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Atlanta Braves 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Atlanta Braves 2011 Draft Selections

Florida State LHP Sean Gilmartin is definitely a grower. I saw him his freshman year, and thought he was a pretty good prospect. Then during his sophomore year, he improved to the point I was ready to drop the “pretty” qualifier and just call him a good prospect. When I saw him this past year, I was pretty damn impressed with the pitcher in front of me. By that logic, you’d think I’d be on board with the Braves popping the Florida State ace in the first round, right? Not so fast, my friend. His progression, in the eyes of this amateur evaluator, went from 10th rounder (freshman year) to 5th rounder (sophomore year) to 3rd rounder (draft day 2011).Gilmartin’s final destination as a first rounder was a legitimate surprise.

Most seem willing to give Atlanta the benefit of the doubt in taking the polished college lefty in the first round (something most did not do at the time of the Mike Minor selection, by the way), but it is a real head scratcher for me. My rankings are far from the final word in prospect evaluation, but I have to believe there was more value (value being an interesting topic in its own right) to be had with the 28th overall pick than my 53rd ranked pitcher. I loved the Minor selection at the time and have heard some compare the two college lefties, a comparison I don’t think I can get behind. At his best, Gilmartin throws four pitches for strikes — average FB, good CU, average SL, occasional above-average CB — and profiles as a solid back of the rotation arm. I’d want more upside out of my first round pick than that. However, and this is the fun part where I willing completely blow up my whole argument, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this year about value. Value in a draft where picks cannot be traded is entirely up to the drafting team. If the Braves really liked Gilmartin and didn’t think he’d be there at their next pick, they did the smart thing in selecting him when they could. That may come off as a tad simplistic, but I think it is true. Trust your scouts, create your board, and get to picking. Haters (such as yours truly) are going to hate.

Florida State JR LHP Sean Gilmartin: 87-89 FB, peak 91-92; sweeping 73-77 above-average CB that he has deemphasized in favor of CU and SL; very good 74-76 CU that keeps improving; 80-81 SL could be average pitch with time; good athlete; good hitter; 6-2, 190

The biggest sure thing on Florida State’s roster heading into 2011 is JR LHP Sean Gilmartin, a four-pitch Friday night starter that I can’t help but consistently underrate. Even though he has a very good mid-70s changeup and an above-average low-70s curveball, his inconsistent fastball, both in terms of velocity (sits mid- to upper-80s, peaks at 91-92) and command, worries me against professional hitters. Does a so-so fastball really undo the positives that three other potentially average or better (his low-80s slider isn’t great presently, but has the upside as a usable fourth pitch) secondary pitches bring to the table? As a guy who championed the pre-velocity spike Mike Minor, I’m inclined to say no, yet my instincts keep me away from endorsing Gilmartin as a potential top three round prospect. 

Connecticut SS Nick Ahmed is a favorite of mine who certainly looks the part of a big league ballplayer. His ceiling is an above-average regular at shortstop (plus bat, average at best glove) or third base/center field (average bat, above-average or better glove). Worst case scenario would be a utility player capable of playing literally anywhere on the field (yes, I’ve heard the rumors that some teams like him pre-draft as a catcher) or a potential mound conversion with the three pitches and athletic delivery to someday start in the big leagues.

I try not to let a quick look at a player influence my opinion on him too much, but Nick Ahmed gave off that somewhat silly yet undeniable big league look when I see him play earlier this year. He’s got an easy plus arm, strong defensive tools and athleticism that should play at multiple spots, and enough bat speed to drive good fastballs to the gaps. My only “concern,” if you even want to call it that, is that he’ll outgrow shortstop. The reason why I’m not ready to call that a legitimate concern just yet is because, based on his current tall and lanky frame, I would hope any physical growth he experiences professionally would be accompanied by additional strength, especially in his upper body, to help his eventual power output. In other words, if he gets too big for shortstop then at least he’ll then have the chance of having the power bat needed to play elsewhere.

The Braves made it hard on me this year by selecting so many early round college guys that I’ve run out of things to say about. Texas State 3B Kyle Kubitza is a gifted natural hitter whose success will be defined by his ability to stick at third base. There is also the added bonus of Kubitza’s affiliation with Texas State, a school with a coaching staff that has received a lot of positive chatter about the way they prepare players for the pros.

Kubitza has many of the key attributes you’d want in a third base prospect – good raw power, solid arm strength, and a patient approach at the plate. The biggest question he’ll have to answer is on the defensive side, but I’m on board with the idea that good pro coaching can help him through some of his concentration lapses in the field.

