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AJ Puk

(I originally wrote JA Puk in the title before noticing it and correcting it shortly before posting. That’s unremarkable except for the fact that I recently was given a Pirates JA Happ as a stylistic comp for Puk — more fastballs, more sliders/less curves, more changeups — that I had completely forgotten about until I made that typo. Funny how the brain works sometimes…)

I’ve been tough on AJ Puk in the past, but I think I’m finally ready to give in. I’m at peace with him being the first overall pick in this year’s draft. I mean, we all knew the Phillies were all over him going back to when Pat Gillick went south down to Gainesville to watch him throw during fall ball, but only know am I ready to accept it as a good thing. Or, perhaps more accurately, I can now accept it at least as a non-bad thing. This was written here back in October…

If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

(It’s pretty great for Phillies fans that they can now swap out Giles’s name for Velasquez, Appel, and Eshelman. I’ve saved this analysis for friends and family I like to annoy with this sort of thing via email, but there are so many Cubs/Phillies rebuild parallels that it’s freaky. The only bummer is that there is no Kris Bryant in this class and that the Phillies might be too good in 2016 to land a Kyle Schwarber type next June. Still, where the Cubs were last year, I expect the Phillies to be in 2018. Enjoy this down time while you can, Mets and Nationals. The Phillies are coming fast.)

Now that May is here it’s time to accept the inevitability of Puk wearing red pinstripes…or, more immediately, Clearwater Thresher red and blue. I’ve long been in the “like but not love” camp when it comes to Puk, partly because of my belief there were superior talents ahead of him in this class and partly because of the handful of red flags that dot his dossier. The three biggest knocks on Puk coming into the season were, in some order, 1) command, 2) inconsistent quality of offspeed offerings, and 3) good but not great athleticism. It says a lot about what he does well that he’s risen as a prospect in my mind despite not really answering any of the questions we had for him coming into the season. All of this has held up so far…

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

I’ll be quick to point out again that it says “prospect version of Madison Bumgarner” without speaking to what the San Francisco ace grew into as a finished product in the big leagues. Bumgarner is a kind of special player who just kept adding on and getting better as he progressed up the chain. That’s not something that you can predict for any other prospect, though you can’t really rule it out either. You don’t know either way, is the point. Putting Bumgarner aside for now, I think there are two recent-ish draft lefthanders that can help create a basis for what to expect out of AJ Puk in the early stages of his pro career. In terms of a realistic prospect upside, Puk reminds me a great deal of recently promoted big league pitcher Sean Manaea.

Their deliveries are hardly identical – Puk is more over the top while Manaea slings it from more of an angle, plus Puk has a more pronounced step-back with his right foot at the onset and a longer stride, both aspects of his delivery that I personally like as it gives him better balance throughout – but they aren’t so different that you’d point to mechanics as a reason for tossing the comparison aside. They have similar stuff starting with fastballs close in velocity and movement (Puk has been 90-94 this year, up to 97), inconsistent yet promising low- to mid-80s sliders that flash above-average to plus (82-86 and more frequently showing above-average this year for Puk), and changeups still in need of development that clearly would be classified as distant third pitches (Puk’s has been 82-88 so far). Both have missed a lot of bats while also having their ups and downs in the control department with Puk being better at the former while Manaea maintained a slight edge at the latter. Both are also very well-proportioned, physical lefthanders with intimidating size with which they know how to use to their advantage.

A cautionary comparison for Puk might be current Mariners minor leaguer James Paxton. Paxton and Puk are closer mechanically – more similar with the height of their leg kick and overall arm action, though Paxton is more deliberate across the board — than Manaea and Puk, but the big difference between the former SEC lefthander and the current SEC lefthander is the breaking ball. Paxton’s bread and butter is a big overhand curve, a pitch that remains unhittable to this day when he can command it. Puk’s slider has its moments and it’s fair to expect it to develop into a true big league out-pitch (I do), but it’s not quite on that level yet. Paxton’s career has stalled for many of the same reasons some weren’t particularly high on Puk coming into the season: up and down fastball velocity partly attributable to a series of nagging injuries (also a problem of Manaea’s at times), an underdeveloped changeup, and consistently inconsistent command. I think Puk is ahead of where Paxton was at similar points in their development and prefer his ceiling to what we’ve seen out of Paxton to date, but the realistic floor comp remains in play.

One additional notable (or not) similarity between Puk, Manaea, Paxton, and Sean Newcomb, a fourth player often thrown into the mix as a potential Puk point of reference (it’s not bad, but Newcomb’s control issues are greater than anything Puk has dealt with), comes via each player’s respective hometown. We’ve got Cedar Rapids (IA), Valparaiso (IN), Ladner (BC), and Brockton (MA). That’s two raised in the Midwest, one in Canada, and one in New England. When you start to piece everything together, the similar career trajectories for each young pitcher (so far) begin to make some sense. All come from cold weather locales, all are large men with long limbs (thus making coordinating said limbs more of a challenge), and all are lefthanders, a fact that may or may not matter to you depending on your view of whether or not lefties really do develop later than their righthanded counterparts.

Put me down for a realistic Sean Manaea type of upside, a James Paxton floor, and the crazy pipe dream where literally everything works out developmentally ceiling of Madison Bumgarner. Do those potential career paths add up to a 1-1 draft pick? I’m not sure I have a good answer for that yet.

I think it is fair to say that the Puk to Philadelphia movement is propped up in part by the simple notion that somebody has to go first in this draft. There’s an undeniable element of winning the 1-1 race by default at play here – some players have risen to at least get their names in the conversation, but, no matter how much I’ve tried to will it to happen, that obvious 1-1 player does not yet exist in this class – so that should be something taken into consideration when putting Puk’s potential pro prospect status in context. You won’t be able to look at him as being the kind of slam dunk impact talent that many expect to see at the top of a major sport’s draft board, but perhaps that expectation shouldn’t exist for the baseball draft in the first place. My first two drafts with this site active had true “can’t miss” guys in Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, but has any draft from 2011 to the present day really had a first overall pick that felt like a sure thing? Maybe Brady Aiken in 2014, but that’s a hard claim to put on a high school pitcher by definition. Carlos Rodon, the third pick that year, felt surer, but even he had a draft season when he was picked apart for things such as fastball command, a dip in velocity, an underdeveloped changeup, average athleticism, and spotty control. Hey, am I nuts or are do those concerns remind you of anybody from this class? Kris Bryant was absolutely that guy in 2013, but the Astros confused us all by going with Mark Appel in the top spot. Carlos Correa, the actual 1-1 in 2012, was pretty close to that level, as was Lucas Giolito, the number two prospect even with the injury red flag (behind Correa) on my board. Both were high school prospects with at least some doubt – health for Giolito, slightly underscouted summer and spring for Correa – so I could go either way on them. You could argue for Gerrit Cole in 2011 as well, but there’s a little bit of hindsight bias there as he’s closer to a present day Puk as a college prospect than many want to remember. Not that I’m the one true authority on these things, but I actually had Anthony Rendon ahead of Cole in that class, so that’s a potential argument against Cole being a clear-cut number one from day one.

Long stroll through recent draft history short, I don’t think the fact we have uncertainty at the top of this year’s draft is all that rare. Puk might feel a bit underwhelming, but that’s selling his flashes of dominance on the mound short. When he’s right, he’s a worthy 1-1 pick. He’s got a big fastball he can lean on through skillful adding and subtracting, a slider that he can throw for strikes or bury depending on the situation, and a good enough changeup that keeps hitters from sitting on the breaking ball. Getting him right more consistently and for longer stretches of time will be the challenges he and his pro developmental staff will have to overcome.

(For as much as I’ve come around on Puk, I still think Jay Groome is the best prospect in this class and the closest thing to the classic 1-1 type available.)

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2016 MLB Draft Follow Lists – WAC

Brick Paskiewicz is one of college baseball’s best all-around players. There’s very little that he’s incapable of on the field. As a hitter, he flashes power, makes a lot of contact, and has an advanced approach. As a fielder, he’s well above-average in center with special athleticism, above-average to plus speed, and a strong arm. As a pitcher, he’s been up to 95 with his fastball (88-93 with serious sink otherwise) and can spot an average slider with above-average upside where he wants. Some I’ve checked with prefer him on the mound as a future athletic reliever with as yet untapped potential, but I’ll stick with him as a potential regular in center with continued growth as a hitter. His two-way college profile reminds me some of another old favorite, Louie Lechich, so a similar rise for Paskiewicz (Lechich was a sixth rounder) wouldn’t surprise me one bit. He’s good.

