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In what will probably the last one of these we do before draft day, here are some notable pitching prospects GB% through the most recent weekend of the college season.
Walker Buehler: 63.7%
Nathan Kirby: 64.0%
Kyle Funkhouser: 55.4%
Dillon Tate: 68.4%
Carson Fulmer: 46.1%
Phil Bickford: 53.2%
Kyle Twomey: 58.0%
I dropped Lemoine and Young out of laziness, but I can go back and do the math on either if anybody is curious. I didn’t include Matuella since he hasn’t thrown a pitch since the last update. In a shocking upset, his GB% (55.8) remains unchanged since then. Amazing how that worked out.
One of the interesting things about this list is the actual makeup of the players chosen. If you recall, I chose the names for this list by simply going down the rankings of my top college pitchers from before the season. The order then was Brady Aiken, Kirby, Matuella, Buehler, Tate, Fulmer, Jay, Funkhouser, Bickford, Lemoine, and Twomey. Tyler Ferguson was next, but his unpredictable usage made him too difficult to track. I haven’t gone back and updated my college rankings yet — that’ll come after I finish up the HS prospects, possibly as soon as mid-way through next week — but I think the original list has held up fairly well. I know there are questions about many of the top guys, but I’m still a pretty firm believer in Buehler (top ten or so), Kirby (mid-first), and Twomey (late-first/supplemental) despite some of the concerns. Everybody loves Tate (and rightfully so), I’m higher on Fulmer than most (but not all), and Funkhouser, despite my trying to talk myself into him a few weeks ago, remains a guy I’m lower on than most.
While I can defend the names on the initial list, there are a few omissions that I really would like to have back. In fact, I might go through and grab some data on these players later and update this one last time before June. I’m particularly curious to see the numbers of James Kaprielian, Cody Ponce, and Thomas Eshelman. If I had to choose just one name to have back, however, it would without a doubt be Jon Harris. I liked Harris plenty before the season…
Harris throws four pitches for strikes (88-93 FB, 95 peak; above-average upper-70s CB; plus mid-80s SL; sinking CU) with the frame to add a bit more velocity as he fills out. He’s also pulled off the trick of being a reliable starter at Missouri State since day one while also getting slowly but surely more effective along the way.
…but still feel like having him as low as I did (27th) on the aforementioned college pitching list didn’t do my appreciation for him justice. It’s a pre-season miss that will be rectified in the updated rankings.
I admittedly haven’t given this a ton of thought just yet, but I think Harris would crack my top five college pitchers with relative ease right now. My current working order would go Jay (top overall pitcher), Tate, Buehler, Harris, and Fulmer.
We’ve finally made it to the ACC, the last remaining division one baseball conference to get the draft “preview” treatment. Below you’ll find my “preseason” all-prospect teams for the conference as well as links (with brief commentary where applicable) to team previews for eleven of the fourteen teams in the ACC. I’d like to do quick write-ups for the three remaining teams (Louisville, North Carolina, Wake Forest) in the coming days (perhaps all at once in a post for tomorrow) because I’m a completist by nature.
Keep in mind that the preseason teams you see below were more or less decided on coming into the season. I made a few minor tweaks, especially on the pitching side (mostly the second team). The one glaring oddity on this list is John LaPrise hanging on to a first team spot despite missing almost the entire season so far, but there weren’t any alternatives that jumped off the page (senior sign Logan Ratledge makes the strongest case) so I let it stand. The outfield was an unexpected mess to figure out outside of the top four names. Talk about a top heavy position. I didn’t rank the pitchers yet within each team, so don’t take the Matuella, Kirby, and Funkhouser 1-2-3 as where I currently see them falling. I need to think on that a bit more.