Strikeouts and groundballs are a recipe for success in pro ball. Santa Clara RHP JR Graham gets both in bunches. I love seeing future relievers get starting pitcher workloads early on (doubly so when they excel in said role), but concerns about his frame (6-0, 180 pounds) and delivery temper some of the recent enthusiasm that he might stick as a starter. From a stuff standpoint, I think he can do it: he has the plus “rising” four-seamer, nasty sinking two-seamer, and enough of a head start on developing his slider (flashes plus, but inconsistent) and changeup (much improved in last calendar year). As I’m reviewing this year’s draft I’m beginning to wonder if college relievers, once overdrafted with alarming regularity, are now a sneaky undervalued draft commodity. I understand the relative value of relievers to other players, but also think a bullpen with three or four top ten round college arms with middle relief floors has value in a) the joys of a quick return on the investment, and b) cost certainty at a spot so many teams pay far more than necessary. If a fourth round pick like Graham winds up as a pitcher the manager trusts to pitch the seventh inning, you’ve got yourself three dirt cheap years of service and an increased opportunity to spend on any of the 24 other spots on the roster.

Santa Clara JR RHP JR Graham: 94-98 peak; average 83-85 SL with plus potential but still very inconsistent like the Billy Wagner get me over slider; developing sinker; has hit 100-101; really shown improvement with CU; 6-0, 180

Blinn JC (TX) C Nick DeSantiago can hit a little bit, but I’m not sure he’ll catch. The former Longhorn has gotten off to a rocky start as a pro.

Fifth-year senior Vanderbilt RHP Mark Lamm was 100% a signability pick, but that doesn’t make him a bad prospect. The sixth round still feels a little rich for a guy who wasn’t the best senior sign pitcher on his college team (Taylor Hill) or the best Vanderbilt reliever drafted by Atlanta (Navery Moore).

My notes on Lamm were short and sweet: 90-94 FB; Tommy John survivor. The development of a pair of above-average offspeed pitches — a slider and a change — got him drafted way ahead of where I would have guessed. He’s up there as one of the top senior signs around and could be a quick mover through the system.

Remember what I said about drafting college relievers early on becoming the new market inefficiency? Yeah, the Braves went a little overboard with that strategy. Gonzaga RHP Cody Martin is yet another senior sign reliever. He’s a physically mature righthander with a chance to pitch in a big league bullpen someday. Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Gonzaga SR RHP Cody Martin (2011): 88-90 FB, sitting 92-93 out of bullpen; good 70-75 slurve-like CB that is much better as firmer mid-70s CB in 2011; good 86 CU

This is a little bit like the Matt Harvey to the Mets thing from a few years ago; it is such a pain in the neck seeing prospects I’ve invested so much time covering wind up with hated division rivals. I had Coastal Carolina 2B Tommy La Stella as a fifth rounder, yet am already kicking myself for having him so low. There are at least a half dozen college second base prospects with the chance to start in the big leagues someday, La Stella included. If he can handle the position defensively, he has star upside.

The number one knock I heard on La Stella heading into the season was his tendency to get too anxious at the plate and swing at pitcher’s pitches too often. This clearly wasn’t reflected in the numbers — notice the awesome batting averages and BB/K ratios — but it was a concern from smart people who had seen him often. When I receive scouting tips that contradict what the numbers reflect, I get dizzy. Trust the reports from people who are paid to this, banking on the idea that sometimes a scouting observation shows up before a dip in on-field production? Or acknowledge that sometimes even the best see things that sometimes aren’t really there? In La Stella’s case, I’m inclined to go with the latter. La Stella’s pure hit tool is on par with darn near any college prospect in this year’s draft.

Tough to make it in this world as an all-bat prospect, but Cameron OF Chase Larsson has a chance. As good a natural hitter as he is, this is a worthy gamble at this point in the draft.

I never really followed up on Western Kentucky SS Logan Robbins despite jotting his name down as an interesting 2011 college shortstop to follow. He has the classic speed/range/arm trio that will get a guy plenty of middle infield looks professionally, but I’m less certain than most that he’ll ever figure it out at the plate. He’s a little bit like the Bizzaro-La Stella in that way.

Atlanta’s most significant late round addition was Vanderbilt RHP Navery Moore (Round 14). He is another player that I’m all out of original thoughts on, so I’ll do an ugly grammatical recap: love his never straight plus fastball, don’t love his control or lack of a reliable second pitch, still think he is smart and athletic enough to thrive in a big league bullpen after a year or three working on his breaking ball in the minors. Writing is much easier when you don’t have to worry about following the rules.