It’s fairly well-established by now that this year’s college shortstop class isn’t good. I’m about as positive a guy as you’ll find willing to do this for free and even I’ll admit that. That said…there are way more mid-major and small school types that can a) probably stay at shortstop in the pros, and b) hit frozen ropes even when dragged out of bed to do so. Paul Panaccione is one of the best of those types. In drafting Panaccione, you’d be getting a steadying influence in the middle infield, a hitter with a very clear plan with every trip to the plate, and an all-around solid performer with an increasingly intriguing track record of getting it done at the college level. Griffin Andreychuk, Brandon Greiger, and Ryan Yamane are all middle infielders that could wind up as similarly worthwhile mid- to late-round depth picks this June. Andreychuck, a prospect good enough that I took the time to think about and then commit the spelling of his name to memory, is the most similar to Panaccione and a threat to overtake him as the best shortstop prospect in the conference by year’s end. Greiger, a standout junior college transfer coming off a decent .478/.563/.701 (42 BB/30 K) season at New Mexico JC, has something to prove at New Mexico State. Early reports from fall ball were encouraging, so I’m bullish…and that’s even with the knowledge that his crazy 2015 stats don’t look quite as nice when viewed through the context of his team’s cumulative .377/.466/.613 batting line. Yamane has plenty to prove in his own right after injuries limited him to just 55 AB – very effective ones, it should be noted – last season. He’s more second baseman than shortstop, so that’ll have to be taken under consideration as well.

Beyond Paskiewicz and Panaccione, there’s a third Grand Canyon prospect I like a lot: catcher Josh Meyer. There’s really no getting around the fact that Meyer’s ranking is really aggressive considering his dreadful 2015 performance. The memory of his strong 2014 and really positive scouting notes (above-average defender in all phases, strong arm, very physical) prop up his prospect stock, but I could see why others may not give him the same pass for his recent struggles.

Yet another Grand Canyon prospect stands right there with Zach Muckenhirn as the WAC’s top pitching prospect. We’re talking about no other than Andrew Naderer. Both Muckenhirn and Naderer live mostly in the upper-80s – Muckenhirn can hit 92 and Naderer tops out at 90 – with average changeups that flash better, stellar overall command, and pitchability beyond their years. The two are very close as prospects since both do certain things particularly well. For Muckenhirn it’s his better by a hair change and fastball velocity, plus his unusually high baseball intelligence. Naderer wins with outstanding fastball movement and a developing cutter that has my attention. You really can’t go wrong with either as long as you keep your expectations (matchup reliever with a chance to keep starting as a crafty lefty) in check.

If more velocity is what you want, then check out Brett DeGagne’, Justin Dillon, Danny Beddes, and Matt Gorgolinski. Clocking in at a mere 6-4, 225 pounds, Dillon is the smallest of that quartet with the lowest peak fastball velocity (94 MPH) to boot…but he makes up for those “deficiencies” by being the only one of the four without present control issues. The door is open for any of those hard throwers – we could include the trio from New Mexico State (Joe Galindo, Marcel Renteria, Brett Worthen) who all can hit at least 94 – to wind up the highest drafted arm from the conference this June.

(I can’t mention the Western Athletic Conference without mentioning the “real” WAC. There’s not much of an online presence, so forgive the outdated flyer. Great league, great cause, great volunteers running the show.)

Hitters

  1. Grand Canyon JR OF/RHP Brick Paskiewicz
  2. Grand Canyon SR SS Paul Panaccione
  3. Seattle JR SS Griffin Andreychuk
  4. Grand Canyon JR C Josh Meyer
  5. New Mexico State SR SS Brandon Greiger
  6. Northern Colorado rSR 2B/SS Ryan Yamane
  7. Cal State Bakersfield JR 2B/OF David Metzgar
  8. Utah Valley State SR 1B/OF Mark Krueger
  9. Seattle SR 2B/SS Sheldon Stober
  10. Texas Rio Grande Valley SR OF Cole Loncar
  11. Sacramento State rSO OF Andrew McWilliam
  12. New Mexico State JR OF Daniel Johnson
  13. Sacramento State rSR OF/1B Chris Lewis
  14. Northern Colorado rSO 3B/OF Cole Maltese
  15. Cal State Bakersfield JR 2B/RHP Max Carter
  16. Chicago State rJR SS Julian Russell
  17. New Mexico State JR OF Greg Popylisen
  18. Texas Rio Grande Valley JR 1B Victor Garcia
  19. Utah Valley State SR OF Craig Brinkerhoff
  20. Sacramento State JR C Gunner Pollman
  21. Texas Rio Grande Valley JR C Jose Garcia
  22. Seattle JR 3B Brock Carpenter
  23. Grand Canyon SR OF Brandon Smith
  24. New Mexico State SR OF Cameron Haskins
  25. Seattle rJR 2B Cash McGuire

Pitchers

  1. North Dakota JR LHP Zach Muckenhirn
  2. Grand Canyon SR LHP Andrew Naderer
  3. North Dakota SR RHP Brett DeGagne’
  4. Sacramento State rJR RHP Justin Dillon
  5. Utah Valley State JR RHP Danny Beddes
  6. Sacramento State rSO RHP Matt Gorgolinski
  7. Grand Canyon rSR RHP Jorge Perez
  8. Sacramento State JR LHP Sam Long
  9. New Mexico State JR RHP Joe Galindo
  10. New Mexico State JR RHP Marcel Renteria
  11. New Mexico State JR RHP Brett Worthen
  12. Sacramento State SR RHP Tyler Beardsley
  13. Northern Colorado rSO RHP Connor Leedholm
  14. Seattle SR RHP Ted Hammond
  15. Seattle rJR LHP Connor Moore
  16. Texas Rio Grande Valley JR RHP Andrew Garcia
  17. Utah Valley State JR LHP Patrick Wolfe
  18. North Dakota JR LHP Brandon Radmacher
  19. Sacramento State JR RHP Max Karnos
  20. Cal State Bakersfield SR RHP/OF Chance Gusbeth
  21. Grand Canyon SR LHP Travis Garcia-Perreira
  22. Grand Canyon SR LHP Jaren Drummond
  23. Grand Canyon JR LHP Zebastian Valenzuela
  24. North Dakota JR LHP Ellery Breshnahan
  25. Texas Rio Grande Valley SR LHP Matt Rigby

Cal State Bakersfield

rSR RHP AJ Monarrez (2016)
JR LHP Alec Daily (2016)
SR RHP/OF Chance Gusbeth (2016)
JR 2B/RHP Max Carter (2016)
JR 2B/OF David Metzgar (2016)
JR OF/3B Ryan Grotjohn (2016)
JR 3B Joey Sanchez (2016)
SO OF Drew Seelman (2017)
SO OF Jarrett Veiga (2017)

High Priority Follows: AJ Monarrez, Chance Gusbeth, Max Carter, David Metzgar, Ryan Grotjohn, Joey Sanchez

Chicago State

rJR SS Julian Russell (2016)
SR OF Andy Gertonson (2016)
JR 2B Sanford Hunt (2016)
SO C Cody Freund (2017)
FR Cody Grosse (2018)

High Priority Follows: Julian Russell

Grand Canyon

SR LHP Andrew Naderer (2016)
SR LHP Travis Garcia-Perreira (2016)
SR RHP Cameron Brendel (2016)
SR LHP Jaren Drummond (2016)
rSO LHP Ethan Evanko (2016)
rSR RHP Jorge Perez (2016)
JR LHP Zebastian Valenzuela (2016)
JR OF/RHP Brick Paskiewicz (2016)
JR C Josh Meyer (2016)
SR OF Brandon Smith (2016)
SR SS Paul Panaccione (2016)
rSR 2B Krysthian Leal (2016)
JR OF Brian Kraft (2016)
JR OF Matt Haggerty (2016)
SO LHP Jake Repavich (2017)
SO RHP Mick Vorhof (2017)
SO OF Thomas Lerouge (2017)
SO OF Garrison Schwartz (2017)
SO INF Greg Saenz (2017)
SO 3B/SS Ben Mauseth (2017)
FR RHP/SS Tyler Wyatt (2018)
FR SS Marc Mumper (2018)
FR 1B/OF Zach Malis (2018)

High Priority Follows: Andrew Naderer, Travis Garcia-Perreira, Cameron Brendel, Jaren Drummond, Jorge Perez, Zebastian Valenzuela, Brick Paskiewicz, Josh Meyer, Brandon Smith, Paul Panaccione, Brian Kraft

New Mexico State

JR RHP Joe Galindo (2016)
JR RHP Brett Worthen (2016)
JR RHP Marcel Renteria (2016)
JR SS/RHP LJ Hatch (2016)
SR 1B Joseph Koerper (2016)
SR OF Cameron Haskins (2016)
JR OF Daniel Johnson (2016)
JR OF Greg Popylisen (2016)
SR SS Brandon Greiger (2016)
JR C Chad Reibenspies (2016)
SR SS/OF Jay Sheeley (2016)
FR FR LHP Steven Butts (2018)
FR RHP/SS Alex Reyes (2018)
FR SS Roman Trujillo (2018)

Whole new team –three are only returnees

High Priority Follows: Joe Galindo, Brett Worthen, Marcel Renteria, Joseph Koerper, Cameron Haskins, Daniel Johnson, Greg Popylisen, Brandon Greiger

