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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Cincinnati Reds

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Cincinnati in 2016

7 – Nick Senzel
55 – Chris Okey
61 – Taylor Trammel
*115 – TJ Friedl
171 – Nick Hanson
212 – Tyler Mondile
285 – Scott Moss
312 – Ryan Hendrix

Complete List of 2016 Cincinnati Draftees

1.2 – 3B Nick Senzel

Combing my notes on Nick Senzel (7) reveals one glaring negative about his game. Ready for it? “Little worried about his arm.” Even with that gigantic red flag, Cincinnati took Senzel with the second overall pick. What in the world were they thinking? On Senzel (with updated stats) from April 2016…

Nick Senzel is really good. I’ve compared him to Anthony Rendon in the past – the exact phrasing from my notes is “Rendon lite?” – and I think he’ll have a good long career as an above-average big league player. He also reminds me a little bit of this guy…

.352/.456/.595 – 40 BB/21 K – 25/29 SB – 210 AB
.393/.487/.592 – 45 BB/38 K – 13/14 SB – 262 AB

Top is Senzel, bottom is Kyle Seager. I’ve used the Seager comp a few (too many) times over the years, most recently on Max Schrock last season. Speaking of Schrock, how did he fall as far as he did last year? That one still blows my mind. Anyway, in an attempt to move away from the tired Seager comp, another name popped up…

.352/.456/.595 – 40 BB/21 K – 25/29 SB – 210 AB
.351/.479/.530 – 46 BB/26 K – 11/14 SB – 185 AB

Top is still Senzel. Mystery bottom guy was written up like so by Baseball America after his pro debut…

“He has a short, compact swing and hits the ball to all fields, and he handles breaking pitches well because of strong balance. Though he’s a physical 6-foot-1 and has good strength, [REDACTED] has a line-drive swing that doesn’t produce natural loft, leading some to project him to have below-average power. He earns high marks for his defense, with good feet and hands to go with an above-average arm at third base. He’s also versatile enough to have played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA. He’s a good athlete and a solid-average runner.”

I would have linked his pre-draft report from BA, but they have the absolute worst log-in page on the entire internet. Anyway, the passage above was typed up from the 2009 Prospect Handbook. We’re talking about a guy who once played infield in the SEC. He had a similar draft year statistically. And he’s really broken out in his late-20s. Any guesses? When I’ve done mystery comps like this in the past I wouldn’t reveal the player. Then I’d search my site about a different player years later, come across the mystery comp post, and have no idea myself who I was talking about. So, yeah, it’s Logan Forsythe. My future self thanks my present self. I like Senzel to hit the big leagues running a bit more easily than Forsythe (i.e., I don’t think Senzel will enter his age-28 season with an OPS+ of 85), so maybe that would bump Senzel up over Forsythe as a guy with a higher floor. A couple of peak years like Forsythe’s seems like a reasonable ceiling projection. That’s a damn fine player. Supports the original claim: Nick Senzel is really good.

In addition to the Rendon, Seager, and Forsythe comparisons, I’ve also likened Senzel to a young Michael Cuddyer. Of all the comps I’ve thrown out this past draft season, Senzel to Cuddyer generated the most feedback from those in the know, especially as the summer pro season dragged on. Here’s part of Baseball America’s scouting report on Cuddyer after his first full pro season…

Strengths: Cuddyer had few problems at the plate in his pro debut, leading Fort Wayne in home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples, runs and walks. He showed excellent power potential and should dramatically increase his home run total as he grows into his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. Twins officials save their highest praise for Cuddyer’s approach to the game. He did not let his defensive struggles affect his offense or his leadership role, even early in the season. Where the pressures of pro ball sometimes eat up young prospects, the Twins feel that Cuddyer will thrive on them. Weaknesses: Cuddyer’s defensive struggles at shortstop resulted in 61 errors. The errors weren’t primarily in one area where a correction or extended repetitions could address the problem. The Twins felt that Cuddyer’s above-average arm strength and hands were fine and that his limited range was forcing him to try to make plays he couldn’t. The Twins also realized that they had two premium shortstop prospects in Luis Rivas and Cristian Guzman. Cuddyer was switched to third base during instructional league and made an “instantaneous” conversion to the corner.

Talk in pro scouting circles about Senzel potentially putting on more good muscle and bulking up to become an occasional third baseman, corner outfielder, and first baseman at maturation (mid- to late-20s) makes the Cuddyer comparison feel a little more apt than before. Whether that actually happens or not, it doesn’t change the fact that just about everybody agrees that Senzel will hit on a similar level to all those guys he’s been compared to. I’d also add Matt Carpenter’s name in the mix; he was a name that came up with Lucas Erceg was discussed and since I consider Erceg to be a “Senzel-lite” type of prospect, it stands to reason that Carpenter and Senzel would share some similarities.

Senzel is an above-average athlete with explosive bat speed, a veteran’s approach at the plate, and above-average to plus raw power. Despite passing along some of the things I’ve heard, I personally have no worries about him excelling at the hot corner defensively with more than enough in the way of instincts, arm strength, and athleticism to make it work. Heck, I’m the one pushing the idea that he could someday return to second base after all. A plus offensive player with a long track record of hitting capable of playing at least average defense at a key position is a potential big league star. That’s Nick Senzel. Nick Senzel is really good.

(Since I’ve been asked before, a quick fantasy take to close things out: Nick Senzel is the clear best prospect for fantasy purposes in this draft when you account for finding the sweet spot between certainty, proximity to the big leagues, and upside.)

1.35 – OF Taylor Trammel

I have no evidence to back this hunch up, but it feels like there is a prep outfielder in every class that has physical tools on par with the early first round talents but falls well past that point in the draft. If that’s true, then I nominate Taylor Trammel (61) for that position in 2016. If it’s not true, then, well, I still think Taylor Trammel fits the very toolsy potential-laden outfielder player archetype quite nicely. From May 2016…

Trammel can run and defend with the best in his class, but his arm is inconsistent. One thing I really like about him is how real his progression has felt this past calendar year. There’s been no surge in buzz about him throughout the spring; instead, it’s been a slow and steady build, as many scouts have noted that the average grades on his sheet have morphed into above-average to plus marks over the course of his final season.

What’s with the Reds picking really good looking young players with questionable arms? That’s two players in a row where the arm is really the only fair thing to question about their respective tool sets. Guess if you’re going to skimp on one tool doing so with the least important one makes sense. Good players with bad arms is the new Moneyball. To Trammel’s credit, his arm got progressively stronger throughout the spring and summer seasons and is now seen as closer to playable than his below-average status. So his one big weakness is now just a minor weakness. And all his strengths — plus to plus-plus speed, plus range in center, average raw power, absurd athleticism — remain. All of those traits give Trammel a high floor even if his bat doesn’t come around as hoped. If it does, he’s a star.

2.43 – C Chris Okey

On Chris Okey (55) from December 2015…

JR C Chris Okey is in a great position heading into his draft year as an athletic, above-average all-around defensive catcher who can run a little bit. In today’s game, that’s exactly what big league teams want in a catcher, especially if you throw in the (overrated by the internet in terms of importance, but not altogether unimportant) ability to frame pitches. As I’ve written about countless times before (including the quoted Okey blurb from October you can read below), as the run environment has shifted away from the highest highs of the PED-era so too has the general preference for athleticism and defensive reliability behind the plate. This shift has come largely at the expense of big power and raw arm strength at the position. Mobility, flexibility, and fundamentally sound glovework is what moves the needle now. I’m thinking of recent early picks like Taylor Ward, Max Pentecost, Reese McGuire, and Justin O’Conner as the prototypes for this latest wave. Athletes like Russell Martin, Carlos Ruiz, Jonathan Lucroy, and Buster Posey (the man I remember watching play a decent shortstop once upon a time at Florida State) all represent the best case scenario for this player archetype; not coincidentally, those guys all rank in the top nine in fWAR since 2010 with a lot of their value tied up in excellent defensive numbers.

So what does any of this really have to do with Okey? While it’s great that he ticks off many of the boxes that teams like in a catching prospect, nobody is drafting a theoretical catcher archetype. Okey may be a fine example of the modern catcher, but that doesn’t mean he’s a slam dunk first round catcher. Here’s what I wrote about him a few months back…

Okey doesn’t have quite the same thunder in his bat as [Matt] 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.

That all holds up today (obviously…it’s been two months!), but it should be noted that the nice things said about his game are a step below what many (myself included) were saying about him after his senior season of high school. His defense behind the plate never quite reached the threshold where you’d call any one component of his game consistently plus. He’s shown some plus pop times in the past, sure, but not as often as average to above-average times. I don’t think anybody would have imagined he’d get more athletic past his teenage years — time has a way of catching up to everybody — but there is a little bit more stiffness to him at present than you might think if going off those old scouting reports. He’s still the athletic, above-average all-around defensive catcher who can run a little bit that we mentioned at the top. And if we’re going to call him out some for slipping a bit — or, perhaps more accurately, not developing as hoped — with the glove, then it’s only right to praise him for the maturation of his power. What was once considered promising but far off has turned into displays of average or better present power with the shot at plus raw still out there. I’d err on the side of caution with his future power grade and put him closer to the average to above-average range where it currently plays, but that still means he could be a steady 15-20 home run bat at his peak. One interesting name that I heard as a comparison that makes a little bit of sense: Mike Lieberthal.

I have to be honest, I really like that Lieberthal comp. That’s some of my best work right there. My updated notes on Okey include this line, exclamation point and all: “average glove, average arm, average power, average everything!” That’s Chris Okey. Coincidentally, Mike Lieberthal finished his career with a wRC+ of 100. Can’t get much more average than that. Average is a really good thing, especially if you’re a catcher. Only five qualified catchers posted average or better wRC+ last season. The number only jumps to eleven if you open things way up to include all catchers with at least 250 PA. An average offensive catcher has a really strong shot at finishing in the top five to ten in terms of value at the position. Okey’s average tools all get a little bit of boost for me when you factor in his above-average athleticism and exceptional makeup. There’s plenty to argue about the ultimate utility of even including a note about a prospect’s “makeup” (whatever that means to you) in these draft reviews, so I’ll just say that if you’re going to make it a priority at any one position then let it be catcher. Hard work, leadership, communication skills, ability to take coaching, passion for the game and understanding its place in a larger universe…all particularly important for a catcher. I like Okey so much that projecting about a league average catcher feels fair almost as a floor with a run of above-average years as a ceiling.

(Got a few other interesting comps for Okey that I thought were worth passing along. Some are better than others, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide. I still like Lieberthal, but names like Wellington Castillo, AJ Ellis, and Wilson Ramos have all been floated to me at one point or another. Also got this one…

.336/.438/.598 – 37 BB/47 K – 244 AB
.339/.465/.611 – 51 BB/54 K – 239 AB

.329/.425/.546 – 89 BB/116 K
.301/.392/.504 – 100 BB/136 K

Top is Chris Iannetta, bottom is Okey. From his pre-draft scouting report at Baseball America

Iannetta could go as high as the third round after a stellar junior season. He reminds scouts of Joe Girardi, though he’s lost some life in his lower half and doesn’t run like Girardi did. Like Girardi, Iannetta has a short, compact stroke and a mature approach to hitting, leading to consistent, hard contact. His other tools are unspectacular, but he’s an average receiver and has an average arm that might play up a bit because of his quick release. His younger brother Matt is a Rhode Island prep player who has signed with North Carolina.

Sounds vaguely Okey-ish, right?)

3.79 – RHP Nick Hanson

I’ve long had a weird affinity for pitchers out of cold weather states like Minnesota — Sam Carlson is next man up for 2017, by the way — so it’s no shock that I liked the solidly built Nick Hanson (171) out of Prior Lake HS. His size, projection, occasional bouts of wildness, and Kentucky commitment had makes it easy to mentally tie him to former Wildcat starters like Alex Meyer and Kyle Cody, but I think the present version of Hanson is ahead of where those eventual college guys were as teenagers. Hanson’s fastball (87-93, 95-96 peak) and curve (average or better now 75-78, above-average to plus eventually) are exciting enough as is, so tossing on an average-ish split-changeup at such a young age is icing on the cake. So much can go wrong with prep pitching prospects and the relatively low ranking of Hanson pre-draft reflects the unpredictability that scares me off players like Hanson every June, but I still find myself liking this pick a lot for Cincinnati even knowing the potential downside.

4.108 – LHP Scott Moss

On Scott Moss (285) from May 2016…

Moss is a wild card as another good yet wild performer with the size (6-5, 215) and stuff (90-94 FB, solid breaking ball and low-80s CU) to make a big impact at the end of games as a professional. The further he gets from his own Tommy John surgery, the better he’s been.

Every day is another day further for Moss, who finished the year striking out 12.13 batters per nine with 3.52 BB/9 and a 1.57 ERA out of the Florida bullpen. His strikeout numbers were sliced almost in half (6.81 K/9) in his 38.1 inning pro debut. The encouraging news is that his run prevention (2.35 ERA) remained strong even when tasked with starting games consistently for the first time since high school. That vote of confidence from the Cincinnati developmental staff combined with the late-season gem of a start Moss threw for the Gators and a highly effective three-pitch mix make the idea of continuing to use Moss in the rotation a very intriguing possibility. I liked Moss as a potential multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen coming out of Florida (still the most likely outcome if I were a betting man), but this new ceiling as a potential mid-rotation starter (assuming his stuff and health allow it) turns this pick from good to great.

A weird but fun subplot to follow from this draft will be which of the three key Gators relievers good enough to start (Moss, Shaun Anderson, Dane Dunning) have the best pro careers.

5.138 – RHP Ryan Hendrix

Two quick blurbs that tell the story of Ryan Hendrix’s (312) 2016 college season and the impact it had on his draft stock. First, from March 2016…

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!

And then from May 2016…

His teammate Ryan Hendrix hasn’t been quite as good – more whiffs, more walks, and a lot more runs allowed – but remains a good bet to go high in the draft because of his premium stuff (94-98 FB, 83-86 breaking ball that flashes plus) and correctable flaws.

Hendrix’s premium stuff and correctable flaws remain. His pro debut (9.18 K/9 and 3.31 BB/9) looked a lot more like his dominant 2015 season (10.53 K/9 and 3.97 BB/9) than his erratic 2016 (12.81 K/9 and 7.11 BB/9), but one stat from his first 35.1 professional innings jumps out. Hendrix uncorked 11 wild pitches in his debut. That’s good for a 2.80 WP/9. This took me down a weird rabbit hole about wild pitches. Did you know that Felix Hernandez has thrown the most wild pitches this decade with 86? I never would have guessed that, though I guess it makes sense that a “good” pitcher like Hernandez would be near the top of a list of a “bad” counting stat. More sensible guesses like AJ Burnett, Tim Lincecum, Francisco Liriano, and Edwin Jackson round out the top five. I don’t have the patience to look at everybody, but a quick glance reveals that the highest WP/9 among those who rank near the top of the overall list is Garrett Richards. His 0.80 WP/9 (almost a third lower than Hendrix’s, FWIW) is higher than any other starting pitcher I found. If I go deeper and look at qualified relievers as well, then Pedro Stop takes the prize at a whopping 1.06 WP/9. Bartolo Colon has only thrown three wild pitches this decade. That means that in any given nine-inning stretch, you might expect to see Colon throw .025 wild pitches. Baseball Draft Report: come for the baseball draft reporting, stay for the inane statistical minutiae!