Vanderbilt JR RHP Navery Moore: 92-96 plus FB, 99 peak; plus 81-84 SL that comes and goes; flashes plus CB; iffy control; Tommy John survivor; very occasional CU; “Intergalactic” is his closer music; has the stuff to start, but teams might not risk it from a health and delivery standpoint; 6-2, 205

Moore’s velocity was down late in the year. That’s a significant problem when your most marketable skill is a big fastball. That said, I still think he’s a good bet to settle in as a big league reliever someday due to his good athleticism and above-average raw stuff. The drop in velocity has to be addressed, however, whether or not it turns to be a mere matter of fatigue (treatment: rest, rest, more rest…and perhaps a tweak or two to his delivery) or a more serious health concern (treatment: shut him down, get him to a top surgeon, and hope he comes out healthy on the other side).

Like Moore, Arizona LHP Matt Chaffee (Round 12) is another solid relief prospect coming off an injury plagued college career. His raw stuff isn’t as good as Moore’s, but he gets a boost for his consistency and for being lefthanded. If healthy I’d like to see him get a chance to start, but his future is likely in the middle innings.

Arizona JR RHP Matt Chaffee (2011): 89-92 FB; average CU; mid-70s CB

I’ve always liked Oklahoma City SS Kirk Walker (Round 26). He may be limited to second base professionally as he lacks the foot speed for shortstop and the arm for third. If a pro training program can tick up both areas just a notch, he could have a future as a utility infielder.

Oklahoma City SR 3B Kirk Walker: gap power; average arm; slow; good athlete; could play 2B

The Braves only signed one player past the 37th round. We’ll save ourselves a little bit of time and not focus on all of the ones who got away, and instead focus on two of the bigger names that didn’t sign. Iolani HS (HI) LHP Carlos Rodriguez (Round 20) had an up and down spring and a strong commitment to Oregon State, so he was considered a tough sign to begin with. He’ll wisely take his intriguing three-pitch mix and skinny frame to college. Another really tough sign was Army RHP Kevin McKague (Round 50). It should come as no surprise that an agreement wasn’t reached between the Army man and Atlanta. A return to health and a more clearly defined outlook on his military future could have the nearly big league ready McKague shooting up draft boards next year.

Army SR RHP Kevin McKague: 92-96 FB; mid-80s SL; great splitter; missed most of 2011 due to back injury; 6-5, 230 pounds

Late edit! I missed the 37th round selection of Austin Peay RHP Ryne Harper. He’s got the fastball/slider needed to make it as a bullpen contributor if he gets the proper breaks.

Austin Peay SR RHP Ryne Harper (2011): 94 peak FB; very good SL; had offer from Vanderbilt out of high school

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Game Notes: Connecticut @ Villanova

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft First Round Prospect George Springer

Connecticut JR OF George Springer

JR OF George Springer looked nothing like the player I had read so much about this spring. His results may not have been what you’d like to see, but the improved process stood out. Good pro coaching will do wonders for him, though it will be really interesting to see how much tinkering his future employer will really want to do after investing a hefty bonus in the college version of Springer’s swing. He looks a little bow-legged in the photo above, but it isn’t a great representation of his swing setup because it captures him just as he started his stride. I had great video of him swinging the bat, but it disappeared into the ether during a file conversion. As for Springer’s swing, again, I’m not a scout, but I was really impressed with his balance at the plate, both in his approach and follow through. I didn’t like his collapsed back elbow, but found many of his flaws to be those decidedly under the “Coach Him Up and He’ll Be Alright” umbrella. This may be a cop-out, but the rise of so many other prospects could really be a boon for Springer’s career. Taking him in the top ten scares the heck out of me, but if he slips closer to the middle or end of the round, watch out. Lowered expectations + more stable pro organization, especially at the big league level (less need to rush him) = transformation from overrated to underrated almost overnight.

Another quick note I’ll pass along without much comment: George Springer cares. I realize this is a dangerous game to play because, really, how can we ever know such a thing, but George Springer (his name just sounds better when you use the first and the last) cares, or, at worst, is one heck of an actor. I’d never get on a player for not reacting to a strikeout with anger (and, by extension, showing that they care) because, as a quiet guy myself, I know demonstrative displays of emotion shouldn’t be the standard by which we judge effort and dedication. But the way Springer reacted to an early strikeout — pacing back and forth in front of the bench seemingly in search of a tunnel to pop into and blow off some steam (soon enough, George) until finally settling to the far end of the dugout, just off to the side, where he took a knee, closed his eyes, and started pantomiming his swing — really stood out to me. Probably nothing, but there you go.