North Carolina JR C Korey Dunbar
Boston College JR 1B Chris Shaw
Virginia JR 2B John LaPrise
Clemson JR SS Tyler Krieger
Miami JR 3B David Thompson
Florida State JR OF DJ Stewart
North Carolina JR OF Skye Bolt
Virginia JR OF Joe McCarthy
Duke JR RHP Michael Matuella
Virginia JR LHP Nathan Kirby
Louisville JR RHP Kyle Funkhouser
Miami rJR LHP Andrew Suarez
Clemson JR LHP Matthew Crownover
Miami SR C Garrett Kennedy
Florida State rSR 1B Chris Marconcini
North Carolina State SR 2B Logan Ratledge
Virginia SO SS Daniel Pinero
Miami JR 3B George Iskenderian
Clemson JR OF Steven Duggar
Georgia Tech rJR OF Dan Spingola
North Carolina State SR OF Jake Fincher
Clemson JR LHP Zack Erwin
Virginia JR RHP Josh Sborz
North Carolina SR RHP Benton Moss
Duke JR RHP/SS Kenny Koplove
North Carolina State rSO RHP Johnny Piedmonte
Includes comparing Chris Shaw to Ike Davis and Carlos Pena…
Does not include me comparing Matthew Crownover to Adam Morgan, so let me do that right here, right now. As somebody still holding out hope that Morgan can be a league average-ish big league starter, that’s a compliment.
Includes me comparing Michael Matuella tp Zack Wheeler and Kyle Gibson (and definitely NOT Roy Halladay…)
Includes comparing DJ Stewart to Matt Stairs, Billy Butler, Jeremy Giambi, and Carlos Santana…
Really nice college team, but nobody that moves the needle much for me as a pro prospect at the moment…
Includes some thoughts on their top bat (with apologies to SR C Garrett Kennedy, a guy I considered a sleeper last year who disappointed but has come back with a vengeance as an unstoppable force in the Hurricanes lineup and is now one of this class’s finest potential senior signs) and their top arm, both of which I’ve excerpted below to save you the trouble of clicking through…
Through all the ups and downs physically, his [David Thompson] upside on the diamond remains fully intact from his HS days — I had him ranked as the 56th best overall prospect back then — and a big draft season is very much in play if he can stay healthy throughout the year. The bat will play at the next level (above-average raw power, plenty of bat speed, physically strong, plus athleticism, knows how to use the whole field), so the biggest unknown going into this season is where he’ll eventually call home on the defensive side. I’ve liked his chances to stick at third since his prep days; failing that, I’d prioritize a home in the outfield (he’s not known for his speed, but the athleticism and arm strength should make him at least average in a corner) over going to first, where, overall loss of defensive value aside, at least he’s shown significant upside. His strong showing at the end of the summer on the Cape is an encouraging way to get back into the grind of college ball, though he did appear to sacrifice some patience at the plate for power down the stretch. If he can find a way to marry his two existences — college (approach: 35 BB/45 K in his career) and Cape (power) — in this upcoming season (like in his healthy freshman season), Thompson should find himself off the board early this June.
JR LHP Andrew Suarez has the raw stuff to find himself selected once again in the top two rounds this June, but the peripherals leave something to be desired after two seasons (6.33 K/9 in 2013, 7.16 K/9 in 2014). Still, he’s a rapidly improving arm (especially his changeup) who throws a pair of quality breaking balls and can hit 94/95 from the left side. His control has also been really good and he’s been a workhorse for the Hurricanes after labrum surgery (believed to be as minor as a shoulder surgery can get, for what it’s worth) two years ago. He’s a reasonable ceiling (mid-rotation starting pitcher) prospect with a high floor (if healthy, he’s at least a quick-moving reliever). It’s a profile that’s really easy to like, but fairly difficult to love.
Includes an homage to Rick Pitino, which I stand by but admit could be a little harsh looking back on things. SR 2B/3B Logan Ratledge and rSO RHP Johnny Piedmonte aren’t Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon, but they aren’t half-bad, either.