North Dakota

JR LHP Zach Muckenhirn (2016)
SR RHP Brett DeGagne’ (2016)
JR LHP Ellery Breshnahan (2016)
JR LHP Brandon Radmacher (2016)
SR SS Daniel Lockhert (2016)
SO OF Brett Harrison (2017)
rFR OF/C Miles Lewis (2017)

High Priority Follows: Zach Muckenhirn, Brett DeGagne’, Ellery Breshnahan, Brandon Radmacher

Northern Colorado

SR RHP Spencer Applebach (2016)
rSO RHP Connor Leedholm (2016)
JR LHP/OF Nick Tanner (2016)
JR OF Dan Reese (2016)
JR C Jake Garcia (2016)
rSO 3B/OF Cole Maltese (2016)
rSR 2B/SS Ryan Yamane (2016)
SO RHP Justin Mulvaney (2017)
SO C Payton Tapia (2017)
SO 1B Marco Castilla (2017)
FR OF Cam Huber (2018)

High Priority Follows: Connor Leedholm, Cole Maltese, Ryan Yamane

Sacramento State

rSO RHP Matt Gorgolinski (2016)
JR RHP Max Karnos (2016)
SR RHP Tyler Beardsley (2016)
rJR RHP Justin Dillon (2016)
SR RHP Grant Kukuk (2016)
JR RHP Austin Ragsdale (2016)
JR LHP Sam Long (2016)
JR RHP Chad Perry (2016)
rSR OF/1B Chris Lewis (2016)
rSO OF Andrew McWilliam (2016)
SR SS Trent Goodrich (2016)
JR 2B Brandon Hunley (2016)
JR INF Kody Reynolds (2016)
JR C Gunner Pollman (2016)
SO SS PJ Floyd (2017)
SO 3B Devin Lehman (2017)
SO 1B Vinny Esposito (2017)
FR OF Matt Smith (2018)
FR C James Outman (2018)

High Priority Follows: Matt Gorgolinski, Max Karnos, Tyler Beardsley, Justin Dillon, Grant Kukuk, Sam Long, Chris Lewis, Andrew McWilliam, Gunnar Pollman

Seattle

SR RHP Ted Hammond (2016)
rSR RHP Grant Gunning (2016)
rJR LHP Connor Moore (2016)
JR 3B Brock Carpenter (2016)
SR 2B/SS Sheldon Stober (2016)
rJR 2B Cash McGuire (2016)
JR C/1B Mike McCann (2016)
JR SS Griffin Andreychuk (2016)
SO LHP Nick Meservey (2017)
SO LHP Tarik Skubal (2017)
SO RHP Janson Junk (2017)
SO RHP Ryan Freitas (2017)
SO OF Dalton Hurd (2017)
SO INF Sean Sutton (2017)
FR SS Chase Ridder (2018)
FR RHP Zach Wolf (2018)
FR LHP Tyler Oldenberg (2018)
FR OF Jeffrey Morgan (2018)
FR C/OF Kyler Murphy (2018)

High Priority Follows: Ted Hammond, Connor Moore, Brock Carpenter, Sheldon Stober, Cash McGuire, Mike McCann, Griffin Andreychuk

Texas Rio Grande Valley

JR RHP Andrew Padron (2016)
SR LHP Matt Rigby (2016)
JR RHP Eddie Delgado (2016)
JR RHP Andrew Garcia (2016)
SR OF Cole Loncar (2016)
JR 1B Victor Garcia (2016)
JR C Jose Garcia (2016)
SR OF Correy Davis (2016)
SO RHP Robert Quinonez (2017)
SO RHP Ryan Jackson (2017)
SO RHP Johnny Gonzalez (2017)
FR RHP Pablo Ortiz (2018)

High Priority Follows: Matt Rigby, Andrew Garcia, Cole Loncar, Victor Garcia, Jose Garcia

Utah Valley State

JR RHP Danny Beddes (2016)
JR LHP Patrick Wolfe (2016)
JR RHP Matt Davidson (2016)
JR RHP Eric Olguin (2016)
SR 1B/OF Mark Krueger (2016)
SR OF Craig Brinkerhoff (2016)
SR 2B/SS Greyson Bogden (2016)
SR 1B Spencer Gothberg (2016)
SO LHP Jackson Cofer (2017)
SO RHP Evan Fresquez (2017)
SO C Jake Atkinson (2017)
FR 2B Paul Estrada (2018)

High Priority Follows: Danny Beddes, Patrick Wolfe, Matt Davidson, Eric Olguin, Mark Krueger, Craig Brinkerhoff

2015 MLB Draft Reviews – San Diego Padres

San Diego Padres 2015 MLB Draft Picks

I’m pretty sure I’ve made this (obvious) observation before, but there’s a big gap between the college game, especially at the non-D1 level, and pro baseball. The example of C Austin Allen (219) stands out. For me, there’s no surer way to convince somebody of the difficulty of pro ball than to point to the sometimes comical discrepancies between collegiate draft numbers and pro debuts. Allen went from hitting a somewhat decent .421/.473/.728 at Florida Tech to a less impressive .240/.315/.332 in the Northwest League. That’s not a knock on Allen in the slightest, by the way: though those raw stats don’t blow you away, it’s still fair to say he held his own while making a really big transition (on and off the field), plus any and all of his offensive production should be viewed through the prism of a hitter also starting 51 games behind the plate at a position he’s still learning the finer points of how to play. The defensive part is key, as getting as many reps donning the tools of ignorance should be the biggest point of emphasis early on in Allen’s pro development.

A second (obvious) observation: Allen’s upside (average or better hit, plus power, adequate catcher defense) is monstrous. There’s obviously a large gap between what the D-2 catcher/first baseman is and what he could be, but it’s a pretty clear all-star ceiling if it all works. There are worse ideas than bringing in such a boom/bust prospect in the fourth round.

Remember what I said about pro ball being trickier than college ball? C AJ Kennedy begs to differ. Kennedy went from hitting .171/.263/.217 (17 BB/42 K) in 152 junior year at bats at Cal State Fullerton (and .178/.268/.205 the year before) to hitting .276/.337/.345 (7 BB/16 K) in 100 PA against professional pitching. Does that make any sense to anybody out there outside of the San Diego front office or am I the crazy one? Either way, the bat doesn’t matter nearly as much as his outstanding defensive promise behind the dish. When the name Austin Hedges begins getting thrown out as a reference point for a guy’s all-around defensive game, you take notice. Kennedy could reach the big leagues as a backup backstop exclusively on his glove, arm, and mobility alone. I knocked the Danny De la Calle (a somewhat similar profile) pick by Tampa, so highlighting the clear difference in draft resource expenditures (30th round for Kennedy, 9th round for De la Calle) should clear up why I could not like one pick and approve the another. You take the defense-first potential backup in the thirtieth round all day.

(My pre-draft blurb on Kennedy: “plus defender; plus pitch-framer; strong arm; bag is a major question.” Probably one of my finer typos to date. I, for one, still have pretty major questions about Kennedy’s bag. Though now that I think of how that could be interpreted, I rescind my questions and hope only that he keeps his bag safely ensconced behind properly fitting protective gear. Also of note, his HS scouting blurb: “true plus arm; defensive tools are there, but needs reps; questionable upside with bat; swing needs work as it gets too long.” Typo aside, I love it when those things sync up over time.)

It’s cool to see the Padres give C Kyle Overstreet a shot behind the plate as a pro. Even if the Alabama second baseman doesn’t wind up a catcher full-time, the added defensive versatility will give his overall professional outlook a boost. I still think the bat might be a bit too light to call him much more than an org player at this point, but it’s a creative path for a player that many considered a worthy positional swap candidate while still a member of the Tide.

JR 2B Kyle Overstreet is the third Alabama position player with a shot to get drafted. He’s got decent power, a decent approach, and the chance to be a useful bench bat if used properly, especially if he can occasionally handle work behind the plate as speculated.

1B Brad Zunica is a big boy with big power and more feel for hitting than most big boys with big power. Getting a teenager with his pedigree in the fifteenth round is robbery. The fall of 3B Ty France (365) is equally odd. Getting a player as talented as France (365) in the 34th round confuses me, but I highly doubt the San Diego front office minds. As I mentioned pre-draft (below), few under-the-radar college players elicited as many unsolicited responses as France this spring. People who love hitting just wanted to talk about the guy.

San Diego State JR 3B Ty France has one of the draft’s most underrated bats, especially when his natural feel for hitting and functional strength (and subsequent power) are considered. Guys who really get excited about watching a young player swing at bat well come away raving about what France can do at the plate. I haven’t seen enough of him to get that feeling (also: I’m not a scout), but hearing it as often as I have from people who have been around the game forever definitely gets my attention.

The Padres played him almost exclusively at first base this summer (all but one start), so I’m unclear of their long-term intentions with his glove. I admittedly don’t have much to add to the conversation of his defensive future, but, man, getting a guy who can swing it like him with pick 1017 is a major scouting win. And he’s a local product to boot! Maybe one day we’ll see a Zunica/France platoon at Pecto.

