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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Cleveland

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Cleveland in 2016

10 – Nolan Jones
43 – Logan Ice
51 – Aaron Civale
57 – Will Benson
95 – Ulysses Cantu
138 – Michael Tinsley
149 – Conner Capel
176 – Andrew Lantrip
195 – Trenton Brooks
226 – Shane Bieber
250 – Gavin Collins
356 – Zach Plesac

Complete List of 2016 Cleveland Draftees

1.14 – OF Will Benson

The draft works in funny ways. Will Benson (57) going in the first round (pick 14) seemed like a bit of a reach to me on draft day. Not a bad pick by any stretch and easily justifiable (huge raw power, electric bat speed, solid runner, built like a tank, huge arm…yeah, I get it), but not a pick I might have made when Cleveland made it. I probably would have gone with a different high school hitter with that first round pick. Maybe somebody like Nolan Jones, a prospect I ranked tenth overall yet inexplicably (well, money explains some of it) fell all the way to pick 55…when Cleveland snapped him up with their second rounder. If I knew nothing of how draft day played out and you told me that Cleveland landed both Jones and Benson at the conclusion of the first two rounds, it would be cause for major celebration. Choosing to look at their first two picks that way makes me feel better about Cleveland’s draft — and I already really, really like this draft — so that’s exactly what I’ll do. I’ll also look at what Benson and Jones did in their pro debuts…

.209/.321/.424 – 12.0 BB% and 32.6 K% – 184 PA – 112 wRC+
.257/.388/.339 – 17.2 BB% and 36.6 K% – 134 PA – 118 wRC+

…to note the similarities between the two teenagers. They aren’t twins, but there’s no denying certain commonalities. No overarching attempt at a point here, just thought it was neat. Neat is a fine word to describe a bunch of words about Benson from this past spring. First, from 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 side 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. He’d be the rare type of hitter who could make Petco look small.

Then again from 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.

I’ll toot my own horn on the Kyle Lewis/Will Benson connection. I think that’s a good one. A riskier Lewis with considerable upside and a very real bust factor. In isolation, that’s probably too risky a pick for me in the mid-first; thankfully, drafts run longer than one round and all subsequent selections are connected thanks to the current (stupid) draft bonus system. Underslot deals in round one (Benson!), two (supplemental), three, four, seven, eight, nine, and ten helped pay the overslot bonus second round pick Jones required. Beyond just dollars and cents, drafts have to be viewed as complete entities because (smart) teams draft with talent diversification (position, level of competition, age, etc.) in mind. Cleveland went relatively safe with their pitching (college-heavy, emphasis on command over stuff) while taking bigger swings on offensive guys (lots of high variance prep and juco talent). The overall portfolio is one of my favorites across the league and that’s with a first round pick I didn’t love. The draft works in funny ways.

2.55 – 3B Nolan Jones

I saw a lot of Nolan Jones (10) over the last eighteen months or so. I’ve written about Jones a lot in that same time span. I’m not sure what else I have to add, so I’ll let the pre-evaluation stand on its own…

First off, I’m incredibly biased when it comes to Jones. I’m pleased to admit that out front because said admission of bias was well worth getting to watch him play a bunch this spring at Holy Ghost Prep. Getting the chance to see a young man with his kind of talent thirty minutes play his home games thirty minutes from the office was an incredible experience. Jones is an electrifying player who really can do it all as a prospect. In about twenty minutes of game time in his most recent appearance, he was able to hit a homer (one of two on the day), swipe a bag, and turn a slick double play at short. That run was topped only by an earlier game when he smoked the ball every time up before ending the game in extras with an opposite field rocket that cleared the fence in left. He’s outstanding. I think the sky is the limit for him as a professional ballplayer. I’ve seen him more frequently than any other top prospect in this class, which gives me a little more insight to his strengths and weaknesses as a player (whether or not said insight should be trusted is up to the reader) but also presents a challenge in fighting human nature. It’s only natural to want to see a player you’ve come to watch and appreciate throughout the past year succeed going forward. My assessment of him as a player won’t help him or hurt him in any conceivable way, but there’s definitely some subconscious work going on that pushes players we’re more familiar with up the board.

