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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Washington Nationals

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Washington in 2016

14 – Carter Kieboom
40 – Sheldon Neuse
58 – Jesus Luzardo
*100 – Dane Dunning
148 – Nick Banks
193 – Jake Noll
388 – AJ Bogucki

Complete List of 2016 Washington Draftees

1.28 – SS Carter Kieboom

The rich get richer as the Nationals do it again with an absolute steal with their first round pick. The birth of this site coincided with Washington’s unprecedented draft run beginning in 2009. I’m not sure a team has had better draft luck in any sport over an extended period* than what the Nationals experienced in the four drafts from ’09 to ’12. Being bad at the right time to land Stephen Strasburg (’09) and Bryce Harper (’10) is one thing, but having the number one prospects like Anthony Rendon (’11) and Lucas Giolito (’12) fall to pick six and sixteen in their respective years is otherworldly lucky. All credit to Washington for actually taking the plunge with Rendon and Giolito as they fell, but just being in that position in the first place is nothing short of a draft day miracle.

Getting Carter Kieboom (14) with the 28th overall pick might not qualify as another draft day miracle, but it’s not all that far off the mark, either. Some quick history on Kieboom, starting in April 2016…

Carter Kieboom is listed at third, but recent impressive defensive showings could allow him to remain at shortstop for the foreseeable future. If that’s the case, he could jump ten or more spots up these rankings because the bat is legit.

…and then again a month later…

Carter Kieboom was with the third base prospects in my notes up until about a month or so ago. The buzz on him being good enough to stick at shortstop for at least a few years grew too loud to ignore. In fact, said buzz reminds me quite a bit about how the slow yet steady drumbeat for Alex Bregman, Shortstop grew throughout the spring last season. Beyond the defensive comparison, I think there’s actually a little something to looking at Kieboom developing as a potential Bregman type impact bat over the next few seasons. He checks every box you’d want to see out of a high school infielder: hit (above-average), power (above-average raw), bat speed (yes), approach (mature beyond his years), athleticism (well above-average), speed (average), glove (average at short, could be better yet at third), and arm (average to above-average, more than enough for the left side). He’d be neck and neck with Drew Mendoza for third place on my third base list, but he gets the bump to second here with the shortstops. At either spot, he’s a definite first round talent for me.

There you go. Carter Kieboom: the next Alex Bregman. It’s not really that simple because it’s never really that simple, but the two young players share a lot of the same positive traits. Bregman’s incredible start to his pro career makes the direct one-to-one comparison extra scary. I love comps, but recognize they aren’t for everybody. The very nature of player comparisons can create unfair expectations based on misunderstanding the purpose of the enterprise; Kieboom not hitting the ground running quite like Bregman wouldn’t make him a failure, but the optics of linking the two together invites an extra layer of scrutiny that perhaps confuses more than clarifies. Still, I stand by the view that Kieboom has a lot of the same positive qualities in his game that make Bregman so good. I’m comfortable projecting Kieboom as a potential impact player on the same tier as Bregman.

*Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers with an unfair run going back to getting arguably the most important first pick of all-time (LeBron James), the second piece of their Big Three (Kyrie Irving) after only having to suffer one year post-Decision, and the pick that would become the third member (Andrew Wiggins begat Kevin Love) falling into their laps despite just a 1.7% of happening. And that ignores the Anthony Bennett year, which, fine, was a wash, but it still put them in a position where they could have realistically taken somebody useful like Oladipo, Porter, Noel, or McCollum or unrealistically taken a superstar like Antetokounmpo or Gobert instead. The Pittsburgh Penguins could be in the mix with their Marc-Andre Fluery, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby run.

The Colts are a sneaky darkhorse for one of the luckiest draft teams of all-time: going from fourteen seasons of Peyton Manning directly into the Andrew Luck era is pretty damn fortunate any way you look at it. Recent holiday boredom, however, revealed that the Colts are one of only three teams to have only had three quarterbacks (George, Manning, Luck) play all sixteen games in a season in the modern era. The others are the Patriots (Grogan, Bledsoe, Brady) and Jaguars (Brunell, Garrard, Bortles). The Texans have technically had the worst luck at the position (Carr and Schaub), but their history only goes back to 2002 so they get a mulligan for now. Anyway, I feel a little less jealous of the Colts now that I see how ugly things were for the decades that came before Manning/Luck. If you want to go way back, then I’d be willing to hear arguments for the Orlando Magic in the early-90s. If you flip the Strasburg/Harper drafts, then maybe you could flesh out a longform think piece worthy comparison between Orlando getting Shaq (transcendent superstar a la Harper) and Penny (crazy talented but oft-injured) in 1992 and 1993. I’d read that.

1.29 – RHP Dane Dunning

I messed up on Dane Dunning (*100). hence the asterisk next to his “pre-draft ranking.” From draft night…

A copy/paste error this morning kept Dunning off of the top 500 rankings. Now I’m paranoid that he’s not the only name missing since I tend to copy/paste in bunches. Anyway, Dunning has a really good arm. Going off memory, I think he was ranked somewhere just after the 200 mark near the Matt Krook, Matthias Dietz, Greg Veliz, and Tyler Mondile band of pitchers. My inexplicably unpublished notes on him…

JR RHP Dane Dunning: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96 peak; average or better 81-83 SL; no longer uses good mid-70s CB as much; average 82-87 CU, flashes above-average with plus upside; improved command; good athlete; 6-3, 200 pounds

2014: 11.57 K/9 – 4.71 BB/9 – 21 IP – 5.14 ERA
2015: 8.25 K/9 – 3.45 BB/9 – 60.1 IP – 4.05 ERA
2016: 10.28 K/9 – 1.45 BB/9 – 68.1 IP – 2.50 ERA

For all the completists out there, Dunning finished 2016 at Florida with the following line…

10.08 K/9 – 1.37 BB/9 – 78.2 IP – 2.29 ERA

Anyway, good thing Dunning was just a late first round pick with little fanfare who didn’t make any noise this past offseason or anything. The newest member of the White Sox — or one of the newest members, it’s been a busy offseason on the South Side so far — is really good. I did some digging my own archives and found that the draft day estimate that placed Dunning around 200th overall was off. He was actually closer to the 100 mark in the same group as fellow Gator Shaun Anderson (90th), Ben Bowden (93rd), Mike Shawaryn (98th), and Bailey Clark (102nd). Dunning has a shot to be an impact mid-rotation arm — calling guys “mid-rotation,” as I’m often guilty of doing, is so vague; my attempt to differentiate that a bit with the “impact” adjective isn’t all that I wanted, but hopefully it shows some nuance that separates a damn good potential third starter mid-rotation arm from a innings-eating fourth starter mid-rotation arm — who piles up outs on the ground with an elite sinker/slider mix. He has the changeup, command, athleticism, and delivery to start with the experience in relief as a tantalizing fallback plan.

2.58 – 3B Sheldon Neuse

On Sheldon Neuse (40) from March 2016…

Recently got a Mike Olt draft comparison for Sheldon Neuse. Thought that was a pretty strong comp. Also liked that it was a draft comparison and not necessarily a pro prospect match. Olt’s big league disappointments don’t change the fact that he’s a really talented ballplayer capable of looking really good for long stretches at a time. Players develop in all kinds of different ways, so expecting one guy to follow another’s path is unwise. Maybe Neuse will fulfill his promise professionally in a way that Olt wasn’t able. Maybe he’ll experience similar developmental road blocks and see his game stall in a similar manner. Olt went 49th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft; snagging Neuse at any point after that would be a steal in 2016.

And then again in April 2016 (with a bonus pre-season take from October 2015 embedded within)…

On Sheldon Neuse before the season…

Neuse could still fulfill the promise many (myself included) saw in him during his excellent freshman season back when he looked like a potential Gold Glove defender at third with the kind of bat you’d happily stick in the middle of the order. He could also get more of a look this spring on the mound where he can properly put his mid-90s heat and promising pair of secondary offerings (SL, CU) to use. Or he could have something of a repeat of his 2015 season leaving us unsure how good he really is and thinking of him more of a second to fifth round project (a super talented one, mind you) than a first round prospect.

So far, so good on the whole fulfilling that promise thing: Neuse has hit .383/.483/.692 through 32 games with 23 BB/26 and 8/9 SB. On the mound, he’s been just as good: 16 K in 16.2 IP of 1.62 ERA ball. He’s now firmly back on the first round bubble and one of this draft’s quintessential first round talents that might get squeezed out of the top thirty or so picks because of the impressive depth at the top of this class.

Drafting Neuse any point after pick 49 would be a steal, I said. The Nationals took Neuse with pick 58. If one were to connect the dots, one might see a picture of, I don’t know, Neuse stealing something or the Nationals stealing Neuse or something that makes it clear that Washington did indeed get themselves fine value with their second round pick. Neuse’s plus-plus arm, quality defense at the hot corner, and intriguing power upside remind me a little bit of former Rutgers star Todd Frazier. It’s an imperfect comp — the body types are off — but similar career arcs don’t seem out of the question.

3.94 – LHP Jesus Luzardo

I really, really like the healthy version of Jesus Luzardo (58). The young lefty has about everything you’d want in a pitching prospect. Fastball? Sits anywhere from 87-95 MPH with peaks as high as 97 MPH. Changeup? Such an important pitch for a lefty and Luzardo delivers with an above-average 75-82 MPH version with plus upside. Breaking ball? You get two for the price of one as Luzardo throws a really good 75-82 MPH slider and a decent 73-78 curve. He commands his offspeed stuff well and his fastball exceptionally well. The only knocks on Luzardo are the standard risks that come with any teenage pitcher coming off of Tommy John surgery (Luzardo had his in March 2016) and the lack of projection — though it’s arguable how much he needs to grow with his present stuff being so strong — in his 6-1, 200 pound frame. I can’t help but view this pick as less of a 2016 third round selection and more of a bonus 2017 first rounder. Assuming his rehab goes as planned, Luzardo could be in line to start his career almost exactly one year after he would have if healthy from the start. We’re talking a mid- to late-summer rookie ball debut with the goal of having him ready for Low-A by April 2018. Mentioned it before the draft, but Luzardo reminds me a lot of last year’s second round pick by Cleveland — and 59th overall selection, just one spot off of Luzardo’s pre-draft ranking here…hmm — Juan Hillman. I think Luzardo is better, though.

4.124 – OF Nick Banks

On Nick Banks (148) from March 2016…

Hunter Renfroe went thirteenth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, so his 2016 doppelganger Nick Banks going a few spots later seems appropriate. Banks is one of the many hitters with questionable BB/K marks before the season that scouts insisted had more mature approaches at the plate than the raw numbers suggested. The scouts have been redeemed by most of those hitters — Kyle Lewis most famously — but Banks has continued to struggle (5 BB/10 K) out of the gate so far. He could still have a fine pro career without polishing up his approach — he’s a legit five-tool guy with no singular grade falling below average on most scout cards — but plugging that last remaining hole could mean the difference between good and great.

Those scouts could still be be on to something as maybe Banks is just a late-bloomer as it pertains to his approach, but it probably makes more sense to just accept him for the free-swinger that he is. His BB/K as a junior at Texas A&M: 24 BB/47 K. His BB/K in his pro debut: 11 BB/37 K. Just as concerning for Banks is his defense; he’s more than fine in either corner, but stretched in center. Banks may very well be a classic outfielder tweener. His offense feels a half-step behind what you want for a corner player and his defense makes him a less than ideal fourth outfielder candidate. Working in his favor is a history of hitting righthanded pitching particularly well, so a platoon situation could benefit both him and his club if/when he reaches the big leagues. I’d be happy with that outcome at this point if I were in the Washington front office.

5.154 – OF Daniel Johnson

I’m always a bit apprehensive when a player’s best tools are arguably the two least important, but Daniel Johnson’s plus-plus arm strength and plus to plus-plus speed are almost so much better than the norm that I can accept it. His rawness at the plate still makes me a bit uneasy, but I get the appeal. Fifth round still seems way too early, though. Johnson is a great athlete who covers a lot of ground in center and can clearly throw and run with the best of them. If that’s all he is, then there’s some value there as a speed/defense fifth outfielder. If he hits even a little, then you might be able to squint and see a future regular depending on how highly you value what he does well.

Heard two interesting things about Johnson while doing some digging. First, a contact said that his team had Johnson much higher than Buddy Reed, a similar speed/defense type who may or may not hit. Thought that was pretty interesting. I also got an Aaron Brown comparison for Johnson that makes a little sense, especially if you once thought (as I did) that Brown’s most likely path to the big leagues was on the mound. I’m not necessarily saying the same about Johnson — he runs and defends in center better than Brown ever did — but the thought of seeing what his monster arm could do if unleashed as a pitcher is pretty damn intriguing.