Many of the pre-draft worries concerning OF Justin Pacchioli (304) — mainly that his questionable power would push his hit tool down against better pitching — seem to be showing up in pro ball so far, but the speedy, patient, and smart native of beautiful Allentown, Pennsylvania does enough well otherwise to stick as a big league prospect for years to come. I think there are some similarities between his game and that of 2012 Padres supplemental first round pick Travis Jankowski, who played his high school ball less than 90 minutes away from Pacchioli in the great city of Lancaster.

Topping him as a prospect is his own teammate at Lehigh, SR OF/C Justin Pacchioli. I stick the C in front of his name because he has seen some time behind the plate in the past and some think he could move back there as a pro, but since he’s athletic enough, quick enough, and instinctual enough to play average or better defense in center field then that’s probably the smartest path for now. As a hitter, I really like what Pacchioli can do going forward, so much so that I’ll be making the 90 minute trek without complaint to see him this year. His swing and feel for hitting check off all the boxes of what a “hitter” should look like for me, and his track record of success (especially from 2013 onward) is rock solid. I’m not sold on how much functional power he’ll ever hit for and lacking in that area can often cause a hit tool to play down once the competition improves, but I think there’s enough here to call for a steady organizational player with the ceiling of a useful backup outfielder at the highest level.

I’d personally like to see Pacchioli get converted to catcher because then he, Austin Allen, and Kyle Overstreet could race to see who could get improve the most defensively the quickest. That would be fun.

In some respects OF Josh Magee (332) brings a similar skill set to Pacchioli. He’s fast, above-average or better in center, and has a chance to be a high-contact hitter as he climbs the ladder. He also shares Pacchioli’s potential fatal flaw: a very low power ceiling. I tend to think of players like this as easy to like but tricky to love. The offensive margin for error is slim, but there’s more wiggle room for big league utility because of the speed and defense. A pet theory of mine that applies at least somewhat to Magee and Pacchioli (and circles back to Allen, Zunica, and France, all of whom fall under the first category: bat-first players get rewarded the most if they make it to the promised land, but advancement is difficult because it’s all-or-nothing; speed and defense players get more chances along the way, but have less ultimate ceiling (and are paid/generally valued accordingly) since, you know, hitting big is always going to be king. It’s worth pointing out that Magee was a multi-sport star in high school, so some of his rougher edges could get sanded away more quickly than assumed if he takes to the full-time baseball grind as hoped.

OF Aldemar Burgos is a well-rounded prospect with some pop who will take some time. The same could be said for OF Alan Garcia. That’s all I’ve got on them and I won’t pretend to know more.

SS Kodie Tidwell (296) is a good player. Getting a sure-handed middle infielder coming off a .300/.400/.500 (more or less) draft season in the 26th round shouldn’t happen. Some times I don’t really understand the MLB Draft process.

Louisiana-Monroe JR SS Kodie Tidwell is a patient, balanced hitter with all of the requisite defensive tools to stick at shortstop over the long haul. While Trahan was good from day one at Louisiana, Tidwell has slowly yet surely improved in all offensively phases since entering college.

I don’t know what the future holds for Tidwell any more than I do any other player, but the majority of his most favorable outcomes (in my view) feel realistic enough to make him a real prospect worth following as a pro. Maybe he winds up a capable enough shortstop to keep advancing as a utility infielder, maybe the bat plays enough that he’ll end up as an offensive second baseman, or maybe it doesn’t work much at all above AA. Even if you won’t give me equal odds on those outcomes and weight the last possibility more heavily, I’ll take my chances with that kind of player with his kind of track record. Huge steal in the 26th round.

On a similar note, I liked SS Peter Van Gansen (464) back in April…

As if this class needed another shortstop with the upside to one day start in the big leagues, here comes wildly underrated Cal Poly SS Peter Van Gansen and his steady glove, strong arm, and patient approach. He’s on the thin line between future utility player and potential regular right now, though his increased pop in 2015 could convince some teams he’ll hit enough to hold his own at the bottom of a lineup. I’m admittedly higher on him than most, but he checks enough of the boxes that teams like in potential backup infielders that I think he’ll wind up a valuable draft asset.

…and, wouldn’t you know, I still like him today. Relatively high-probability potential utility infielder with a little more upside than that if you believe in the bat, as I kind of do. Nice grab in the twelfth round.

LHP Nathan Foriest (60.3 GB%) is on the older side as a redshirt-senior out of Middle Tennessee State, but he’s missed enough bats in the past (10.41 K/9 his final college year) to have San Diego look past some of his run prevention flaws (9.00 ERA and 6.19 ERA his last two years of school) and believe his iffy control could be fixable with pro instruction. LHP Corey Hale checks both the big (6-7, 255) and ground ball inducing (50%) boxes that San Diego apparently was looking for.

Getting LHP Christian Cecilio back on the mound will be a nice boost for the Padres next season. The 22nd round pick brings a really strong college track record and enough stuff (upper-80s FB that looks faster thanks to a sneaky delivery) to track as a potential lefty reliever as a pro. Likewise, LHP Will Headean intrigues me as a potential back-end starting pitcher and/or middle reliever going forward. He fits the mold as a big (6-4, 200 pounds, slimmed down from 225ish) ground ball inducing (60.5 GB%) college arm. I had his fastball peaking at 89, but in short bursts it stands to add some real velocity, especially as he figures out how to better manipulate his “best shape of his life” body. His curve is already good enough to project as big league average, so you can see the pieces for a useful reliever coming into focus. LHP Jerry Keel has a similar story of getting himself into better shape as he’s now down to a fit and trim (such things are relative, right?) 6-6, 240 pounds. Brace yourselves: he also got a ton of ground ball outs (60.6 GB%) in his pro debut. Said ground ball outs fit in nicely with the scouting reports (86-92 FB with plus sink, good diving low-70s CB he keeps low in zone), so forecasting him as another potential middle relief piece only seems fair. RHP Phil Maton joins AJ Kennedy as a player who has made a mockery about the supposed difficulties of pro ball. That’s what a 16.0 K/9 (46 K%!) and 1.4 BB/9 in 32.2 IP (1.38 ERA) does. Maton had a solid track record to begin with (9.20 K/9 and 1.94 BB/9 in 88 senior year innings), so add him to the potential middle relief pile. RHP Braxton Lorenzini and RHP Elliot Ashbeck both could join the fun as sinker/slider relievers, though only the former has the early returns (54.8 GB%) to back up the reputed ground ball ways.

RHP Lou Distasio has his fans, but having seen him twice (one each the past two seasons) I don’t necessarily count myself as one of his bigger supporters. I’m not a scout, so consider that just one baseball fan’s take and nothing else. I only really bring it up to mention that, yes, he really does have his fans. Many more informed people than me think he could even keep starting as a pro. I guess I also bring it up as some kind of meta-commentary on the internet’s new weird obsession with seeing a player once (in this case twice, but still) and then declaring that what you saw is exactly what the guy is. There’s a reason why the real scouts make it a point to see a player multiple times across many months, internet. I’ve literally seen an internet scout argue with a quoted velocity figure from one of the reputable industry leaders because when he saw the guy he wasn’t throwing all that hard. Maybe instead of arguing and assuming nobody but yourself could possibly have accurate information, you ask questions and try to figure out why the pitcher wasn’t throw as hard as reported elsewhere on that given day? Anyway, I see Distasio as a big fastball-reliant future reliever who flashes big league stuff and, fan or not, is really nice value in the 32nd round.

RHP Blake Rogers in the 37th round (pick 1107!) feels like a steal. It also feels like another smart gamble for San Diego in grabbing a quality arm with control issues and having the confidence in their developmental staff to coach out the wild. Getting a college righthander with a fastball that can hit 94-95 this late (90-94 mostly) is worth it. Also: 65.5 GB% so far. RHP Nick Monroe (377) also falls under the legit stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; advanced CU; used to throw a nice CB, but ditched it in favor of a SL), but iffy control (4.83 BB/9 his junior year) player archetype. He also fits the “best shape of his life” type as he’s now down to 6-4, 235 (from 250ish).

I love the pick of RHP Trey Wingenter (139) in the 17th round; heck, I would have approved even if it was ten rounds higher. My stubborn insistence that big things are coming from him will now extend from before his junior year of college (below) to his first full pro season starting next spring…

Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.

His short-season debut was rough, but his peripherals were fine and he still managed to get those key ground ball outs (51.6 GB%) at a pace I’m sure the Padres liked to see. He’s still a baby when it comes to game experience on the mound with less than 100 innings on his right arm as a collegiate pitcher. Give him some time, coach him up, and let his natural talent shine through. Easy enough, right?

RHP Brett Kennedy is a personal favorite because it’s a law that I have to rep any pitcher born and raised in and around one of the finest beach towns in Jersey (Brigantine). It also doesn’t hurt his personal favorite status that I like him more today than I did pre-draft and I’m trying to make amends for underrating him then. The quick book on him: 90-94 FB, chance for above-average breaking ball, really good college track record (10.03 K/9 as junior), and good pro debut. Additionally, because I can’t resist keeping with the narrative, it should be noted that he’s one of the smaller guys drafted by the Padres (6-0, 200) and didn’t overwhelm with ground ball tendencies in his debut (46.7 GB%).