None of that changes my view of George Springer the prospect, by the way. Just thought it was a relatively interesting tidbit worth passing along. I have to admit that I do kind of love the idea of a player with a wOBA approaching .500 getting that worked up over a bad at bat. Or maybe I love the way a player who is is clearly pressing at the plate has still somehow managed to put up a league/park adjusted triple slash of .386/.482/.667 (as of mid-April).

Two pro comparisons for Springer came immediately to mind. The first is 100% physical and in no way any kind of projection of future pro value. Something about Springer’s body, swing, and overall on-field demeanor reminded me a great deal of Florida’s Mike Stanton. Again, the two are very different players, but the physical similarities were interesting. A comp like that is probably why most people don’t like comps, but they’ll live.

The second comparison is much, much better, I think. Springer’s upside and overall tools package remind me so much of Minnesota minor leaguer Joe Benson that it’s scary. File that one away…

***

He’s no speed demon on the basepaths, he won’t approach double digit homers as a pro, and he’s not build like a prototypical professional outfielder, but, boy, JR OF John Andreoli can swing the bat. The way he controls the bat through the zone is a sight to behold. Some of the guy’s hits couldn’t have been rolled by hand into holes any better than he hits them. Beyond the pure hit tool, I asked around about certain players before the game, and almost to a man I was told to watch out for Andreoli’s bunting. One gorgeous second inning push bunt for a single might not be stone cold proof of anything, but it gave the pregame prognostication a little extra weight. He’s a well above-average defender in a corner that might be stretched some in center, though I’m not so sure his 55ish speed wouldn’t also work up the middle. Andreoli is probably nothing more than a late round organizational player at this point, but he could make for an interesting senior sign in 2012.

SR LHP Greg Nappo‘s upper-80s fastball plays up because of good deception in his delivery. It is still probably a below-average pitch on balance because the command isn’t quite what you’d hope it would be coming from a typical pitchability lefty. He relied quite heavily on the heater, mixing in occasional cutters and an average slow curve that he could drop into the strike zone more easily as the game went on. He’s also probably an organizational guy at this point, but he can always take pride that he’s the player featured in my header.

SO OF Billy Ferriter disappointed me a bit. Definite pro body, but he made a habit of swinging at junk and watching meaty fastballs go by. Small sample size, I know, but scouts made note that he’s made a habit of getting himself out all year long. Still like the upside, but have to keep telling myself he is only in his second year college ball. He’s draft-eligible this year, but unlikely to sign.

Really impressed by SO 2B LJ Mazzilli‘s swing and approach at the plate. He has a little toe-tap timing mechanism that reminds me a little bit of Mark Reynolds’ swing, only without the swing-and-miss length. Good speed, good athleticism, and good hands should keep him up the middle, and a little physical maturation at the plate could help turn him into one of those super annoying scrappy middle infielders we all know and love (or hate, depending on the player).

Still think I prefer JR UTIL Kevin Vance as part of a battery, whether that be behind the plate or on the mound, than at the hot corner. I like his above-average fastball/plus curveball combo and plus command as a potential relief arm down the line. If he sticks as a position player, I think that arm would be best served as a catcher. Surprised to see his batting line as weak as it is because I really liked his level, powerful, and well-balanced swing. A team could gamble on his upside, but it is starting to look like his down junior year could keep him a Husky for another season.

Villanova JR LHP Kyle Helisek has one of the most extreme wrist wraps/curls in the back during his delivery that I can remember. I won’t pretend to be an expert on pitching mechanics, but his windup looked painful to me. My main focus on the day was watching the Connecticut bats, so I didn’t notice much more than that, but I’ll probably see Helisek a few more times before the end of the year and/or next season.

Connecticut 2011 MLB Draft Prospect Nick Ahmed

Connecticut JR SS Nick Ahmed

I’m way more excited about JR SS Nick Ahmed‘s pro prospects after a weekend watching him play. My favorite sequence came after a 1-1 bunt attempt. Ahmed was hit with a pitch, but the umpire ruled he didn’t pull the bat back as he attempted to bunt for a hit. It wasn’t until he was halfway down the first base line until the umpire actually made the call. Ahmed was visibly upset with the call and kept repeating “no chance, no chance…” as he took to himself and anybody that would listen. Fast forward to later in the at bat: 3-2 count, fastball up in the zone, home run drilled deep and gone to left. No woofing afterwards, just a quick sprint around the bases, and back to the dugout. I’m still not totally sold on his power upside, but think he’ll hit enough to be league average with the bat assuming he plays a premium defensive position. On that note…

Ahmed is more difficult to judge in the field. He doesn’t look like a traditional shortstop (listed at 6-2, 205, though he was eye-to-eye with the 6-3 Springer), but he’s got a plus arm (not a direct comparison, but he has a similar flick of the wrist style throw to Jose Reyes) and more than enough athleticism to range in both directions. If he’s not a pro shortstop, and I really think he is, then he’d be best served moving to center, so as to better utilize his athleticism and surprising first step quickness, with third base as a backup to the backup. He has a long way to go before he becomes the player he’ll eventually be (if you can follow that), but I feel pretty comfortable slapping a big league utility guy floor on him.