6.184 – C Tres Barrera

I’ve always been high on Tres Barrera. He was ranked in the top 500 back in his high school days (356 in 2013, one spot ahead of Mitch Garver) and I continued to champion his abilities into April 2016…

Tres Barrera’s ordinary start – his approach has taken a big step back – knocks him down from his clear perch in the two spot to closer to the middle of the pack. Despite seeing some time at third base this year for the Longhorns, I still like him behind the plate over the long haul. His above-average raw power keeps him in the top ten round mix despite the aforementioned backslide in approach.

For as much as I liked Barrera over the years the weird shift in approach (33 BB/39 K as a sophomore to 28 BB/54 K as a junior) was enough of a red flag to keep him out of my top 500 in this draft class loaded with college coaching. Do I regret it? A little bit, especially after Barrera went back to a more pleasant to the eye BB/K ratio of 15/22 in his pro debut. That performance has me questioning a whole lot of what I knew — or thought I knew — about Barrera as an offensive player, to say nothing of my own process for evaluating talent from afar. Was reading into the 211 at bats Barrera compiled in his final season at Texas nothing more than a classic case of mistakenly sweating a small sample? Is the smaller pro sample (164 AB) more of an aberration that shouldn’t be read into, either? Or could it be that Barrera was just a 21-year-old (22 this past September) catcher going through the ups and downs of playing in a pressurized college environment, shifting between multiple positions on defense, and attempting to make the adjustment to pro ball on the fly, so, hey, maybe we (fine, I) should ease up on judging him as if he was a finished product? Let’s go with that for now. Barrera is talented — average power, average arm, more than athletic enough to make it behind the plate — and versatile, so he’ll get plenty of chances to sink or swim in pro ball. I’ll go high-level backup catcher good enough to play a few different spots defensively in a pinch. Maybe something like a more well-rounded version of Eli Marrero/Tyler Houston depending on how Washington deploys him, though all the smart money is on the Nationals being fully committed to him behind the plate.

7.214 – Jake Noll

I remember thinking that Jake Noll (193) looked a little bit like Ryan Zimmerman after seeing him play for Florida Gulf Coast this past spring. Now he’s in the same organization. Great analysis, right? For more insight like that, here’s me on Noll from March 2016…

One of the better on-the-radar mid-round (or better) middle infield juniors is Jake Noll. Noll is a good hitter with above-average bat speed, above-average foot speed, and enough defensive versatility (2B, 3B, OF) to be a really interesting pro prospect. He’s hit well so far in 2016 despite some uncommon plate discipline struggles (small sample alert!), so his opportunity to rise up boards in a college class in need of more up-the-middle talent remains present. I like Noll more than I love him right now, but he’s earned his spot atop an average at best all-around class of hitting talent.

An outside-the-box name to keep in mind when thinking about Jake Noll in the pros: Odubel Herrera. Both guys can run a little bit, play a few different positions (if Noll doesn’t stick at second, he could be a prime candidate to move to center like Herrera), and, most critically, know how to flat hit the baseball. Like Herrera, Noll can really hit. That ability should serve him well as the rest of his game catches up in the pros. Bonus comparison that also makes a little bit of sense: former Nationals prospect Max Schrock.

8.244 – RHP AJ Bogucki

I’ve seen a lot of AJ Bogucki (388) over the years, first at Boyertown HS (about 30 miles from me) and later at North Carolina, so I can say that his pre-draft ranking is more about what I’ve heard and read than what I’ve seen firsthand. Bogucki has always looked good when I’ve seen him — his results in three years as a Tar Heel back this up — but I’ve almost always walked away thinking he was one of those prospects who had many great individual components that never quite added up to a great prospect. Bogucki has a fine fastball (87-94, 96 peak) that he commands well at times (but not so well at others), plus an above-average breaking ball that flits between both a curve (upper-70s) and slider (low-80s). Going with the sinking fastball/harder slider (a pitch that flashes plus at times) combination could make him a useful reliever if that’s how he and the Nationals decide to take his development. It’s what I would do, at least.

9.274 – C Joey Harris

Defensively, Joey Harris fits in really well in the big leagues. His hands, arm, and athleticism could be his ticket to advancement in the years to come. Offensively, it takes some projection to get to a similar level. I don’t personally see it — not enough power, patience is just all right, contact skills are inconsistent — but I know for a fact (#SOURCES) that there are those in the Washington organization who see things differently. Harris is a guy seen as a future everyday catcher internally. We shall see.

10.304 – SS Paul Panaccione

Flattery will get you everywhere, they say. That may well be true, but I think the same could be said for positional versatility. Being able to play a variety of spots on the diamond as a non-premium prospect entering pro ball is the best way to get the playing time you need to make a meaningful impression on the powers that will ultimately decide your professional fate. Paul Panaccione has that part of the game well taken care of. In his debut, the shortstop from Grand Canyon played shortstop (duh), second, and third. He also mixed in a few innings in both left and right field for good measure. Defensive flexibility like his helped keep his bat in the lineup even as he scuffled to an ugly .205/.254/.250 start in his first 190 plate appearances. There’s no way to sugarcoat those awful numbers, so Panaccione will have to hope that his relative strengths and draft standing are enough to get him another honest shot in 2017. As a fan of his game, I hope that’s the case. Panaccione is a steady glove wherever you put him who uses his average speed well. He makes a lot of quality contact and has a patient approach at the plate. From March 2016…

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.

Rough start or not, Panaccione still looks like one of the draft’s most interesting super-utility prospects. It’s not a super high ceiling and the odds of reaching it obviously took a little bit of hit since draft day, but for a tenth round pick it’s more than fair value.

11.334 – OF Armond Upshaw

I’ve heard from those in the know that there are those within the Washington organization view Armond Upshaw as a potential switch-hitting Michael Taylor. That would be a more than suitable outcome for an eleventh round pick. Upshaw has serious speed, more than enough range for center, and surprising feel as a hitter. Regular readers of the site know I try to stay away from the name game, but Armond Upshaw just sounds too good to fail. Major League Baseball is ready for an Armond Upshaw.

12.364 – LHP Hayden Howard

It’s easy to see the appeal of Hayden Howard, a big (6-4, 190) lefthander with a nice mix of present stuff (87-92 FB, low-80s CU, low-70s CB) and projection to come. The results, however, are enough to pump the breaks on Howard’s upside being much more than a potential matchup lefty out of the pen. Howard’s junior year at Texas Tech (5.66 K/9 and 2.06 BB/9 in 70.0 IP) looks a lot like what he did in his pro debut (5.41 K/9 and 3.86 BB/9 in 23.1 IP). I won’t write off Howard completely as a potential starting pitching option based on a little under one hundred combined college/pro 2016 innings, but the idea that he is what he is in that role has certainly crossed my mind. This doesn’t mean he’s useless, of course; as mentioned, a successful career in relief could very well be on the horizon for Howard.

13.394 – 1B Conner Simonetti

Monster power, quality first base defense, and one glaring potentially fatal flaw. That’s Conner Simonetti, a legit plus raw power bat from Kent State who struck out 126 times in 379 at bats between college and the pros in 2016. That’s a ton of swing-and-miss. I’m good with betting on power at this point in the draft even if the odds of Simonetti being able to make enough contact to make it worth it are low.

14.424 – RHP Kyle Simonds

Kyle Simonds not landing in my top 500 surprises me a little bit now that I have a few months of reflection behind me. Simonds is the kind of college arm that is unexciting on the surface (5.43 K/9 in 2015, 7.22 K/9 in 2016), but with the exact mix of polish (two average or better offspeed pitches), command (consistently above-average), athleticism (plus), and ground ball stuff (52.38%52.38%) to profile as a quick-mover in pro ball. I like Simonds’s three-pitch mix (86-92 sinking fastball, above-average low-80s slider, average or better 78-84 changeup) enough to keep starting, though his age (24 in May) means he’ll have to get moving fast. It may be a little rich, but there are enough similarities with Tanner Roark here that a career path along those lines wouldn’t be a shock. Value like that in round fourteen is excellent.

15.454 – LHP Ryan Williamson

Ryan Williamson is kind of what you get when you combine Hayden Howard and Kyle Simonds. He has the lefthandedness and history of run prevention of Howard while his stuff (87-93 FB, really good 77-83 SL, intriguing CU) more closely mirrors what Simonds throws. That makes him a closer prospect to Simonds in my mind, a good thing for Williamson’s pro prospects. Less good for Williamson’s pro prospects is the fact he’s likely to miss the entire 2017 season after Tommy John surgery in late-May of 2016. A return to full health would put Williamson right back on the prospect map. Lefties with three pitches and size (6-3, 200) coming off three straight seasons of double-digit strikeouts per nine in the ACC tend to get plenty of opportunities to impress in pro ball. I like this one a lot.

16.484 – RHP Phil Morse

The first two seasons for Phil Morse at Shenandoah…

6.70 K/9
4.34 BB/9
5.62 ERA
91.1 IP

The last two seasons for Phil Morse at Shenandoah…

9.26 K/9
4.81 BB/9
0.74 ERA
48.2 IP

Interesting, right? The jump in strikeouts and the drastic drop in run prevention coincides with two things: a shift to the bullpen and increased velocity. Morse went from 88-92 MPH as a starter to 92-96 MPH in relief. Part of that was the obvious shift in role, but it was also the culmination of a larger journey. Morse put on good weight, improved his conditioning, tweaked his delivery, and won the genetic lottery that allows some guys to suddenly see major upticks in velocity when others don’t. With his big fastball, cut-slider, and occasional change, Morse has a shot to pitch out of a big league bullpen one day if he can get his control under control.

17.514 – SS Tyler Beckwith

I like what Washington did in targeting potential utility options in this draft. They went alliterative early with Paul Panaccionne and late with Branden Boggetto, and settled on Tyler Beckwith in between. All three guys have proven themselves versatile defensively with intriguing offensive upside to match. Beckwith played third base, shortstop, and second base in his pro debut. He’s a really good athlete with standout speed and an above-average arm who has a chance to hit for solid power if he can keep advancing. What’s not to like there? Toss in Beckwith’s college experience in the outfield and you can see the outline of a true seven position super-sub if everything breaks right.

18.544 – LHP Ben Braymer

Size (6-2, 220) and arm strength (88-92, 94 peak) from the left side will always get you a foot in the door. A quality draft season in the SEC (8.81 K/9 and 2.35 BB/9 in 48.0 IP) doesn’t hurt, either. The development of a reliable offspeed pitch, be it the slider or the change, will determine how far Ben Braymer will go as a reliever from here on out. As the first of six consecutive signed college arms, competition figures to be fierce in the years to come.

20.604 – LHP Jake Barnett

Jake Barnett pitched well as a junior (9.84 K/9 and 2.93 BB/9) on a dominant Lewis-Clark pitching staff. Did some digging beyond that and…I’ve got nothing. He relies heavily on a sinker/slider combination, so at least I can share that. Beyond that…nothing.

21.634 – RHP Jacob Howell

Jacob Howell made his one and only season at Delta State worthwhile. His junior year numbers — 11.81 K/9 and 3.94 BB/9 — look good. Like Jake Barnett, his stuff is a bit of a mystery at this point for me. Low-90s fastball is all I’ve got. It’s a start.

22.664 – RHP Sterling Sharp

I lost track of Sterling Sharp, a Drury Panther by way of Eastern Michigan and Darton State who was a pretty big deal as prep prospect once upon a time, so it’s cool to see him reemerge as a legit pro prospect after a good but not great draft season (7.69 K/9 and 3.76 BB/9) in 2016. Sharp managed to follow that success with more of the same in pro ball. He posted a 7.34 K/9 and 1.16 BB/9 in 46.2 debut innings with the Nationals organization this past summer. Getting a really athletic righthander with low-90s heat and limited innings weighing down his arm is a nice move in the twenty-second round.

23.694 – RHP Michael Rishwain

I have nothing against the Nationals per se — Natitude is embarrassing, but can we really hold that against the organization forever? — yet them making things incredibly difficult for a one-man gang to come up with insightful things to say about all of their obscure college pitching prospects has me reconsidering how I feel about the franchise. Michael Rishwain did this at Westmont College in 35.2 innings: 7.84 K/9 , 1.77 BB/9, and 1.51 ERA. That’s all I’ve got.

24.724 – RHP Joseph Baltrip

Joseph Baltrip makes it five consecutive pitchers from non-D1 schools in a row for Washington. I’m not passing judgment, just noting that five in a row starting in a nice round number like twenty feels like more than just a coincidence. Or maybe I’m just a crazy conspiracy theorist. Nice to see Lewis-Clark State, Delta State, Drury University, Westmont College, and Wharton County Junior College get some draft love all the same. Baltrip, the one from Wharton County JC, might have put up the weirdest professional line of any 2016 draft pick. On the surface, things were great: can’t really argue with a 1.38 ERA in 26.0 IP even if it comes with a pedestrian 5.88 K/9, right? What if that 1.38 ERA came with a 7.96 BB/9 and an incomprehensibly high 93.3 LOB%? Of all pitchers with at least twenty innings thrown, only Henry Owens had a higher BB/9 in the big leagues this past season. Only two big league pitchers (Chris Capuano and Andrew Miller) had higher LOB%. Forget what I said earlier: what Baltrip did is the TRUE definition of effectively wild.