RHP Trevor Megill (227) is one of those just famous enough (been drafted and discussed before, high-profile Tommy John surgery survivor, brother also plays) college players that is easily identifiable to serious prospect fans as a draft sleeper. I get it: he’s big (6-8, 235…down from his college weight of 250, FWIW), throws a really tough to square up fastball (86-92, 94-95 peak) that he spots really well (especially for a big man), and has enough feel for a few secondary offerings (74-80 CB, 79-81 CU, 78-84 cut-SL) that you can see a starter’s future if it clicks. I think it adds up to a solid enough prospect that it’s fair value more than huge steal in the seventh round, but that’s not meant to take anything away from the promising big man. RHP Jordan Guerrero, the prospect drafted the round before Megill, is an arm strength pick that can miss bats with a heavy heater alone right now. He’s big (6-5, 260) and gets ground ball outs (57.8 GB%). Shocking, right?

We end with the two biggest names and best prospects selected by the Padres this year. While I’m not head-over-heels in love with either pick, both are damn solid additions and very fair values as second and third round picks. RHP Jacob Nix (75), the third rounder, is a sturdy, athletic potential mid-rotation workhorse who relies heavily on his 90-95 (97 peak) fastball. It’s a tad simplistic, but when he can command his best pitch, he’s very tough to hit…and when he can’t, fooling advanced hitters gets a whole lot harder. That’s true of any pitcher, but it’s more relevant for Nix than most. His fastball is lethal when on — enough smart people have said it elsewhere that I hesitate to call it underrated, but, man, fastball command is so damn important and so often breezed by when discussing pitching prospect futures — so he can almost (but not quite) get away with being a one-pitch starter. His fastball command is also really important to him at present because the big righty doesn’t have the kind of secondary stuff just yet to miss consistent bats, though I like his mid-80s changeup more than most neutral observers. I’m not sure what a potential plus fastball (with evolving command), an underrated but still underdeveloped changeup, and a chance for average breaking ball adds up to, but there’s enough natural talent here to dream on a solid number three starter or a late-inning relief ace.

San Diego’s first pick, RHP Austin Smith (84), set the tone for the type of pitcher the Padres seemed ready to target throughout the three day draft process. If you haven’t been beaten over the head at my subtle attempt at mentioning throughout, here you go: he’s big (6-4, 220) and capable of getting ground ball outs (56.5 GB%) at a premium clip. Much of what you’ve just read (hopefully) about Jacob Nix applies to Smith as well. Both guys have athletic, inning-eating frames that allow them to throw hard (88-94, 96 peak) while also showing off an impressive amount of feel for pitching. Smith has a a better breaking ball (77-81 CB with above-average upside), but not quite as polished a changeup at present. I’d hang similar ceilings on them as well, though there’s no trickier prospect for me to make guesses on than a young pitcher.

A full list of 2015 draft prospects selected by San Diego that fell in my pre-draft top 500…

75 – Jacob Nix
84 – Austin Smith
139 – Trey Wingenter
219 – Austin Allen
227 – Trevor Megill
296 – Kodie Tidwell
304 – Justin Pacchioli
332 – Josh Magee
365 – Ty France
377 – Nick Monroe
464 – Peter Van Gansen

Last Monday Before First Pitch Friday

First Pitch Friday has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? That should be a thing. BA and PG should get on that.

While they do that I’ll start the week with 111 words of whining. Skip down past the first set of stars if you don’t want to hear me bitching about something only ten or so people (give or take) in the entire world care about. Here we go…

Today is Monday. As of late Sunday night, the following teams still did not have 2014 rosters posted on their official websites:

Mississippi State
Oregon
UC Davis
South Alabama
Samford
Alcorn State
Prairie View A&M
Central Connecticut State
North Carolina Central
Savannah State
Come on, guys! Get with the program here. I only found one recent team’s roster by changing the standard roster page to a headshot view and then manually manipulating the URL to update the year. Not sure if that means the roster wasn’t ready to go live or what, but, man, why make things so difficult for somebody who just wants to know who will be on your team?
*****
Every year I lose track of players that remain draft-eligible yet no longer show up on their respective university’s roster. Players listed below are lined up with their last known school and their 2013 season class designation. I know it’s a long shot, but does anybody out there know where any of these players wound up?

Pittsburgh SO RHP Tanner Wilt
Alabama FR RHP Keaton Haack (Pitt CC)
Mississippi rFR 2B/SS Luke Gibbs (Itawaba CC)
Auburn FR RHP Matt Schultz (Wabash Valley CC)
Iowa SO C Anthony Torres (Point Loma)
Gonzaga SO RHP Kevin Moriarty (no longer active)
Texas-Arlington SO RHP Jordan Pacheco
Albany JR 2B/SS Gordon Madej
Stony Brook FR INF Brett Tenuto
Charlotte SO OF Leland Clemmons (Winston-Salem State)
Jacksonville FR SS Kristopher Molter (Cowley County CC)
North Florida SO LHP/1B Spencer Herrmann
Stetson SO RHP Drew Jackson
High Point FR OF Sly Edwards (Broward CC)
Kentucky rSO 2B/SS Andrew Bryant
Florida rJR 3B/2B Zack Powers (still on Florida, my bad)
UC Santa Barbara FR C/OF Joseph DeRoche-Duffin (Cypress College)
UC Santa Barbara FR LHP Art Vidrio
San Diego SO RHP Ryan Keller (Cal State LA)
Arizona FR RHP Jesse Scholtens (Diablo Valley College)

*****

As I finish up the position players in the coming days I figure it couldn’t hurt to spitball a bit about some of the names that have stood out to me so far. We’ll kick off the week talking college catchers because…why not?

The ACC has three excellent catching prospects in Virginia Tech JR Mark Zagunis, Clemson JR Garrett Boulware, and North Carolina State JR Brett Austin. The mid-tier ain’t too shabby either, thanks to Miami JR Garrett Kennedy and Virginia C Nate Irving. I haven’t gone through every conference yet, but it’s pretty amazing that those five currently rank higher (for me) than any other catcher in the Big 12, Big 10, or the Missouri Valley. Top guys in those conferences for the curious: Jacob Felts, Blaise Salter, and Tyler Baker. It’s also a really strong year behind the plate for the slightly evolved (for the better, I think) Conference USA. Juniors Aramis Garcia (Florida International), John Clay Reeves (Rice), and Bre’shon Kimbell (Louisiana Tech) all currently reside in my admittedly unfinished top eight for the position.

If we’re going off the radar a bit, I’ll throw out the names Alex Real (New Mexico), Garrett Russini (Stetson), and Kyle Pollock (Evansville) as potential risers this spring. The tail end of the list, as it seems happens yearly, is loaded with potential senior signs that haven’t put it all together yet in college ball. These guys frustrate me, but I just can’t quite bring myself to rule out that one big season that finally gets them a shot in pro ball. We’re talking Kai’ana Eldredge (Kansas), Levi Meyer (Florida Atlantic), Kyle Gibson (Louisville), and Austin Jarvis (Bradley).

Projecting the First Round: MLB Draft 2013 First Base Prospects

“Locks”

1B: Dominic Smith (1)

The downside to any high school player destined for first base professionally is immense. Without speed, athleticism, and, most importantly, a defensive positional advantage over your peers, it is a really tough climb from high school standout to big league star. Going from beating up on prep pitching to knowing your future is on the line with every plate appearance isn’t for everybody. The margin of error for bat-first prospects is so small that it is really difficult to find a legitimate first round “lock” amateur first baseman in any given year. Enter Dominic Smith.

I recently spoke to one of Smith’s biggest fans in the scouting community who told me, all developmental caveats understood, Smith’s realistic big league floor is Adam LaRoche. That’s crazy, right? LaRoche as a potential floor? I’ve never been first in line for the Adam LaRoche fan club or anything, but he’s had a pretty darn good career all things considered. In addition to LaRoche, I’ve also independently heard Larry Walker and the non-2001 version of Luis Gonzalez mentioned, though in each instance the players discussed were only done so in terms of ceiling. Popular industry comps (ceiling, again) include Todd Helton and Adrian Gonzalez, both (I believe) from members of the excellent staff at Perfect Game. Love comps, hate comps, have no strong feelings either way towards comps…those names mentioned speak to what those in the business think about Smith’s upside with the stick. The comparison I’d make — you know, if I was the type who enjoyed making comps — is Justin Morneau, give or take an inch or two. One last mystery comp that I think you may hear again between now and June:

  • “bat speed to spare”
  • “as much raw power as anyone in the draft”
  • “power ranges to all fields”
  • “approach at the plate is advanced”
  • “solid defender with athleticism”
  • “well above-average arm”
  • “regularly touching 95 mph off the mound”
  • “could be an above-average defender”
  • “tools to be an all-star first baseman”

You can quibble some with the power (mystery guy had a touch more raw power in high school), defense (advantage Smith), and maximum velocity (Smith’s top reading is 92 so far), but I think most of those scouting blurbs could have been pulled directly from a scouting report of Smith. Our mystery comp is none other than Eric Hosmer, the third overall pick back in 2008. Excerpts were taken from Baseball America, where the full report can be found at here (for subscribers).