Waiting on next year for 2B/3B Cavan Biggio…
(Also, a good college team like Georgia Tech. Not loaded with 2015 talent, but getting the job done all the same. That’s worth mentioning even as a cold-hearted fan of the pro game only…)
Waiting on next year for RHP TJ Zeuch…
(Not a very good college team like GT and ND, but not every team can be a winning team, right?)
I’m a little bit back and forth with LHP Nathan Kirby yet, though I think the recent overreaction to his below-average (for him) velocity and all-around stuff that can (maybe) be explained away (to a point) due to his recently diagnosed strained lat was a bit much. I still view him as a high-floor, TBD ceiling prospect worthy of the top half of the first round conversation.
rSO OF Saige Jenco’s year hasn’t gone quite the way I was hoping, but SR 2B/SS Alex Perez, SR 1B/RHP Brendon Hayden, and SR LHP/1B Sean Keselica have all done their part to pick up the slack.
Nathan Kirby – 66.3%
Michael Matuella – 55.8%
Walker Buehler – 62.7%
Dillon Tate – 67.8%
Carson Fulmer – 45.7%
Kyle Funkhouser – 60.4%
Phillip Bickford – 53.3%
Jake Lemoine – 58.5%
Kyle Twomey – 61.3%
Alex Young – 60.4%
First, a quick thanks for all those that stumble across this site for whatever reason and click around a bit to see what we’ve been working on. An even bigger thanks to those of you who knowingly come back time after time. I never had expectations in terms of traffic, but it’s still pretty cool to see things trending upwards the way they have over the past few months. Yesterday was a non-June record high for the site, which is both exciting and more than a little funny since it happened on one of the very few weekdays I didn’t publish a post (did my TAXES and went to the DENTIST instead because I’m an ADULT now) since the start of December. This has easily been the most fun I’ve had covering a draft and we’re only getting started.
I’ve been sky high on Kirby in the past, so seeing some of the reports of him having less than stellar stuff in recent starts is a definite bummer. I’m still choosing to believe that he’s being knocked a tad unfairly by experts who put more stock (rightly or wrongly, it’s up to you to decide) in the one outing or so that they see firsthand than the information they gather along the way from individuals who see a player far more often, but it’s a situation well worth monitoring going forward.
Like many experts have already alluded to — or, in one case, reported and then quickly deleted for reasons unknown — concerns within baseball about Matuella’s recovery from Tommy John surgery are far less than whatever is going on with Brady Aiken’s left elbow. That said, since rumblings of complications have not yet manifested themselves in concrete news items, I’d still rank the more talented Aiken ahead of Matuella as of this second. There’s been so much interesting stuff written about the Tommy John procedure (much of it concluding with an attitude of “hey, let’s all pump the breaks on assuming it’s an easy in/out recovery and appreciate how rare it is for even the best athletes to overcome tearing a ligament in the most important part of their body”) over the past few months that I’m now wary of putting either prospect in the top ten conversation. Based on what we think we know at this point — a dangerous game to be sure, but it’s all we’ve got right now — any team drafting Aiken, and to a lesser extent Matuella, has to be prepared for the possibility that they’ll wind up getting nothing out of the pick. I think both players are talented enough, hard working enough, and young enough to recover and eventually pitch in the big leagues, but I’m no doctor…and even if I was, I wouldn’t know anything from the outside looking in at this point. Confusing stuff, really. This may just confuse things further (I’ve waffled a bit since then), but I wrote this to a friend (tried to edit out as much of the local spin as possible) the day after Aiken announced he had the surgery. Much of it presupposes that Aiken’s injury is more standard than what the rumors of late have indicated. I can only hope that this is the case for all involved. Here’s what I wrote last month…
Brady Aiken very stealthily went under the knife last night to repair his busted elbow. Everybody knew he wasn’t right, and in a weird way I’m glad that this was the cause for his average stuff of late. The success rate for Tommy John surgery isn’t what it used to be — it went from a scary thing to a seemingly normal thing and now it’s back to being kind of scary again — but it’s still a reliable enough procedure that I think I’d take it (with appropriate recovery time) over some of the other rumored possibilities (back, shoulder, hip). What does it all mean for the top of the draft?