For better or worse, said wildness isn’t necessarily a new thing for Baltrip. In his draft year as a Pioneer, he managed a 10.73 K/9 and 5.36 BB/9. Into the mid-round potential middle relief pile he goes. Incidentally, Baltrip’s last name reminds me of the fictional basketball league I created as a kid. I obviously had to make up some killer names to fill the rosters of the 64-team league (because tournaments are awesome, you see), so necessity was the mother of invention as I looked wherever I could to find cool sounding ideas. I distinctly remember being at a baseball game and seeing the out of town scoreboard post the updated totals for the Orioles-Blue Jays game. Something about BAL-TOR sounded good to me, so Josh Baltor was born. He was terrible. Hopefully Joseph Baltrip enjoys more success.

25.754 – SS Branden Boggetto

I like Branden Boggetto as a potential bat-first utility prospect capable of playing any of the four infield spots in a pinch. The college shortstop took to second base in the pros as he continued to hit for solid power with a decent if sometimes overly aggressive approach.

26.784 – OF Jack Sundberg

On Jack Sundberg from March 2015…

Sundberg is held back by a lack of any kind of meaningful pop, but he can run, throw, and defend well enough in center that a team might put up with some growing pains with the stick. He profiles better as a 2016 senior sign to me.

I guess there are worse organizational guys to have around than Sundberg, though it’s hard seeing how a punchless outfielder with no real carrying tool (his glove, speed, and arm are all good, but nothing that bowls you over) who can’t hit lefthanded pitching carves out a role over the long haul.

27.814 – LHP Jeremy McDonald

Jeremy McDonald, all 5-9, 185 pounds of him, did this at California Baptist: 9.43 K/9 and 4.29 BB/9 in 84.0 IP. Then he went out and did this in the pros: 9.23 K/9 and 1.71 BB/9 in 26.1 IP. I’ve heard some quiet hype about McDonald being the next Tim Collins, but I have no idea if there’s real merit to the idea or if it’s just a short lefthander being compared to a short lefthander kind of thing.

28.844 – LHP Jonny Reid

Jonny Reid at Azusa Pacific: 7.33 K/9 and 2.09 BB/9. Jonny Reid in the pros: 6.00 K/9 and 1.75 BB/9. That’s all I’ve got. Sorry.

29.874 – RHP Sam Held

On Sam Held from April 2015…

His teammate JR RHP Sam Held is another good athlete with a strong fastball (94 peak) and plenty of projection left who hasn’t performed as hoped so far this season.

If Held’s 2015 was a disappointment (7.80 K/9, 6.00 BB/9, and 8.40 ERA in 15.1 IP), then I’m not quite sure what to call his 2016. His ERA went down to 5.17 and his innings went up to 38.1, so that’s good. He also significantly trimmed his walk rate (2.11 BB/9), so that’s really good. But somehow a long, lean, mid-90s throwing machine managed to get through his senior season only striking out 3.05 batters per nine. Of course then he went out and did this in 29.0 pro innings: 6.83 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, and 1.86 ERA. In short, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

31.934 – C CJ Picerni

Undergraduate universities attended by the four Ozga siblings: Boston University, American University, Pace University, and New York University. The last time a player was drafted from each respective school: 1969 (Nicholas Stipnovich and Joe Lasorsa), 2011 (Stephen Lumpkins), 2016 (Brett Bittiger), and 2016 (CJ Picerni). Figures I’m the only one without a draft pick from my school in the June draft ever. Anyway, Picerni getting selected by Washington is a pretty big deal for NYU. He’s the first NYU baseball player drafted since the school brought back the baseball program in 2015 after a 41-year hiatus. I honestly had no idea they brought baseball back. Shows what I know.

Is Picerni any good? I have no notes on him nor have I seen him, but his senior season stats (.258/.319/.331 with 7 BB/30 K) as a 23-year-old playing Division III ball don’t inspire much confidence. He was much better as a junior (.331/.365/.510 with 13 BB/21 K), so at least there’s that. If nothing else, he can always say he got drafted and played in pro ball. And my brother now has bragging rights on me once again.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Jarrett Gonzales (Grayson CC), Tristan Clarke (New Orleans), Garrett Gonzales (Incarnate Word), Ryan Wetzel (Pittsburg State), Morgan Cooper (Texas), Tristan Bayless (Texas A&M), Jordan McFarland (Arkansas), Cory Voss (Arizona), Noah Murdock (Virginia), Matt Mervis (Duke), Sean Cook (Maryland)

2016 MLB Draft Mock Draft – March Madness 2.0

The 2016 MLB Draft will be here before we know it, so that can only mean one thing: it’s MOCK DRAFT season. It’s been a few years since I published a mock draft around here, but I figured it was finally time to get back in the game. Of course, since I can’t offer much in the way of insider intel — I’m not BA-era peak Jim Callis over here — putting together a mock would be pretty much pointless. With the proper analysis attached to each pick mock drafts can be fun and interesting reads, not to mention a great way of exposing casual fans — the number of people who Google “2016 mlb mock draft” that find this site is insane, at least relative to the four people who read on their own volition otherwise — to players they might have not yet heard of. I might attempt a mock like that between now and June. Or not. Either way, this ain’t it.

So until then (or not) we’ll have some fun and take the idea of a mock draft to the logical extreme. If “mock” means to make something seem laughably unreal or impossible, let’s make our mock draft as unreal or impossible as we can. Our second edition of this 2016 MLB Mock Draft is based on the top 34 teams (by pre-tournament seeding) in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The top 34 schools (listed below) are the only universities that teams were allowed to draft from in this mock. Unlike last week’s, however, there is no limit to how many players can be drafted off of any one school. That means some teams get nobody selected while others have multiple picks to celebrate. It’s not fair, but it’s life. Here were the universities eligible for this mock listed in descending order based on their pre-tournament seeding…

34. Butler
33. Providence
32. St. Joseph’s
31. USC
30. Colorado
29. Texas Tech
28. Oregon State
27. Iowa
26. Dayton
25. Wisconsin
24. Seton Hall
23. Arizona
22. Notre Dame
21. Texas
20. Baylor
19. Maryland
18. Purdue
17. Indiana
16. Iowa State
15. Kentucky
14. California
13. Duke
12. Texas A&M
11. Utah
10. Miami (FL)
9. West Virginia
8. Xavier
7. Villanova
6. Oklahoma
5. Michigan State
4. Oregon
3. Virginia
2. North Carolina
1. Kansas

Any 2016 MLB draft-eligible player from any of those schools is up for grabs. Let’s get mocking…

*****

1 – Philadelphia Phillies – Miami C Zack Collins

The Phillies would be tasked from picking from an impressive group of college talent if forced to comply with these ridiculous rules. Three of the arms rumored to be in the 1-1 mix in the real world — Matt Krook, Alec Hansen, and Connor Jones — would all be available to them thanks to the impressive basketball being played at Oregon, Oklahoma, and Virginia, respectively. Interestingly enough, all three are plagued with the same general concern: wildness. Jones has the most complete résumé and the least overall concern about his control (4.03 BB/9 last year, down to 2.11 BB/9 so far this year). Much has been made about Hansen’s consistently inconsistent start (6.99 BB/9) while Krook’s wild ways (7.92 BB/9) have largely been glossed over. Part of that is likely due to giving Krook an early season mulligan as he makes his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery and part is probably due to Hansen being the higher profile player nationally, but the fact that some of the most talented arms in this college class come with major control (and command and consistency and changeup) questions can’t be ignored. The risk with either at 1-1 is just too high. As mentioned, Jones is the less risky play, but, as so often happens, comes with a little less upside. Much as I like Jones, if I’m going with a college arm with the first overall pick in a draft I want a guy I can confidently project as a potential ace. He may show enough to reach that point in the coming months, but as of today I can’t do it.

With the top pitchers out of the running, Collins becomes the clear pick. His bat is too special to pass up. The pick is made easier when you factor in the Phillies being particularly deep as an organization behind the plate. With Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro set to begin the year at AAA and AA respectively, there would be little pressure for the Phils to play Collins as a catcher if they deemed him unlikely to remain there over the long haul. Ideally he’d impress as a catcher and they’d have the great eventual problem of having too many catchers — a predicted problem for hundreds of teams throughout the history of the game that has not once come to fruition — but shifting him to first and letting him know his job is to hit, hit, and hit some more isn’t the worst idea in the world. Knapp/Alfaro, Collins, Kingery, Crawford, Franco, Randolph, Herrera/Quinn, and Williams may not quite rival the Cubs young core, but it’s not half-bad either.

(I have this very underdeveloped idea about how taking Collins at 1-1 in a real draft wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world based on a comparison of using a top ten pick in the NFL Draft on a running back like Ezekiel Elliott. New conventional wisdom says you don’t draft a 1B or a HB early in the draft because you can find good ones later on, but if it’s a guy who projects to be well above-average at the position and a long-term fixture for you that you don’t have to worry about replacing otherwise…then you have to at least consider it, right? I say this as a dumb Eagles fan who has convinced himself that Elliott with the eighth pick is an attractive option depending on who else is there. With no clear cut college player emerging at 1-1 besides Corey Ray and Kyle Lewis, maybe Collins isn’t the worst idea in the world. I know I’m out on an island with that one, but so be it.)

2 – Cincinnati Reds – Oregon LHP Matt Krook

Everything written about Krook above still applies. He’s been very wild, his command still isn’t back to his pre-injury self, and his velocity (topping at 92, down from his younger peak of 95) remains a work in progress. But he’s still a lefty with a devastating slider, good size (6-3, 200), and a history of missing bats (12.00 K/9 in 2014, 13.33 K/9 this year). When part of the reason for the walks can be explained by throwing a ball that just moves so damn much naturally, it’s a little bit easier to take. At his best (healthiest), Krook features three clearly above-average pitches and the wise beyond his year’s mound savvy to allow you to dream on him heading a rotation for a long time. Adding him to Stephenson, Reed (who Krook shares some similar traits with), and Garrett (among others) would be a lot of fun.

3 – Atlanta Braves – Virginia RHP Connor Jones

Krook to the Braves would have made more sense, what with MLB’s secret mandate that Atlanta collect as many Tommy John reclamation projects as possible. Maybe having Hansen fall past them is a blessing for his formerly tight right forearm. As it is, Jones gets the call. A consistent performer like Jones with a ready-made big league out-pitch (mid-80s cut-slider) would serve as a nice balance to the mix of boom/bust pitching prospects acquired by Atlanta over the past year or two.

4 – Colorado Rockies – Oklahoma RHP Alec Hansen

Because taking just one top-four righthander from Oklahoma within a five year stretch just isn’t enough. Hansen’s fastball is an explosive enough pitch that maybe he’d be a good fit for Coors Field.

5 – Milwaukee Brewers – Virginia C Matt Thaiss

Not everybody is convinced that Thaiss is the real deal, but I am. His one big remaining question heading into the year (defense) has been answered in a decidedly positive manner this spring. He showed enough in high school to garner Brian McCann comps from Baseball America, he hit as a sophomore, and he’s off to a blistering start (including a nifty 15 BB/2 K ratio) in 2016. He’s going early in this draft due in part to our odd rules, but he’s a first round selection on merit. The Brewers have done an excellent job in the early stages of their rebuild and adding a backstop like Thaiss to push Jacob Nottingham (and perhaps make trading Jonathan Lucroy easier to sell to the fans) gives them even more options going forward.

6 – Oakland Athletics – California RHP Daulton Jefferies

A high performing college player who defies conventional scouting wisdom going to Oakland? That’ll work. Jefferies is really, really good.

7 – Miami Marlins – Kentucky 2B JaVon Shelby

I’ve mentioned the comparison before, but Shelby’s prospect profile reads similarly to me to Ian Happ’s. Happ went ninth overall last year, so Shelby going seventh in our weird little mock seems fair. Shelby is also really, really good.

8 – San Diego Padres – Notre Dame 2B Cavan Biggio

Sometimes I feel as though I’m the last remaining Cavan Biggio fan. I know that’s not literally true, but I do still believe in him as a potential long-time big league regular. Offensively he strikes me as the kind of player who will hit better as a pro than he ever did as a college player. I don’t have much of anything to back that opinion up, but this is a mock draft so unsubstantiated claims are part of the deal.