Of course, all of those firsthand observations can be a double-edged sword when it comes down to doing what I attempt to accomplish with this site. My process for evaluating players here includes all kinds of inputs, the least critical of which being what I see with my own two eyes. It’s not that I lack confidence my own personal evaluations; quite the opposite, really, so realizing that my ego needs to be in check brings me to not wanting to fall into the trap that has led to more botched first round picks than any other singular mistake. The easiest way to ruin all the hard work of so many is to have one supposed “expert” come in and make decisions with little regard to the opinions of the group. When a general manager overrules the collective decision of the scouting staff to select a first round player that he has fallen in love with after just a few short views, the resulting pick is almost always a disaster. It’s admittedly a rare occurrence – there’s a reason real analysis of a team’s drafting record gets pinned on the scouting director and not the general manager – but it does happen. Whether it’s ego, pressure to find a quick-mover to potentially save jobs (including his own), or actual conviction in the prospect (the most palatable option for sure, but still tough to stomach when dealing with small firsthand scouting samples), it happens.

Long story short: I don’t want to be like one of those GM’s. I like trusting what I read and hear, both publicly and privately, because those are the closest analogues to a “scouting staff” that any one outsider like me can hope to assemble. That will never stop me from going to games and showcases to form my own opinions, but I’d prefer to use those to supplement the larger scouting dossier assembled than to make up the basis of it. In many ways I consider what I see up close as a tie-breaker and not much more.

It is, however, quite nice when what I’ve heard is backed up by what I’ve seen. That’s exactly what has happened with Jones this spring. The total package is awfully enticing: chance for a legit plus hit tool (lightning fast hands, advanced pitch recognition, consistent hard contact), plus arm strength (confirmed via the eye and the low-90s fastballs on the gun) that is also uncannily accurate, average or better run times, prodigious raw power (have seen him go deep to all fields this spring), and loads of athleticism. I’d even go so far as to suggest he’s shown enough in the way of shortstop actions to at least get certain teams thinking about letting him try to stay up the middle for a bit, but that might be pushing it. Recent big shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have reversed the trend somewhat, but I still think Jones would be best served getting third base down pat as a pro.

Finding reasonable comps for a lefthanded hitting third baseman – which, naturally, just so happens to be what our top three prospects here happen to be – is unreasonably challenging. I’ll start with the WHOA (not to be confused with wOBA, BTW) comp and work backwards.

One older fan – not a scout, not a Holy Ghost Prep booster, but just a fan of the game – was at frequent games this spring. I got friendly enough with the gentleman, around the same age (late-60s) as my father if I had to guess, over the course of the spring that he felt good about dropping an Eddie Mathews comp on Jones as an all-around player. Now that’s a name that gets your attention. My dad raves about Mathews’s physical tools to this day. All of the numbers suggest that he’s on the very short list of best lefthanded third basemen ever to play the game, so that’s not a comparison to be taken lightly. I’ll repeat that it was coming from a fan – though, again, not one with a vested interest in the team or the player, only the sport – and I’m nowhere near qualified to say whether or not he was on the right path with such a lofty comp, but, hey, Hall of Fame comps are fun, so there you go.

Two additional names that came up that I think fit the lefthanded hitting third base profile pretty well were Hank Blalock (strictly as a hitter, though I think the raw power difference between the two makes this one questionable) and Corey Koskie. The Koskie comparison is one I find particularly intriguing. Koskie, a criminally underrated player during his time, was good for a career 162 game average of .275/.367/.458 with 20 HR, 12 SB, and 75 BB/130 K. We’re totally pulling numbers out of thin air with any amateur prospect projection – doubly so with teenagers – but that seems like a reasonable hope based on what I’ve seen out of Jones. Offense like that combined with plus defense at third would make one heck of a player in today’s game. For reference’s sake, that’s almost like a better version of late-career Adrian Beltre. Of course, the mention of Beltre is not meant to serve as a direct comparison but rather a potential production comp.