First round stuff + tenth round control = fifth round selection. Math don’t lie. Hendrix could be a relatively quick-moving reliever if/when he figures out what was up with his control in 2016 at Texas A&M. As mentioned, the early pro returns were certainly encouraging. I’m buying Hendrix as a future big league asset with a ceiling that likely falls just short of making him a consistent option to close.

6.168 – RHP Tyler Mondile

On Tyler Mondile (212) from May 2016…

Tyler Mondile looked really good. He actually tied Groome for the hottest heater of the night at 94 MPH — I had them both getting there four different times, but saw Mondile up to 95 on a few of the guns around me — and had the more consistent velocity throughout the evening. In a funny twist, Mondile happened to hit 94 with his fastball three straight times in his first head-to-head battle with Groome at the plate. Groome took a fastball in for a strike, a fastball further in for a ball, and a fastball on the outer half to put him in a 1-2 hole before the at bat ended preemptively when Mondile got a little help from his catcher with a stolen base threat eliminated at third base. If there was any doubt that Mondile was pumped for this one — and two seconds of watching him stomp around the field pre-game would push those thoughts aside right quick — then the 94, 94, 94 to start the at bat against the opposing starting pitcher was a clear indicator of how amped up the Gloucester Catholic righthander must have been feeling.

Beyond the strong showing of arm strength, I was impressed with the admittedly few curves Mondile managed to drop in for strikes (76-79 MPH). He used it more as a pitch in and around the strike zone than as a chase pitch, but it had the shape and consistency to worth in both directions with continued use. In time, the pitch looked like it could be a legitimate second weapon. There’s a good bit of effort in Mondile’s delivery and his high level of demonstrative emotion on the mound (something that would make him a fan favorite in many markets) might mean a future in the bullpen could happen sooner rather than later, but reports of his changeup being an average or better offering and his ability to repeat said delivery make him worth trying as a starter as long as possible. I wouldn’t necessarily say his 6-1, 185 pound frame screamed projection, but his upper-half looked like it could stand to put on at least another ten pounds of weight to help even out his stout lower-body. Despite his relatively short stature, Mondile’s legs looked like they’d pass any relevant strength test. In this specific class it would be hard to call him a first rounder, but I could see him making sense for any team anywhere between rounds three and six. I came away believing that he likely made himself some money based on how he looked in front of a crowd with that many influential executives.

Not a bad summation of Mondile’s present stuff and future projection, if I do say so myself. Mondile has all the ingredients (three pitches, repeatable mechanics, solid command) to remain a starter in the pros. As far as upside goes, that’s all you could want in a sixth round teenage pitching prospect. My hunch is that he winds up in the bullpen over the long haul, and I’m not sure that allowing his high-energy self to go 100% in short bursts would be a bad thing. In whatever role he lands, Mondile is a talented arm well worth a six round pick.

7.198 – LHP Andy Cox

The selection of Andy Cox in round seven begins a run of Cincinnati saving some serious cash ($30,000 spent total) on four selected players from round seven to ten. The Reds also effectively ended their draft earlier than most teams with only one pick signed past round twenty-nine. I’m not necessarily faulting Cincinnati here — they did spend almost all of their nearly $14 million in pool money, so it’s not like they went cheap on the whole — but their approach both at the top and bottom of the draft feels a bit off to me. Over 80% of the money they spent on the 2016 MLB Draft paid for their top three picks. That was similar to the one team picking ahead of them in the draft (Philadelphia), but way more than two of the other three (in addition to the Phillies) top draft spenders (69% for Atlanta, 54% for San Diego). My favorite draft so far belongs to the Cardinals, a team that spent 61% of their draft total on their top three picks and managed to bring in seven prospects past the thirtieth round. Comparisons like this are complicated because of the current draft rules in place and I don’t have any grand conclusions, but it’s all at least a little interesting, right?

Anyway, let’s talk about Andy Cox. Here’s a little something on him from April 2015…

His teammate, LHP Andy Cox, is one of my favorite “sleepers,” thanks in part to his well-rounded arsenal (88-91 FB, average or better low-80s SL, average or better CU) that could make him an interesting relief to rotation project in the pro ranks.

I still think he has the stuff to remain a starter, but projecting his command and control for that role seems like a stretch. His repertoire is still strong enough to make him a potential relief option with continued growth. The seventh round seems a little too early for me for a player like Cox, but the allure of saving some cash and landing a decent prospect must have been too strong for the Reds to ignore. I’ve never had to juggle economic and political considerations in a draft room, so I won’t kill a team for taking a money-saving senior that I’m sure they like on merit even if I don’t feel the same way.

8.228 – 2B John Sansone

A .370/.455/.576 offensive year in the ACC is nothing to sneeze at, senior season or not. John Sansome is a classic Florida State style hitter with exemplary plate discipline and more power than you might believe at first look. He’s also a decent runner who can play multiple spots in the infield. If the way he curtailed the strikeouts — the one downside to scouting the classic Florida State style hitter: how much is genuine plate discipline with an innate knowledge of the strike zone and vision to pick up spin/location early…and how much is just taking pitches because that’s how you’ve been coached — in his senior season is real, then Sansome might have enough positive qualities to play regularly at second or third. If not, then he still has a shot to keep advancing as a potential utility infielder capable of playing anywhere on the dirt.

If you really wanted to mislead people by ignoring many important contextual factors (plus the pesky scouting thing), then you could do this…

.370/.455/.576
.352/.456/.595

…and ask which one was the second overall pick in the draft and which one was the eighth round selection. Using this to disparage Nick Senzel would be silly for a variety of reasons, but it’s not a terrible way of saying “Hey, maybe our eighth round pick ain’t so bad!”

9.258 – RHP Alex Webb

Alex Webb saved the Reds a ton of money, but still could wind up as a big league pitcher. That’s good work by them. My favorite of the four consecutive Cincinnati senior-signs, Webb has a quality low-90s fastball with a decent curve and usable change. It’s not a thrilling package, but it looks a little nicer when you account for his cold weather background, plus control, and outstanding track record as a Thunderbird. ERA is not something quoted often around here, but if you can throw 104.1 innings with a 1.38 ERA then you’re doing something right. Webb has all the ingredients to profile as a back of the rotation starter, but could be best served moving to the pen and letting his fastball fly.

10.288 – RHP Lucas Benenati

I was a little intrigued with Lucas Benenati coming into his senior season at Kansas State after a solid junior year (7.31 K/9 and 2.25 BB/9) and reports of decent middle relief style stuff (low-90s fastball, ability to command serviceable breaking ball) filtering through. His final season as a Wildcat was rough enough (6.68 K/9 and 4.45 BB/9) that I opted to leave him out of the 2016 MLB Draft conversation entirely. He was rather good in pro ball including time spent in low-A Dayton, but as a guy who turns 24-years-old in May of his first full pro season that kind of speedy acclimation to pro ball is expected.

11.318 – RHP Joel Kuhnel

On Joel Kuhnel from March 2016…

I’m less in on Joel Kuhnel. The big righty from Texas-Arlington, who incidentally reminds me of one of the many flame-throwing Dallas Baptist relievers from last year, is a favorite of many I’ve spoken to, but, for reasons both on the scouting side and the numbers side, I’m not really feeling it. It’s very likely a reliever profile (to me), so some of his value is cut off at the legs already. I do think he can be a fine bullpen piece with continued refinement — starting with a fastball that touches 96-97 and a hard 86-87 MPH slider doesn’t hurt – so depending on where he falls on draft day he could be a nice value for a team searching for a potential late-inning arm. I’ve gotten a Toddy Coffey comp for him that works in a few different ways (though I’m unclear if Kuhnel’s mound entrance is as entertaining as Coffey’s), but I think that could wind up being a little light in the long run. Not that there’s anything wrong with an eight-year career that earns you just under seven million bucks, of course. I suppose part of my relative lack of love for Kuhnel is anticipating how highly others will value him come June. It’s not ideal logic, but it’s all I’ve got for now.

Kuhnel going in the eleventh round is still a little rich for me, but I can live with it. There was some top five round hype early in the year that made no sense, so this is certainly more palatable by comparison. No matter what round Kuhnel was selected in, he’s a bit of a mystery to project going forward. Maybe that mid-season Todd Coffey comp should have been a clue that he’s be a tricky guy to figure out. I like his fastball (90-95 MPH, 97 peak) and slider (consistently at least average 86-87, flashes plus) combination, but can’t quite put my finger on why he doesn’t miss bats like he should. He kept that trend going in the pros: 4.82 K/9 as a sophomore, 6.35 K/9 as a junior, and 6.00 K/9 in his 21.0 inning pro debut. He also kept his very low walk rate up in the pros: 1.93 BB/9 in 2015 to 1.99 BB/9 in 2016 to a minuscule 0.43 BB/9 in the pros. He rolled his fair share of ground balls in his debut, too. Not a ton of missed bats, very few free passes, and (small sample size alert) promising ground ball tendencies — what to make of that? The formula for Kuhnel to continue to succeed could be to follow the Jim Johnson (6.54 K/9, 2.92 BB/9, 58.0 GB%) model.

12.348 – C Cassidy Brown

The early professional success of Cassidy Brown (.322/.409/.383 with 20 BB/32 K) could be small sample size noise. It could also be the beginning of a nifty little victory for scouting over statistical analysis, as if that battle was ever really a battle worth fighting in the first place. If you humor me and go along with the premise, then Brown, a powerful 6-3, 215 pounder with a big arm, lots of strength in his swing, and well above-average athleticism for a catcher, is merely doing what it looks like a guy like him should have been doing from the start. He may not be exactly what you envision a young catching prospect should look like, but he’s pretty damn close. If that pro debut is a sign of his skills catching up to his tools, then the Reds have landed a legitimate sleeper with real starting upside in the twelfth round.

13.378 – RHP Ryan Olson

What I lack in updated Ryan Olson notes from college, I make up for it in old scouting notes on Ryan Olson from high school…

RHP Ryan Olson (Western Christian HS, California): 88-92 FB with plus sink; good 79-82 SL; iffy 76-78 CB; good 81-82 CU; 6-2, 180 pounds

His last fully healthy season at Cal Poly Pomona saw him put up really good (9.35 K/9 and 2.34 BB/9) numbers. Assuming that his stuff has held up, I’m intrigued. An even more fun assumption would be that the twenty or so pounds he’s put on since his prep days and the usual assortment of physical, mental, and emotional growth that an individual experiences as they transition to teenage kid to young adult equates

14.408 – LHP Jesse Adams

On Jesse Adams from December 2015…

SR LHP Jesse Adams is not particularly big nor does he throw particularly hard, but he’s been consistently effective and figures to remain so as a professional. I think there’s clear matchup lefthanded reliever upside to him with the chance that a team less concerned about his size and more enamored with his three-pitch mix (87-91 FB, above-average mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) will let him keep starting.

I’m less enamored with Adams now than I was a year ago, but that matchup lefty upside still seems attainable if he can hit the ground running in pro ball. His control slid back a bit in 2016 and he became more fastball/changeup reliant. I’m not particularly hopeful that Adams sees the big leagues, but I’m rooting for him if only because of a new-ish super slow upper-60s curve he introduced into his arsenal this past spring for kicks. It’s not quite the RJ Swindle starter kit (there will never be another RJ Swindle…), but it’s the closest we’ve seen in a while.

15.438 – RHP Jesse Stallings

Back-to-back Jesse’s off the board to the Reds in rounds fourteen and fifteen. I often wonder about things like this. It had to be intentional, at least on some level, right? The odds of them waiting another thirty picks and being able to take Jesse Stallings in the sixteenth round after first taking Jesse Adams in the fourteenth round were really, really good. Maybe they just loved the two Jesse’s so much that they couldn’t risk losing out on one, but I’ll believe until my dying day that somebody in the Reds draft room thought it would be fun to take back-to-back Jesse’s and things progressed from there. Anyway, Stallings has a really good arm (low- to mid-90s fastball up to 96-97, quality splitter) and could work himself into the middle relief prospect mix before too long, but a spotty college track record (strong run prevention, mediocre peripherals) pumps the breaks on that enthusiastic outlook a bit.

16.468 – OF Mauro Conde

I’ve got nothing on Mauro Conde outside of general positive vibes (strong arm, decent runner, bat is promising but still a question mark) from secondary sources that may or may not mean much in the big picture. Still have to give the Reds credit for getting a high school prospect signed past round ten. I’ll repeat it in every draft review if I have to, but any high school player signed in a double-digit round is a good investment in the current draft system.

19.558 – RHP Matt Blandino

I lost track of Matt Blandino after two just all right seasons at Central Connecticut State. Turns out he landed about ninety minutes away from me at Felician University. Small world. Blandino was really good as a junior, so that’s cool. He was also really good in his pro debut with the Reds. That’s also cool. Blandino gets by more on command and pitchability than knockout stuff, so he should carve up hitters for a few years before getting his first real challenge in the upper-minors.

21.618 – LHP Andrew Wright

Having just finished the Giants draft review, this pick makes a lot of sense. Took me a minute to realize that Cincinnati and not San Francisco took the 6-5, 225 pound lefthander from USC with a big fastball (90-94, 95 peak) and little control (10.70 BB/9 in 14.1 junior year innings). I’m willing to give the athletic Wright a bit of a pass for his wild ways due to his two-way background, limited time on the mound, and the adjustments that come when you go from mid-80s in high school to mid-90s in college.

22.648 – RHP Aaron Quillen

The well-traveled Aaron Quillen is coming off two really solid seasons as one of Belmont’s top starters. His size (6-3, 200) and stuff (88-92 FB) paint him as a fairly ordinary mid-round potential middle relief prospect. Everybody thinks that “ordinary,” “generic,” and “pedestrian” are insults, but that’s never the intent. There’s no shame in being familiar. Plus, being an “ordinary” middle relief prospect in professional baseball beats the breaks off of being an extraordinary cubicle dweller, right? No offense to 98% of the working population, of course.