Definite Maybes

1B: Nick Longhi, Rowdy Tellez, Zack Collins, DJ Peterson (4)

*****

Smith isn’t alone when it comes to intriguing high school first base prospects. The hype on Nick Longhi has subsided some in recent months, but not for anything that will hurt his eventual draft stock. I had somebody in the know refer to him as “Dominic Smith without the big arm,” a fitting comp for a player who had scouts literally oohing and ahhing when last I saw him. Longhi seems quite underrated thus far — out of sight, out of mind — but that could just be me being way off base on yet another high school guy who impressed me a ton in person. Just below him you have Rowdy Tellez (arguably the best raw power of his class), Zack Collins (reminds me of a bigger, more athletic Mike Napoli), and Corey Simpson (like Collins, he also catches). You could keep going down the list and, if you’re a charitable soul, give an outside chance of one of the following big bats breaking through this spring: Bryce Harman, Joe Dudek, KJ Woods, Pete Alonso, and Cody Bellinger. All in all, a pretty solid group of high school first base prospects.

I don’t think there is much to be excited about in the way of college first base prospects, at least in terms of early round candidates who project as everyday ballplayers. The list below isn’t necessarily made up of the best prospects (like I would know anyway, right?), but rather the ones that jumped out to me as being especially intriguing follows as we head into the season. Peterson has the best shot of the group of cracking the first round – I could see some teams buying into him as a smaller, yet no less powerful version of CJ Cron, the 17th overall pick in 2011. I’d have Palka (huge raw power, gifted natural hitter, plus arm) just behind him, though Palka’s in more of a make or break situation than Peterson this year when it comes to plate discipline and overall approach to hitting (i.e. the stuff he presently gets away with in college won’t work in the pros). The Notre Dame lineup, led by their sluggers Jagielo and Mancini, should be a lot of fun to watch this year. I think both guys will keep mashing in 2013, so no less than 30 combined homers is what I’m hoping to see.

  • Daniel Palka (Georgia Tech)
  • Eric Jagielo (Notre Dame)
  • Trey Mancini (Notre Dame)
  • Ryon Healy (Oregon State)
  • Chase McDonald (East Carolina)
  • Nathan Gomez (Marshall)
  • DJ Peterson (New Mexico)
  • Chase Compton (Louisiana-Lafayette)
  • Brad Zebedis (Presbyterian)
  • Esteban Gomez (St. Thomas)

San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB Draft Review

San Francisco’s 2012 MLB Draft Selections

I try not to draw too many conclusions from observing how a team drafts from the outside looking in, but there are always some interesting draft day patterns worth noting. For the San Francisco Giants, off the bat, it is pretty clear to see a surprising lack of, well, bats. Outside of Mac Williamson, there wasn’t a position player drafted by the Giants that I think even the most prospect-obsessed could realistically say is a potential big league regular. A case could be made for any one of Ryan Jones, Tyler Hollick, or Shayne Houck as the next best bet, but, like many of the hitters drafted by San Francisco, they all currently profile best as backups.

That actually leads to the next observation of the Giants 2012 draft: depth selections identified by the ability to play multiple positions. Jones, a second baseman by trade, also has extensive experience at the hot corner. Hollick currently plays a mean center field, but has shown well at second in the past. Prior to the draft, teams I spoke to were split 50/50 on whether or not Houck worked best as a third baseman or left fielder professionally. You can do the same with almost every position player drafted by the Giants. Trevor Brown, a prospect I’ve heard compared to a lighter, lesser version of current Giant minor leaguer and former Cal State Fullerton star Brett Pill, is a catcher who can also hold his own at any non-shortstop infield spot. Matt Duffy has played all over the diamond. Mitch Delfino has split time between third base and the mound, and Sam Eberle has done the same at third base and catcher. Andrew Cain has seen time at both corner outfield spots and first base. Even the owner of the Giants’ biggest draft bat, Williamson, a great athlete who many once believed had the agility and arm strength to be moved behind the plate, has pitching experience.

As for the talent level of the hitters drafted, well, there isn’t a ton of great news for Giants fans. The majority of the position players selected by San Francisco look like the kind of players typically considered organizational guys. The infielders (Brown, Duffy, Delfino, Eberle) all lack the type of raw physical tools associated with ballplayers capable of playing at the highest level. You can never totally rule out players capable of playing solid defense up-the-middle (good news for both Brown and Duffy, and potentially Eberle), but none of the aforementioned infielders will crack any offseason top thirty prospect list for the organization. Of all their drafted infielders, Jones stands the best chance of someday seeing time in the big leagues as a utility infielder.

Things are better in the outfield, though I realize that may sound like damning with faint praise. The selection of Williamson, he of above-average big league corner outfielder upside, alone makes this a better group of prospects over the infielders. There’s currently too much swing-and-miss to his game for him to reach his considerable ceiling, but college guys with power hitting track records are becoming a dying breed. In that light, a third round gamble makes some sense.  I compared Williamson to Adam Brett Walker prior to the draft, but a more natural comparison seems to be his new organization-mate with the Giants, former Louisville standout and fellow third round pick Chris Dominguez. I know a lot of people like to hate on comps, but, come on, that’s a good one: fourth-year juniors from underrated baseball schools, similar size (6-4ish, 230ish), third round picks, strong enough arms to pitch, big raw power, trouble with anything that isn’t a fastball, worrisome strikeout totals – this thing writes itself! Williamson’s superior athleticism and speed give hope that he’ll adjust better to pro ball and/or provide more long-term defensive value. I’m already on record as stating Williamson alone makes the outfielders a better group than the infielders, but that shortchanges the potential contributions of a few other fly catchers taken by the Giants. It isn’t just Williamson that makes the outfield group intriguing. I’ve mentioned my affinity for Hollick already, but let’s go a little deeper. An argument can be made that Hollick, a player I didn’t give nearly enough love pre-draft, is the best position player drafted by the Giants. His scouting profile reads similar to current Giants prospect Gary Brown, but Hollick has a much stronger track record of working deep counts and drawing walks. McCall also deserves consideration as San Francisco’s top 2012 position player selection, though I’d have him behind Williamson, Hollick, and perhaps Jones. McCall is athletic enough to play either corner spot with an arm that should play at least average in right. The big question is, of course, whether or not he’ll hit enough to hold down an offensively demanding position in the big leagues. I’m encouraged by both what I’ve seen and heard, but would be lying if I could answer beyond that with any kind of certainty. Unlikely as it may be, a future all 2012 Draft outfield of McCall-Hollick-Williamson, from left to right, is fun to dream on. That trio could be backed up down the line by a pair of solid organization depth pieces in Cain and Houck. Both are older prospects – another San Francisco draft trend – who found themselves on the wrong side of 22 before notching their first pro at bats. Cain appears similar to Williamson on paper (big, good runner, intriguing power), but his tools aren’t quite as loud. Call him a deep sleeper as a 24th round pick and be prepared to either look super smart someday or, more likely, forget about him after he fails to make it to AA. Houck’s value would get a big boost if he shows he can play a little third base in addition to the outfield corners, but, like Cain, he’ll need to get his rear in gear in pro ball if he wants to keep cashing those sweet, sweet minor league paychecks.

San Francisco’s draft strategy when it comes to their approach to pitching was fairly clear in 2012: load up on college arms, early and often. The emphasis on high-floor/low-ceiling older arms wouldn’t be as troubling if buttressed with a few interesting long-term gambles at the high school level, but there is nary a signed prep arm to be found in this class. Fortunately, getting a pitcher like Chris Stratton with the twentieth overall pick makes it all worth it. Quibble with the no high school pitching approach if you must (seriously, though, what’s up with that?), but the Giants have a strong track record of identifying and developing pitchers at the top of their drafts. The last six drafts have produced the following first day pitchers: Kyle Crick, Zack Wheeler, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Alderson (the weak link of the group, but, hey, he did enough to bring value in a trade), and Tim Lincecum. It’s a little bit scary to think that Stratton could wind up as the fourth most successful pitcher of that group (fifth if you’re a big believer in Crick) and still be considered a major steal in this spot. There are some legitimate concerns surrounding his age (22 in August, old for a college junior) and workload (multiple 2012 starts well past 120+ pitches), but there’s really no questioning his outstanding stuff. Stratton boasts a full arsenal of pitches (FB, CB, CU, SL, cutter, two-seamer) that is as impressive in quality as it is in depth. I promised I wouldn’t turn these draft recaps into warmed over rehashes of my pre-draft analysis, but it’s probably worth mentioning that Stratton was my sixth favorite prospect in the entire draft, one spot ahead of the far more famous Mark Appel. Martin Agosta is another easy to like young righthander with a good chance of one day taking a big league mound as a starting pitcher. Two above-average offspeed pitches (cutter/slider thing and changeup) to go along with his solid fastball (made better be excellent command) are exactly what teams are looking for in prospective starters.