Now if I wanted to drop a righthanded hitting third baseman comparison on Jones that wasn’t Beltre, I think I’d go with a young Ryan Zimmerman. His 162 game average to date: .282/.347/.473 with 25 HR, 5 SB, and 64 BB/124 K. Not entirely dissimilar to Koskie, right? A young Zimmerman/Koskie type is a tremendously valuable player, with those two each clocking in right around 4.0 fWAR average (Zimmerman a bit more, Koskie a hair less) during years of club control. Going back to our lefthanded third base comp in Koskie brings us to this final “hey, maybe Jones should be a top five pick in this class” moment of the day. Koskie, the 715th overall pick in 1994, finished his career with 24.6 rWAR. That total would have placed him fourth behind only Javier Vazquez (46.0), Nomar Garciaparra (44.2), and Paul Konerko (27.6) in his draft class. He’s just ahead of Jason Varitek (24.3) and AJ Pierzynski (24.0). My non-comprehensive look on the Fangraphs leaderboards has him ahead of all but Vazquez and Garciaparra. We live in a world where Corey Koskie ranked in the top three (or four) in a given draft class, so why not Nolan Jones?

Why not Nolan Jones, indeed.

2.72 – C Logan Ice

On Logan Ice (43) back in April 2016…

.365/.460/.533 – 22 BB/5 K
.360/.483/.697 – 20 BB/5 K

Top is Matt Thaiss this year, bottom is Logan Ice so far. It’s no wonder that a friend of mine regularly refers to Ice as “Pacific NW Thaiss.” That sounds so made up, but it’s not. Anyway, Ice is a really good prospect. He’s received some national acclaim this season, yet still strikes me as one of the draft’s most underrated college bats. There are no questions about his defense behind the plate – coming into the year many considered him to be a catch-and-throw prospect with a bat that might relegate him to backup work – and his power, while maybe not .700 SLG real, is real. I don’t think a late-first round selection is unrealistic, but I’ll hedge and call him a potential huge value pick at any point after the draft’s first day. I can’t wait to start stacking the college catching board; my hunch is that prospect who comes in tenth or so would be a top three player in most classes. My only concern for Ice – a stretch, admittedly – is that teams will put off drafting college catchers early because of the belief that they can wait and still get a good one later.

Let’s update that Thaiss/Ice comparison with their final junior year stats…

.375/.473/.578 – 39 BB/16 K – 232 AB
.310/.432/.563 – 37 BB/25 K – 174 AB

Pretty close! Thaiss went sixteenth overall and was transitioned immediately to first base in the pros. Ice fell to the seventy-second pick and remains a catcher. I still think Thaiss is the better hitter and the better all-around prospect by a hair — and I think he should continue to catch, but nobody asked me — but the non-theoretical defensive differences between the two certainly gives fans of Ice a legitimate claim that he’s the more valuable asset going forward. Being better than Matt Thaiss isn’t what will make or break Ice’s career (obviously), but it’s a fun benchmark to come back to as the two young men embark on what should be long, successful pro careers.

3.92 – RHP Aaron Civale

As a world-renowned internet draft writer, I’d like to think my credibility is such that any and all accusations of bias can easily be refuted by my sterling track record of good old fashioned tellin’-it-like-it-is-ness. I’m practically perfect, really. One teeny tiny dark spot on my record is a strange affinity for pitchers out of Northeastern. It’s the baseball life debt I owe former Husky Adam Ottavino that I pledged to him — unbeknownst to him, naturally — after witnessing my first and only live no-hitter above the high school level. Maybe that explains why I liked Aaron Civale (51) as much as I do. Or maybe it’s because he’s an outstanding young pitcher who can throw four pitches for strikes with the kind of pitchability more typically seen in ten-year big league veterans. Civale’s assortment of hard stuff (upper-80s two-seam, low-90s four-seam up to 95, and above-average to plus upper-80s cutter/slider hybrid) beautifully complements his slightly softer stuff (above-average 78-82 curve with plus upside, occasional changeup, and he has a long track record of sterling command and control (1.93 BB/9 in 2015, 1.18 BB/9 in 2016). Civale is what you get when you combine a traditional Cleveland amateur draft pitching prospect (command! control!) with the big-time stuff the 29 other teams seemingly prioritize.