23.678 – SS Manny Cruz

The Reds finally get their man. Manny Cruz was originally a thirty-ninth round pick by Cincinnati out of high school, so it’s only right that they wind up together again three years later after Cruz’s successful (.327/.427/.437) three year run at Southern New Hampshire. Included in that career line is his eye-opening .373/.487/.509 (44 BB/30 K) junior season. Cruz followed that up with a strong pro debut (.272/.355/.400, 118 wRC+) for the AZL Reds. He played almost exclusively at second in said debut, so showing off increased defensive flexibility going forward will likely be what makes or breaks him as a prospect. If he can play on the left side of the infield as well as he can at second, then he gets put in the overflowing “potential utility player” pile that all teams seem to have. There are worse fates than that.

“Fun” fact that I’ll include in lieu of actual Manny Cruz knowledge: of the eleven players drafted out of Southern New Hampshire in the modern era (all but one since 2011), Cruz is only the second position player to come out of the Penman program. SNHU is really Pitcher U, am I right?

24.708 – 1B Bruce Yari

I hate that the Reds went back to British Columbia a second time to select Bruce Yari fifteen rounds after grabbing Alex Webb, but accepting that all teams double-dip with colleges comes with the reality of following the draft so closely. It’s hard to buy the “you can’t criticize a front office since you’re a damn dirty outsider” argument I hear all the time when you see teams taking the convenient route over the best option. That said, there are times when convenience and quality intersect. When you add in the draft value of getting a thumper like Bruce Yari this late in the draft, then you have yourself a real QVC pick*.

* My mom forced my sister and I to go to career camp when we were kids. She was all about free/cheap day camps that got us out of the house and doing stuff. Can’t wait to do the same to my kids someday. Anyway, at career camp we went to day trips to all sorts of local businesses. Two have always stuck out: the trip to the Philadelphia Inquirer offices (where I managed to get my name in the paper by lying about Spam…long story, but the short version is that I was a weird kid) and the trip to QVC headquarters. One of the few things I remember specifically from that visit was learning what QVC stood for. I knew then that one day I’d use that knowledge in something vitally important that may or may not change the world as we know it forever. Today was that day. Now we wait…

25.738 – 2B CJ Wright

Remember that potential utility player pile that every team has that was referenced two rounds earlier? If Colby Wright is the guy at the top of said pile, then you’re doing all right. I really like Wright as a potential big league backup infielder. Between his time at Kansas and with the Reds, he has experience at every infield spot already, so that gives him a leg up on some challengers to his utility throne off the bat. Speaking of the bat, Wright has a good one. If his development threads a very tight needle (i.e., things go perfectly), he could do enough to warrant regular time at second or third one day. That’s the rich projection, so we’ll stick with the more realistic utility future. If he does, then he’ll bring this special skill to the table. From March 2015…

Kansas JR 2B/SS Colby Wright has been a baseball magnet this season (11 HBP in 65 official AB!). I liked his pop, patience, and glove combination coming into the year, and nothing has moved me off that as of yet.

My quick math has him at getting hit once every fourteen times he came to the plate throughout his four years at Kansas. That’s insane. He then got hit nine times in 153 professional plate appearances. That’s right on the Brandon Guyer pace. Wright got plunked once every seventeen trips to the plate while Guyer’s career mark is once per ever sixteen and change. Is Colby Wright the next Brandon Guyer? No, no, he is not. But he does get hit by a lot of pitches like him, so they at least share that potential similarity.

26.768 – RHP Patrick Riehl

A really good read on Patrick Riehl can be found here. A choice excerpt…

After recovering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Schuler was not surprised to see Riehl begin to throw harder than ever. Schuler likened the recovery to those recovering from Tommy John surgery, where pitchers will have to basically learn how to throw all over again, which will show an improvement in their mechanics, allowing them to throw at a higher velocity than they once thought was their max.

After recovering from surgery, Riehl began to hit the mid-90s.

When Riehl began hitting in the mid-90s, interest in him grew. Scouts began to take notice of him and he ultimately was invited to a Cincinnati Reds tryout.

That mid-90s velocity helped Riehl sit down 12.44 batters per nine in his draft year. The newness of the velocity, however, may have played a part in spotty command and below-average control. In addition to the whiffs, Riehl also walked 5.49 batters per nine (plus eight wild pitches and two bean balls) on the way to a 6.57 ERA in 24.2 innings pitched. It’s not every year you see a Division II pitcher drafted with an ERA that high, but mid-90s heat is mid-90s heat.

For reasons I can’t remember, I made note of Riehl’s last three appearances for Mars Hill. Pitching in relief against Tusculum, Montreat, and Bluefield State, Riehl did the following: 5 IP 2 H 0 ER 3 BB 8 K. I’m not quite sure why past-me thought those last three outings were so noteworthy; if I had to guess, I’d say there was a connection between his recovery from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and the promise of a strong finish. Considering he pitched really well in his debut — 8.45 K/9 and 2.82 BB/9 in 38.1 IP more than qualifies — that would seem to be the most likely reason. Very interesting sleeper.

29.858 – OF Daniel Sweet

I’ve slowed down some with these draft reviews since I first started a few months ago. That’s a bit of a shame for Daniel Sweet, who would have gotten one thousand words minimum if the Reds were one of the first teams profiled rather than one of the last. Still, I like Sweet a ton and am happy to write about him as a draft prospect one last time. The amount of words spend on him over the past four years is admittedly a little silly for a player who turned out to be a twenty-ninth round pick, but it at least backs me up as a charter member of the Sweet fan club. I’m no Sweet-loving-Johnny-come-lately, dammit. Here’s a fun excerpt from March 2016…

Daniel Sweet came into the season as the top Dallas Baptist hitting prospect for me and I don’t want to be reactionary by moving him off because of the hot starts of those around him, but some of his teammates have made things mighty crowded at the top. Sweet’s blend of power, speed, and athleticism have made him a favorite for years. I still believe in his bat enough to think he can make it as a future regular in center and potential big league leadoff hitter. In the event that doesn’t work out, his overall skill set lends itself to quality backup. I’ve compared him to a more powerful Andrew Toles in the past; Toles’s pro career hasn’t quite been all it was expected to be so far, so take that comparison with the requisite block of salt.

If Sweet can continue to tap into his considerable physical gifts as a pro (above-average raw power, above-average or better speed) then he legitimately could have a similar professional impact as Andrew Toles. I loved Toles as a draft prospect, so his resurgence in 2016 emboldens me to continue to tout Sweet as a potential big league regular. Like Toles, he already has the defensive thing down, so it comes down to whether or not he can do enough offensively to warrant steady playing time in center. I obviously think he can. The better bet is quality fourth outfielder who plays good defense and drills righthanded pitching, an outcome that would still represent tremendous value this late in the draft.

36.1068 – 2B Ty Blankmeyer

I saw Ty Blankmeyer play a few different times over his years at St. John’s. Never really gave much thought to him as a pro prospect. High makeup and a lifetime spent around the game mean different things to different people, though.

41.1217 – OF TJ Friedl

The undrafted — or forty-first rounder if you’re feeling cheeky — TJ Friedl got $732,500 to sign after a variety of factors (confusion and cost, mostly) kept him from being selected in the 2016 MLB Draft. He’s got plenty the speed and athleticism to make him a defensive asset in center. His approach at the plate that could make him a potential top of the order hitter if his lack of power doesn’t undercut the rest of his offensive skills. All in all, it’s a nice package made even nicer when the expense is only cash and not a top five round pick. My fake ranking of him would have put him around 115th overall in this class, ahead of Michael Paez and Bryson Brigman (his closest comparison that I can see) but just behind fellow draft-eligible sophomore Charles LeBlanc.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Mitchell Traver (TCU), JC Flowers (Florida State), Todd Lott (Louisiana), Dion Henderson (TCU), Cooper Johnson (Mississippi), Vincent Byrd (?), Austin Langworthy (Florida), Matt Crohan (Winthrop), Nick Derr (Florida State), Ty Weber (Illinois), Walker Whitworth (Missouri Southern), Alec Benavides (Alvin CC), John Wilson (Old Dominion), Otis Statum (Nevada), Michael Bienlien (NC State)

2016 MLB Draft First Round Analysis

Digging through the archives to give a little context on some of the first round picks so far. This will update as long as I stay awake tonight…

1.1 – Philadelphia Phillies | La Costa Canyon HS OF Mickey Moniak (3rd on BDR BIG 500)

December 2015…

The extra bit of youth isn’t what gives Moniak the edge for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. What separates Moniak at this present moment is his ability to hit the ball hard everywhere. Sometimes simplistic analysis works. The manner in which Moniak sprays line drives and deep flies to all fields resembles something a ten-year veteran who flirts with batting titles season after season does during BP. Trading off a little bit of Rutherford’s power for Moniak’s hit tool and approach (both in his mindfulness as a hitter and his plate discipline) are worth it for me. Of course, check back with me in a few months…I had Meadows ahead of Frazier for a long time before giving in to the latter’s arm, power, and approach (as a whole-fields power hitter, not necessarily as an OBP machine). History may yet repeat itself, but I’ll take Moniak for now.

May 2016…

Actually, the Moniak and Nimmo parallels aren’t too far off besides the level of competition discrepancy. Check Baseball America’s pre-draft notes on Nimmo…

He’s an above-average runner when he’s healthy, which helps him on the basepaths and in center field, and there’s more to his game than just speed. Nimmo has a pretty, efficient lefthanded swing. He’s short to the ball and has outstanding barrel awareness, consistently squaring balls up and shooting line drives to all fields. He has a good eye at the plate and should be an above-average hitter. As he gets stronger, he could add loft to his swing to turn doubles into home runs.

I still believe in Nimmo as being a useful big league player, but perhaps the scouting profile similarities between the two ought to serve as a little bit of a warning for those already all-in on Moniak. Same could be said for the Starling/Rutherford tie-in, though that’s significantly less worrisome because of the latter being far more of a ballplayer than the former ever was; Starling’s issues weren’t simply because he was older for his class but rather because he was older and underdeveloped from a skills standpoint. Making up for lost time while learning the finer points of the game is hard work, but Rutherford’s actual on-field abilities should make the curve much shorter than Starling’s.

(Incidentally, I learned that we’re taken what a steep learning curve should be and flipped it to mean the opposite of the original intent. We talk about steep learning curves as if they note a difficult initial learning process, but a steep increase translates to a quick increment of skill. Wikipedia notes that the error is likely because of how we’ve taken to interpret the idea as climbing a hill. Climbing a steep hill is more difficult than attempting the same on a less steep version, so we assume a steep learning curve means learning something new will be tricky. Maybe this is all common knowledge, but I’ve been using steep learning curve wrong my whole life. If you’re like me, then you can at least walk away from this post learning something new…even if you think all my baseball takes are nonsense.)

Or maybe all of these forced comps are no more than false flags since, you know, comparing distinct individuals to other distinct individuals may not always tell us what we think (hope?) it does. I do, however, think there’s something to identifying players with similar physical traits, skills, and tools, and analyzing their respective career paths, at least on a very general, very preliminary level. I think we can all (mostly) agree that certain player types seem to succeed while others don’t, so there’s value in using historical data to see what has worked and what hasn’t. Besides Trenton Clark, Moniak has also been compared to Christian Yelich (source: everybody) and Steve Finley (Baseball America); I see a little Adam Eaton in his game, but Moniak is far more physical (bigger, too) at the same stage. One other recent draft name that reminded me of Moniak was this guy

He tied Hinch’s USA Baseball record by playing on his sixth national team, and scouts love his grinder approach and in-game savvy. What’s more, Almora has outstanding tools. The Miami signee, in one scout’s words, “has no issues. He’s got above-average tools everywhere, and they all play. He has tools and he uses them.” He doesn’t turn in blazing times when he runs in showcases (generally he’s a 6.8-second runner in the 60), but his game instincts help him steal bases and cover plenty of ground in center field. Scouts consider his defense major league-ready right now, with plus grades for his accurate throwing arm. With natural hitting rhythm and plenty of bat speed, [he] is a line-drive machine with a loose swing who stays inside the ball, relishes velocity and handles spin. He should have 20-homer power down the line, sufficient if he slows down and can’t play center, and a definite bonus if (as expected) he stays in the middle garden. He plays the game with both ease and energy and may have some projection left in his athletic 6-foot-1, 175-pound frame. The Miami signee is considered one of the draft’s safer picks and could sneak into the first 10 selections.

No comp is perfect, but as far as draft prospect parallels go, that’s not half-bad. If I’m alone on this so be it, but I believe thinking of Moniak as a lefthanded version of Albert Almora, the sixth overall pick in 2012, kind of works. Because we’re already up to five comps, what’s one more? A contact I trust dropped Ender Inciarte as a possible career path and production point of comparison for Moniak, assuming the power never really comes around. I see Moniak as a hitter just a tweak or three away from tapping into some of his average raw power more consistently, so anything in that 45/50 scouting grade band (12-18 HR) feels within reach for him at maturity. For all the comps thrown Moniak’s way this spring, it’s really hard to top the Yelich one. I think that’s one of the better comps of any prospect in recent years. I really like Yelich. I really like Moniak.

1.2 – Cincinnati Reds | Tennessee 3B Nick Senzel (7th)

April 2016…

Nick Senzel is really good. I’ve compared him to Anthony Rendon in the past – the exact phrasing from my notes is “Rendon lite?” – and I think he’ll have a good long career as an above-average big league player. He also reminds me a little bit of this guy…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.393/.487/.592 – 45 BB/38 K – 13/14 SB – 262 AB

Top is Senzel, bottom is Kyle Seager. I’ve used the Seager comp a few (too many) times over the years, most recently on Max Schrock last season. Speaking of Schrock, how did he fall as far as he did last year? That one still blows my mind. Anyway, in an attempt to move away from the tired Seager comp, another name popped up…

.338/.452/.561 – 31 BB/14 K – 16/17 SB – 148 AB
.351/.479/.530 – 46 BB/26 K – 11/14 SB – 185 AB

Top is still Senzel. Mystery bottom guy was written up like so by Baseball America after his pro debut…

“He has a short, compact swing and hits the ball to all fields, and he handles breaking pitches well because of strong balance. Though he’s a physical 6-foot-1 and has good strength, [REDACTED] has a line-drive swing that doesn’t produce natural loft, leading some to project him to have below-average power. He earns high marks for his defense, with good feet and hands to go with an above-average arm at third base. He’s also versatile enough to have played second base, shortstop and left field for Team USA. He’s a good athlete and a solid-average runner.”