Steven Okert and Ty Blach could also be considered potential starters, but I think both will settle into relief roles after some of the adorable draft optimism (I only say this because I’m guilty of it every year) wears off. Okert goes plus fastball/above-average slider while mixing in a usable changeup with the chance for more. Blach’s stuff is more solid across the board – slider is just as good though not as consistent as Okert’s, but he’ll compensate by using a much more effective change – so the thought of him starting is a little bit easier to envision. I think both guys are ultimately relievers with Okert potentially being a darn good one.

I actually liked what the Giants did in targeting hard throwing yet flawed college relievers, though, upon closer review, the flaw in their approach becomes alarmingly evident. Okert, Stephen Johnson and EJ Encinosa are all almost certainly (call it a 99% certainty) relievers professionally. All are quality arms coming off really strong college seasons. All three throw hard, have good size, and feature at least one above-average or better secondary pitch. We’ve covered Okert already as a potential starting pitching convert, so we’ll focus on the two college relief aces. Johnson has arm strength you can’t teach but is in dire need of a consistent offspeed pitch, which hopefully you can. Encinosa profiles as a high-floor sinker/slider middle reliever, but with more mustard on both his four- and two-seam fastballs than your typical sixth/seventh inning guy. I like all three picks: cheap, controllable arms are big parts of what I think make good teams good. The less money spent on unpredictable, fungible middle relief, the more money is freed up to acquire elite talent at positions that have a greater nightly impact on the game. If all you achieve from one draft class is a half dozen or so legit big league relief options, then you’ve potentially saved yourself millions down the line. Then again, you could always avoid the temptation to blow money on veteran relievers in the first place, but that’s neither here nor there. What does come into the play is the concept of opportunity cost. A good argument could be made that of all the relievers selected by the Giants, the guy taken in the sixteenth round (we’ll get to him soon) is the most talented. If you can get quality relievers that late, and you can, then why spent a fourth, sixth, and seventh on relievers in the first place? Even Jason Forjet and Brandon Farley, 31st and 33rd rounders respectively, can be called potential big league relievers. They may not be on the level of Okert, Johhnson, or Encinonsa, but the cost of using a late-round pick on them is significantly less. Another example is 26th rounder Mason McVay. McVay throws hard (when healthy), has good size (6-8, 240 pounds), and features at least one above-average or better secondary pitch (curve). Sound familiar? Back to our aforementioned friend from round sixteen:  Ian Gardeck continues the theme of plus fastball velocities with his mid- to upper-90s heater. His slider is devastating when on, a true plus big league out-pitch that hitters have a hell of a time recognizing before swinging over it. That’s the good news. The less good news is that I’m only half-kidding when I say the Giants might think about getting Gardeck’s eyes checked because it looks like he has no idea where the catcher is crouching half the time. The problem is likely in his mechanics, and not his arm, eyes, or head. If he can upgrade his control from nonexistent to “effectively wild,” then he’ll join Johnson in having big league closer upside.

All in all, I think we’re looking at five potential above-average big league relievers: Okert, Johnson, Encinosa, Gardeck, and McVay. Since wishing for different picks is fruitless at this point, all we can really do now is hope that two or three (or four!) live up to their promise and do our best to forget about what might have been. You don’t want to make a habit of rooting for a sweet relief pitching haul to be the best part of your draft class, but it’s better than nothing, right?

We’re just short of 3,000 words in what was intended as a short recap, so let’s hustle up and finish this thing. I am honestly surprised that Joe Kurrasch jumped to pro ball – he simply didn’t look ready when I saw him, and I heard similar things throughout the spring. Forjet and Farley both flash enough big league stuff to warrant follows as they travel through pro ball. I personally prefer Farley because he’s shown a little more zip on his fastball over the years, but when you’re debating the merits of two college relievers picked past the thirtieth round, everybody wins. Andrew Leenhouts is intriguing as a cold weather pitchability lefthander with the three pitches to start for a bit. His best chance of advancing to the bigs is probably via the bullpen (like so many college lefties, I’d love to know his splits to see if the lefty specialist path makes sense), but I think his talent level is closer to Blach’s than Kurrasch’s. That can be read in one of two ways, depending on your outlook on life: a) Leenhouts was good value for a 23rd round pick, or b) Blach was a serious overdraft in the fifth round.

Position-by-Position Breakdown of Prospects of Note

(Players are listed by draft order…included below each name, in italics, are each player’s pre-draft notes and ranking within position group)

C

10.328 Trevor Brown (UCLA)

77. UCLA JR C Trevor Brown: good defensive skills; good athlete; smooth defender at first base; can also play 2B; lack of power limits his offensive ceiling, but defensive versatility and a competent bat could carry him farther up the chain than you’d think; 6-2, 200 pounds

1B

2B

13.418 Ryan Jones (Michigan State)

22. Michigan State rJR 2B Ryan Jones: good speed; good approach; limited power upside; already a good defender at 2B and can also play 3B effectively; no standout tool, but easy to walk away impressed with him as a heady, instinctive ballplayer who does the little things right; 5-10, 170 rounds

SS

18.568 Matt Duffy (Long Beach State)

58. Long Beach State JR SS Matt Duffy: nice swing; can play average defense at least at all spots on diamond; utility future; 6-2, 170 pounds

3B

20.628 Mitch Delfino (California)

65. California JR 3B Mitch Delfino: average defender with what looks like a good enough arm once he gets his throwing mechanics retooled; has shown enough promise with the bat to get a look in the mid-rounds; 6-3, 210 pounds

25.778 Sam Eberle (Jacksonville State)

52. Jacksonville State SR C Sam Eberle: decent defender who might fit best at 3B in pro ball; good athlete; strong; good runner for either defensive spot; bat could be above-average if allowed to catch at next level, but he’ll have to improve footwork and speed of release; 6-1, 220 pounds

OF

3.115 Mac Williamson (Wake Forest)

32. Wake Forest rJR OF Mac Williamson: impressive raw tools, emphasis on raw; above-average to plus arm strength; too aggressive at plate, gets himself out too often; I’ve long wanted to see him move back behind plate, but realize that dream is dead – as it is, he’s a good defender with the prototypical arm for RF; physically mature and very strong; plus power upside; above-average speed, but slow starter – once he gets underway, you see his speed; much improved as hitter in 2012, chasing fewer bad balls; Williamson is interesting for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being his consistently strong power performances and improved plate discipline; if it all comes together in pro ball, Williamson is a five-tool player (four of which are decidedly above-average, the most questionable tool being his bat) with big league starter upside – he profiles very similarly to Adam Brett Walker as a hitter and athlete, but with a higher floor based on his added defensive value; has also shown promise on the mound over the years: 88-92 FB, 94 peak; good sinker; good CB; shows CU; 6-4, 240 pounds

9.298 Shilo McCall (Piedra Vista HS, New Mexico)

151. OF Shilo McCall (Piedra Vista HS, New Mexico): good speed; good athlete; strong; above-average arm; 6-2, 215 pounds

14.448 Tyler Hollick (Chandler-Gilbert CC, Arizona)

79. Chandler-Gilbert (AZ) JC SO OF Tyler Hollick: plus speed; good CF range; I like his bat, others not sold; crazy production in 2012

24.748 Andrew Cain (UNC Wilmington)

29.898 Shayne Houck (Kutztown, Pennsylvania)

37. Kutztown (PA) SR 3B Shayne Houck: above-average hit tool; big raw power; can handle 3B and LF – stock goes way up if a team believes in him as a defender; 6-1, 200 pounds

1.20 RHP Chris Stratton (Mississippi State)

4. Mississippi State JR RHP Chris Stratton: 88-92 FB, 93-96 peak; velocity up in 2012 – more often 90-94, peaking at 95-96 consistently; leaves his FB up on occasion and it leads to trouble; holds velocity really well; really tough to square up on anything he throws, leaving him with reputation as a groundball machine; quality 77-80 CB; emerging 81-83 CU that is a good pitch now, could be plus in time; good 82-87 SL that flashes plus, but is hit or miss depending on start; solid cutter; added an effective two-seam FB; seen as four-pitch starter, but, depending on how you want to classify his fastball variations, he could eventually throw six legit pitches for strikes; above-average control and command; this is a comp that is decidedly not a comp, but a scout who saw Stratton said that, at his best, he reminded him of a righthanded version of Cliff Lee, mostly because his repertoire is so deep that he can use whatever pitch is working best on any given day; the fact that he throws two distinct breaking balls and has the fearlessness/understanding about how to use them is really impressive for an amateur prospect; 6-2, 200 pounds