4.122 – RHP Shane Bieber

Consistency is a good thing when you’re consistently good. That’s a saying I heard once that I thought was kind of stupid, but it seems applicable here. Look at these numbers…

7.57 K/9 – 1.04 BB/9 – 112.2 IP – 2.23 ERA
7.22 K/9 – 1.13 BB/9 – 119.2 IP – 2.86 ERA
7.88 K/9 – 0.75 BB/9 – 24.0 IP – 0.38 ERA

That’s Shane Bieber (226) as a sophomore, Shane Bieber as a junior, and Shane Bieber in his pro debut. I’d say consistently good is an apt qualifying remark. If you knew nothing of his stuff, I think you’d get some idea of what kind of pitcher he was just by looking at that line and knowing that Cleveland, the most command loving drafting team around, identified him as a pitcher of interest. Thankfully, we don’t have to sit around and guess at his stuff. Here’s some Bieber chatter from March 2016…

This post would have been lengthier, but a way too long love letter to Justin Bieber’s latest album has been deleted. After a few drinks I might share my working theory on how Bieber is the evolutionary Justin Timberlake, but we’ll table that for now. We’ll actually go a step further and declare this site a NO BIEBER joke zone henceforth. That’s the first last time I’ll connect Justin to Shane Bieber all spring. Shane is a fascinating enough prospect to talk about even without the musical interludes.

He was a pre-season FAVORITE who hasn’t yet missed a ton of bats at the college level, but I’ll continue to tout his 85-90 (92 peak) sinking fastball, above-average yet still frustratingly inconsistent 79-85 changeup, and true hybrid 78-81 breaking ball as the right type of mix of a big league starting pitcher. We’ve seen college righthanders with below-average fastball velocity, intriguing offspeed stuff, plus command, and above-average athleticism and deception go high on draft day before, and Bieber could follow suit. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if he was missing more bats, but the overall package is still enticing. It’s the Thomas Eshelman starter kit.

First, I kept my word and avoided any and all Justin Bieber mentions from that point on. Feel good about that. Second, I stand by Bieber being on the Thomas Eshelman path. If anything, I’m encouraged that a smart front office like Cleveland’s would place the same kind of premium on Bieber’s strengths as I do. I’d like to think it’s pretty clear I’m cool doing my own thing here in this tiny corner of the internet, but a little validation never hurts every now and then. Cleveland clearly targeted a certain type of pitcher this year in prioritizing command/control over gun-popping velocity. Aaron Civale, Bieber, and Andrew Lantrip all fit that mold. Maybe that’s two-fifths of a rotation one day. Maybe it’s one starter and one reliever. Maybe you really hit the jackpot and all three are quality big leaguers. That’s clearly the preferred option, but even getting hitting on one of the three would be a win. It goes back to the idea of doubling (or, in this case, tripling) down on a position or archetype of interest. If you keep trying, eventually you’ll get it right.

5.152 – OF Conner Capel

I didn’t remember that Baseball America had compared Conner Capel (149) to Tyler Naquin before the draft before I wrote the Trenton Brooks pick review below. I’ll save you the trouble of scrolling down. This is what I wrote about Brooks, Cleveland’s seventeenth round pick: “I’ll throw out a maybe irresponsible (depending on how “real” you think his rookie season was…) comparison to Tyler Naquin with a bit less power upside.” So does that make Brooks a reasonable comp for Conner Capel? Sure, why not! The lefty from Texas is an excellent athlete with a well-rounded skill set (above-average arm and speed) and an advanced hit tool. He’s a bit of a tweener as only a “maybe” center fielder with average at best power for a corner, but I like Cleveland betting on a guy who has shown he can make consistent hard contact against quality prep pitching.