I would have linked his pre-draft report from BA, but they have the absolute worst log-in page on the entire internet. Anyway, the passage above was typed up from the 2009 Prospect Handbook. We’re talking about a guy who once played infield in the SEC. He had a similar draft year statistically. And he’s really broken out in his late-20s. Any guesses? When I’ve done mystery comps like this in the past I wouldn’t reveal the player. Then I’d search my site about a different player years later, come across the mystery comp post, and have no idea myself who I was talking about. So, yeah, it’s Logan Forsythe. My future self thanks my present self. I like Senzel to hit the big leagues running a bit more easily than Forsythe (i.e., I don’t think Senzel will enter his age-28 season with an OPS+ of 85), so maybe that would bump Senzel up over Forsythe as a guy with a higher floor. A couple of peak years like Forsythe’s seems like a reasonable ceiling projection. That’s a damn fine player. Supports the original claim: Nick Senzel is really good.

1.3 – Atlanta Braves | Shenendehowa HS RHP Ian Anderson (17th)

Early April 2016…

A pre-season FAVORITE who has only gone on to bigger and better things in the interim, Ian Anderson can make a case for being the top prep righthander in this class. He’s one of the handful of young arms with the potential for three plus pitches — 88-94 fastball (95 peak), 77-80 breaking ball, and a 80-85 change — but what truly separates him from the pack is his ten years in the big league veteran command. Fantasy owners rightfully scared off by high school pitchers — so far from the big leagues with so much time to get hurt! — not named Groome and Pint would be wise to include Anderson in that big three on draft day. One scout friend of mine called Anderson a “more explosive Aaron Nola.” A little bit of upside (or a lot), a little bit of certainty (very little, but still more than most HS arms)…where do I sign up?

Late April 2016…

Ian Anderson, a dark-horse 1-1 candidate, has everything you’d want to see in a high school righthander with worlds of projection left. He also helps my pet theory that there’s an easy shortcut to amateur scouting: just follow the recruits. If a player is committed to Vanderbilt, like Ian Anderson is, move him up ___ spots on your board. Let the college teams do the hard work for you! Vanderbilt, Florida, UCLA, LSU…if a guy has a commitment to a school on that level, then you should want to draft him. I loved Anderson as much as anybody as he began to put his name on the national map, but once he had that Vandy commit in his back pocket he started looking better than ever.

1.4 – Colorado Rockies | Saint Thomas Aquinas HS RHP Riley Pint (2nd)

April 2016…

A fantasy pick on a guy like Riley Pint is truly going all-in on upside. There have been a lot of challengers to his throne this spring, but Pint’s raw stuff is still the most impressive of any high school arm in this class. He’s the only prep prospect that I’m confident in putting future plus grades on three different pitches. Jay Groome, Ian Anderson, Alex Speas, Austin Bergner, and Forrest Whitley all could get there, but Pint’s already convinced me. He’s the singular most talented pitching prospect in the country. So why is listed as a mid-first round pick and not a slam dunk 1-1 here? If you’re reading this on your own volition — and I certainly hope there’s no crazed lunatic out there forcing random people to visit my site; that’s my job! — then you already know. Pint’s delivery has many of the smarter public talent evaluators concerned about how he’ll hold up pitching every fifth day. I’m less concerned about that because I’m fairly stubborn in my belief that there’s no such thing as “bad mechanics” since the mere act of throwing a baseball is bad and unnatural by definition. I’m just looking for a guy with athleticism who can repeat whatever he is doing on the mound consistently with an open-mindedness to receiving instruction and a willingness to adjust aspects of his craft as needed. I think Pint fits that bill. The one knock on the fire-balling righthander that I think could have some merit is the concern over his risk of injury going forward. Again, this isn’t something that I’m crazy with concern about — pitchers get hurt, so you have to be ready for that inevitability with any pitching prospect — but the idea that Pint’s most obvious selling point (100 MPH!) could also be his biggest red flag (too much velocity too soon) intrigues the heck out of me. That’s straight out of Shakespeare or The Twilight Zone or something. Red flags or not, Pint’s arm talent is unmistakable. He’s well worth a shot here and likely a whole heck of a lot higher. He’d be on my shortlist at 1-1 if I had a say.

1.5 – Milwaukee Brewers | Louisville OF Corey Ray (8th)

April 2016…

I don’t have much to add about all of the good that Ray brings to the field each game. If you’ve made your way here, you already know. Instead of rehashing Ray’s positives, let’s focus on some of his potential weaknesses. In all honesty, the knocks on Ray are fairly benign. His body is closer to maxed-out than most top amateur prospects. His base running success and long-term utility in center field may not always be there as said body thickens up and loses some athleticism. Earlier in the season Andrew Krause of Perfect Game (who is excellent, by the way) noted an unwillingness or inability to pull the ball with authority as often as some might like to see. Some might disagree that a young hitter can be too open to hitting it to all fields – my take: it’s generally a good thing, but, as we’ve all been taught at a young age, all things in moderation – but easy pull-side power will always be something scouts want to see. At times, it appeared Ray was almost fighting it. Finally, Ray’s improved plate discipline, while part of a larger trend in the right direction, could be a sample size and/or physical advantage thing more than a learned skill that can be expected each year going forward. Is he really the player who has drastically upped his BB% while knocking his K%? Or is just a hot hitter using his experience and intimidating presence – everybody knows and fears Corey Ray at the college level – to help goose the numbers? It should also pointed out that Ray’s gaudy start only ranks him seventh on the Louisville team in batting average, fourth in slugging, and ninth in on-base percentage. I’m not sure what that means, but it’s worth noting.

(I mentioned weaknesses I’ve heard, so I think it’s only fair to share my thoughts on what they mean for him going forward. I think he’s a center fielder at least until he hits thirty, so that’s a non-issue for me. The swing thing is interesting, but it’s not something I’m qualified to comment on at this time. And I think the truth about his plate discipline likely falls in between those two theories: I’d lean more towards the changes being real, though maybe not quite as real as they’ve looked on the stat sheet so far this year.)

So what do we have with Ray as we head into June? He’s the rare prospect to get the same comp from two separate sources this spring. Both D1Baseball and Baseball America have dropped a Ray Lankford comp on him. I’ve tried to top that, but I think it’s tough to beat, especially if you look at Lankford’s 162 game average: .272/.364/.477 with 23 HR, 25 SB, and 79 BB/148 K. Diamond Minds has some really cool old scouting reports on Lankford including a few gems from none other than Mike Rizzo if you are under thirty and don’t have as clear a picture of what type of player we’re talking about when we talk about a young Ray Lankford. One non-Lankford comparison that came to mind – besides the old BA comp of Jackie Bradley and alternatives at D1 that include Carlos Gonzalez and Curtis Granderson – was Charlie Blackmon. It’s not perfect and I admittedly went there in part because I saw Blackmon multiple teams at Georgia Tech, but Ray was a harder player than anticipated to find a good comparison for (must-haves: pop, speed, CF defense; bonus points: lefthanded hitter, similar short maxed-out athletic physique, past production similarities) than I initially thought. I think Blackmon hits a lot of the targets with the most notable difference being body type. Here’s a quick draft year comparison…

.396/.469/.564 – 20 BB/21 K – 25/30 SB – 250 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Top is Blackmon’s last year at Georgia Tech, bottom is Corey Ray (so far) in 2016. Here is Blackmon’s 162 game average to date: .287/.334/.435 with 16 HR, 29 SB, and 32 BB/98 K. Something in between Lankford (great physical comp) and Blackmon (better tools comp) could look like this: .280/.350/.450 with 18 HR, 27 SB, and 50 BB/120 K. That could be AJ Pollock at maturity. From his pre-draft report at Baseball America (I’d link to it but BA’s site is so bad that I have to log in and log out almost a half-dozen times any time I want to see old draft reports like this)…

Pollock stands out most for his athleticism and pure hitting ability from the right side. He has a simple approach, a quick bat and strong hands. Scouts do say he’ll have to stop cheating out on his front side and stay back more on pitches in pro ball…He projects as a 30 doubles/15 homers threat in the majors, and he’s a slightly above-average runner who has plus speed once he gets going. Pollock also has good instincts and a solid arm in center field.

Minus the part about the right side, that could easily fit for Ray. For good measure, here’s the Pollock (top) and Ray (bottom) draft year comparison…

.365/.445/.610 – 30 BB/24 K – 21/25 SB – 241 AB
.331/.398/.611 – 18 BB/20 K – 31/36 SB – 157 AB

Not too far off the mark. I’m coming around on Pollock as a potential big league peak comp for Ray. I think there are a lot of shared traits, assuming you’re as open to looking past the difference in handedness as I am. A friend offered Starling Marte, another righthanded bat, as an additional point of reference. I can dig it. Blackmon, Pollock, and Marte have each had above-average offensive seasons while showing the physical ability to man center field and swipe a bunch of bags. I also keep coming back to Odubel Herrera as a comparable talent, but I’m not sure I’m ready to go there just yet. He fits that overall profile, though. A well-rounded up-the-middle defender with above-average upside at the plate and on the bases who has the raw talent to put up a few star seasons in his peak: that’s the hope with Ray. The few red flags laid out above are enough to make that best case scenario less than a certainty than I’d want in a potential 1-1 pick, but his flaws aren’t so damning that the top ten (possibly top five) should be off the table.

1.6 – Oakland Athletics | Florida LHP AJ Puk (12th)

Late April 2016…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early May 2016…

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

1.7 – Miami Marlins | Florence HS LHP Braxton Garrett (18th)

LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, Alabama): 87-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average to plus 74-81 CB, best at 80-83 this spring; average to above-average 79-86 CU with plus upside, best at 82-86; 87 cut-SL; plus command; impressive control; damn smart; ESPN comps: Cole Hamels and Jon Lester; FAVORITE; 6-3, 190 pounds

1.8 – San Diego Padres | Stanford RHP Cal Quantrill (20th) 

October 2015…

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.

April 2016…

On talent alone, Cal Quantrill deserves to be right there with Jefferies as a potential top ten overall pick contender. Last year’s Tommy John surgery and the subsequent lost time in 2016, however, complicate the matter, though it’s hard to say how much. Quantrill’s 77-81 MPH change-up is one of my favorite pitches in this entire class. Easy velocity (89-95, 96 peak), a pair of interesting breaking balls, all kinds of pitchability, and that change-up…what more could you want? Good health, I suppose. A few late season starts would go a very long way in easing the minds of big league scouting directors charged with making the decision whether or not to cut a multi-million dollar check (or cheque in the case of the Canadian born Quantrill) to the Stanford righthander. I recently wondered aloud about how teams will perceive Quantrill in this his draft year…

The attrition at the top of the college pitching pile has left Cal Quantrill, yet to pitch in 2016 as he recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery, one of the college game’s most intriguing mound prospects. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right? I wonder if the star student out of Stanford knew this and staged the whole elbow injury to allow time for his competition to implode all over the place. That’s a joke. Not a good one, but a joke all the same.

I also have said on the record that I’d consider taking him sight unseen (in 2016) with a pick just outside the draft’s top ten. You might say I’m bullish on Quantrill’s pro prospects.

1.9 – Detroit Tigers | Sheldon HS RHP Matt Manning (23rd)

RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS, California): 90-96 FB with sink, 98-99 peak; above-average 73-79 CB, plus upside; CB runs into an above-average 77-80 SL; 86 CU; plus athlete; Mike Rooney comp: Phil Bickford; leans heavily on FB, pitching off it as well as any other arm in this class; FAVORITE; 6-6, 190 pounds

1.10 – Chicago White Sox | Miami C Zack Collins (6th)

December 2015…

I love JR C/1B Zack Collins as a prospect. His brand of power isn’t typically seen in amateur prospects. His approach, which will always include lots of swings and misses especially on the slow stuff, has matured enough that I think he’ll post average or better on-base numbers as a pro. He’s what we would charitably call a “work in progress” behind the plate, but all of the buzz out of fall practice (always positive and player-friendly, it should be noted) seems to indicate he may have turned the corner defensively. The comparisons to Kyle Schwarber make all the sense in the world right now: they are both big guys who move better than you’d think with defensive questions at their primary position, massive raw power, the ability to unleash said power in game action, and a patient approach that leads to loads of walks and whiffs. The edge for Schwarber comes in his hit tool; I think Schwarber’s was and will be ahead of Collins’s, so we’re talking the difference between above-average to average/slightly below-average. That hit tool combined with plus raw power, an approach I’m fond of, and the chance of playing regularly behind the plate (with an all-around offensive profile good enough to thrive elsewhere) make Collins one of my favorite 2016 draft prospects.

In what has to be a sign that I’ve been doing this too long (and/or I’m getting old and my brain is turning into mush), I kept coming back to a lefthanded hitting Mike Napoli comparison for Collins. I remembered seeing that for Kyle Schwarber (first mentioned by Aaron Fitt, I believe) and liking it, so the continued connection made sense. What I didn’t remember was this…

1B/C Zack Collins (American Heritage HS, Florida): impressive bat speed; good approach; really advanced bat, close to best in class; above-average to plus raw power; really good at 1B; might be athletic enough for corner OF; much improved defender behind plate; Mike Napoli comp by me; FAVORITE; 6-3, 215 pounds

That was from June of 2013. I had no idea I went with the Napoli comparison already. I’m plagiarizing myself at this point. Speaking of things I’ve written about Collins in the past…

Collins’ monster freshman season has me reevaluating so much of what I thought I knew about college hitters. I see his line (.298/.427/.556 with 42 BB/47 K in 205 AB) and my first instinct is to nitpick it. That’s insane! In the pre-BBCOR era, you might be able to get away with parsing those numbers and finding some tiny things to get on him about, but in today’s offensive landscape those numbers are as close to perfection as any reasonable human being could expect to see out of a freshman. Player development is rarely linear, but if Collins can stay on or close to the path he’s started, he’s going to an unholy terror by the time the 2016 draft rolls around. Here’s a quick look at what the college hitters taken in the first dozen picks in the BBCOR era (and Collins) did as freshmen (ranked in order of statistical goodness according to me)…

Kris Bryant: .365/.482/.599 – 33 BB/55 K – 197 AB
Michael Conforto: .349/.437/.601 – 24 BB/37 K – 218 AB
Colin Moran: .335/.442/.540 – 47 BB/33 K – 248 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .298/.427/.556 – 42 BB/47 K – 205 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .300/.390/.513 – 30 BB/24 K – 230 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .274/.378/.442 – 34 BB/43 K – 215 AB
DJ Peterson: .317/.377/.545 – 15 BB/52 K – 246 AB
Hunter Dozier: .315/.363/.467 – 12 BB/34 K – 197 AB
Max Pentecost: .277/.364/.393 – 21 BB/32 K – 191 AB

I’d say Collins stacks up pretty darn well at this point. Looking at this list also helps me feel better about their being a touch too much swing-and-miss in Collins’ game (see previous heretofore ignored inclination to nitpick). It is also another data point in favor of that popular and so logical it can’t be ignored comparison between Collins and fellow “catcher” Kyle Schwarber. Baseball America also threw out a Mark Teixeira comp, which is damn intriguing. I won’t include Teixeira’s freshmen numbers because that was back in the toy bat years, but from a scouting standpoint it’s a comp that makes a good bit of sense.