I’d personally still consider taking Aiken with a top ten pick, but only if everybody in the organization was on the same page about his recovery and development. If it was up to me, I’d plan on him not pitching in a real game until the end of June 2016 (when Rookie ball starts) at the earliest. That’s admittedly a tough pill to swallow since teams picking in the top ten need RESULTS NOW out of their picks to an extent (you don’t have to give in to public pressure and much of the public doesn’t really follow the draft so much anyway, but some teams value this more than others), so I’d understand the trepidation felt by those against the pick. I’d be adamant about holding him out until I was sure he was right. The research on “rushing” guys back is pretty illuminating and a sobering reminder that any arm surgery is a big deal. If you really want to consider the long view, then fourteen months should be the prescribed minimum for this kind of thing per the numbers. Of course, everybody is built differently and standardizing recovery times and rehabilitation has it’s own downsides.
As to that last point, Lucas Giolito is the easiest point of reference from recent history. He was back from TJ in a crazy ten months: surgery on 8/31/12 and back in game action 7/3/13. The ongoing recovery of Jeff Hoffman should also be considered. I think there’s a non-zero chance that those players could both be freaks (in a great way), so it’s hard to use them as measuring sticks. Aiken strikes me as another freaky athlete with the chance to get back on the mound quicker than most, but that’s without knowing the extent of the injury. As far as the draft goes, it’s far from a sure thing teams picking in the back half of the top ten/early teens will even get a chance at Aiken. An injured Hoffman went ninth in the very same draft that a healthy Aiken went first. If Hoffman could go ninth in a better draft (an arguable point, but I freely admit that I hold the minority view that this year’s top half of the first round is every bit as good as last year’s…though with every passing injury this becomes a more difficult position to maintain), then why couldn’t the more talented Aiken do the same or better this year?
My number one hope above all else right now is for whatever team that drafts Aiken does so with a plan in place for his recovery. More to the point, I hope they take the long view with him and don’t give in to rushing his recovery in any way. He’s so damn talented (and young for his class) that the lost developmental time is hardly a killer in the long run. After getting his feet wet in Rookie ball next summer, he could be on a path that would include combined A ball in 2017, AA in 2018, and a shot at the big leagues at some point in 2019. That’s probably too slow a timeline for most fans and/or bosses with jobs on the line (he’d still just be 23 that August), so I could see wanting to pass on him. You could conceivably move that up a bit (skip Low-A, go A+/AA in 2017, AA/AAA in 2018 before potentially getting an audition for the ’19 rotation that September), but, advanced or not (and he is quite advanced, make no mistake), that’s a really aggressive path for a “high school” arm like Aiken. And, of course, this all assumes no setbacks, on the field or otherwise.
As mentioned previously, I think there is enough high-end pitching talent in this class that passing on an injured pitcher like Aiken or Matuella (who has looked really good and healthy of late), talented as they may be, would be justified. I’d lean towards taking the risk right now, but that’s easy to say in March…and when all that is at stake is your internet reputation and not your livelihood.
See the bolded part in that last paragraph? See how quickly things can change when following the draft? Damn. I’ve just depressed myself unintentionally from the past. Let’s get positive…
Buehler and Tate: both as advertised all year long. Strong argument to be made that they are the 1-2 in terms of college pitching in this class, though the order would be flipped (Tate then Buehler). Funkhouser and Twomey have also come on strong of late. I think the former might just pitch his way into top ten lock status soon (I’m still more in like with him than in love with him, but I’m a bit behind on his recent performances so we’ll see) while the latter could still sneak himself into the back of the first round.