Two more Capel facts before we call it a day. First, I just noticed I had him ranked one spot behind Nick Banks on my overall pre-draft list. That’s not particularly noteworthy but for the fact that D1 Baseball had compared Banks to Tyler Naquin at some point during the season. I didn’t really see that one personally — I went with Hunter Renfroe, for what it’s worth — but still funny to see Naquin’s name popping up everywhere. Secondly, I had Conner Capel listed as Connor Capel in my notes. I hate messing up names. Not only is it disrespectful to the player (if you write about a guy, you should have the right name), but it also makes searching for him years later a chore. Sorry, Conner.

6.182 – 3B Ulysses Cantu

A quick timeline of Ulysses Cantu (95) thoughts over the past year. First, from December 2015…

You want some really high praise for Cantu as a hitter? I’ve now heard the name Youkilis mentioned twice in conversations about him. That’s big time. Kevin Millar was another name that came up, as did a fun blast from the past Conor Jackson. I really like the Jackson comp and not just because I really liked him as a player. When was the last time you heard his name mentioned? He was a pretty interesting player for a while there. I liked that guy. Good talk.

And then from May 2016…

Ulysses Cantu is Joe Rizzo’s mirror image. Almost everything written above about the lefthanded Rizzo applies to righty swinging Cantu. I’m even less bullish on Cantu sticking anywhere but first base as a professional, so the pressure will be on for him to hit early and often upon signing his first contract. I see a little less hit tool, similar power, and an arguably better (trying to sort this out in limited PA for HS hitters is damn near impossible) approach. I think all that adds up to an overall offensive edge for Rizzo, but it’s really close.

After much industry chatter about Cantu playing just about anywhere but first base in the pros, he debuted with Cleveland at…first base. His strong arm is wasted a bit there, but it’s still probably the best fit for him in the long run. Playing first base should also have the added bonus of allowing more time for him to focus on his hitting, his once and future meal ticket to the big leagues. His pro debut saw him struggle at the plate for what I have to imagine was the first time ever. I think his natural gifts take over next spring and he emerges as one of the minors most interesting righthanded hitting first base prospects.

7.212 – C Michael Tinsley

Cleveland signed three college catchers. I love the idea of teams loading up on one spot in the draft. There’s a certain organizational piece of mind that comes with solidifying depth at one position over the course of one weekend’s worth of work. But trying to do that with three similarly aged catching prospects is better in theory than in practice. Where are these guys all going to play? Cleveland answered that by keeping Logan Ice behind the dish (duh) and moving both Michael Tinsley (138) and Gavin Collins to other defensive spots. Collins playing third is hardly a surprise — it’s where he played the majority of his draft year, after all — but Tinsley starting his pro career as a left fielder came out of, well, left field. Time will tell if this is part of a larger plan by Cleveland or merely a short-term fit to get everybody their rookie ball plate appearances. In any event, Tinsley certainly has the athleticism to thrive in a corner outfield spot. That same athleticism is what made him such an intriguing catching prospect to me. The lefthanded hitting Tinsley is a great athlete with average or better speed, arm strength, and mobility behind the plate. His approach as a hitter has long been a strength (63 BB/44 K in his three years at Kansas). He’s a keeper at any position, though it goes without saying that a return to catching would make Tinsley that much more appealing as a prospect.

8.242 – RHP Andrew Lantrip

On Andrew Lantrip (176) from March 2016…

Kay is a lot more famous among college fans, but Andrew Lantrip in many ways resembles a righthanded alternative. Kay’s changeup is ahead and he has the added bonus of mixing in a curve every now and then, but Lantrip can really command his fastball (like Kay’s, 87-92 MPH peaking at 94) and his delivery gives him that little extra pop of deception that makes everything he throws play up. Needless to say, I’m a fan. Lantrip will surely be dinged for being a slight college righthander without premium fastball velocity, but, again like Kay, the combination of a deep enough reservoir of offspeed stuff and a long track record of missing bats makes him an interesting high-floor back-end starting pitching option.