Hinting at a comparison to a Hall of Very Good player like Teixeira was jumping the gun a little, but I’m as bullish on Collins’s future than ever after his strong sophomore season at the plate. Here’s the same comparison as above updated with sophomore season statistics…

Kris Bryant: .366/.483/.671 – 39 BB/38 K – 213 AB
Michael Conforto: .328/.447/.526 – 41 BB/47 K – 247 AB
Colin Moran: .365/.434/.494 – 21 BB/24 K – 170 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 242 AB
Kyle Schwarber: .366/.456/.647 – 42 BB/37 K – 235 AB
Casey Gillaspie: .299/.447/.517 – 62 BB/35 K – 234 AB
DJ Peterson: .419/.490/.734 – 33 BB/29 K – 248 AB
Hunter Dozier: .357/.431/.595 – 29 BB/42 K – 227 AB
Max Pentecost: .302/.374/.410 – 22 BB/27 K – 212 AB

Just going off of raw numbers, I’d put Collins fourth out of this group in 2014. Using the numbers above, I’d probably knock him down to the fifth spot with a couple of new names now ahead of him. Also, I erroneously claimed that all those guys were taken in the draft’s first dozen picks when Casey Gillaspie didn’t get selected until the twentieth pick. Doesn’t change the premise, but still worth noting. If we go back to the first dozen picks as a cut-off, then we’d have to add these guys from 2015…

Dansby Swanson: .333/.411/.475 – 37 BB/49 K – 22/27 SB – 282 AB
Alex Bregman: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
Andrew Benintendi: .376/.488/.717 – 50 BB/32 K – 24/28 SB – 226 AB
Ian Happ: .322/.443/.497 – 32 BB/35 K – 19/24 SB – 171 AB
ZACK COLLINS: .302/.445/.587 – 57 BB/64 K – 7/8 SB – 242 AB

Seeing Swanson and Bregman at the top like that makes you appreciate how historically significant having so many college shortstops go early last really was. If we expanded this to the top twenty, we’d have to add fellow shortstops Kevin Newman and Richie Martin. Having players with real defensive value skews the data some, but if we all agree to put it in context in our own terms then we should be fine. Long story short here: Zack Collins is in very good company when stacked up against peers who went very high in the draft. As a first baseman only, I’d predict (maybe boldly, maybe not) that he still would be selected on the draft’s first day. If his rumored improvements behind the plate are real, then I don’t see why he can’t keep mashing his way into top ten consideration just like Kyle Schwarber before him.

April 2016…

I’m close to out of superlatives for Zack Collins’s bat. If he can catch, he’s a superstar. If he can’t, then he’s still a potential big league power bat capable of hitting in the middle of the championship lineup for the next decade. I realize first basemen aren’t typically sought after at the top of the draft. There are perfectly valid reasons for that. But any time you have the chance at a potential top five bat at any given position, I think it’s all right to bend the rules a little. Positional value is important, but so is premium offensive production. Collins hitting and hitting a lot as a professional is one of the things I’m most sure about in this draft class.

May 2016…

He’s the one I’ve comped to Schwarber stylistically. I actually think Collins is the better catcher and could stick there as a pro. Still might be best moving him out from behind the plate. I’ve just come up with a terrifying comp for him…Joey Votto. Maybe he’s one of those hitters that we shouldn’t compare young guys to, but then again…at the same age, Votto hit .256/.330/.425 with 52 BB/122 K in A+ ball. I could see Collins going to A/A+ this year after the draft and doing similar stuff.

1.11 – Seattle Mariners | Mercer OF Kyle Lewis (4th)

February 2016…

I’m an unabashed Kyle Lewis fan. I’m also a fan of hitters who can control the strike zone, spoil pitchers’s pitches, work favorable counts, and punish baseballs when ahead. Right now, that description only partially describes Lewis…and even that requires a more optimistic outlook than some are willing to take at this point in time. So how can those two statements be reconciled? It’s a dangerous thing for my credibility to admit, but call it an educated hunch that the 20-year-old Lewis will figure things out as a hitter. It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

A big part of what makes hitting unique is that it can mean different things to different evaluators. There’s no wrong way to define “hitting,” so long as it remains consistent report to report. When I personally talk hitting, I’m including everything that I think goes into what separates a good hitter from a not so good hitter. If that means there’s overlap with other tools (power, most notably) and abilities (athleticism, hand-eye coordination, work ethic), then so be it. Hitting can be broken up into all kinds of smaller sub-components, but the three central facets are “hitting” (contact skills, bat-to-ball ability, mechanics), power (fairly self-explanatory), and approach (having a plan at the plate, both early and late in counts). The hitting and power components are relatively easy to identify with practice — there’s a reason they are two of the oft-cited five tools — but approach has always been the great mystery of amateur scouting. This is problematic for guys like me who place a great deal of importance on the approach piece of the pie; without an approach up to a certain standard, the hit and power tools will suffer greatly. I know some scouts will argue for hit over power (i.e., the Kansas City and Pittsburgh approach to scouting and development) or power over hit (where many teams are still at as they struggle to adjust to a post-PED world), but I’ll always be approach over hit/power, with no real preference on the last decision.

So what do I look for in young hitters and what does this ultimately have to do with liking Kyle Lewis and his current sub-optimal (per performance metrics) approach so much? I want to see athleticism (both traditional and baseball-specific), ease of mechanical repeatability (swing path, pre-swing movements, and upper- to lower-half coordination are all interesting to me, but ultimately I’m pragmatic: don’t really care how it looks as long as the hitter is comfortable, productive against top competition, and able to consistently do the same thing over and over), a high frequency of “hard” contact (easier judged now thanks to new technology at the pro level, but still a subjective call at the amateur level), and evidence of a planned approach (more about “self-scouting” and less about trying to guess what the hitter is seeing out of the pitcher’s hand — often labelled “pitch recognition,” but a really hard thing for an outsider to claim in my opinion) with every single plate appearance.

The relative importance of hitting the ball to all fields is something I go back and forth on; it’s obviously a good thing, but I think there’s still room in our shift-filled game for a slugger with extreme pull-side power to succeed if he’s good enough at it. For now, I consider it a bonus and not a prerequisite for being an average or better pro hitter. I’m also somewhat divided in thought when it comes to bat speed. As somebody who grew up with a front row seat — well, upper-deck  (sections 420/421!) but it still counts — to watching Chase Utley play every day, I’m not about to downplay the importance of swinging a quick bat. Bat speed is undeniably important, but damn hard to judge in a nuanced way. That could be a personal failing of mine and not a universal issue among real deal scouts, but I’m not sure how the human eye can possibly determine bat speed beyond differentiating between “whoa,” “decent,” and “slow.” Maybe you could attempt to circle back to existing scouting language and separate a bit more (plus, above-average, average, below-average), but even that only teases out one extra descriptive layer. Short of measuring bat speed electronically, we’re left at doing our best to approximate what we see in an instant.

There’s also always going to be the most basic aspect of scouting: how does he look when he’s doing what he does. Think of this as an informed “gut” instinct. That’s so much of what scouting is: educated guesses. I wish I had access to some kind of special proprietary video library of every hitter of the past few decades to compare what I’m seeing right this second to what has worked for others historically, but I don’t. Thankfully, our brains are designed to cycle through all that our eyes have perceived and form patterns based on positive outcomes. That magic video library is inside each and every one of us obsessives who watches baseball on a daily basis. This will always be the most subjective aspect of scouting — everybody has a “type” and we’re all preconditioned to prefer those who fit that mold — but that doesn’t mean it’s not without value. And, yes, Kyle Lewis is my type, thank you very much.

Acknowledging that we all have our own preconceived notions about what is best lends further credence to the idea that sweeping proclamations about whether or not a young guy will hit aren’t wise. We can all make our best guesses — some of us having to do so with millions of dollars on the line — but ultimately these hitters will or won’t hit as pros. There’s already some interesting “expert” noise out there about Florida OF Buddy Reed’s swing being unsuitable to the challenges of the pro game. That’s a fair criticism (when substantiated beyond the boring blanket statement of “I just don’t like that swing”), but consider me preemptively bummed out to read (in the event of him being a great pro) how it wasn’t a scouting miss per se but rather a developmental success. No way could it be that his swing wasn’t misidentified as a bad one. Nooo, it was the impossible to predict reworking of his swing as a pro that led to his (again, entirely hypothetical) pro success. In other words, be careful what you read about a young hitter’s ability to adjust to the pro game. Nobody on the outside really knows — heck, neither do the supposed insiders! — so beware anybody who claims to have some kind of soothsaying abilities when prognosticating raw amateur bats. These guys are often the first to explain away their misses under the guise of unforeseen pro development. Here I am thinking that making that determination was part of the scouting process — silly me!

Kyle Lewis hit .367/.423/.677 last year in a decent college conference. That’s good, clearly. His 19 BB/41 K ratio is less good. So why buy the bat? As a hitter, I like what I’ve seen and heard about his righthanded swing. I like that he seemingly improved his approach (aggressively hunting for “his” pitch showed good self-scouting while getting ahead more frequently late in the year demonstrated a fuller understanding of what it will take to succeed against top-level competition) and started chasing fewer pitchers’s pitches as the season went on. I like his physical projection, public and privately shared intel about his work ethic, bat speed (I’ve seen some “whoa” cuts from him), and how his athleticism allows his upper- and lower-body to work in concern with one another with each swing. Believe me, I understand doubting him now as a potential top ten pick and dark horse to go 1-1 in this draft based on a wait-and-see approach to his plate discipline; if improvements aren’t made in his draft year BB/K ratio, all the positive scouting buzz will matter a lot less to me come June. But part of college scouting early in the season is identifying players set to make the leap as juniors. I think Lewis’s leap as a more mature, thoughtful, and explosive hitter has already begun, and it’ll be reflected on the field this upcoming season. I’ve thrown out a Yasiel Puig comp in the past for his ceiling and I’m sticking with that for now. As an added prospect to prospect bonus, his game reminds me some of Anthony Alford. Your mileage might vary on how in the draft a player like that could go, but it sure sounds like a potential premium pick to me.

1.12 – Boston Red Sox | Barnegat HS LHP Jay Groome (1st)

April 2016…

Working in Jay Groome’s favor is how advanced he is for a teenager. Unlike with many high school prospects, the expectation of a five year (give or take) waiting period does not apply. A big league cameo in September 2019 a month after turning 21-years-old is in play. Whether we’re talking fantasy or real life, nobody has to be told how rare true big league ace upside is. Adding Groome to the Phillies sudden — love how only in a baseball rebuild could eighteen months or so be considered sudden — pitching surplus would give them a potential difference-maker to pair with their otherwise more good than great (yet plentiful) collection of young hurlers.

May 2016…

I’ll warn everybody now that what you are about to read is the most annoyingly negative report on a pitcher coming off of a six-inning, fourteen strikeout performance as you could possibly imagine. That may be a pretty big stunner (or not, I’m no mind reader) to regular readers who ought to know two things about me by now: 1) I’m relentlessly positive about prospects, and 2) I’ve had Groome as my first overall prospect in this draft since late last summer and never really considered making a switch after seeing the big lefty throw three earlier times this winter/spring. I walked away from last night’s effort wondering if Groome’s stranglehold on the top spot should finally be loosened. Part of the thinking there is that Groome came into this start with an almost impossibly high bar set by his previous performances over the past calendar year. I wanted to see him go out there tonight and cement his status as the draft’s clear top prospect, and finally, mercifully, end the 1-1 discussion once and for all. If that sounds like the idiocy of getting on a player for not meeting my own arbitrarily set standards for his performance, then you’re exactly right. I’m not proud of that attitude, but I think a hyper-critical eye is needed when trying to separate a top ten talent (which Groome certainly is) from a potential 1-1 candidate (which he was 100% going in…and still could be even after a dominating statistical night that somehow left me wanting more).

Groome came out firing in the first with a string of low-90s fastballs (93, 94, 92, 93) before dropping a picture perfect 78 MPH curveball that made the Gloucester Catholic’s leadoff man’s knees buckle and the crowd of scouts and execs behind home plate (as well as a few thousand of their closest friends) audibly “oooh.” Incredibly, that was just the first of five different “oooh” curves he’d throw all night: there were two more in the fifth inning and two more after that in his sixth and final frame. I had that pitch ranging from 74-78 on the evening. Everything about the pitch is plus to plus-plus, though I think you could quibble some with a slightly slowed arm speed on the offering that tips it just enough for HS hitters to notice, but not nearly enough for them to react. The pitch is so good that there’s a chance he can get away with the slight pause in pro ball for a while; obvious point is obvious, but that’s really high praise. Groome’s curve is special and that alone makes him a top ten prospect in this class.

After going 93, 94, 92, 93, and 78 on the first batter, Groome went 93, 77, 92, 94, and 93 to the second hitter. That basic pattern — work off the fastball, mix in one curve per plate appearance — was followed by Groome for much of the game. I won’t say my notes were perfect — my focus on the fast-paced, well-pitched (though admittedly not particularly crisply played otherwise) game was a solid 98% throughout, but taking in the atmosphere occasionally led to a missed radar reading or two — but I only had Groome dropping two curves to the same batter on four occasions. This strategy obviously worked (14 strikeouts is 14 strikeouts) with the threat of a bigger fastball than he wound up showing, average fastball command that flashed better in certain at bats, and that devastating curve ranking as the reasons why in ascending order of importance.

Everything you’ve already seen, read, or heard about Groome’s mechanics held up. They are close to picture perfect. I’ve long been on the record of only caring about mechanical extremes, and I’d say with great confidence that Groome’s arm action and delivery are on that happy tail of the bell curve. With his frame, bulked up from a boy late last summer to a rock solid man by now (though I’d argue with some loss of athleticism), his age, and those textbook mechanics, it’s easy to imagine a day in the not so distant future where Groome is a consistent mid-90s arm if he wants to be. Of course, that’s all projection at this point: Groome’s velocity on this day fluctuated from those early game low-90s peaks to a strange middle inning dip to the mid- to upper-80s. I was almost positive while watching live that he wasn’t working in his changeup — some around me thought otherwise, for what it’s worth* — but I had him with an 85, 86, 87, and four 89’s between innings three and five. After thinking about it some more I could buy the mid-80s pitches being his attempt at the change to give the scouts a little taste of his third pitch; if so, I’ve seen it look better, but the arm action sure looked like the fastball, so at least there was that. Still, the 89’s for a well-rested teenage arm on a nice night weren’t exactly typical of what we’ve come to expect out of a potential first overall pick. He rebounded some in his final inning, sitting 90-91 with his fastball while relying more on the curve than in any other part of the game to that point. His final pitch of the night was a 92 MPH fastball that was swung through for eighth strikeout in a row to end the game and fourteenth overall.

