool is almost an afterthought. Almost.

Gaines can still field, throw, and run (though not as efficiently as you’d like to see), but the jury remains out on how much upside he brings with the stick. The track record to this point suggests his bat will keep his ultimate ceiling in utility infielder territory, but a big senior season could change smart minds in a hurry. I can’t personally talk about Gaines without mentioning that he was part of what I have to believe will go down as a historically great 2011 Boston Red Sox draft class. Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart, Henry Owens, Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts were all taken within Boston’s first eight picks. Underrated and potentially useful big leaguers Travis Shaw and Noe Ramirez (also within those first eight picks) were also brought into the fold. That class also produced one of the stronger things written on this site, though I don’t personally take much credit for seeing great things ahead then as it didn’t take a genius to appreciate what the Sox were doing in real time.

I’m very curious to see what path JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios eventually takes as he embarks on a pro career. He’s a viable defensive option at third, second, or a corner outfield spot, and the ability to play all those spots could be his ticket to a long career. I’ve gotten mixed reviews on his glove at each spot as some have argued him as a third baseman only (too slow for an outfield corner, not athletic enough for second), some have said he could work as a “big second baseman,” and others have lobbied for him moving out of the dirt entirely in order to fast track a bat that they believe in more than most. I’d send him out as a primary third baseman for now, but not before working him out at second to see what he’s got going on at the keystone up close. The bat should play quite nicely at either infield spot; so much so, in fact, that the argument that he could even profile as an average or better hitter as a left fielder is not without merit. Rios has many fans who swear by his hit tool and raw physical strength, but I’m a little hesitant (as always) to prop up a guy with so much swing-and-miss to his game. If Rios can clean up his approach a bit, then he could find himself in the top five round mix as a power bat with the chance to play an important defensive position. If not, then he’ll fall back into the much larger collection of big power/questionable approach hitters who may be a good pro hitting instructor away from figuring it out or…not. I lean towards the former since I’m a sunny optimist (and, more honestly, because a lot of smart people I know have vouched for Rios blowing up this year), so stay tuned.

Rios’ teammate at Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson is a pretty darn solid ballplayer in his own right. I’d actually go so far as to call him one of my favorite under-the-radar prospects in college ball and a potential high-level senior sign come June. He’s a natural born hitter with average raw power, average defense at third, above-average athleticism and a really strong arm. I haven’t seen or read anything about this, so consider it entirely my own speculation but I wonder if a team might draft him somewhere between rounds six to ten with the dual purpose of saving a little bit of money and stealing an undervalued asset who could be a prime candidate to convert to catching. Anderson is already 22, so maybe he’s past the age when a difficult position switch makes sense – calling a 22-year old “past the age…” when I’m 10 months short of 30 pains me, if you were wondering – but the physical profile, current defense skill set, and makeup all add up to a potentially very rewarding gamble. A player who has made the opposite move over the years, but should still receive draft consideration as a senior sign is SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell (Louisiana Tech). The former acclaimed high school catcher has had a career that oddly parallels the aforementioned Julius Gaines. Both Kimbell and Gaines went from serious high school prospects to big fish in relatively small ponds (no offense intended towards FIU and La Tech) before underwhelming on the whole during their time at school despite showing flashes of what made them so highly sought after once upon a time. Like Gaines, the quick report on Kimbell from high school holds true today…

Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.

I’d most like to see a team go all-in on Kimbell one way or another. If that means moving him back behind the plate and doing whatever possible to make catching work for him, so be it. If it means fully embracing his weird but wonderful defensive profile (C, 1B/3B, LF/RF), then even better. Interestingly enough, the two names below Kimbell on this list could experience similar professional fates. JR 3B PJ Higgins and rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino (Old Dominion, both) are both multi-talented defenders capable of playing a variety of spots around the diamond. Higgins is the closer comparison as he’s seen as a potential C/2B/3B/OF at the next level. Lustrino is more of an infielder at present, but I’ve heard from interested observers who saw him dating back to his Temple days that he could be an interesting catching conversion project if he finds a team willing to take a risk on him.

SR OF Connor Barron completes the triumvirate of top notch high school prospects from 2011 turned last chance senior sign types in 2015. Barron, like Julius Gaines and Bre’Shon Kimbell before him, was a high school prospect that everybody knew and loved. He was a primary shortstop back in the day who just so happened to fall one spot behind Gaines on the 2011 HS shortstop rankings. Back then I’m fairly sure I was the low man on him out of just about anybody, but that was mostly the byproduct of me getting to him as a prospect kind of late and having less information on him than most of his peers. Here’s the old report…

It is easy to see why Barron has been one of the draft’s fastest risers this spring. He has great speed, a strong arm, and a big league frame that makes projecting his bat an easy relative to many of his draft class peers. The Reid Brignac comps are popular, and with good reason.