9 – Detroit Tigers – Oregon State C Logan Ice

This pick works on multiple levels for me. Most obviously, Ice’s fast start at the plate and well-established reputation behind it warrants a top ten pick in this draft over some other higher profile college peers. It also works because Detroit seems to have a thing for college catchers. As somebody with a similar thing, I get it. In recent years they’ve plucked James McCann, Bryan Holaday, Kade Scivicque, Grayson Greiner, and Shane Zeile from the college ranks, aggressively promoting many of them along the way. Holaday, a sixth rounder back in 2010, was the only one of that bunch not picked within the draft’s first five rounds. That’s where Ice was expected to land coming into the year, but he could rise up to McCann draft levels (second round) if he keeps mashing.

10 – Chicago White Sox – Oklahoma 3B Sheldon Neuse

Recently got a Mike Olt draft comparison for Sheldon Neuse. Thought that was a pretty strong comp. Also liked that it was a draft comparison and not necessarily a pro prospect match. Olt’s big league disappointments don’t change the fact that he’s a really talented ballplayer capable of looking really good for long stretches at a time. Players develop in all kinds of different ways, so expecting one guy to follow another’s path is unwise. Maybe Neuse will fulfill his promise professionally in a way that Olt wasn’t able. Maybe he’ll experience similar developmental road blocks and see his game stall in a similar manner. Olt went 49th overall in the 2010 MLB Draft; snagging Neuse at any point after that would be a steal in 2016.

11 – Seattle Mariners – Arizona 3B Bobby Dalbec

Dalbec deserves a lot of credit for battling back from a slow start to now have a more than respectable 2016 overall batting line. He also deserves respect for being one of the realest 2016 MLB Draft prospects out there. What you see is what you get with Dalbec: massive power, lots of whiffs, and a fair amount of walks. His arm and athleticism help make up for a lack of easy lateral quickness at the hot corner, so sticking at third should remain an option for the foreseeable future. The older, popular, and common comp for him has been Troy Glaus; on the flip side, I’ve heard Chris Dominguez as a possible outcome. The Glaus ship appears to have sailed, so something in between that and Dominguez would be a fine professional result.

12 – Boston Red Sox – North Carolina RHP Zac Gallen

It’ll be really interesting to see how high Gallen will rise in the real draft come June. He’s the kind of relatively safe, high-floor starting pitching prospect who either sticks in the rotation for a decade or tops out as a sixth starter better served moving to the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up there. This aggressive (pretend) pick by Boston should point to what side of that debate I side with. Gallen doesn’t do any one thing particularly well — stellar fastball command and a willingness to keep pounding in cutters stand out — but he throws five (FB, cutter, truer SL, CB, CU) pitches for strikes and competes deep into just about every start. There’s serious value in that.

13 – Tampa Bay Rays – Duke RHP Bailey Clark

On the other end of the spectrum is a guy like Bailey Clark. Clark has dynamite stuff: 90-96 FB (98 peak), mid-80s cut-SL that flashes plus, and an extra firm 87-90 split-CU with some promise. The fastball alone is a serious weapon capable of getting big league hitters out thanks the combination of velocity and natural movement. What continues to hold Clark back is pedestrian command: having great stuff is key, but falling behind every hitter undercuts that advantage. Questions about his delivery — I personally don’t stress about that so much, but it’s worth noting — and that inconsistent command could force him into the bullpen sooner rather than later. He’d be a knockout reliever if that winds up being the case, but the prospect of pro development keeping him as a starter is too tantalizing to give up on just yet.

14 – Cleveland Indians – Kentucky RHP Kyle Cody

There’s a reason Clark and Cody are back-to-back here. Just about everything written about Clark above can apply to Cody here. The big righthander from Kentucky also has the natural comparison to fellow big righthander from Kentucky Alex Meyer looming over him. I did the Twins a favor by having him go off the board one pick before they could get tempted all over again.

15 – Minnesota Twins – Kentucky RHP Zack Brown

Brown is a college righty with the three pitches to keep starting but questionable command that could necessitate a move to relief down the line. There are a lot of guys like him in every class, but I like Brown’s steady improvement across the board over the years as the tie-breaker.

16 – Los Angeles Angels – Oregon LHP Cole Irvin

Irvin is living proof that the second full year back from Tommy John surgery is when a pitcher really starts to get it all back. I can only hope that teammate Matt Krook is noticing. I guess it would be weird if he wasn’t, right? Irvin has his velocity back (88-92), his changeup remains a weapon, and the results (5.01 K/9 last year up to 9.10 K/9 this year) are trending in the right (healthy) direction.

17 – Houston Astros – USC C Jeremy Martinez

I’ve long thought that Jeremy Martinez has been underrated as a college player, so I’m happy to get a few sentences off about how much I like him here. Martinez was born to catch with a reliable glove and accurate arm. His offensive game is equally well-rounded with the chance for an average hit tool and average raw power to go along with his standout approach. His ceiling may not be high enough for all teams to fall in love, but he’s as good a bet as any of the college catchers in this class to have a long big league career in some capacity or another.

18 – New York Yankees – Texas A&M OF Nick Banks

Hunter Renfroe went thirteenth overall in the 2013 MLB Draft, so his 2016 doppelganger Nick Banks going a few spots later seems appropriate. Banks is one of the many hitters with questionable BB/K marks before the season that scouts insisted had more mature approaches at the plate than the raw numbers suggested. The scouts have been redeemed by most of those hitters — Kyle Lewis most famously — but Banks has continued to struggle (5 BB/10 K) out of the gate so far. He could still have a fine pro career without polishing up his approach — he’s a legit five-tool guy with no singular grade falling below average on most scout cards — but plugging that last remaining hole could mean the difference between good and great. Apologies here to Boomer White and JB Moss, two excellent senior-sign outfield prospects out of A&M that have decidedly outperformed Banks so far in the early going. Both guys may have hit their way into top ten round money saving pick consideration.

19 – New York Mets – Texas A&M Ryan Hendrix

Zach Jackson out of Arkansas has consistently been mentioned as my favorite college reliever who might just be able to start in the pros, but Ryan Hendrix is coming on really fast. He’s got the heat (mid-90s peak), breaking ball (low- to mid-80s CB flashes plus), and enough of a changeup (83-86) to potentially make the switch to the rotation at the next level. If not, he’s a potential quick-moving reliever with late-inning upside. Win-win!

20 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Maryland RHP Mike Shawaryn

Few players have seen their stock dip as much as Shawaryn has so far this spring. Considered by many (or just me, who can remember…) to be on the same tier as the Daulton Jefferies’ of the world coming into the season, Shawaryn has struggled with pitching effectively while dealing with a decrease in fastball velocity and flattened out offspeed stuff. He’s still a top five round prospect with big league starter upside, but no longer the potential first day pick many were hoping to see coming into the year. The positive spin is that it’s entirely possible he’s just going through a bit of a dead arm period brought about by general fatigue right now and that a little bit of rest after the draft in June will bring back the kind of stuff that looked more mid-rotation caliber than fifth starter. If that’s the case, the moment he slips out of the top two rounds would represent major value for whatever team takes a shot on him.

21 – Toronto Blue Jays – Oregon RHP Stephen Nogosek

Another college reliever! Stephen Nogosek is one of the most interesting of his kind in this year’s class. He’s not the two-pitch fire-balling righthander with the plus breaking ball that teams view as a classic late-inning type. Nogosek commands four pitches for strikes, relying more on the overall depth of his repertoire than any one singular go-to offering. Many speculate that his delivery lends itself to shorter outings, but I’m not convinced that a pro team won’t at least consider using him in the rotation at some point.

22 – Pittsburgh Pirates – Oregon State SS Trever Morrison

Morrison came into the year known more for his glove than his bat, but the junior’s hot start had many upgrading his ceiling from utility guy to potential regular. He’s cooled off a bit since then, but his glove, arm, and speed all remain intriguing above-average tools. I think really good utility guy is a more appropriate ceiling for him at the moment, but there’s still a lot of season left to play. Morrison is a surprisingly divisive prospect among those I’ve talked to, so any guesses about his draft range would be nothing more than guesses. He does feel like the kind of guy who would wind up a Pirate, so at least we’ve got that going for us.

23 – St. Louis Cardinals – Miami OF Willie Abreu

The Cardinals throw caution to the wind and bet big on tools by selecting Abreu and his ugly 7 BB/25 K ratio here in the first round. With three picks in the first, you can take a gamble like this. Abreu’s raw power is at or near the top of this class, so the logic in such a pick is easy to see.

24 – San Diego Padres – California C Brett Cumberland

I’m not sure too many casual prospect fans realize that true sophomore Cumberland, set to turn 21 on June 25, is eligible for this year’s draft. I know I have a lot less scouting notes on him than I’d typically have for a draft-eligible prospect in the midst of one of the best seasons of any position player in college baseball. The steady receiver hit really well as a freshman last year (.429 SLG with 33 BB/41 K), but has taken it to the next level so far in 2016. Good defense, very real power, and success at the college level from day one? Just what this class needs, one more top five round college catcher.

25 – San Diego Padres – Indiana RHP Jake Kelzer

The real draft will no doubt be much kinder to the Padres, but grabbing Biggio, Cumberland, and Kelzer in this universe’s draft isn’t anything to be disappointed in. Two mature bats at up-the-middle defensive positions would help San Diego continue their stated goal of building that way (the return for trade backs that up) and Kelzer, a highly athletic 6-8, 235 pound righthander with a nasty hard slider, would be a fine addition to their growing collection of arms.

26 – Chicago White Sox – Texas Tech RHP Ryan Moseley

Much like the Willie Abreu pick above, taking Moseley this high is gambling on tools over performance. I’ve long been a fan of the sinker/slider archetype and Moseley does it about as well as any pitcher in this class. When I start digging into batted ball data to find GB% in the coming weeks, he’ll be the first name I look up. On physical ability, a case could be made that Moseley deserves this first round spot. If we’re talking early season production…not so much. As we mentioned before, some young pitchers throw with so much natural movement that they are unable to effectively harness the raw stuff with which they’ve been blessed. Moseley’s track record suggests just that. Taking him this high would be a gamble that the developmental side of your organization can straighten him out. There are too many teams besides the White Sox that I’d be so confident they could pull off the trick.

27 – Baltimore Orioles – Baylor LHP Daniel Castano

I haven’t heard Daniel Castano’s name mentioned as a top ten round pick much this spring, but I don’t see why he wouldn’t be in the mix. He’s a big lefty with three average or better pitches who has made the long-awaited leap (8.51 K/9 this year, up from the 5 or so K/9 of his first two seasons). I’m in.

28 – Washington Nationals – Michigan State LHP Cameron Vieaux

Everything written about Castano above applies to Vieaux here. The only notable difference is that Vieaux’s jump in performance is a little less pronounced (8.61 K/9 this year, up from the 7 or so K/9 the two previous seasons) yet no less impressive. Vieaux also have the chance to be a four-pitch lefty in the pros, so I guess that makes two differences.

29 – Washington Nationals – Texas A&M 2B Ryne Birk

Birk has worked his tail off to become a competent defender at the keystone, so selecting him this early is a vote of confidence in his glove passing the professional barrier of quality in the eyes of his first wave of pro coaches. I think he’s more than good enough at second with an intriguing enough upside as a hitter to make a top five round pick worth it. Offensively he’s shown average power, above-average speed, and good feel for contact. Sorting out his approach will be the difference between fun utility option or solid starter once he hits pro ball. He reminds me a good bit of Trever Morrison as a prospect, right down to the slightly off spellings of their respective first names.

30 – Texas Rangers – North Carolina OF Tyler Ramirez

Ramirez doesn’t have a carrying tool that makes him an obvious future big league player, but he does a lot of things well (power, speed, glove) and leverages an ultra-patient approach to put himself in consistently positive hitter’s counts. His profile is a little bit similar to his teammate Zac Gallen’s in that both are relatively high-floor prospects without the kind of massive ceilings one would expect in a first day pick. Gallen is the better prospect, but I think many of the national guys are sleeping on Ramirez. I’ve been guilty of overrating Tar Heels hitters in the past, but Ramirez looks like the real deal. Former Carolina outfielder Tim Fedroff, a seventh round pick in 2008, seems like a reasonable draft day expectation in terms of round selected. I’d happily snap up a guy like Ramirez in that range.

31 – New York Mets – Miami OF Jacob Heyward

Steady year-to-year improvement has been the name of Heyward’s game as a Hurricane. It’s more of a fourth outfielder profile than a slam dunk future regular ceiling, but he’s a solid, well-rounded player capable of doing just enough of everything to keep you invested.

32 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Miami RHP Bryan Garcia

Garcia has late-game reliever stuff (mid-90s FB, good SL) and pedigree (15.88 K/9 this year) to get himself drafted as one of the first true college relievers in his class.