(* Groome himself identified the pitch as a change: “As far as my command goes, I think that’s pretty good, but I need to show a little more depth to my changeup. I’m not really getting out in front of it and left a couple up high today. They fouled it off, they didn’t really make me pay. Later on down the road, I have to get that good depth on it.”)

This is the point in the report where I’m supposed to make a grand conclusion about what I saw out of Groome on the night. Well, I’ve got nothing. I selfishly wanted to see Groome at his very best — again, it’s worth pointing out that the man had fourteen strikeouts in six innings and that’s not his best — so that I could walk away ready to declare the race for 1-1 and top spot on my board over. The obvious good news is the confirmation that his curve and mechanics are both 1-1 caliber. His fastball has been in the past, but wasn’t on this night. I’m not terribly concerned about one good but not great velocity night — the fastball was still commanded fairly well (average to above-average), had such obvious late life that even my old eyes could see it, and came out of a deceptive enough slot that it had hitters taking bad swings all evening long — but I think the summer showcase version of Groome’s heater is (unsurprisingly) less the real thing than what we’ve seen out of him this spring. His changeup remains an open question, but that’s not atypical for a big-time high school arm with Groome’s brand of one-two punch locked and loaded for bear most starts. The development of his physique continues to surprise me — it’s as if he finds a way to pack on a pound or three of good weight every time I see him — but I do worry some that he’s getting close to the danger zone of sacrificing some looseness and athleticism, both facets of his game that excited me so much about him last summer, for strength. Add it all up (above-average fastball with plus upside, clear plus curve, changeup with a chance to be average, elegant mechanics, and a pro-ready body) and it’s clear that Jay Groome is a really, really good pitching prospect. What isn’t clear, however, is whether or not he’s the best amateur prospect in the country. For some, not yet knowing is knowing; when the risk of taking a teenage arm gets factored in, Groome not being a slam dunk pick above the rest means the risk is too great to pass on similarly valued peers (Puk, Lewis, Moniak, Rutherford, Perez, Ray, whomever) with more certainty. I think that’s where the Phillies are currently at in their evaluation. Between Groome’s staggering perfect world ceiling and moderate (for a HS arm) floor (less projection in his body than most, plus his mechanics portend good things to come) and the less than thrilling options that surround him at the top of the class, I’d have a hard time removing his name from 1-1 consideration if I was in charge of such a pick.

1.13 – Tampa Bay Rays | Pope HS 3B Josh Lowe (9th)

December 2015…

When I go through my mental rolodex of every player I’ve seen up close, few stand out as more impressive than Lowe. He makes the most challenging sport to play well look easy, often comically so. As a third baseman, I’d put him down for plus tools in foot speed, arm strength, and raw power. Then there’s also his obvious exceptional athleticism – guys who can pitch and hit and field at his level tend to only get away with it by being pretty special athletically – and a measured, smart approach to hitting that is almost as if he has the strike zone knowledge of, you guessed it, a top pitching prospect.

April 2016…

I know Mickey Moniak has the alliterative name thing going for him, but Josh Lowe is the closest thing to a Marvel-style super hero in this year’s high school class. What can’t he do? Three clear plus tools (power, arm, speed) with two sure to help in fantasy, stellar defense at the hot corner, elite athleticism, and the fallback option of taking his talents (90-95 FB, intriguing CU and SL) to the mound. Lowe has the raw talent to be one of the best third basemen in baseball.

May 2016…

He’s a little bit of a higher variance prospect than [Nolan] Jones – more upside if it all clicks, but less certainty he turns into a solid professional than I’d put on Jones – so if I was a real scouting director with real future earnings on the line, I’m not sure I’d take him quite as high as he could wind up on my final rankings. The possibility, however, that he winds up as the best player to come out of this class is very real. He reminds me just a little bit of an opposite-hand version of this guy

Bryant entered the summer with lofty expectations, but he often looked overmatched at the plate during the showcase circuit last summer. When he’s on, he’s a treat to watch. He has a lean, 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame and light-tower power that draws comparisons to a young Troy Glaus. The power, however, mostly shows up during batting practice or when he has a metal bat in his hands. There are a lot of moving parts to his swing and he has trouble barreling balls up with wood, so how much usable power he ends up having is a big question. He has a long, loopy swing and he never changes his approach when he’s struggling. He’s athletic for a big guy and may be able to handle third base. He has the arm for it, and some scouts said they wouldn’t be shocked if he eventually ended up on the mound. Some scouts love Bryant’s power enough to take him in the back half of the first round, while others turned him in as a token gesture and have little interest in him–especially for the price it will take to lure him away from his San Diego commitment.

I really, really like Josh Lowe, if that’s not already clear. I mean, I did once kind of compare him to Babe Ruth. I think a team would be justified taking either Lowe or Jones in the top ten…and quite possibly the top five…or maybe even top three. Let me stop now before I really get too far ahead of myself.

 1.14 – Cleveland Indians | Westminster Schools OF Will Benson (57th)

December 2015…

Will Benson has gotten the Jason Heyward comp for just about a full year now because that’s what happens when you’re a Georgia high school player built like he is (6-6, 220) with a future right fielder profile. The comparison ceases to work when you factor in pesky factors beyond size and geography; the inclusion of baseball ability (defense and plate discipline, most notably) muddles it up, but it’s still good fun at this point in the draft process. Even though he’s not Heyward, Benson does a lot well. He’s got electric bat speed, he moves really well for a big guy, and he’s as strong as you’d expect from looking at him. If he cleans up his approach and keeps working on his defense then maybe those Heyward comparisons will begin to look a little bit smarter. Or not! It’s December and we’re talking about teenagers, so nothing is written in ink.

April 2016…

The name Will Benson brings about all kinds of colorful opinions from those paid to watch him regularly. To call him a divisive prospect at this point would be an understatement. If you love him, then you love his power upside, defensive aptitude, and overwhelming physicality. If you’re cool on him, then he’s more of a future first baseman with a questionable hit tool, inconsistent approach, and overrated athleticism. I’m closer to the love said than not, but I think both the lovers and the haters can at least agree that his bat speed is explosive, his frame is intriguing, and his sheer strength as a human being should beget some monstrous BP performances.

May 2016…

I never really got the Jason Heyward comp for Benson – the most Heyward thing about Heyward is his plus defense, something that Benson is a long way from, if he ever gets there at all – but I like the connection between him and Kyle Lewis. I don’t think he lasts until the second, but he would make for an excellent consolation prize for a team picking at the top of the first round that misses out on the Mercer star with their first pick. Or just grab them both and begin hoping that you’ve just taken care of your outfield corners for the next decade.

 1.15 – Minnesota Twins | Plum Senior HS OF Alex Kirilloff (15th)

December 2015…

Alex Kirilloff is a clear step down athletically from the rest of the top tier, but, man, can he hit. If I would have kept him at first base on these rankings then there’s no question he would have finished atop that position list. He’s behind potential stars like Moniak, Rutherford, McIlwain, Benson, and Tuck for now, but that’s for reasons of defensive upside and athleticism more than anything. By June, Kirilloff’s bat might be too loud to be behind a few of those names. Seeing him this spring is a high priority for me; considering his high school plays home games about five hours away from me (to those that don’t know: Pennsylvania is a sneaky long state), that should say a lot about what I think of him as a prospect. The fact that I could stop off and get a Colossal Fish & Cheese sandwich (delicious on its own and made better with the side of nostalgia that comes with it as it was part of my first official meal as a married man last summer) only sweetens the deal. Recent draft trends have pushed athletic prep outfielders up draft boards at the expense of bigger bats, but I think Kirilloff is good enough to break through.

April 2016…

As a hitter, Kirilloff can really do it all: big raw power, plus bat speed, a mature approach, and a hit tool so promising that almost every scout has agreed that he’s an advanced hitter who happens to hit for power rather than the other way around. He’s the rare high school prospect who could hit enough to have confidence in him as a pro even if eventually confined to first base.

May 2016…

Another potential angle with this year’s prep outfielders is one that has been generally underplayed by the experts so far this spring. My sources, such as they are, have led me to believe that there is serious internal debate among many scouting staffs about the respective merits of [Blake] Rutherford and Kirilloff. The idea that there’s a consensus favorite between the two among big league scouting departments is apparently way off the mark. This may surprise many draft fans who have read about 100x more on Rutherford this spring than Kirilloff, but I think the confusion at the top of the high school outfield class is real. I’d guess that most teams have either [Mickey] Moniak or Rutherford in the first spot; the teams that Moniak first, however, might not necessarily have Rutherford behind him at second. Kirilloff is far more liked by teams than many of the expert boards I’ve seen this spring.

It’s really hard to break down two different high school hitters from two different coasts, but I’ll do my best with what I have to compare Rutherford and Kirilloff. This is hardly a definitive take because, like just about any of my evaluations, I’m just one guy making one final call based on various inputs unique to the information I have on hand. I’m not a scout; I’m just a guy who pretends to know things on the internet. I give Kirilloff the slight edge in raw power, a definite arm strength advantage, and a very narrow lead in bat speed. Rutherford has the better swing (very close call), defensive upside (his decent chance to stay in center for a few years trumps Kirilloff’s average corner outfield/plus first base grades), and hit tool. The two are very close when it comes to approach (both plate discipline and ability to drive it to all fields), athleticism (another slight lean Rutherford, but Kirilloff is underrated here), and foot speed. I actually had Kirilloff ahead by a hair going into the NHSI, but Rutherford’s run of fantastic plate appearances on day two were too much to ignore. Both are great prospects and very much worth top half of the first round selections. I can’t wait to see how high they wind up on my final board.

1.16 – Los Angeles Angels | Virginia C Matt Thaiss (27th)

October 2015…

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.

December 2015…

I still like Matt Thaiss as the draft’s top college catcher (with Zack Collins and the reports of his improved defense coming on very fast), but Okey and a host of others remain just a half-step behind as we enter the spring season.

March 2016…

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.

1.17 – Houston Astros | Alamo Heights HS RHP Forrest Whitley (26th)

April 2016…

You really shouldn’t have a first round mock draft that doesn’t include at least one big prep righthander from Texas. It just doesn’t feel right. Whitley, standing in at a strapping 6-7, 240 pounds, has the requisite fastball velocity (88-94, 96 peak) to pair with a cadre of power offspeed stuff. We’re talking a devastating when on upper-80s cut-slider and an average or better mid-80s split-change that has been clocked as high as 90 MPH. I’m not sure how power on power on power would work against pro hitters — this is NOT a comp, but I guess Jake Arrieta has found a way to do it — but I’m looking forward to finding out.

RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS, Texas): 88-94 FB, 96-97 peak; above-average to plus 82-90 cut-SL; above-average 76-81 CB, flashes plus (some call truer SL); average or better 79-87 split-CU, up to 90; legit four-pitch mix; 6-7, 225 pounds

1.18 – New York Yankees | Chaminade Prep HS OF Blake Rutherford (11th)

December 2015…

Despite some internet comparisons that paint him as the Meadows, I think the better proxy for Rutherford is Frazier. Issues with handedness, height, and hair hue aside, Frazier as a starting point for Rutherford (offensively only as Frazier’s arm strength blows the average-ish arm of Rutherford away) can be used because the two both have really good looking well-balanced swings, tons of bat speed, and significant raw power. The parallel gets a little bit of extra juice when you consider Frazier and Rutherford were/are also both a little bit older than their draft counterparts.

April 2016…

At some point it’s prudent to move away from the safety of college hitters and roll the dice on one of the best high school athletes in the country. Blake Rutherford is just that. Him being older than ideal for a high school senior gives real MLB teams drafting in the top five something extra to consider, but it could work to his advantage developmentally in terms of fantasy. He’s a little bit older, a little bit more filled-out, and a little bit more equipped to deal with the daily rigors of professional ball than your typical high school prospect. That’s some extreme spin about one of Rutherford’s bigger red flags — admittedly one that is easily resolved within a scouting department: either his age matters or not since it’s not like it’s changing (except up by one day like us all) any time soon — but talking oneself into glossing over a weakness is exactly what fantasy drafting is all about. I like Rutherford more in this range in the real draft than in the mix at 1-1.

May 2016…

We already ran down a number of the popular comps for Moniak, so we might as well give in to the same temptation with Rutherford. This has surely been a very painful read for the anti-comps crowd out there. My bad. As for Rutherford, the list of comps out there is impressive: Grady Sizemore (Fangraphs), Jim Edmonds (Baseball America), David Justice (swing only from Perfect Game), and Trot Nixon (I forget) are just a few of the big names tossed around this spring. I’ve likened Rutherford to a remixed version of both Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier in the past, and I think there’s a chance that he might wind up as a player who has the best qualities of both of his soon-to-be fellow minor league outfield prospects. One fun outside the box comp that I heard recently was a young, lefthanded version of Moises Alou. It’s not totally crazy. Here are some of the old Alou scouting reports I could dig up…

1990: “All tools above. Good hitting approach – with power. Not good base stealer – as yet. Great body for speed and power. Good stroke – stays inside ball. Very strong arm. Confident young man…plus tools. Good outfielder. Future All Star…perhaps not in CF but in RF. Would exhaust CF first.”

1992: 7 hit, 6 power, 6 speed, 5 arm, 7 glove, 6 range “Good young player. Live body, All Star potential. Good contact type. 10-15 HR. SB potential 20-25. Everyday OF.”

Funny that 6 power meant 10-15 home runs to that one scout (doubly so when we remember the offensive environment at the time), but grades aren’t as easily translated as the bigger publications who push grading every prospect in every tool because that’s the only way to cover minor league prospects would have you think. Did that get a little ranty? Whoops. Anyway, I think a lot of those grades and notes on Alou could be very easily be lifted instead from a report on Rutherford. His upside is that of a consistently above-average offensive regular outfielder while defensively being capable of either hanging in center for a bit (a few years of average glove work out there would be nice) or excelling in an outfield corner (making this switch early could take a tiny bit of pressure off him as he adjusts to pro pitching). His floor, like almost all high school hitters, is AA bat with holes in his swing that are exploited by savvier arms.

1.19 – New York Mets | Boston College RHP Justin Dunn (35th)

December 2014…

There are some interesting pitchers to monitor including strong senior sign candidate RHP John Gorman and statistical favorite JR LHP Jesse Adams, but the best two arms on the staff from where I’m sitting are both 2016 prospects (SO RHPs Justin Dunn [huge fan of his] and Mike King).