JR OF Joe McCarthy (2015)
JR 2B/3B John LaPrise (2015)
SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero (2015)
SR 3B Kenny Towns (2015)
JR C/RHP Robbie Coman (2015)
JR LHP Brandon Waddell (2015)
JR LHP Nathan Kirby (2015)
JR RHP Josh Sborz (2015)
JR LHP David Rosenberger (2015)
SO RHP Connor Jones (2016)
SO C Matt Thaiss (2016)
SO RHP Jack Roberts (2016)
SO RHP Alec Bettinger (2016)
FR 2B Jack Gerstenmaier (2017)
FR 1B/RHP Pavin Smith (2017)
FR RHP Derek Casey (2017)
FR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
FR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
FR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
FR 3B Charlie Cody (2017)
FR C/2B Justin Novak (2017)
FR OF Christian Lowry (2017):
FR INF/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
Virginia has spoiled us all when we look at the talent above and think “yeah, it’s good but I’m just not feeling blown away.” That was my initial reaction to seeing the team laid out like this, but then you start doing the math. We’ve got a super athletic corner outfielder with a plus approach and strong hit tool (JR OF Joe McCarthy), a 6-5, 210 pound defensively gifted middle infielder (SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero), a crafty lefty with a plus curve who struck out almost a batter an inning his last healthy season (JR LHP Brandon Waddell), and a power-armed potential professional closer who lives in the mid-90s with three average or better secondaries including a hard cut-SL that could be a major weapon in time (JR RHP Josh Sborz). Then there’s JR LHP Nathan Kirby. All he’s done since getting to Virginia is a) strike out a batter an inning while consistently shutting down some of the stronger lineups in the country each week, b) see his stuff tick up to where he’s now hitting 94/95 with a knuckle curve at 76-84 that is unhittable when on, and c) retain his always above-average or better athleticism and command. He also had that no-hitter with 18 strikeouts against Pittsburgh last season, a performance so dominating he now has his own Wikipedia page. I am far too lazy to do a comprehensive list of all 2015 college draft prospects with Wikipedia pages, so you’ll just have to buy that the only ones I found in my two minutes of research are Kirby, Alex Bregman, Carson Fulmer, and Phil Bickford, though I suppose once Brady Aiken is officially enrolled at a junior college he can be added to the mix. Add those players to a potential first round pick in Kirby (who could be joined in the first by McCarthy, it should be noted) and you’ve got yet another talented Virginia squad. What else is new?
Kirby fascinates me not only because he’s achieved my dream of someday being important enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry but also because I really don’t have a firm grasp on what he is nor what he will be. I mean, I think he’s a high-floor future big league starting pitcher, but I’m not quite sure how high I’m willing to go with his ceiling. Perhaps I’m waiting to see more out of the changeup, a pitch that, as mentioned, seems to get a little better looking every time out. I got a comp from an area guy who has seen Kirby pitch more than 99.99% of human beings on the planet who actually compared him to a lefthanded Ian Kennedy, but with the caveat that his changeup still had some improvement left to truly “earn” such a comp. In terms of repertoire only (future performance as well, I suppose), I see some Alex Wood in Kirby. That comes with the big difference of Kirby’s Danny Hultzen style delivery replacing Wood’s painful looking arm action. Hultzen, the most logical comparison, doesn’t really work because of their flip-flopped stuff (Hultzen had the plus change and emerging breaking ball, Kirby is the other way around) but it’s not the craziest thing in the world. It’s yet another imperfect comp — a familiar refrain if you’ve been paying attention — but of all the recent first round lefties you’ll read about below, I think the closest comp at the same developmental stage is Andrew Heaney.