Andrew Lantrip walked 1.28 batters per nine in his 246.2 innings at Houston. That’s 35 walks in 246.2 innings. That’s good. A 1.28 BB/9 would have put him second in baseball this past year among qualified pitchers. The one pitcher with a better BB/9? Josh Tomlin. Hmm. I understand plus control not being something that seems all that exciting, but Lantrip’s never-ending story of strike after strike after strike is fun to watch. And it’s not just his expert control, either: Lantrip’s command of his fastball, a pitch he leans on heavily (and wisely), is exceptional. Watching him do this thing on the mound is a lot of fun. Will that fun translate in pro ball? Cleveland sure seems to think so. And I’d agree.

My “not a scout” observations on Lantrip showed me a quality breaking ball — not sure what it was exactly, but he threw it mostly 77-81 and when ahead in the count — and a usable change as at least a “show-me” pitch. That’s not anything to write home about, but, as we’ve covered, fastball command is so damn important and Lantrip has it in spades. Honestly, his profile would otherwise be pretty ordinary — fringe fifth starter type, maybe a middle reliever — were it not for his fastball command. It’s good enough I’ll bump everything up one step on the projection ladder: Lantrip could be a mid-rotation starter (closer to a fifth than a third, but still) with a pretty safe mid-relief floor. Barring another injury setback, I think he’s a sure-fire big leaguer. Josh Tomlin 2.0.

9.272 – OF Hosea Nelson

Huge raw power, good runner, great athleticism, and tons of swing-and-miss. Now you know what I know about Hosea Nelson. At Clarendon JC, Nelson hit .531/.606/1.020 with 27 BB/30 K and 17/21 SB in 237 PA. That 1.020 slugging isn’t a typo. It is, however, such a crazy number that my fingers don’t know how to type it. Muscle memory keeps getting in the way of putting the decimal where it should be. Nelson hit 20 homers in 196 AB, an impressive enough feat on its own made all the better when you realize his teammates combined for 14 total home runs in their aggregate 1630 AB. I have no idea how to project a guy like this, but I’m damn sure going to move heaven and earth to find a way to see him play in person in 2017.

10.302 – SS Samad Taylor

I had nothing on Samad Taylor before the draft, but everything I’ve heard and read since then has been fantastic. The only knock that I’ve heard was about his arm making him a more likely second baseman than a shortstop, something that played out as predicted in his debut season. Beyond that, his game is incredibly well-rounded for the mature beyond his years 17-year-old draftee with a chance for average (hit, power, arm) or better (speed, glove) tools across the board. Some might say TINSTAA2BP and maybe they are right, but, if you’re part of the 2B prospects are people too crowd (as I am), then Taylor should instantly move near the top of the list of most interesting second base prospects in the game.

11.332 – OF Andrew Calica

Andrew Calica’s .382/.474/.556 in 178 AB to start his pro career puts him on the short list of best 2016 debuts across baseball. Add in stealing 15 of 19 bags for good measure and Calica’s case as having the very best debut grows. The genius you’re reading right now didn’t rank him in the pre-draft top 500 despite going on and on and on about him back in March…

Of all the non-obvious (say, those unlikely to be first day selections) prospects in this class, Calica might be the guy closest to the Platonic ideal of what it means to be a FAVORITE on this site. Calica’s impressive hit tool, easy center field range, above-average to plus speed, and solid arm strength all give him the look of at least a potential quality backup at the pro level. I’d go a step further: Calica has consistently shown every tool save power throughout his career, and even his weakest area isn’t all that weak. He’s able to put himself into enough advantageous hitting counts to allow his sneaky pop (“burgeoning” is how it was recently described to me) to make him some degree of a threat to opposing pitchers who think they can sneak good fastballs by him. Center field tools, an advanced approach, and just enough pop all add up to a pretty intriguing talent.

I’m hopeful that not ranking Calica was an oversight — like my Dane Dunning omission that drives me nuts — but considering Calica was included on the “Draft Note Resource” pages I published meant to catch all the non-top 500 guys, I’d say it was just a major whiff. Is this an overreaction to a small (but undeniably awesome) sample to start his pro career? Maybe a little, I can admit that much. But Calica is legit. It’s a very strong backup outfielder profile with the chance for more if his recent power bump is real.