December 2015…

JR RHP Justin Dunn has the chance to have the kind of big junior season that puts him in the top five round conversation this June. Like Adams and Nicklas, Dunn’s size might be a turn-off for some teams. Unlike those guys, it figures to be easier to overlook because of a potent fastball/breaking ball one-two punch. Though he’s matured as a pitcher in many ways since enrolling at BC, he’s still a little rough around the edges with respect to both his command and control. His arm speed (consistently 90-94, up to 96) and that aforementioned low-80s slider are what put him in the early round mix. If he can continue to make strides with his command and control and gain a little consistency with a third pitch (he’s shown both a CB and a CU already, but both need work), then he’ll really rise. That’s a pretty obvious statement now that I read it back, but I think it probably can apply to about 75% of draft prospects before the season begins. No sense in hiding from it, I suppose.

April 2016…

I came very close to putting Justin Dunn in the top spot. If he continues to show that he can hold up as a starting pitcher, then there’s a chance he winds up as the best pitching prospect in this conference by June. I’d love to see a better change-up between now and then as well.

1.20 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Indian Trail HS SS Gavin Lux (73rd)

December 2015…

I’m a huge fan of Gavin Lux and think he could wind up in the first round conversation come June.

May 2016…

Lux is a really intriguing young hitter with the chance to come out of this draft as arguably the best all-around hitter (contact, pop, patience) in this high school class. That may be a bit rich, but I’d at least say his straight hit tool ranks only below Mickey Moniak, Carlos Cortes, and Joe Rizzo. If his bat plays above-average in all three phases – he could/should be there with contact and approach while his raw power floats somewhere in that average to above-average range – then he’d certainly be in the mix. A fun name that I’ve heard on Lux that may or may not have been influenced by geography: a bigger, stronger Scooter Gennett. Here’s some of what Baseball America had on Gennett in his draft year…

He profiles as an offensive second baseman, while Florida State intends for him to start at shortstop as a freshman. He’s a grinder with surprising power and bat speed for his size (a listed 5-foot-10, 170 pounds), and though he can be streaky, his bat is his best tool. He’s a better runner on the field than in showcase events, but he’s closer to average than above-average in that department. Defensively he gets the most of his ability, with his range and arm better suited for the right side of the infield than the left. He’s agile, though, and a solid athlete. Gennett would be a crucial get for Florida State, if he gets there. Most scouts consider him a third-to-fifth round talent.

A bigger, stronger, and arguably better (especially when likelihood to stick at short is factored in) Gennett feels about right, both in terms of draft stock (second to fourth round talent, maybe with a shot to sneak into the late first) and potential pro outcome. It should be noted that Lux’s defensive future is somewhat in flux. I think he’s athletic enough with enough arm to stick at short for a while, but there are many others who think he’s got second base written all over him. A lot of that likely has to do with his arm – it’s looked strong to me with a really quick release, but there’s debate on that – so I’d bet that there’s little consensus from team to team about his long-term position. Teams that like him to pick him high in the draft will like him best as a shortstop, so it’s my hunch that he’ll at least get a shot to play in the six-spot as a pro to begin his career.

1.21 – Toronto Blue Jays | Pittsburgh RHP TJ Zeuch (30th)

April 2016…

TJ Zeuch has come back from injury seemingly without missing a beat. I’m a big fan of just about everything he does. He’s got the size (6-7, 225), body control, tempo, and temperament to hold up as a starting pitcher for a long time. He’s also got a legit four-pitch mix that allows him to mix and match in ways that routinely leave even good ACC hitters guessing.

Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch: 88-94 FB with plus sink, 96-97 peak; average or better 74-81 CB, flashes plus; 82-88 cut-SL, flashes average; 82-86 CU, flashes above-average; legit four-pitch mix; young for class; FAVORITE; 6-7, 225 pounds (2014: 6.63 K/9 – 2.75 BB/9 – 55.2 IP – 2.75 ERA) (2015: 9.20 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 88.1 IP – 3.89 ERA) (2016: 9.57 K/9 – 2.46 BB/9 – 69.2 IP – 3.10 ERA)

1.22 – Pittsburgh Pirates | Wake Forest 1B Will Craig (13th)

January 2016…

I think I’m going to keep touting JR 1B/RHP Will Craig as the righthanded AJ Reed until he starts getting some serious national recognition. I cited that name in the college draft preview from October, so might as well keep mentioning it over and over and over…

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…

I love Craig. In past years I might back down some from the love from reasons both fair (positional value, certain scouty quibbles about bat speed and timing) and not (seeing him ignored by all the major media outlets so much that I start to question my own judgment), but I see little way that will be the case with Craig. Sure, he could force my hand by cratering out with a disappointing junior season (a la Ryan Howard back in the day), but that would only shift him from sleeper first round talent to sleeper fifth round value. His is a bat I believe in and I’m willing to ride or die with it.

1.23 – St. Louis Cardinals | Colegio Individualizado PJ Education School SS Delvin Perez (5th)

December 2015…

One of the few things I’m sure about with this is class is that it’s loaded with prospects who have the glove to stick at short. Perez leads the way as a no-doubt shortstop who might just be able to hit his way into the top half of the first round. I’d like to see (and hear) more about his bat, but the glove (range, footwork, release, instincts, everything), arm strength, athleticism, and speed add up a potential first round prospect. If that feels like me hedging a bit, you’re exactly right. Teams have and will continue to fall in love with his glove, but the all-mighty bat still lords above every other tool. In some ways, he reminds me of a bigger version of Jalen Miller from last year. He won’t fall as far as Miller (95th overall pick), but if we could all agree that mid-third is his draft floor then I’d feel a lot better about myself.

The Miller half-comp splits the difference (as a prospect, not as a pro) between two other recent comps for Perez that I see: Francisco Lindor and Oscar Mercado. Long-time readers might remember that I was driving the Mercado bandwagon back in the November before his draft year…

I’m on board with the Mercado as Elvis Andrus 2.0 comps and was out ahead of the “hey, he’s ahead of where Francisco Lindor was at the same stage just a few years ago” talk, so, yeah, you could say I’m a pretty big fan. That came out way smarmier than I would have liked – I’m sorry. The big thing to watch with Mercado this spring will be how he physically looks at the plate; with added strength he could be a serious contender for the top five or so picks, but many of the veteran evaluators who have seen him question whether or not he has the frame to support any additional bulk. Everything else about his game is above-average or better: swing, arm strength, speed, range, hands, release, pitch recognition, instincts.

I bet big on his bat coming around and lost. Mercado went from fifth on my very first board (ten months ahead of the draft, but it still counts) to 81st on the final version to the 57thoverall pick of the draft in June. He’s the cautionary tale (for now) of what a young plus glove at shortstop with a questionable bat can turn out to be. On the flip side, there’s Francisco Lindor…

Lindor’s defensive skills really are exemplary and there is no doubt that he’ll stick at shortstop through his first big league contract (at least). As for time/age, well, consider this a preemptive plea in the event Lindor struggles at the plate next season: the guy will be playing his entire first full pro season at just eighteen years old. For reference’s sake, Jimmy Rollins, the player I compared Lindor’s upside to leading up to the draft, played his entire Age-18 season at Low-A in the South Atlantic League and hit .270/.330/.370 in 624 plate appearances. A year like that wouldn’t be a shocker unless he goes all Jurickson Profar, a name Baseball Prospectus’ Jason Parks recently evoked after watching Lindor, on the low minors. Either way, I’m much happier with this pick now than I would have been a few months ago. Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.

That pick (and I really shouldn’t say just the pick itself: all of the subsequent development credited to both the individual player and the team should be noted as well) has obviously gone about as well as humanly possible. It’s like the total opposite of what happened to Mercado! Lindor is already a star and looks to be one of the game’s best shortstops for years to come. I’m not ready to hang that kind of outcome on Perez, but I think it’s at least within the realm of realistic paths. I’d say not quite Lindor (15th ranked prospect by me), not quite Mercado (81st), and something more like Miller (46th) is my most honest take on how I generally view Perez at this precise point in time. As the Mercado example shows, drastic change can never be ruled out.

May 2016…

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few different independent sources that are steadfast in their belief that Perez will be the clear best player from this class within three years or less. To say that said reports have helped push me in the recent direction of Perez as a serious candidate to finish in the top spot on my own board would be more than fair. When I think of Perez, I can’t help but draw parallels to Brandon Ingram, freshman star at Duke and sure-fire top two pick in next month’s NBA Draft; more specifically, I think of Perez as the baseball draft version of Ingram (young, indicative of where the game is headed, and the next evolutionary step that can be traced back to a long line of similar yet steadily improving players over the years) when stacked up to Blake Rutherford’s Ben Simmons (both excellent yet perhaps slightly overhyped prospects getting too much love due to physical advantages that won’t always be there). I’m not sure even I buy all of that to the letter (and I lean towards Simmons as the better NBA prospect, so the thing falls apart quickly), but there are certain characteristics that make it fit…and it’s a fun hook.

Also for what it’s worth, I’ve heard from a few friends who are far from sold on Perez the hitter. That’s obviously a fair counterpoint to all of the enthusiasm found in the preceding avalanche of words. Will Perez hit enough to make the kind of impact worthy of the first overall selection? This takes me back to something tangentially related to Kyle Mercer, another potential 1-1 candidate, back in February

It goes back to something I mentioned in the comments section a few weeks back: guys either learn to hit or they don’t. That’s my paraphrased take from this scout’s quote talking about the likelihood of Jahlil Okafor improving his outside shot as a professional: “He needs to become a better shooter and free throw shooter. He either will or he won’t.” Scouts work very hard evaluating amateur and minor league talent across the country, so their collective insight into projecting a young hitter’s future is not to be dismissed. But…can we ever really know how a guy is going to react when thrown into the professional environment? A 95 MPH fastball with movement is a 95 MPH fastball with movement at any level. Plus speed, outstanding glove work, and the ability to miss bats are all translatable skills when honed properly. Hitting is an entirely different animal.

In other words, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. The Perez supporters –myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor. I’ll annoyingly repeat what I said about Rodgers here one more time…

That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely.

That’s what I said last year about Rodgers before eventually ranking him third overall in his class. I have similar thoughts about Perez, but now I’m reconsidering the logic in hedging on putting him anywhere but first overall. A sky high ceiling if he hits and a reasonably realistic useful big league floor if he doesn’t makes him hard to pass on, especially in a class with so few potential stars at the top. He’s blown past Oscar Mercado and Jalen Miller, and now shares a lot of the same traits that have made Francisco Lindor a future star. I don’t see Perez as the type of player you get fired for taking high, but rather the kind of player that has ownership looking at you funny for passing up after he makes it big. All that for a guy who nobody can say with compelling certainty will ever hit. I love the draft.

1.24 – San Diego Padres | Carroll HS SS Hudson Sanchez (248th)

December 2015…

Hudson Sanchez is another favorite and I’m intrigued to see if he’s still got any significant growing left in him; if so, he might be one of those players who can hang at short, but winds up so close to what we envision the ideal third baseman to be that there’s really no other option but to play him at the hot corner in pro ball. Have to appease the Baseball Gods, after all.

May 2016…

Hudson Sanchez, a righthanded bat with some thump out of Texas, is on the opposite side of the age spectrum as one of this class’s youngest prospects. Though not quite the same prospect, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sanchez is just a few weeks behind Perez.

1.25 – San Diego Padres | Kent State LHP Eric Lauer (52nd)

October 2015…

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.

February 2016…

As much as I like all three of those pitchers, there’s still a decent-sized gap between Eric Lauer and the field. Lauer, the third lefthander in my MAC top four, combines the best of all of the prospects below him on the rankings. There isn’t a box that he doesn’t check when looking for a potentially quick-moving above-average mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. He’s an athletic (like Plesac) lefthander (like Deeg/Akin), with good size (like Deeg/Plesac), very strong performance indicators (10.78 K/9 and 2.72 BB/9), above-average heat (88-94) that he commands like a pro, and a complete assortment of offspeed pitches (74-77 CB, 78-82 SL, emerging CU) he can throw in any count. One could quibble by noting there’s no singular knockout pitch here – maybe with continued work one of his secondaries can become a consistent plus pitch, but certainly not presently – so maybe Lauer’s best case scenario outcome isn’t quite that of some of his peers across the country, but that’s a nitpick for a still impressive ceiling/high floor starting arm. Maybe you don’t love him – I kind of do, clearly…but maybe you don’t – but he’s still a prospect that’s hard not to at least like.

1.26 – Chicago White Sox | Louisville RHP Zack Burdi (33rd)

October 2015…

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.

1.27 – Baltimore Orioles | Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock (67th)

April 2016…

Despite all the words and attention spent on Shawaryn, I gave very serious consideration to putting Cody Sedlock in the top spot. Properly rated by many of the experts yet likely underrated by the more casual amateur draft fans, Sedlock is a four-pitch guy – there is a weirdly awesome high number of these pitchers in the Big 10 this year — with the ability to command three intriguing offspeed pitches (SL, CB, CU) well enough for mid-rotation big league potential. I try not to throw mid-rotation starter upside around lightly; Sedlock is really good.

1.28 – Washington Nationals | Walton HS 3B Carter Kieboom (14th)

May 2016…

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.

1.29 Washington Nationals | Florida RHP Dane Dunning (-)

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

1.30 – Texas Rangers | North Florida Christian LHP Cole Ragans (86th)

LHP Cole Ragans (North Florida Christian HS, Florida): 86-92 FB, 93 peak; average or better 71-77 CB, above-average upside; average 74-81 CU with sink; plus athlete; good deception; Sean Newcomb 2.0; PG comp: Jon Lester; 6-4, 185 pounds

1.31 – New York Mets | Connecticut LHP Anthony Kay (69th)

March 2016…

Much as I like him, I don’t necessarily view Anthony Kay as a first round arm. However, the second he falls past the first thirty or so picks he’ll represent immediate value for whatever team gives him a shot. He’s a relatively high-floor future big league starter who can throw four pitches for strikes but lacks that one true put-away offering. Maybe continued refinement of his low-80s changeup or his 78-84 slider gets him there, but for now it’s more of a steady yet unspectacular back of the rotation. Nathan Kirby (pick 40 last year) seems like a reasonable draft ceiling for him, though there are some similarities in Kay’s profile to Marco Gonzales, who went 19th in his draft year. I like Kay for his relative certainty depending on what a team does before selecting him; his high-floor makes him an interesting way to diversity the draft portfolio of a team that otherwise likes to gamble on boom/bust upside plays.

1.32 – Los Angeles Dodgers | Louisville C Will Smith (41st)

Louisville JR C Will Smith: average hit tool with a swing geared towards contact; average to above-average arm; steady glove; average at best power; easy average or better speed; plus athleticism is what separates him from a long list of comparable bats below him; 6-0, 190 pounds

2014: .221/.333/.273 – 10 BB/9 K – 3/3 SB – 77 AB
2015: .242/.333/.331 – 19 BB/27 K – 2/4 SB – 178 AB
2016: .380/.476/.573 – 18 BB/12 K – 9/10 SB – 150 AB

1.33 – St. Louis Cardinals | Elk Grove HS OF Dylan Carlson (151st)

May 2016…

Dylan Carlson (fast-rising bat I’ve heard called a “second round version of Kirilloff”)

1.34 – St. Louis Cardinals | Mississippi State RHP Dakota Hudson (19th)

October 2015…

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.