33 – St. Louis Cardinals – Michigan State RHP Dakota Mekkes

If you read this site and/or follow college ball closely, this might be the first pick to surprise in some way, shape, or form. Mekkes wasn’t a pitcher mentioned in many 2016 draft preview pieces before the start of the season, but the 6-7, 250 pound righty has opened plenty of eyes in getting off to a dominant (16.36 K/9) albeit wild (7.16 BB/9) start to 2016. His stuff backs it up (FB up to 94, interesting SL, deceptive delivery), so he’s more than just a large college man mowing down overmatched amateurs. He’s a top ten round possibility now.

34 – St. Louis Cardinals – Duke LHP Jim Ziemba

A 6-10, 230 pound lefthander who goes after hitters from a funky sidearm delivery is a great way to cap this weird mock off. The obvious Michael Freeman comp is too good to ignore here.

2016 MLB Draft – College Update

We’re now one month’s worth of games into the college season, so it feels like as good a time as any to take the temperature of the top college prospects in this class. All stats are updated as of games played on March 12 or March 13 depending on when the games ended yesterday. I used this post to frame the discussion.

Many, many, many players I like were not included in this update. I say this knowing full well how obnoxious it sounds, but trust that I know about your favorite player’s hot start. Neither malice nor ignorance is the cause of their exclusion. It’s simply a time and space thing. That said, feel free to bring up said favorite players’s hot starts in the comments. The more the merrier there, I say.

C Zack Collins – Miami – .400/.576/.733 – 19 BB/9 K – 0/1 SB – 45 AB
1B Will Craig – Wake Forest – .458/.581/1.021 – 10 BB/7 K – 48 AB
2B Nick Senzel – Tennessee – .393/.500/.589 – 14 BB/6 K – 7/8 SB – 56 AB
SS Michael Paez – Coastal Carolina – .328/.418/.483 – 6 BB/11 K – 0/2 SB – 58 AB
3B Bobby Dalbec – Arizona – .191/.350/.319 – 10 BB/17 K – 0/1 SB – 47 AB
OF Kyle Lewis – Mercer – .466/.581/.879 – 15 BB/8 K – 1/2 SB – 58 AB
OF Buddy Reed – Florida – .306/.411/.468 – 10 BB/12 K – 7/7 SB – 62 AB
OF Corey Ray – Louisville – .377/.452/.738 – 9 BB/6 K – 20/22 SB – 61 AB

We knew Collins could hit, so his great start is hardly a surprise. Still, those numbers are insane, very much under-the-radar nationally (source: my Twitter feed), and more than good enough to play at first base if you don’t think he’s worth trying behind the plate as a pro. It took Kyle Schwarber a long time to gain national acceptance as a potential top ten pick; I could see Collins following a similar path between now and June. He’s already very much in that mix for me.

Craig is a monster. The only note I’d pass along with his scorching start is that Wake Forest has played 12 of their first 17 games in the very friendly offensive confines of their home park. I still love the bat.

Senzel is yet another of the top prospect bats off to a wild start at the plate. Got an Anthony Rendon-lite comp on him recently that I think fits fairly well.

Much has been made about Ray’s start — rightfully so as he’s been awesome — that what Lewis has done so far has been overlooked some. I’m not blind to the fact that Ray’s functional speed and higher level of competition faced make him the preferred college outfielder for many, but no reason to sleep on Lewis.

RHP Alec Hansen – Oklahoma – 13.20 K/9 – 7.20 BB/9 – 6.00 ERA – 15.0 IP
LHP Matt Krook – Oregon – 14.32 K/9 – 7.67 BB/9 – 4.08 ERA – 17.2 IP
RHP Connor Jones – Virginia – 7.91 K/9 – 1.98 BB/9 – 1.98 ERA – 27.1 IP
LHP AJ Puk – Florida – 9.53 K/9 – 4.76 BB/9 – 2.65 ERA – 17.0 IP
RHP Dakota Hudson – Mississippi State – 12.20 K/9 – 5.72 BB/9 – 1.90 ERA – 23.2 IP

Funny how three of the top five have lines that line up similarly so far. I think Jones has shown the best mix of stuff and results out of this top tier this spring. I also think that right now there really isn’t a realistic college arm that can lay claim to being in the 1-1 mix. Early returns on the top of the 2016 college class: bats > arms.

C Sean Murphy – Wright State – .259/.429/.778 – 5 BB/5 K – 0/0 SB – 27 AB
1B Pete Alonso – Florida – .424/.493/.661 – 8 BB/4 K – 1/1 SB – 59 AB
2B JaVon Shelby – Kentucky – .341/.481/.756 – 8 BB/7 K – 2/2 SB – 41 AB
SS Logan Gray – Austin Peay State – .327/.450/.755 – 11 BB/16 K – 2/2 SB – 49 AB
3B Sheldon Neuse – Oklahoma – .340/.493/.698 – 16 BB/14 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
OF Bryan Reynolds – Vanderbilt – .345/.486/.618 – 14 BB/18 K – 2/5 SB – 55 AB
OF Jake Fraley – Louisiana State – .400/.500/.583 – 12 BB/7 K – 11/15 SB – 60 AB
OF Nick Banks – Texas A&M – .263/.317/.421 – 2 BB/6 K – 0/0 SB – 38 AB

While the First Team has had a few slow starters (Dalbec for sure, Paez if you’re picking nits about his BB/K), the Second Team is rolling from top to bottom. Murphy and Banks have been slowed some by injuries, but otherwise these guys are mashing.

It speaks to how great Lewis and Ray (and even Reed to an extent) have been this year that neither Reynolds nor Fraley have gained much traction as top outfield prospects in the national consciousness. Both are really good players who will make their drafting teams very happy in June.

It’s taken me a few years, but I finally realized who Banks reminds me of as a prospect: Hunter Renfroe. I’m not yet sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.

RHP Cal Quantrill – Stanford
LHP Matt Crohan – Winthrop – 9.95 K/9 – 0.47 BB/9 – 2.37 ERA – 19.0 IP
RHP Zach Jackson – Arkansas – 11.71 K/9 – 5.12 BB/9 – 2.19 ERA – 12.1 IP
RHP Robert Tyler – Georgia – 13.94 K/9 – 1.69 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 21.1 IP
LHP Garrett Williams – Oklahoma State

I really liked Keith Law’s Ryan Madson comp for Tyler. I’m high enough on Tyler to modify that and use it as a potential MLB floor because I think Tyler has a better chance to continue developing a good enough breaking ball to go through a lineup multiple times.

The relative struggles of some of the top college pitchers in this class leave the door wide open for a guy like Quantrill coming back from injury to seriously enter the 1-1 conversation.

C Matt Thaiss – Virginia – .361/.473/.541 – 12 BB/1 K – 0/1 SB – 61 AB
1B Carmen Beneditti – Michigan – .298/.452/.426 – 10 BB/4 K – 3/4 SB – 47 AB
2B Cavan Biggio – Notre Dame – .229/.448/.313 – 17 BB/10 K – 4/4 SB – 48 AB
SS Colby Woodmansee – Arizona State – .370/.486/.630 – 14 BB/9 K – 1/1 SB – 54 AB
3B Lucas Erceg – Menlo (CA) – .342/.378/.685 – 5 BB/6 K – 0 SB – 111 AB
OF Ryan Boldt – Nebraska – .318/.382/.424 – 6 BB/8 K – 7/12 SB – 66 AB
OF Stephen Wrenn – Georgia – .353/.424/.471 – 5 BB/9 K – 4/7 SB – 51 AB
OF Ronnie Dawson – Ohio State – .263/.354/.509 – 8 BB/9 K – 3/4 SB – 57 AB

Love Thaiss. Loved Biggio, but starting to re-calibrate my expectations a little. Same for Boldt. Never loved Woodmansee, but I’m beginning to get it. Erceg’s start confuses me. It’s excellent, obviously, but the numbers reflect a high-contact approach that doesn’t show up in any of the scouting notes on him. Consider my curiosity piqued.

LHP Eric Lauer – Kent State – 8.05 K/9 – 4.02 BB/9 – 1.82 ERA – 24.2 IP
RHP Michael Shawaryn – Maryland – 7.04 K/9 – 3.33 BB/9 – 3.33 ERA – 24.1 IP
RHP Daulton Jefferies – California – 11.42 K/9 – 1.73 BB/9 – 1.04 ERA – 26.0 IP
RHP Kyle Serrano – Tennessee – 3.2 IP
RHP Kyle Funkhouser – Louisville – 8.77 K/9 – 5.34 BB/9 – 4.18 ERA – 23.2 IP

When I re-do the college rankings (coming soon!), I think this is where we’ll see some serious movers and shakers. Things are wide open after the top eight or so pitchers as the conversation shifts move towards high-floor fourth/fifth starters rather than top half of the rotation possibilities. I’ve read and heard some of the Jefferies top half of the first round buzz, and I’ve been slow to buy in so far. I like him a lot, but that feels rich. Then I remember that Mike Leake climbed as high as eighth overall back in my first draft doing this, so anything is possible.

Now for some prospects that weren’t on the preseason teams that has caught my eye so far…

Logan Shore – Florida – 9.33 K/9 – 0.67 BB/9 – 2.00 ERA – 27.0 IP
Jordan Sheffield – Vanderbilt – 13.17 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 1.09 ERA – 24.2 IP
Corbin Burnes – St. Mary’s – 11.20 K/9 – 2.32 BB/9 – 3.09 ERA – 23.1 IP
Bailey Clark – Duke – 10.50 K/9 – 2.63 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 24.0 IP

I’ve been slow to appreciate Sheffield, but I’m on board now. My lazy but potentially prescient comp to Dillon Tate is something I can’t shake. Clark vs Zach Jackson is a fun head-to-head prospect battle that pits two of my favorite raw arms with questions about long-term role holding them back.

Nick Solak – Louisville – .434/.563/.585 – 15 BB/5 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
Bryson Brigman – San Diego – .424/.472/.515 – 3 BB/4 K – 5/7 SB – 33 AB
Stephen Alemais – Tulane – .462/.477/.641 – 3 BB/6 K – 4/5 SB – 39 AB
Jake Rogers – Tulane – .302/.471/.547 – 13 BB/11 K – 5/5 SB – 53 AB
Errol Robinson – Mississippi – .226/.317/.358 – 7 BB/8 K – 2/2 SB – 53 AB
Logan Ice – Oregon State – .463/.520/1.024 – 5 BB/1 K – 0/0 SB – 41 AB
Trever Morrison – Oregon State – .400/.456/.600 – 5 BB/12 K – 0/1 SB – 50 AB

Solak’s start is a thing of beauty. Rogers and Ice add to the impressive depth at the top of the catching class. It’ll be interesting to see which C/SS combo gets drafted higher between Oregon State and Tulane.

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

I don’t typically get into rankings this early in the process because doing it the right way as a research/writing staff of one takes me literally hundreds of hours. Realistically putting together what I feel is representative of my better stuff just hasn’t been possible in the past unless I pushed other micro baseball projects — for the site and elsewhere — aside and instead looked took the time to cover a nation’s worth of prospects on the macro level. Having a draft site that spends more time on players on the fringes who may or may not wind up drafted at all while failing to address the prospects at the top of the food chain seems a bit silly, so I’m trying to balance things out a little bit better this year. There will still be lots of the usual draft minutiae I enjoy so much, but a rededicated focus on the draft’s first day just makes sense. With all of this in mind I put other baseball duties on hold for the last ten or so days to put this list together. It’s imperfect, but I like it as a starting point. Some notes on what you’ll see below…

*** I didn’t include any non-D1 players at this point because I haven’t yet had the time to go as deep into other levels of competition and junior college ball just yet. Nick Shumpert would have made the top fifty for sure. Lucas Erceg likely would have been considered.  After a quick skim of my notes, I’d say Kep Brown, Tekwaan Whyte, Ryan January, Ethan Skender, Liam Scafariello, Jesus Gamez, Curtis Taylor, Willie Rios, Shane Billings, Brett Morales, Hunter Tackett, Devin Smeltzer, and Tyson Miller would be just a few of the names also in the mix for me right now. I said it a lot last year, but it bears repeating: I’d love to find the time/energy to go deeper with non-D1 baseball this year. The finite number of hours I have to devote to this site might get in the way, but I’m going to try.

*** This is going to sound bad and I apologize in advance, but I don’t believe I left anybody off that I intended to include. It’s possible, of course, but I don’t think that’s the case here. A ton of really, really good prospects, many of whom will be future big league players, didn’t make the cut as of yet. It’s not personal, obviously. I would have loved to include any player that even remotely interested me, but I had to have a cut-off point somewhere. If you think I whiffed on somebody, I’m happy to listen. Reasonable minds can disagree.

*** There is no consensus top player in this college class. The hitter at the top could wind up out of the first round by June. The top pitcher listed has medical red flags reminiscent of Michael Matuella last season. And — SPOILER ALERT — the top overall player in this class isn’t included on the list below. There are players ranked in the twenties that may be in your top five and there are players in the thirties that may not crack somebody else’s top seventy-five. It’s a fun year that way.