Three More Quick Thoughts on College Baseball’s Third Weekend

1. The elite college pitching is really hard to keep up with. On Friday night, the trio of Andrew Chafin (10 K’s), Gerrit Cole (8), and Tyler Anderson (14) combined to total 24 innings of shutout, 9-hit baseball between them. Not to be outdone, Sonny Gray (9 IP 3 H 1 ER 0 BB 15 K) and Danny Hultzen (7 IP 2 H 0 ER 0 BB 11 K) also dominated in their Friday night matchups. Hultzen, the early favorite for the Golden Spikes Award, helped himself at the plate and on the base paths yet again, this time by walking three times and stealing two bases. On the year he has allowed 9 base runners in 20.2 innings on the mound while reaching base twice as often (13 hits and 5 walks in just over 40 plate appearances) at the plate. On the other end of the spectrum, it was disappointing to see Nick Tropeano struggle a little bit on the big stage against North Carolina, but, in what could be definitely be considered a silver lining (or grasping for straws at a really tiny sample size), he did manage to keep UNC’s best hitter Levi Michael quiet. Also disappointed to see Taylor Jungmann throw 120 pitches. I’ve been hesitant to downgrade Jungmann, but, in a year with so many premium college arms tightly bunched at the top, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility to see Jungmann dip below similarly, or in some cases slightly less, talented arms with more favorable college usage patterns.

2. Remember Player A from Friday? The guy who fit the following description: potential plus hit tool; line drive machine; gap power upside; leadoff man profile with above-average speed and good plate discipline; solid defender in CF; average at best throwing arm that grades out higher in terms of accuracy than strength; good track record with wood; great athlete with a pro body; 6-2, 175 pounds? That guy? His line for the weekend (6-9, BB, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, K) fit in nicely with his scouting report. 6 hits, all singles. Player B, meanwhile, was described like this: great physical strength; plus raw power; plus bat speed; average speed; average arm; good range in a corner; pitch recognition, or lack thereof, could make or break him; 6-2, 195 pounds. His line (7-12, 2 HR, 3B, 2B, BB, 6 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB, K) was also in line with the scouting reports (especially the power outburst), except with improved plate discipline. All in all, good weekends for both Johnny Ruettiger and Jason Coats.

3. No rhyme or reason behind the methodology of choosing players for this list, other than the desire of wanting to spotlight batting lines that intrigued me enough to jot down. As a draft-eligible sophomore coming off of an uninspiring freshman campaign, Andrew Susac was a prime “wait and see” player for me heading into 2011. It is still early, but, man, it is easy to like what the guy has done so far. All stats are from the weekend of 3/4 to 3/6…

  • Oregon State SO C Andrew Susac (7-13, 2 HR, 2 2B, 4 BB, 8 RBI, 9 R)
  • Bethune Cookman JR C Peter O’Brien (6-11, 2 HR, 2B, 6 RBI, 4 R, K)
  • Connecticut JR SS Nick Ahmed (4-5, HR, BB, RBI, 3 R, 2 SB on Saturday followed by 0-4 on Sunday)
  • St. John’s JR SS Joe Panik (7-11, 2B, 4 BB, 4 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB, K)
  • Virginia JR LHP/1B Danny Hultzen (2-4, 3B, 4 BB, 2 RBI, 2 R, 2 SB)
  • LSU JR OF Mikie Mahtook (3-9, HR, 2B, 4 BB, RBI, 5 R, 3 SB, 2 K)
  • Oregon State SO OF Garrett Nash (5-12, 2B, 2 BB, 4 RBI, 9 R, 3 HBP, 2 SB, K)
  • Rice JR OF Jeremy Rathjen (4-12, 2 2B, BB, 3 RBI, SB, K)

Another draft-eligible Oregon State sophomore is primed to rise up draft boards if he can keep stringing together weekends like this past weekend’s. The biggest questions Nash needed to answer this spring surrounded his hit tool and the early returns, from a scouting perspective anyway, are positive enough. The big weekend only brought his season line up to .200/.409/.233, but the plus-plus speed and potential for plus defense in center remain strong points in his favor.