April 2016…

As for the actual data above, I’d say that Hudson’s number is eye-opening and wholly consistent with the kind of stuff he throws. Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country?

May 2016…

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

Early April College Hitting Update

It’s Monday and I’m behind on some of the conference “preview” stuff I want to publish, so let’s take a quick look instead at some of the country’s top college hitters so far in 2016. There are an infinite number of ways to approach a topic like this, so I tried to make things easy on myself by coming up with some rules to make it manageable.

First, I used college stats from Friday to sort players into categories. That gave me a one-stop shop for all my stat needs, but it necessitated a look at individual team sites last night to update the numbers to get the most recent information. That’s why you’ll see some inconsistencies between the categories and the stats of the players found under each. Secondly, I decided to focus only on draft-eligible players. That eliminated most sophomores and all freshmen. Those guys will get their fair shake in the years to come. Finally, in what may seem like a direct contradiction to the above at first, I made the cruel executive decision to skip seniors for now. I promise that they’ll get their due in an exercise similar to this closer to the draft, but for now I wanted to hone in on the players seen as better prospects by the majority. I love me a good senior-sign, but that extra year of experience gives them a bit of an unfair statistical boost. So only juniors and draft-eligible sophomores for now.

OBP over .500 and SLG over .700

C/1B Jameson Fisher (Southeastern Louisiana) – .521/.626/.872 with 25 BB/10 K and 6/11 SB in 94 AB
C/1B Zack Collins (Miami) – .416/.581/.688 – with 34 BB/16 K in 77 AB
OF Kyle Lewis (Mercer) – .426/.555/.843 – with 33 BB/17 K and 4/7 SB in 108 AB
OF Adam Groesbeck (Air Force) – .447/.520/.671 with 11 BB/8 K and 12/14 SB in 85 AB
C Logan Ice (Oregon State) – .389/.495/.792 with 14 BB/3 K and 1/1 SB in 72 AB
C Brett Cumberland (California) – .425/.552/.904 with 15 BB/18 K and 3/3 SB in 73 AB
OF Anfernee Grier (Auburn) – .442/.535/.692 with 19 BB/23 K and 14/17 SB in 120 AB
OF Tyler Ramirez (North Carolina) – .394/.508/.670 with 22 BB/21 K and 6/9 SB in 94 AB
1B Dre Gleason (Austin Peay) – .390/.487/.680 with 17 BB/24 K in 100 AB

This is the category you want to be in as a hitter. It’s a spin-off of the .600+ SLG and BB> K group I had last year. On-base skills plus power potential equals big money come draft day. Tools will always matter, but results like the ones these players are putting up will get your foot in the door even if some scouts are dubious about other aspects of your game. Luckily, many of the names on this list are likely very familiar as big-time draft prospects who combine stellar performances with big league caliber tool sets.

I’m not sure anybody doubted Jameson Fisher’s bat coming into this season, but just in case he’s gone out and picked up where he left off in his last healthy season (2014)…and then some. We’re talking a 100 AB or so sample for all of the players listed, so let’s get that caveat out of the way right now. Still, Fisher’s start to the season has been positively Bonds-ian. I haven’t heard anything about his defense this season, but I do know scouts will want to see him behind the plate a little bit more before confidently projecting him as a pro-caliber defender. If he keeps hitting like he has, however, he might get himself into the top few round conversation much like the player one spot below him on the list. I still think Zack Collins is a catcher and I still think he should be talked about as a potential option for the Phillies at 1-1. Same thing with Kyle Lewis, minus the whole catching thing.

Adam Groesbeck, known more for his speed than his potent power/patience blend coming the season, has to be in the top ten round mix at this point. Logan Ice and Brett Cumberland are Pac-12 catchers with top two round bonafides. This class and catchers, man. It’s really unbelievable. Anfernee Grier has gotten some first round buzz of late and while I’m not sure I’d go that high on him yet, he’s certainly holding up his end of the bargain here in 2016. Tyler Ramirez could get dinged some by being an undersized tweener, but teams that believe in him in center should like the all-around offensive profile that comes with it. I don’t have much of a read on what those outside my own bubble think of Dre Gleason. I could see him as a surprising inclusion in the latter half of the draft’s single-digit rounds or being a mid- to late-round pick that winds up going back to school in an attempt to raise his stock as a 2017 senior-sign. I don’t know if teams are buying his bat as real just yet; hopefully he keeps hitting and quiets the doubters.

If we tease out the members who lost their spot over the weekend, we’re left with just three players currently in the .500/.700 club: Jameson Fisher, Kyle Lewis, and Brett Cumberland. Not a bad trio.

OBP over .500

2B Nick Solak (Louisville) – .455/.564/.623 with 19 BB/8 K and 7/8 SB in 77 AB
1B Carmen Benedetti (Michigan) – .372/.526/.570 with 24 BB/11 K and 6/7 SB in 86 AB
3B Sheldon Neuse (Oklahoma) – .392/.500/.686 with 22 BB/22 K and 8/8 SB in 102 AB
2B Cavan Biggio (Notre Dame) – .330/.527/.516 with 34 BB/14 K and 8/8 SB in 91 AB
2B/3B Nick Senzel (Tennessee) – .384/.504/.646 with 24 BB/12 K and 10/11 SB in 99 AB

Nick Solak can flat hit. I’d take him on my team anytime. He’s likely locked in at second in the infield, so I don’t know how high that profile can rise but I have a hunch he’ll be higher on my rankings than he winds up getting drafted in June. I’m more than all right with that. I have a hunch that Carmen Benedetti will go out as a pitcher in pro ball, but I like his bat too much to put it on ice. I like letting two-way players with split-decision futures start as hitters with pitching as a fallback rather than the other way around. Personal preference, obviously, but I think it’s easier to pick pitching back up on the fly. Sheldon Neuse is a deep fly or two away from being in the .500/.700 club. A lot has gone wrong for Oklahoma prospects this year, but Neuse has taken a step forward both at the plate and in the field. I think he’s solidly in the second round mix. Same for Cavan Biggio, the top-ranked college hitter on my way too early 2016 college preview back from March 2015. He was one spot ahead of Neuse. Before I start patting myself on the back too hard — something I really shouldn’t be doing in the first place considering that Biggio and Neuse, much as I love both, aren’t on anybody’s board as the top two college hitters — the next three hitters were Ryan Boldt, Nick Banks, and Chris Okey. Win some, lose some. Nick Senzel has been doing a lot of winning of late. I don’t know if Baseball America’s infatuation with him is more about them or about what they are hearing from big league front offices (my guess is the former in this case), but either way he’s a damn fine player and a legitimate top ten type. I’ve taken to comparing him to Anthony Rendon. That’s pretty special.

SLG over .700

OF Heath Quinn (Samford) – .330/.455/.679 with 22 BB/27 K

Like Neuse just missing the cutoff for .500/.700 by a few bombs, Quinn came into the weekend in need of just a few extra trips to first base (or any other base for that matter) to push his OBP over .500. Along the way his slugging dipped below the .700 line, but we’ll still count it since I used Friday’s numbers to originally sort (through the NCAA stats page) despite displaying stats as of the end of the weekend (via the more quickly updated team sites). Quinn is a physical 6-3, 220 pound outfielder with speed, power, and a solid approach. I’ve heard some speculate that he’s hurt some by the overwhelming presence of Kyle Lewis in his conference, but I think that’s nuts. There’s plenty of scouting love to go around, and the more general exposure the SoCon gets, the better it is for every team and every player.

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 College Prospect All-American Teams

Now that football has wrapped up and the D1 college season is just eleven short days away, I think it’s time to come out of my semi-planned hibernation of the past few weeks. Time away from posting hasn’t meant time away from baseball draft work; quite the contrary, really. My college prep work is finally complete and my college notes Word document now stretches 186 pages and 129,856 words. Finding a way to turn those notes into something worth reading is the challenge we’ll tackle together these next two weeks. I have no concrete plan as to how I want to get the information I’ve accumulated out there, so any and all suggestions as to what you — yes, YOU! — want to see are appreciated. I’ll come up with something otherwise — conference previews? — but I’d rather do something by request…and not just because I don’t have anything pre-written in what could be a busy real life work week otherwise.

Until then, here are my (first annual?) College Prospect All-American Teams. The name says it all, but just in case…College PROSPECT All-American Teams. For the purpose of these teams, we care only about who will wind up the best professional prospects come June. Let’s do it…

First Team

C Zack Collins – Miami
1B Will Craig – Wake Forest
2B Nick Senzel – Tennessee
SS Michael Paez – Coastal Carolina
3B Bobby Dalbec – Arizona
OF Kyle Lewis – Mercer
OF Buddy Reed – Florida
OF Corey Ray – Louisville

RHP Alec Hansen – Oklahoma
LHP Matt Krook – Oregon
RHP Connor Jones – Virginia
LHP AJ Puk – Florida
RHP Dakota Hudson – Mississippi State

Filling my pretend team with Collins, Craig, Senzel, Dalbec, and the outfielders were pretty easy for me at this point. I love (Collins, Craig, Senzel, Lewis) or like (Dalbec, Reed, Ray) all of them as first round talents this June, though even getting three of them (I’ll guess two of the outfielders and Dalbec as the wild card) into the first thirty or so picks is probably more realistic knowing how I tend to value certain types different than actual scouting directors might. Fans of teams picking in the top ten dreaming of a quick fix college bat should follow all of them, but with the clear understanding that every single name there (save Craig) has a lot to prove this spring at the plate, especially in the strike zone discipline/approach facets of the game. I’m too lazy to do the math, but I’m pretty sure there is about 3,241 (rough estimate) strikeouts combined courtesy of those hitters. Paez is probably the name that jumps out for many, but it’s a really shallow year for college shortstops…and Paez is pretty damn good. More on him in the coming weeks.

There’s so much college pitching in this year’s class that there’s even less of a chance of coming up with a “right” order of players than usual. Like many, I love the healthy versions of both Hansen and Krook, so their placement on top of the rankings mountain is a bet on continued good health from right this second to early June. Jones was my top college player last March when I made a list like this, but I dropped him to seventh college pitcher on my most recent update in October. Without realizing it until now, it appears I’ve split the difference (more or less) with his current placement in the three spot. I still can’t get enough of that Masahiro Tanaka comp I heard for him. Puk is such a good prospect that I don’t feel too bad in nitpicking him here by pointing out his inconsistent secondaries (unlike the others listed, I haven’t seen a reliable plus offspeed pitch from him yet), up-and-down control, and good but not great athleticism. The fact that he can have all of those question marks — all very fixable issues, it’s worth noting — and still rank so highly says something about how overwhelming his strengths are. Hudson is all upside at this point; he reminds me of Taijuan Walker in more than a few ways.

Second Team

C Sean Murphy – Wright State
1B Pete Alonso – Florida
2B JaVon Shelby – Kentucky
SS Logan Gray – Austin Peay State
3B Sheldon Neuse – Oklahoma
OF Bryan Reynolds – Vanderbilt
OF Jake Fraley – Louisiana State
OF Nick Banks – Texas A&M

RHP Cal Quantrill – Stanford
LHP Matt Crohan – Winthrop
RHP Zach Jackson – Arkansas
RHP Robert Tyler – Georgia
LHP Garrett Williams – Oklahoma State

I could see a lot of the guys on this team outperforming their first team counterparts over the long haul. There’s a little more certainty with some of the names, but not quite the same degree of upside. Murphy, arguably the draft’s best two-way catcher, stands out as an example of this. You could also probably lump Reynolds and Fraley in the category, especially when compared to fellow SEC-er Buddy Reed.

From talking to smart people around the game lately, I think I might wind up the high guy on Crohan. I see a lefty with size, velocity, athleticism, and a nasty cut-slider. I also see a guy who does a lot of the same things AJ Puk does well, but with far less hype. One of my favorite snippets of my notes comes in the Jackson section: “if he fixes delivery and command, watch out.” Well, duh. I could have said that about just about any upper-echelon arm in this age demographic. With Jackson, however, it reinforces just how special his stuff is when he’s right. I don’t think this college class has a pitch better than his curveball at its best.

Third Team

C Matt Thaiss – Virginia
1B Carmen Beneditti – Michigan
2B Cavan Biggio – Notre Dame
SS Colby Woodmansee – Arizona State
3B Lucas Erceg – Menlo (CA)
OF Ryan Boldt – Nebraska
OF Stephen Wrenn – Georgia
OF Ronnie Dawson – Ohio State

LHP Eric Lauer – Kent State
RHP Michael Shawaryn – Maryland
RHP Daulton Jefferies – California
RHP Kyle Serrano – Tennessee
RHP Kyle Funkhouser – Louisville

There are too many good players and far too spots. Leaving out some of this year’s catching class breaks my heart, but ultimately I’m more excited at the ridiculous depth at that spot than at any pretend tough decision I had to make on what will turn out to be a meaningless list anyway. Second base wound up a tougher call than I expected when trying to weigh the relative pros and cons of Biggio, Nate Mondou, Bryson Brigman (who might be a worthwhile SS after all), Kyle Fiala, Nick Solak, and Ryne Birk. Woodmansee felt like the right choice over a few other deserving peers, but it wouldn’t surprise me if a trio I didn’t select (Daniel Pinero, Stephen Alemais, Ryan Howard OR Errol Robinson, Trever Morrison, Eli White) wound up the better bet by June. I had originally planned to make this a D1 only list, but figured the more the merrier so Erceg, the Cal transfer, got the call. That’s partly because I really like Erceg (as both a hitter and a pitcher, though I think I’m in the minority who prefers him currently with the bat) and partly because the pickings at third base are slim. Three of the next four names under consideration at the hot corner are draft-eligible sophomores: Greg Deichmann, Will Toffey, and Blake Tiberi. Beneditti, the choice at first over a similarly lackluster field, is also a two-way player who many prefer on the mound long-term. I liken him to a better Brian Johnson, the former Gator and current Red Sox lefthander. In a fun twist, I preferred Johnson as a hitter as well back in the day.

The similarities between Shawaryn and Jefferies are uncanny. Both guys should rank among the quickest movers in this year’s college starting pitching class once they make the move to pro ball. Pitchers considered who just missed the cut were numerous, but a few fun names include Corbin Burnes, Jake Elliott, Bailey Clark, and John Kilichowski, my personal favorite of the many outstanding Vanderbilt arms.

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