*** 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.

*** The words that go along with the rankings are a bit more positive than what long-time readers might be used to. My early take is that this appears to be an above-average draft, but a friend who saw an early draft (no pun intended) of this told me that 2016 must be an incredibly talented group of amateurs. He said that reading through led him to believe that every pitcher is a future big league starter and every hitter is a future above-average regular. Guilty. I admit that I generally skew positive at this site (elsewhere…not so much) because I like baseball, enjoy focusing on what young players do well, and believe highlighting the good can help grow the college game, but being fair is always the ultimate goal. That said, there will be plenty of time to get deeper into each prospect’s individual strengths and weaknesses over the next seven or so months. In October a little extra dose of positivity is nice.

With no further ado, here are the 2016 MLB Draft’s top fifty prospects (with a whole lot more names to know beyond that)…

(Fine, just a bit more ado: A very rough HS list and maybe a combined overall ranking will come after Jupiter…)

  1. Mercer JR OF Kyle Lewis

The popular comp for Lewis has been Alfonso Soriano (originated at D1 Baseball, I believe), but I see more of Yasiel Puig in his game. He’s an honest five-tool player with a rapidly improving approach at the plate. There’s still some roughness around the edges there, but if it clicks then he’s a monster. There’s obvious risk in the profile, but it’s easy to be excited by somebody who legitimately gets better with every watch.

  1. Oklahoma JR RHP Alec Hansen

Hansen would rank first overall (college, not overall) if not for some recent reports of forearm troubles. His injury history probably should have been enough to temper enthusiasm for his nasty stuff (huge FB and chance for two plus offspeed pitches), but the upside is just that exciting. The popular Gerrit Cole makes sense as Hansen is a big guy (6-7, 235) with outstanding athleticism who holds his plus velocity late into games.

  1. Florida JR OF Buddy Reed

Reed’s relative newness to playing the game full-time makes his already considerable upside all the more intriguing. More reps against quality pitching could turn the dynamic center fielder (plus range, plus speed, plus arm) into the top overall pick.

  1. Oregon rSO LHP Matt Krook

This may be a touch more speculative that some of the other names on the list since Krook missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery, but I’m buying all the Krook shares I can right now. He came back and impressed on the Cape enough to warrant consideration as a potential 1-1 riser. There’s no squaring up his fastball and there’s more than enough offspeed (CB and CU) to miss bats (12 K/9 in 45 freshman innings). He’s not as physical as AJ Puk, but the more advanced secondaries give him the edge for now.

  1. Florida JR LHP/1B AJ Puk

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.

  1. Wake Forest JR 1B/RHP Will Craig

Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…

  1. Louisville JR OF Corey Ray

If you prefer Ray to Lewis and Reed, you’re not wrong. They are all different flavors of a similar overall quality. Like those guys, Ray can do enough of everything well on the diamond to earn the much coveted label of “five-tool player.” The most enthusiastic comp I got from him was a “more compact Kirk Gibson.” That’s a thinker.

  1. Arkansas JR RHP Zach Jackson

We’ll know a lot more about Buddy Reed (and other SEC hitters) by June after he runs the gauntlet of SEC pitching. In addition to teammate AJ Puk, I’ve got three other SEC arms with realistic top ten draft hopes. Jackson’s chance for rising up to the 1-1 discussion depends almost entirely on his delivery and command. If those two things can be smoothed out this spring — they often go hand-in-hand — then his fastball (90-94, 96 peak), curve (deadly), and change (inconsistent but very promising) make him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.

  1. Georgia JR RHP Robert Tyler

Just about everything said about Jackson can be said about Tyler. The Georgia righthander has the bigger fastball (90-96, 100 peak) and his two offspeed pitches are flip-flopped (love the change, still tinkering with his spike curve), so getting his delivery worked out enough to convince onlookers that he can hold up over 30 plus starts a year could make him the first college arm off the board.

  1. Mississippi State JR RHP Dakota Hudson

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

  1. Tennessee JR 2B/3B Nick Senzel

Arguably the safest of this year’s potential first round college bats, Senzel has electric bat speed, a patient approach, and as good a hit tool as any player listed. His defensive gifts are almost on that same level and his power upside separates him from the rest of what looks like a pretty intriguing overall college group of second basemen.

  1. Notre Dame JR 2B/3B Cavan Biggio

Without having seen every Notre Dame game the past two years — I’m good, but not that good — one might be confused as to how a player with Biggio’s pedigree and collection of scouting accolades (“line drive machine; born to hit; great pitch recognition; great approach, patient and aggressive all at once”…and that’s just what has been written here) could hit .250ish through two college seasons. I say we all agree to chalk it up to bad BABIP luck and eagerly anticipate a monster junior season that puts him squarely back in the first round mix where he belongs.

  1. Nebraska JR OF Ryan Boldt

World Wide Wes said it best: “You can’t chase the night.” Of course that doesn’t stop me from trying to chase missed players from previous draft classes. Nobody was talking about Andrew Benintendi last year at this time — in part because of the confusion that comes with draft-eligible true sophomores, but still — so attempting to get a head-start on the “next Benintendi” seems like a thing to do. As a well-rounded center fielder with a sweet swing and impressive plate coverage, Boldt could be that guy.

  1. Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Bryan Reynolds

CTRL C “Ryan Boldt paragraph”, CTRL V “Ryan Boldt paragraph.” Reynolds also reminds me somewhat of Kyle Lewis in the way that both guys have rapidly improved their plate discipline in ways that haven’t yet shown up consistently on the stat sheet. If or when it does, Reynolds could join Lewis as a potential future impact big league outfielder.

  1. Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones

Jones, the number one guy on a list designed to serve the same purpose as the one created over seven months ago, hasn’t actually done anything to slip this far down the board; competition at the top this year is just that fierce. I like guys with fastballs that move every which way but straight, so Jones’s future looks bright from here. His mid-80s splitter has looked so good at times that he’s gotten one of my all-time favorite cross-culture comps: Masahiro Tanaka.

  1. Stanford JR RHP Cal Quantrill

A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.

  1. Virginia JR C Matt Thaiss

Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.

  1. Clemson JR C Chris Okey

Okey doesn’t have quite the same thunder in his bat as Thaiss, but his strong hands, agile movements behind the plate, and average or better arm give him enough ammo to be in the mix for first college catching off the board. The days of the big, strong-armed, plus power, and questionable contact catcher seem to be dwindling as more and more teams appear willing to go back to placing athleticism atop their list of desired attributes for young catching prospects. Hard to say that’s wrong based on where today’s speed and defense style of game looks like it’s heading.

  1. California JR RHP Daulton Jefferies

To have Jefferies, maybe my favorite draft-eligible college pitcher to watch, this low says way more about the quality at the top of this year’s class then his long-term pro ability. Jefferies brings three potential above-average to plus pitches to the mound on any given night. I like the D1 Baseball comparison to Walker Buehler, last year’s 24th overall pick. Getting Jefferies in a similar spot this year would be something to be excited about.

  1. LSU JR OF Jake Fraley

In a class with potential superstars like Lewis, Reed, and Ray roaming outfields at the top, it would be easy to overlook Fraley, a tooled-up center fielder with lightning in his wrists, an unusually balanced swing, and the patient approach of a future leadoff hitter. Do so at your own discretion. Since I started the site in 2009 there’s been at least one LSU outfielder drafted every year. That includes five top-three round picks (Mitchell, Landry, Mahtook, Jones, and Stevenson) in seven classes. Outfielder U seems poised to keep the overall streak alive and make the top three round run a cool six out of eight in 2016.

  1. Vanderbilt rSO RHP Jordan Sheffield

It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten guy no matter his height.

  1. Wright State JR C Sean Murphy

Watching Murphy do his thing behind the plate is worth the price of admission alone. We’re talking “Queen Bee” level arm strength, ample lateral quicks on balls in the dirt, and dependable hands with an ever-improving ability to frame borderline pitches. He’s second in the class behind Jake Rogers defensively — not just as a catcher, but arguably at any position — but with enough bat (unlike Rogers) to project as a potential above-average all-around regular in time. I expect the battle for top college catching prospect to be closely contested all year with Thaiss, Okey, and Murphy all taking turns atop team-specific draft boards all spring long.

  1. Texas A&M JR OF Nick Banks

If you’ve ever wondered what the right field prototype looked liked, take a gander at the star outfielder in College Station. The combination of speed, strength, power, and one of the country’s most accurate and formidable outfield arms make taking the chance on him continuing to figure things out as a hitter well worth a potential first round pick.

  1. Tennessee JR RHP Kyle Serrano

Serrano is the second guy on this list that reminds me of Walker Buehler from last year, though I still like my own Jarrod Parker comp best. He’s transitioned into more of a sinker/slider pitcher as he’s refined his breaking ball and lost some feel for his change over the years, but as a firm believer in the idea that once you have a skill you own it forever I remain intrigued as to how good he could be once he learns to effectively harness his changeup once again.

  1. Kentucky JR 2B/OF JaVon Shelby

In yet another weird example of an odd comp that I haven’t been able to shake all year, there’s something about JaVon Shelby’s game that takes me back to watching Ian Happ at Cincinnati. Maybe the offensive game isn’t as far along at similar developmental points, but Shelby’s odds at sticking in the dirt have always been higher.

  1. Miami JR 1B/C Zack Collins

If I had more confidence that Collins could play regularly behind the plate at the highest level, he’s shoot up the board ten spots (minimum) in a hurry. He’s a fastball-hunting power-hitting force of nature at the plate with the potential for the kind of prodigious home run blasts that make Twitter lose control of its collective mind. I stand by the Travis Hafner ceiling comp from last December.

  1. Arizona JR 3B Bobby Dalbec

The good popular comp here is Troy Glaus. The less good comp that I’ve heard is Chris Dominguez. The truth, as it so often does, will likely fall in the middle somewhere.

  1. Georgia JR OF Stephen Wrenn

Wrenn is a burner who has looked good enough in center field at times that you wonder if he could handle all three outfield spots by himself at the same time. He’s an athletic outfielder who remains raw at the plate despite two years of regular playing time — making him seemingly one of forty-five of the type in this year’s top fifty — so you’re gambling on skills catching up to the tools. The fact that his glove alone will get him to the big leagues mitigates some of the risk with his bat.

  1. Winthrop JR LHP Matt Crohan

Premium fastball velocity from the left side is always a welcomed sight. Crohan can get it up to the upper-90s (sits 90-94) with a pair of worthwhile offspeed pitches (mid-80s cut-slider and a slowly improving change). He’s got the size, command, and smarts to pitch in a big league rotation for a long time.

  1. Louisville SR RHP Kyle Funkhouser

Much electronic ink was spilled on Funkhouser last season, so I’ll be brief: he’s good. It’s unclear how good — I’d say more mid-rotation than ace, but reasonable minds may disagree — but he’s good. Of the many comps I threw out for him last year my favorite remains Jordan Zimmermann. If he can up his command and control game like Zimmermann, then he could hit that mid-rotation ceiling and keep pushing upwards.

  1. Louisville JR RHP Zack Burdi

Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.

  1. Samford JR OF Heath Quinn

Just what this class needed: another outfielder loaded with tools that comes with some question marks about the utility of his big-time power because he’s still learning how to hit against serious pitching.

  1. Miami JR OF Willie Abreu

Nick Banks gets a lot of deserved attention for being a potential early first round pick — somebody even once called him the “right field prototype,” if you can believe it — but Willie Abreu’s tool set is on the same shelf. There’s power, mobility, arm strength, and athleticism to profile as a damn fine regular if it all clicks.

  1. TCU rJR RHP Mitchell Traver

Traver was featured plenty on this site last year as a redshirt-sophomore, so that gives me the chance to rehash the three fun comps I’ve gotten for him over the years: Gil Meche, Nick Masset, and Dustin McGowan. Based on years of doing this — so, entirely anecdotal evidence and not hard data — I’ve found that bigger pitchers (say, 6-6 or taller) have an equal (if not higher) bust rate when compared to the smaller guys (6-0ish) that are typically associated with being higher risk. There are always exceptions and years of scouting biases has created a flawed sample to choose from, but pitching seems like a chore best done for smaller bodies that are easier to consistently contort into the kind of unnatural throwing motions needed to withstand chucking balls 90+ MPH over and over and over again. Maintaining body control, tempo, and command at a certain size can be done, but it sure as heck isn’t easy. Like almost everybody, I see a big pitcher and get excited because with size also often comes velocity, extension, and the intangible intimidation factor. Maybe it’s time to start balancing that excitement with some of the known risks that come with oversized pitchers.

  1. Maryland JR RHP Mike Shawaryn

A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.