That leads into the other reason why Kirby fascinates me so. College lefties are weird. College lefthanded pitchers have had a surprisingly (to me) spotty track record since I’ve started this site up in 2009. If we take a look back through the years, you’ll see what I mean. Off the top, let’s be clear that Carlos Rodon is a separate animal altogether. I haven’t written a ton about him because this was a quiet last year for me on the site, but he’s not a guy I’m willing to compare to any other young arm at this point. He’s a man on the mound, and trying to shoehorn him into this discussion would be fruitless. Last year we also saw Kyle Freeland, Sean Newcomb, and Brandon Finnegan off the board in the first fifteen picks. Marco Gonzales went 19th in 2013 while Sean Manaea fell to 34th overall albeit for unique (injury, bonus demands) circumstances. Heaney (9th overall) and Brian Johnson (31st) were first round picks in 2012. Hultzen, Jed Bradley, Chris Reed, Tyler Anderson, Sean Gilmartin, Andrew Chafin, and Grayson Garvin all went in what we now know as a highly disappointing first round (for lefthanded college pitchers, at least) in 2011. Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale were both popped early in 2010. Mike Minor was the only real first round college lefty in 2009, but a run of ill-advised southpaws saw Rex Brothers (fine, he’s good), Aaron Miller, James Paxton (good, but unsigned), Mike Belfiore, Matt Bashore, and Tyler Kehrer all taken within the top fifty overall picks in the sandwich round.
We’ll leave the two most recent drafts alone because we need at least a little bit of time before rushing to crazy conclusions. So far, however, Rodon, Finnegan, and Gonzales all look good, as each guy is expected to play an important role in the big leagues at some point in 2015. Heaney, Johnson, and Paxton are all still probably too young to say, but each guy has done enough that I think we can call them successes at this point. Pomeranz appears to finally have something cooking with Oakland. Minor is an easy win. Brothers is a maybe, but I’ll be generous and say he’s shown enough at his best to be a positive. I guess that Chris Sale guy is pretty good, too. Not counting 2014 and 2013, that’s seven happy endings from the past four first and supplemental first rounds. On the downside, I count eight pitchers (Bradley, Reed, Anderson, Gilmartin, Miller, Belfiore, Bashore, Kehrer) that have disappointed, and that’s at least partly generous in some respects (still giving time to Hultzen, Chafin, Garvin). For the record, it’s really painful for me to call anybody a disappointment, but I’m trying to be as objective as I can here. I still have plenty of hope for Bradley, Anderson, and maybe even Reed to be average or better big leaguers. Anyway, by draft standards, even when taking into account we’re talking first round picks, that’s not necessarily a devastatingly low number of successes, but college pitching really should be a spot where you have a higher hit rate.
Anyway, diversion aside, I think a Kennedy, Wood, or Heaney type career path is well within reach for Kirby at this point. On the highest of high ends is a ceiling reminiscent of none other than Cliff Lee. We’re talking young Cliff Lee (i.e. before the plus command), so don’t think I’m 100% crazy (just 75% or so). Maybe you can bump that figure up a little higher, as I’ve previously compared two draft prospects (both righties, go figure) to Lee in the past: Chris Stratton (still love him, but whoops) and Trevor Bauer. That last comp remains one worth watching, I think. Bauer hit the big leagues before Lee, so we can’t do a straight age comparison but here’s a rough comparison by innings…
Lee: 7.9 K/9 – 4.1 BB/9 – 90 ERA+ – 241.2 IP
Bauer: 8.3 K/9 – 4.3 BB/9 – 85 ERA+ – 186.1 IP
We can’t finish up writing about Virginia by referencing two players with no connections to the program. That’s my stilted attempt at a transition to a quick discussion of the “other” UVA 2015 draft-eligible players and the many interesting Cavalier underclassmen. SR 3B Kenny Towns (steady glove, has flashed at times with the bat), JR C Robbie Coman (strong arm, good approach), and JR LHP David Rosenberger are all solid college role players that could sneak into the late round mix with bigger than anticipated seasons. The battery of SO RHP Connor Jones and SO C Matt Thaiss could both find themselves as first round picks in a year. SO RHP Alex Bettinger really impressed as a freshman (32 K in 36.2 IP) despite a less than stellar fastball. There are plenty of potential impact players in the freshman class, most notably 3B Charlie Cody, LHP Bennett Sousa, 1B/RHP Pavin Smith, and 2B Jack Gerstenmaier.