2.84 RHP Martin Agosta (St. Mary’s)

23. St. Mary’s JR RHP Martin Agosta: 91-93 FB, 95-96 peak; sometimes sits 89-92 with 94 peak; 80-85 SL with upside, flashes plus – has also been called a cutter; good CB; above-average CU; plus overall command; gets better as game  goes on; Agosta’s FB-SL-CU and command make him a good starting pitching prospect, and the chance he’ll continue to find ways to further differentiate his breaking ball – gaining some separation with his cutter and curve from his slider would be a start – make him especially intriguing; 6-1, 180 pounds

4.148 LHP Steven Okert (Oklahoma)

82. Oklahoma JR LHP Steven Okert: 88-91 FB, 92-94 peak; up to 94-97 out of bullpen; good SL; CU is better than often given credit; command comes and goes; reminds me a little bit of Chris Reed before Reed became last year’s “it” first round pick – could be a dominant reliever if everything breaks right, but also has the chance to continue starting at next level; 6-3, 220 pounds

5.178 LHP Ty Blach (Creighton)

254. Creighton JR LHP Ty Blach: 89-91 FB, 92-94 peak; good CU that has improved in last calendar year; attacks hitters on the inner-half and is a renowned strike thrower; low-80s SL flashes plus; good overall command; has the three pitches to start and above-average velocity from the left side, but lack of draft year dominance at the college level is a tad disconcerting; 6-1, 200 pounds

6.208 RHP Stephen Johnson (St. Edward’s, Texas)

64. St. Edward’s (TX) JR RHP Stephen Johnson: consistent 93-96 FB, 98 peak; has reportedly been as high as 101, but typically tops out upper-90s; 77-81 SL that has gotten harder (mid-80s) and better over the past year; hard 84-88 CU that is better when softer; great deception; closer upside; 6-4, 200 pounds

7.238 RHP EJ Encinosa (Miami)

131. Miami JR RHP EJ Encinosa: had him originally with a 87-91 FB with sink, 94 high school peak but hadn’t seen it in a while, instead peaking at 91-92; once committed to bullpen, velocity shot back up – now sits 94-95, and has hit 98 in 2012; no matter the velocity, the fastball remains an excellent pitch – very consistent plus-plus sink; plus low-80s SL; good, but inconsistent CU; reliever all the way (and likely not a closer), but a good one all the same; 6-4, 235 pounds

8.268 LHP Joe Kurrasch (Penn State)

315. Penn State rSO LHP Joe Kurrasch: as starter, sits 87-90, 92 peak; can get it a tick or two higher as reliever; average CU; has done a good job getting in better shape over past year, but doesn’t have the depth or quality of stuff to make much of a pro impact at this point; Cal transfer; 6-2, 200 pounds

16.508 RHP Ian Gardeck (Alabama)

256. Alabama JR RHP Ian Gardeck: 94-96 FB, 98-100 peak; plus to plus-plus mid- to upper-80s SL; bad control and command; mechanics need overhaul; stuff was down as he had an awful spring, but still showed enough flashes of two potential wipeout big league pitches that somebody will bite; 6-2, 225 pounds

23.718 LHP Drew Leenhouts (Northeastern)

270. Northeastern SR LHP Andrew Leenhouts: 87-88 FB, 90-91 peak; good CB; average CU that sometimes shows better; FB command needs work, and pitch is presently too straight; clean mechanics; 6-3, 200 pounds

26.808 LHP Mason McVay (Florida International)

103. Florida International rJR LHP Mason McVay: 87-91 FB post-injury as starter; solid potential with CB, plus upside; mechanics need cleaning up; control is an issue; peaked at 95-96 out of bullpen in fall 2011, so, if healthy, he can throw some smoke; Tommy John survivor; good coaching and good health will go a long way in determining his pro future, but his two potential plus pitches and size give him more upside than your typical double-digit round pick; 6-8, 240 pounds

31.958 RHP Jason Forjet (Florida Gulf Coast)

418. Florida Gulf Coast SR RHP Jason Forjet: upper-80s FB, low-90s peak; CB; CU; very good command; good athlete; 6-2, 200 pounds

33.1018 RHP Brandon Farley (Arkansas State)

393. Arkansas State SR RHP Brandon Farley: 89-92 FB, 94-95 peak; 6-2, 200 pounds

2011 Quick Draft Thoughts – Duke Blue Devils

1. The more college profiles I do, the less I realize I have to say about the actual college team being profiled. Duke will be competitive, I’m sure, but they won’t be close to a top division club in the perennially strong ACC. That’s about all I can really tell you about how the Blue Devils will do this year and even that “prediction” (if we can call my patented “maybe they’ll be good, maybe they’ll be beat…who knows?” line a prediction) is one made with limited confidence. What I can tell you, I hope, is that Duke has four players who look like better than average bets to get drafted this June. That has to be good for something, right?

The two best of the four are JR LHP Eric Pfisterer and JR OF Will Piwnica-Worms. Every year there are a number of pitchability lefthanders with three solid pitches and good command who get lost in the mid-round shuffle. Pfisterer, a big recruit two years ago who has lived up to the billing so far, could be part of that mix this year. Steven Proscia’s former high school teammate throws a high-80s/low-90s fastball (peaking at 92 MPH), good changeup, and decent low-70s curveball. Not sure if it is fair to call Piwnica-Worms a sleeper or not, but his combination of solid all around tools and quietly productive 2010 season (.323/.402/.530 – 21 BB/24 K – 217 AB) make him a potential top ten round player in my eyes. I once thought of players like Piwnica-Worms (tweeners who might not hit enough for a corner, but don’t quite have the glove for everyday play in center) as ideal fourth outfielder candidates, but the renewed vigor teams are emphasizing defensive skills makes me wonder. If Piwnica-Worms can play plus defense in a corner — and I’m not saying I know he can or can’t, I don’t know either way — then isn’t it possible a team might consider it worthwhile to play him out there every day?

2. The second quick thought almost always winds up being about a non-2011 draft prospect. Might as well continue the trend. It pains me to make the comparison because a) it’s been done before and b) it’s too easy from a race/build standpoint, but the idea of current Duke RHP/SS Marcus Stroman (2012) playing the role of late career Tom Gordon going forward makes a heck of a lot of sense any way you look at it. The Stroman/Gordon comparison has been bandied about since the former’s prep days, so I took it upon myself to find somebody willing to give me a different comp. I wanted something different not for the  sake of being different for difference’s sake — I love conformity far too much to ever go that route — but because at some point down the line I just got plain bored of hearing the same comp over and over again. Finally, after bothering way too many people, I heard a comp that makes some sense: current Astros reliever Brandon Lyon. Lyon’s a little bit bigger with a bit more mustard on his breaking ball, but it’s a decent starting point, especially for somebody who hasn’t seen Stroman throw.

I’d love to see Stroman continue to progress this year and next, especially as he tries to polish up a third pitch. If he can do that, then he can go into pro ball with the upside of early career Tom Gordon, i.e. a potential above-average professional starting pitcher. I should make clear I haven’t heard any updates on Stroman since last spring. He could be throwing a dynamite changeup, cutter, splitter, or slow curve for all I know, but, as of this moment, all I know is that he’s predominantly a two-pitch guy. I also love him as a middle infield prospect, by the way.

3. Of the teams profiled so far (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech), I’d rank the current crop of draftable lefthanded pitchers, in order, as Jed Bradley (GT), Austin Stadler (WF), Eric Pfisterer, and Mark Adzick (WF). I’d rank the outfielders, in order, Steven Brooks (WF), Will Piwnica-Worms, and Brian Litwin. My goal is to keep a running list of certain positions of interest, so consider this last thought more for my own edification than anything else. Kind of a ripoff, come to think of it. I’ll make it up in the big finish…

Early 2011 Draft Guesses

The aforementioned Eric Pfisterer and Will Piwnica-Worms should be on many a draft board this spring. I worry each player could get pegged as “great college performer, limited pro upside” types, but big junior years from a scouting perspective (an extra mile or two on Pfisterer’s fastball, some time shaved of  the 60 for Piwnica-Worms, for example) could change it. The other two Duke prospects with a chance to get popped are JR RHP Ben Grisz and JR OF Brian Litwin. Grisz offers a similar repertoire to Pfisterer, but delivers his upper-80s fastball and good lower-80s slider from the right side. I like what I was recently told about Litwin, a player who is, and I’m quoting but really paraphrasing, “strong enough to hit for big power numbers without selling out like a typical slugger, but insistent on taking big hacks every time up all the same.” Litwin’s tools are as good or better than Piwnica-Worms’s across the board, with the great big exception being his hit tool. From a skills standpoint, he also currently falls way behind his buddy in the outfield in the plate discipline department. Few doubt Litwin’s ability, but a below-average present hit tool and a really poor approach to hitting both need to turn around quickly in 2011. As it stands, I think they go off the board in that order: Pfisterer, Piwnica-Worms, Grisz, and Litwin, but you can really flip a coin between the first two. Also can’t completely rule out the potential emergence of JR RHP David Putnam (three decent or better pitches, including a good upper-70s CB) and underrated two-way player SR RHP/INF Dennis O’Grady, a really interesting senior sign possibility who has consistently gotten results at the college level.