  1. Louisiana JR RHP Reagan Bazar

Bazar is one of the bigger gambles to grace this list. He hasn’t done enough yet at Louisiana to warrant such a placement, but when he’s feeling it his stuff (mid- to upper-90s FB, promising low-80s SL) can suffocate even good hitting. Yes, I realize ranking the 6-7, 250+ pound righthander this high undermines a lot of what I said directly above. I’ll always be a sucker for big velocity and Bazar hitting 100+ certainly qualifies.

  1. Rice rSO RHP Jon Duplantier

Athleticism, projection, and wildness currently define Duplantier as a prospect. Key elements or not, those facets of his game shouldn’t obfuscate how strong his big league starter stuff is. That’s a mixed bag of qualities, but there’s clearly more good than bad when it comes to his future.

  1. San Diego SO 2B/SS Bryson Brigman

Middle infielders are always a need for big league clubs, so it only makes sense that the better ones at the amateur level get pushed up ahead of where you might want to first slot them in when simply breaking down tools. The extra credit for Brigman’s smooth fielding action is deserved, as is the acclaim he gets for his mature approach and sneaky pop.

  1. Vanderbilt JR LHP John Kilichowski

Vanderbilt pumps out so much quality pitching that it’s almost boring to discuss their latest and greatest. Kilichowski (and Sheffield and Bowden and Stone) find themselves sandwiched between last year’s special group of arms and a freshman class that includes Donny Everett and Chandler Day. The big lefty has impeccable control, easy velocity (86-92, 94 peak), and the exact assortment of offspeed pitches (CB, SL, and CU, all average or better) needed to keep hitters off-balance in any count. It’s not ace-type stuff, but it’s the kind of overall package that can do damage in the middle of a rotation for a long time.

  1. Oklahoma State JR LHP Garrett Williams

The scene on Friday night for the Hansen/Williams matchup is going to be something special for college ball. Scouts in attendance will likewise be pretty pleased that they can do some one-stop shopping for not only a potential 1-1 guy in Hansen but also a real threat to wind up in the first round in Williams. Continued maturation of Williams’s curve (a weapon already), change (getting there), and control (work in progress) could get him there.

  1. Nevada JR OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

Brooks is a two-way athlete good enough to play center field or keep progressing as a lefthanded reliever with a plus approach and an all-out style of play. How can you not like a guy like that?

  1. Coastal Carolina JR SS/2B Michael Paez

Our first college shortstop, finally. Paez hasn’t yet gotten a lot of national prospect love that I know of, but he’s deserving. He can hit, run, and sneak the occasional ball over the fence all while being steady enough in the field that I don’t know why you’d have to move him off of shortstop. I wouldn’t quite call it a comp, but my appreciate for Paez resembles what I felt about Blake Trahan in last year’s draft.

  1. Oklahoma JR 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse

Neuse could still fulfill the promise many (myself included) saw in him during his excellent freshman season back when he looked like a potential Gold Glove defender at third with the kind of bat you’d happily stick in the middle of the order. He could also get more of a look this spring on the mound where he can properly put his mid-90s heat and promising pair of secondary offerings (SL, CU) to use. Or he could have something of a repeat of his 2015 season leaving us unsure how good he really is and thinking of him more of a second to fifth round project (a super talented one, mind you) than a first round prospect.

  1. Wake Forest JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou

Second basemen with power, feel for hitting, and an idea at the plate are damn useful players. The comp I got a few weeks ago on Mondou is about as topical as it gets: Daniel Murphy.

  1. Kent State JR LHP Eric Lauer

I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.

  1. Florida JR 1B Pete Alonso

The Gators have so much talent that it’s inevitable that even a top guy or three can lay claim to getting overlooked by the national media. Alonso, with plus bat speed and power to match, is that guy for me. The burgeoning plate discipline is the cherry on top. I’m not in the national media, but maybe I’ll look back and see how I overlooked him as he rises up boards next spring.

  1. Duke JR RHP Bailey Clark

Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking look foolish by June.

  1. Louisville JR 2B/OF Nick Solak

The day you find me unwilling to champion a natural born hitter with a preternatural sense of the strike zone is the day I hang up the keyboard. Solak is a tough guy to project because so much of his value is tied up in his bat, but if he build on an already impressive first two seasons at Louisville in 2016 then he might just hit his way into the draft’s top two rounds.

  1. Ohio State JR OF Ronnie Dawson

You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.

  1. Kentucky SR RHP Kyle Cody

As an outsider with no knowledge of how Cody’s negotiations with Minnesota actually went down, I’m still surprised that a fair deal for both sides couldn’t be reached last summer. The big righthander (here we go again…) is what we thought he was: big, righthanded, erratic with his command, and an absolute handful for the opposition when his three pitches (mid-90s FB, average 76-82 kCB that flashes plus, hard CU with average upside) are working. There are no real surprises left in his amateur development, so the leap to the pro game seemed inevitable. Maybe he’s got a trick or two up his sleeve yet…

*****

Best of the rest position players…

  • Austin Peay JR SS/3B Logan Gray
  • College of Charleston JR OF/SS Bradley Jones
  • Oklahoma State JR OF Ryan Sluder
  • Ohio State JR OF Troy Montgomery
  • Virginia JR SS/3B Daniel Pinero
  • Vanderbilt SO 3B/SS Will Toffey
  • Auburn JR OF Anfernee Grier
  • Tulane JR SS Stephen Alemais
  • NC State JR C/3B Andrew Knizner
  • Pacific SR OF Giovanni Brusa
  • Hawaii JR 2B Josh Rojas
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee rJR SS/3B Eric Solberg
  • Murray State JR C Tyler Lawrence
  • Miami JR OF Jacob Heyward
  • Louisville rSO 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
  • Florida State JR OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
  • Illinois SR C Jason Goldstein
  • Texas JR C Tres Barrera
  • Oregon State JR SS Trevor Morrison
  • Missouri JR SS/3B Ryan Howard
  • Mississippi State rSO OF Brent Rooker
  • Stony Brook JR OF Toby Handley
  • Virginia Commonwealth JR OF/2B Logan Farrar
  • Belmont JR SS Tyler Walsh
  • Southern Mississippi SR 1B Tim Lynch
  • Old Dominion JR SS/OF Nick Walker
  • Maryland JR C/1B Nick Cieri
  • Coastal Carolina SO OF Dalton Ewing
  • St. John’s JR OF Michael Donadio
  • Stanford JR SS/2B Tommy Edman
  • Arizona State JR SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
  • Tulane JR C Jake Rogers
  • Texas A&M JR 2B/OF Ryne Birk
  • Mercer JR C Charlie Madden
  • Saint Louis SR 3B Braxton Martinez
  • UC Santa Barbara rJR OF Andrew Calica
  • South Alabama rJR OF/LHP Cole Billingsley
  • USC JR C/1B Jeremy Martinez
  • Texas State JR OF/1B Granger Studdard
  • Bradley JR 3B Spencer Gaa
  • Long Beach State JR SS/2B Garrett Hampson
  • Gonzaga SR 1B/RHP Taylor Jones
  • NC State JR 1B Preston Palmeiro
  • Mississippi State rJR OF Jacob Robson
  • Jacksonville JR OF Austin Hays
  • Louisiana Tech rSR SS/2B Taylor Love
  • Oral Roberts JR C Brent Williams
  • Southeast Missouri State JR OF Dan Holst
  • Dallas Baptist SR OF Daniel Sweet
  • St. John’s SR OF Alex Caruso

*****

Best of the rest pitchers…

  • Vanderbilt JR LHP Ben Bowden
  • Central Michigan JR LHP/1B Nick Deeg
  • Auburn JR RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
  • Georgia JR LHP Connor Jones
  • Illinois JR RHP Cody Sedlock
  • Florida JR RHP Logan Shore
  • Florida JR RHP Dane Dunning
  • Florida JR RHP Shaun Anderson
  • Sacred Heart JR RHP Jason Foley
  • Michigan JR LHP/1B Carmen Beneditti
  • Air Force JR LHP Jacob DeVries
  • St. Mary’s JR RHP Corbin Burnes
  • Albany JR RHP Stephen Woods
  • Indiana rJR RHP Jake Kelzer
  • Oregon JR RHP Stephen Nogosek
  • Connecticut JR LHP Anthony Kay
  • Oregon rJR LHP Cole Irvin
  • Mississippi State JR LHP Daniel Brown
  • Liberty JR RHP/OF Parker Bean
  • Pacific JR RHP Vince Arobio
  • Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch
  • Loyola Marymount JR RHP JD Busfield
  • Washington State JR RHP Ian Hamilton
  • Michigan State rJR LHP Cameron Vieaux
  • Michigan JR LHP Brett Adcock
  • Gonzaga JR RHP Brandon Bailey
  • South Carolina JR RHP Wil Crowe

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

Click here for an UPDATED LIST (October 23, 2015) if you’re into that sort of thing…

The 2013 HS class was a really good one, so it’s no shock that the 2016 college group has a chance to be so exciting. One mostly clueless guy ranked the following unsigned 2013 HS prospects in his top 100 overall prospects that year: Kyle Serrano (20), Matt Krook (35), Chris Okey (39), Ryan Boldt (41), Cavan Biggio (42), Andy McGuire (52), Connor Jones (53), Brett Morales (58), Robert Tyler (68), Keegan Thompson (69), Cal Quantrill (70), Garrett Williams (73), Zack Collins (80), JB Woodman (89), Sheldon Neuse (92), Jordan Sheffield (93), and Connor Heady (96). Phil Bickford (34) and Francis Christy (100), both eligible for this year’s draft due to their decision to attend junior colleges in 2015, were also included within the top 100 prospects of 2013. Of that group listed above I’d say only McGuire (injured) and Heady (bat hasn’t come around) have hurt their draft stock. In fact, almost all of those names listed above can make realistic claims as first round picks next June. That’s awesome. A really quick top ten before I slip and say that it’s way way way too early to be ranking players…

  1. Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones
  2. Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano
  3. Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio
  4. Oklahoma SO 3B Sheldon Neuse
  5. Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler
  6. Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt
  7. Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks
  8. Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen
  9. Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill
  10. Clemson SO C Chris Okey

ACC has the bats, SEC has the pitching

First, it’s way way way too early to be ranking players in the most honest sense of the word. I think grouping players and prioritizing the potentially great prospects over the good is appropriate, but even a crazy person like myself won’t yet attempt a strict ranking. If I were to do so, ranking the pitchers would be a much easier task at this point. There’s a much clearer line between the best and the rest for me there right now.

I do believe, per the subheading above, that the ACC has a chance to become the spot for crosscheckers on the hunt for above-average position players in next year’s draft. It might be a stretch, but I can see an argument for the ACC possessing three of next year’s draft top four college infielders. Clemson SO C Chris Okey, Miami SO 1B/C Zach Collins, and Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio all have a chance to go very, very high in 2016’s first round. A snappier prediction would have been about the ACC having THE top three infield bats, but Oklahoma SO 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse had to ruin those plans by being too darn good at baseball.

Still, Okey, Collins, and Biggio all have the chance to be long-term above-average regulars at demanding defensive positions; Okey and Biggio in particular could be major assets when you factor in their defensive value. I’m not sweating the relatively slow starts of Collins or Okey so far (Biggio has been great, which isn’t a shocker since he’s the most complete hitter of the trio), so you shouldn’t either. Collins has enough of the Kyle Schwarber/Travis Hafner power bat thing going on with a three-true outcomes approach to hitting that I think the bat plays at first if/when catching doesn’t work out. On the flip side, Okey moves so well behind the plate that Perfect Game compared him to a young Craig Biggio defensively back in 2013. His glove alone is almost reason enough to warrant a first day draft grade, and the fact that he could/should be a league average or better bat is what makes him a potential top ten pick in my eyes. Is it really any wonder why I like Biggio as much as I do? My old notes on him include the following: “born to hit,” “carries himself like a pro,” and “great pitch recognition.” Even better than that was the phrase “patient and aggressive all at once.” That’s my kind of hitter. It’s way too early to call it, but let’s do it anyway: Okey, Collins, and Biggio will all be first round picks in 2016.

The Hitters (including a return to gloves at short and catcher)

Keeping up with the ACC theme, Virginia SO C Matt Thaiss jumps out as another potential high round pick from looks like 2016’s best conference for bats. Thaiss is a rock solid defender who is starting to tap into his above-average raw power in a big enough way do his old Baseball America comps to Brian McCann justice. After Okey, Thaiss, and Texas SO C Tres Barrera, there’s still some quality depth. Some of the catchers from a bit off the beaten path (Santa Clara SO C Steve Berman, Grand Canyon SO C Josh Meyer) haven’t quite had the breakout second seasons I was hoping to see. Still, the overall depth at the position looks promising. Catchers are always in high demand in June, and I think this class will make many teams happy.