There were two truly embarrassing typos in the three quoted sentences above. Both were legitimate typing errors rather than me being an ungood writing guy, but still. I debated on whether to leave them or not before deciding to save myself some shame by fixing them. ANYWAY. Barron remains as tooled-up as ever, but the results to date have simply not been good. All those who saw him this past summer came away encouraged, so there’s hope yet that he’ll fulfill at least some of the promise he showed as a teen. Right now he’s the classic do-everything player who literally can do it all as a ballplayer….except hit. Years of experience following baseball has me convinced that – you might want to sit down for this revelation – hitting is a really, really important part of the game. If Barron’s progress is real, watch out. If not, then I think the smart thing to do is to spend a little time appreciating how fantastic an athlete he is while also contemplating how even athletes in the top .001% of the country’s population can struggle with a skill that I maintain is the hardest repeatable act in sport. Hitting is really, really hard. Anthony Hewitt, a plus-plus athlete with all-world makeup, defines this line of thought perfectly. Reflecting on this is what makes baseball such a great game.

JR OF/2B Brandon Sanger (Florida Atlantic) is a lot of fun to watch as a hitter. He’s a high-contact bat with above-average raw power and average or better speed. Beyond that, Sanger is the kind of player that is tough for me to write about because he’s just so darn well-rounded that his game borders on boring at times. He gets on base so often that you begin to take for granted his outstanding plate discipline. He wears out the gaps as well as almost any other hitter in the country. If he could be counted on playing average or better defense at second base professionally – and I’m not ruling this out, but hedging my bets with the corner outfield projection because that’s what people who have seen him more than I have recommended – then he’d be at or near the top of my list of “Why are we not including this guy among the nation’s best position player prospects?” players. As a corner outfielder he’s a little less exciting, but still one of my favorite bats to watch this spring.

If you’ve read previous lists, you might have come to realize that I don’t fear recent transfers who haven’t proven anything at the D1 level. The fact that this list features JR OF Roman Collins (Florida Atlantic) and JR OF Ronnie Jebavy (Middle Tennessee State) in the all-prospect outfield should reinforce the point. Collins is a guy who falls out of bed ready to hit each morning. I don’t doubt that his big raw power will continue to play against more advanced arms. Jebavy is best known for his extreme athleticism, speed, arm strength, and center field range. Both players haven’t done it on the big stage yet, but have shown enough ability over the years to earn their spot here.

Rice has some pitching. Let’s get that out of the way first. The rest of the conference has some quality arms – JR RHP Brock Hartson (Texas-San Antonio), JR RHP Kyle Miller (Florida Atlantic), rSO LHP Dylan Munger (UAB), and rSO RHP Gianni Zayas (Florida International) stand out as favorites – but it’s still Rice’s world and every other pitching staff is playing for second. SO RHP Jon Duplantier (Rice) has all the elements of a big league starting pitcher: size (6-4, 210), arm speed (87-94 FB, 95 peak), a varied and effective offspeed mix (good CU and CB, average but improving SL), and developing command. His control is the only thing at this point holding him back. rJR RHP Jordan Stephens (Rice) doesn’t have that problem, but instead faces questions about his return from Tommy John surgery and his relative lack of size and physicality (6-1, 185 pounds). If his curve finds its way back as he returns to full health, he’s got a shot to overtake Duplantier as the conference’s highest drafted arm. rFR RHP Andrew Dunlap (Rice) makes up for his lack of height (5-11, 210 pounds) and relative inexperience on the mound with a blazing fastball (lives mid-90s, 97-98 peak) that has proven unusually difficult to square up. rJR RHP Matt Ditman (Rice) doesn’t bring the same heat (upper-80s, mostly), but consistently has put up video game numbers (10.04 K/9 and 1.57 BB/9 with a 1.83 ERA in 68 IP last year) while leaning on a nasty spike-curve. A little bit further down the list are JR LHP Blake Fox (Rice) and JR RHP Kevin McCanna (Rice), a pair of pitchers that fit the textbook definition of “crafty” (mid-to upper-80s FB, offspeed pitches for days, love to work backwards, stellar command) down to the letter. SR RHP Trevor Teykl (Rice) is the last Owl listed, but there’s really no shame in that since he’d be many schools’ top 2015 pitching prospect. His size (6-7, 225 pounds), fastball (88-92), and results (8.54 K/9 and 1.62 BB/9 in 77 IP) all reflect well on his pro prospects.