After Collins, first base looks grim. Two of my pre-season sleepers, Stony Brook SO 1B/OF Casey Baker and Texas State SO 1B Granger Studdard, have fallen flat so far this year. Thankfully East Carolina SO 1B/LHP Bryce Harman has come out of the gate mashing and Florida SO 1B Pete Alonso is coming off an impressive summer.

Once I figured out they weren’t the same guy, it was easy to like both Louisville SO 2B Nick Solak and Tennessee SO 2B Nick Senzel. Despite not yet making his college debut, I’m still sticking with the extremely promising LSU FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann as the 1b to Biggio’s 1a at the position. The shortstops aren’t nearly on the level of what we have this year, but both Long Beach State SO SS Garrett Hampson and Tulane SO SS Stephen Alemais stand out as old-school defense-first prospects who could hit enough to still play every day. The aforementioned Neuse is the man at third base. Trailing him are names that include Vanderbilt FR 3B/SS Will Toffey, Clemson SO 3B/SS Weston Wilson, and Arizona SO 3B/RHP Bobby Dalbec, the closest current competitor to Neuse’s throne.

The real draw right now for fans of bad teams in search of offensive help will come in the outfield. Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks and Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt appear set to battle back and forth throughout this season and next as the fight to see how high they can rise as first round picks. I’d have Boldt (who I comped to David Dahl back in HS) a tick above for the time being (better approach), but could see Banks closing the gap in short order thanks to a more impressive overall tool set (most notably raw power). Both look like safe first round picks as of now, good health pending.

The battle for the third spot is what interests me most right now. Many of the names expected to rise up (most notably Florida State OF/SS Ben DeLuzio) have taken a step back in the early going of 2015, but a lot of the athletic upside types like Florida OF Buddy Reed, Georgia SO OF Stephen Wrenn, LSU SO OF Jake Fraley, and Mississippi SO OF JB Woodman (hmm…SEC, SEC, SEC, and SEC) have stepped up in an even bigger way than hoped. Hey, did you catch that parenthetical note there? Might be time to amend one of the subheadings above…

ACC has the (infield) bats, SEC has the pitching (and outfielders)

That’s better. I’ll admit to not checking in on every single 2016 draft-eligible outfielder’s start to the 2015 season so far – I’m not even done previewing the current college season and we’re already over a month into things – but one favorite that I have noticed off to a hot start is St. John’s SO OF Michael Donadio, a really well-rounded player with an more advanced bat than most of his peers.

Power Pitchers from Power Conferences 

In what I’d consider my top tier of 2016 college pitchers, the SEC has three out of the top seven prospects. If I get a bit more inclusive and check in with the larger second tier (18 pitchers), then you’d see that an even two-thirds (12) come from the SEC. By complete luck that comes out to 25 total pitchers in the top two tiers with 15 able to call the SEC home. I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out, what with Carson Cistulli recently finding that the SEC has produced 23% of baseball’s “good pitchers” since 2010. For what it’s worth, the ACC is second (barely) only to the Pac-12 in terms of producing “good batters” since 2010. Since I amended my previous conclusion that’s no longer as relevant; not sure what the metrics say about infield prospects only. Anyway!

Power Pitchers with Changeups = $$$

One of the big early trends that pleases me to no end in college baseball in recent years is the rise of the changeup, arguably the finest offspeed pitch known to man. Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones – above-average, flashes plus. Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano – inconsistent, but flashes plus when on. Florida SO RHP Brett Morales – above-average, flashes plus to plus-plus. Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill (RIP right elbow ligament) – plus. Those are just the righthanders from the top tier. Arkansas SO RHP Dominic Taccolini, Auburn SO RHP Keegan Thompson, Florida SO RHP Logan Shore, Mississippi State SO RHP Austin Sexton, Oklahoma State SO RHP Thomas Hatch, Maryland SO RHP Michael Shawaryn, and Alabama SO RHP Geoffrey Bramblett all throw consistently average or better changeups at present.

I think any number of the pitchers in my current top tier could make a run at 1-1 next June. Cal Quantrill’s shot is probably gone now that there’s word he’ll go under the knife for Tommy John surgery in the coming days. Connor Jones might now be the front-runner for me. Jones can get it up to the mid-90s with some of the craziest movement you’ll see, plus he can mix in three offspeed pitches (slider flashes plus, solid curve, and a hard splitter that acts as a potential plus changeup) with the know-how and ability to command everything effectively. Comps I’ve heard run the gamut from Jeff Samardzija to Dan Haren to Homer Bailey, but I’m partial to one that hit me when viewing his second start this season: Masahiro Tanaka. I’ve comped another pitcher in this class I love Kyle Serrano (ranked 20th overall in 2013) to Jarrod Parker, who once went 9th overall in the draft, in the past. Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler throws really hard (mid-90s, 98-99 peak) with pair of secondary pitches with major upside. Brett Morales might not be on everybody’s list so close to the top, but his changeup is such a dominating pitch when on that he’s hard to leave off. Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen and Oklahoma State SO LHP Garrett Williams have some fantastic Friday night showdowns ahead; Hansen’s the hard-thrower with the size scouts love while Williams is the more polished athlete with advanced offspeed stuff.

Quick, unfortunate aside not worthy of a subheading of it’s own: due to the unnatural nature of throwing a baseball at high speeds with crazy movement every year the topic of injuries has to be brought up. The 2016 MLB Draft college class is no different. Texas SO RHP Morgan Cooper, College of Charleston SO RHP Bailey Ober, and Cal Quantrill will all be closely monitored as they come back from injury that knocked out all or most of their 2015 seasons. Cooper and Ober should both be good to go relatively close to the start of the season while Quantrill will be lucky to be back by mid-season at the earliest. The upside of a healthy Quantrill and the timing of his injury put him on any short list of most fascinating draft prospects for 2016 right now. He was a top ten slam dunk for me pre-injury…and I wouldn’t rule him out from getting back there if he can avoid any immediate post-rehab setbacks.

Power Pitchers with Changeups from Power Conferences >>> Everybody Else 

A lot will happen between now and June of 2016 – I’ll no longer be in my twenties, for instance – so it’s foolhardy to suggest anything I say now should be written in ink. My one bummer of a prediction is that college baseball’s non-power conferences appear primed to take a backseat to the traditional powers in 2016. I say that as a long-time advocate for players who don’t get written about every single Thursday by every single national college baseball publication. The monster recruits of 2013 that went unsigned and went to big-time schools have almost all panned out, effectively crowding out the little guys in next year’s draft class. There is hope, however. Pitchers from Air Force, Central Michigan, and Kent State should rise way up boards. There are even guys from Northwestern State, Albany, High Point, and Sacred Heart that have top five round upside or better.

Way, way, way too early college follow lists that are unranked and as inclusive as possible. I left a lot of players on even though they are off to verrrrrry slow starts this year because at this point scouting reports trump performance by a silly margin. If I left off anybody (particularly if it’s a son/nephew/BFF/player on your favorite team), assume it’s a mistake and gently remind me in the comments or via email.

C

Clemson SO C Chris Okey
NC State SO C/3B Andrew Knizner
Virginia SO C Matt Thaiss
Tulane SO C Jake Rogers
Mississippi State SO C Gavin Collins
Texas SO C Tres Barrera
Furman SO C Cameron Whitehead
Murray State SO C Tyler Lawrence
USC SO C/1B Jeremy Martinez
Maryland SO C/1B Nick Cieri
Pepperdine SO C Aaron Barnett
Santa Clara SO C Steve Berman
Grand Canyon SO C Josh Meyer
Ball State SO C Jarett Rindfleisch

1B

Miami SO 1B/C Zack Collins
East Carolina SO 1B/LHP Bryce Harman
Florida SO 1B Pete Alonso
Stony Brook SO 1B/OF Casey Baker
Texas State SO 1B Granger Studdard

2B

Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio
Louisville SO 2B Nick Solak
Notre Dame SO 2B/SS Kyle Fiala
Wake Forest SO 2B/OF Nate Mondou
LSU FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann
Tennessee SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel
Texas A&M SO 2B/OF Ryne Birk
Columbia SO 2B Will Savage
Florida Atlantic SO 2B/SS Stephen Kerr

SS

Long Beach State SO SS Garrett Hampson
Virginia Tech SO SS Ricky Surum
Tulane SO SS Stephen Alemais
Mississippi FR SS/2B Tate Blackman
Mississippi SO SS/2B Errol Robinson
Arizona State SO SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
Sacred Heart SO SS Zack Short
Austin Peay State SO SS/3B Logan Gray
Stanford SO SS Tommy Edman
San Diego FR SS/2B Bryson Brigman
Central Michigan SO SS Alex Borglin
Coastal Carolina SO SS/2B Michael Paez

3B

Oklahoma SO 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse
Clemson SO 3B/SS Weston Wilson
Louisville rFR 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
Vanderbilt FR 3B/SS Will Toffey
Texas A&M SO 3B/C Ronnie Gideon
Oklahoma State SO 3B Andrew Rosa
Texas SO 3B Andy McGuire
Arizona SO 3B/RHP Bobby Dalbec
Bradley SO 3B Spencer Gaa

OF

Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks
Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt
Florida State SO OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
Louisville SO OF Corey Ray
Miami SO OF Willie Abreu
LSU SO OF Jake Fraley
Georgia SO OF Stephen Wrenn
Mississippi SO OF JB Woodman
Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi
Arkansas FR OF Luke Bonfield
Vanderbilt SO OF/1B Bryan Reynolds
Florida SO OF Buddy Reed
Oklahoma SO OF Cody Thomas
Oklahoma State SO OF Ryan Sluder
St. John’s SO OF Michael Donadio
Mercer SO OF Kyle Lewis
Samford SO OF Heath Quinn
UCLA SO OF/2B Luke Persico
UCLA SO OF Brett Stephens
Washington State SO OF Cameron Frost
Ohio State SO OF Ronnie Dawson
Ohio State SO OF Troy Montgomery
Hawaii SO OF/2B Marcus Doi
UC Riverside SO OF Vince Fernandez
BYU SO OF Brennon Lund
Loyola Marymount SO OF Austin Miller
Ball State SO OF Alex Call
Jacksonville SO OF Austin Hays
Nevada SO OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

P

Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones
Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano
Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler
Florida SO RHP Brett Morales
Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen
Oklahoma State SO LHP Garrett Williams
Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill
Arkansas SO RHP Dominic Taccolini
Auburn SO RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
South Carolina SO RHP Wil Crowe
Florida SO LHP/1B AJ Puk
Florida SO RHP Logan Shore
Mississippi State SO RHP Austin Sexton
Oklahoma State SO RHP Thomas Hatch
Texas SO RHP Morgan Cooper
Oregon SO LHP Matt Krook
Oregon State FR RHP Drew Rasmussen
Arkansas SO RHP Zach Jackson
Vanderbilt rFR RHP Jordan Sheffield
Maryland SO RHP Mike Shawaryn
College of Charleston SO RHP Bailey Ober
Louisiana SO RHP Reagan Bazar
Alabama SO RHP Geoffrey Bramblett
Connecticut SO LHP Anthony Kay
California SO RHP Daulton Jefferies
Boston College SO RHP Justin Dunn
Louisville SO RHP Zack Burdi
Louisville SO LHP Drew Harrington
Miami SO RHP/1B Derik Beauprez
Miami SO RHP Bryan Garcia
North Carolina SO RHP/SS Spencer Trayner
Pittsburgh SO RHP TJ Zeuch
Houston SO RHP Andrew Lantrip
Houston SO RHP Marshall Kasowski
Tulane SO RHP JP France
LSU SO LHP Jared Poche
South Carolina SO RHP Matt Vogel
Alabama SO RHP Nick Eicholtz
Georgia SO LHP Connor Jones
Vanderbilt SO RHP Hayden Stone
Florida SO RHP Dane Dunning
Mississippi State SO RHP Dakota Hudson
Texas A&M SO RHP Ryan Hendrix
Oklahoma SO RHP Jake Elliott
TCU SO RHP Brian Howard
Texas Tech SO LHP Ty Damron
Arizona SO RHP Austin Schnabel
Arizona State SO RHP Hever Bueno
Washington State SO RHP Ian Hamilton
Michigan SO LHP Brett Adcock
Nebraska SO RHP Derek Burkamper
Pacific SO RHP Vince Arobio
Wichita State SO LHP/1B Sam Hilliard
Air Force SO RHP/1B Griffin Jax
Central Michigan SO LHP/1B Nick Deeg
Kent State SO RHP Andy Ravel
Northwestern State SO RHP Adam Oller
Albany SO RHP Stephen Woods
Elon SO RHP/C Chris Hall
Stetson SO RHP Mitchell Jordan
High Point SO RHP Cas Silber
Longwood SO RHP Mitchell Kuebbing
Sacred Heart SO RHP Jason Foley