Lighting round for the non-Rice arms of note! Hartson has an outstanding mid-80s changeup and overall profile that reminds me some of my old favorite Nick Tropeano. JR RHP Seth McGarry (Florida Atlantic) should be a quick-moving reliever with his power stuff (mid-90s FB, 97 peak and plus low-80s SL). Miller is a two-way player who hasn’t pitched a ton but has a fresh arm, plenty of athleticism, and has flashes a legit fastball (mid-90s) when given a shot. Munger is another crafty lefty with a good frame and really strong first year numbers. Zayas might be a little lost in the shuffle as an incoming transfer from NC State, but the possibility of three above-average or better pitches with solid command is in play.

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting 

  1. Florida Atlantic JR OF/2B Brendon Sanger
  2. Florida Atlantic JR OF Roman Collins
  3. Florida International JR 3B/2B Edwin Rios
  4. Middle Tennessee State JR OF Ronnie Jebavy
  5. Florida International rSR 3B Josh Anderson
  6. Western Kentucky JR OF/LHP Anderson Miller
  7. Louisiana Tech rJR SS/2B Taylor Love
  8. Rice SR C John Clay Reeves
  9. Old Dominion rJR SS Jason McMurray
  10. Rice JR SS/OF Leon Byrd
  11. Florida International SR SS Julius Gaines
  12. Southern Mississippi SR OF Connor Barron
  13. Florida Atlantic JR OF Christian Dicks
  14. Southern Mississippi JR 3B/1B Chase Scott
  15. Louisiana Tech SR 3B/1B Bre’shon Kimbell
  16. Old Dominion SR OF/1B Taylor Ostrich
  17. Western Kentucky SR SS Cody Wofford
  18. Middle Tennessee State SR C/RHP Michael Adkins
  19. UAB rJR C Esteban Tresgallo
  20. Florida International SR OF/1B Brian Portelli
  21. Old Dominion JR 3B PJ Higgins
  22. Old Dominion rJR 3B/SS Nick Lustrino
  23. Charlotte SR 2B/OF Brad Elwood
  24. Rice SR 2B/SS Ford Stainback
  25. Rice SR OF/1B Kirby Taylor
  26. Florida Atlantic SR SS Ricky Santiago
  27. Charlotte SR SS Derek Gallelo
  28. Florida Atlantic rSO 1B Esteban Puerta
  29. Marshall JR 1B Ryne Dean
  30. Western Kentucky SR 1B Ryan Church
  31. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Austin Bryant
  32. Western Kentucky rSR C Ryan Messex
  33. UAB JR C Mitch Williams
  34. Southern Mississippi SR C Austin Roussel
  35. Middle Tennessee State SR SS Dustin Delgado
  36. Southern Mississippi JR SS/1B Tim Lynch

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching

  1. Rice SO RHP Jon Duplantier
  2. Rice rJR RHP Jordan Stephens
  3. Texas-San Antonio JR RHP Brock Hartson
  4. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Seth McGarry
  5. Rice rFR RHP/C Andrew Dunlap
  6. Rice rJR RHP Matt Ditman
  7. Florida Atlantic JR RHP Kyle Miller
  8. UAB rSO LHP Dylan Munger
  9. Rice JR LHP Blake Fox
  10. Rice JR RHP Kevin McCanna
  11. Middle Tennessee State SR LHP Johnathan Frebis
  12. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP/OF Heath Slatton
  13. Marshall JR RHP Chase Boster
  14. Rice SR RHP Trevor Teykl
  15. Southern Mississippi SR RHP Christian Talley
  16. Southern Mississippi rJR LHP Cody Livingston
  17. Marshall rSR RHP Kolin Stanley
  18. Marshall JR RHP Michael Taylor
  19. Florida International rSO RHP Gianni Zayas
  20. Middle Tennessee State JR RHP Garrett Ring
  21. Middle Tennessee State rSR RHP Keaton Baker
  22. Southern Mississippi rJR RHP/3B James McMahon
  23. Florida International JR LHP Brandon Diaz
  24. Middle Tennessee State rJR LHP Brandon Zajac
  25. Rice JR RHP Ryan McCarthy
  26. Charlotte JR RHP Brandon Casas
  27. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Drew Jackson
  28. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Cody Mizelle
  29. Charlotte rSO LHP Sean Geoghegan
  30. Charlotte JR RHP Micah Wells
  31. Florida Atlantic SR RHP Reily Monkman
  32. Florida Atlantic rSR LHP Bo Logan
  33. Marshall JR LHP Sam Hunter
  34. Rice JR RHP Austin Orewiler
  35. UAB SR RHP Alex Luna