12.362 – RHP Zach Plesac

On Zach Plesac (356) back in February 2016…

Plesac has the obvious bloodlines working in his favor, but it’s his unusual athleticism and deep reservoir of offspeed pitches that make him a favorite of mine.

For whatever reason, Plesac never seemed to get the kind of credit he deserved for his outstanding junior season. He struck out more batters than ever (9.07 K/9), walked fewer guys (2.96 BB/9), and saw an uptick in stuff across the board. Assuming a return to full health after this past May’s Tommy John surgery, I think Plesac could move quickly as a potential mid-rotation starting pitcher. That’s typically what I see when I see an exceptionally athletic righthander with projection left who is already capable of throwing three pitches (86-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average low-80s CU; 75-77 CB, average upside) for strikes.

13.392 – C Gavin Collins

The vote of confidence in Gavin Collins (250) before the draft from me was predicated on the idea that his drafting team would move him back behind the plate. Here’s what I wrote about that in April 2016…

Gavin Collins has played third base the bulk of the season – very well, I should note – but still profiles best as a potential above-average defender as a professional catcher. My notes on him include one of the better lines I’ve gotten this year: “big arm, loves to show it off.” How can you not like a catcher like that?

Well, 41 of his 42 starts in the field in his debut with the Cleveland organization were at third base. I don’t know if that’s indicative of the long-term defensive plan for Collins or what, but it’s certainly a strong hint that they believe his best fit in the pros is at the hot corner. It’s also possible that he was playing third only in deference to second round pick Logan Ice, though that theory is cloudy at best when you factor in the two prospects having similar timetables going forward. I think he has the chance to be an average hit/average power type of bat (.250ish hitter with 15 homers?) with solid defense at either third or catcher. Depending on how offense continues to climb, that could be a potential regular. Falling short of that ceiling could still produce a useful bench asset. One name that comes to mind there is Adam Rosales without the middle infield versatility.

14.422 – OF Mitch Longo

The pre-season take on Mitch Longo back in February 2016…

Longo has some “scouty” questions to answer this spring, but I’m sold on the bat.

And how can you not be sold on Longo as a hitter? Seriously, all the guy does is hit. I don’t often do this, but, come on, look at the college production…

2014: .346/.416/.474 – 13 BB/13 K – 7/12 SB – 133 AB
2015: .357/.421/.498 – 22 BB/16 K – 10/13 SB – 241 AB
2016: .360/.438/.467 – 25 BB/19 K – 12/17 SB – 214 AB

That’s really good stuff right there. I got some answers on those “scouty” questions during his junior season — namely he’s a legit above-average runner who knows how to pick his spots and his arm can now be upgraded to “good enough,” which is, you know, good enough — but there were still some I talked to who think he’s a great college player who will be in over his head in pro ball. Too dependent on the admittedly solid hit tool with questionable power, speed, and defensive value, they say. Maybe, though I’d at least counter with pointing out that maybe those were fair reasons why he fell to the the fourteenth round but now that he’s actually in pro ball — and off to a fine start, I should add — anything you get from him is gravy. I don’t personally see why he can’t hit his way to the big leagues, fourteenth rounder or not.

16.482 – LHP Ben Krauth

Just about all I had on Ben Krauth heading into the draft were his numbers. That’s not entirely a bad thing for him as those numbers were really damn impressive: 10.08 K/9, 2.93 BB/9, 3.33 ERA in 92.0 IP. The notes portion for Krause was a bit less kind: “backwards pitching junk-thrower.” Pretty good debut for a backwards pitching junk-thrower, I’d say: 10.89 K/9, 1.66 BB/9, 1.66 ERA in 38.0 IP. I enjoy rooting for non-traditional players to succeed, and Krauth’s steady diet of offspeed stuff would certainly qualify him for that mantle.

17.512 – OF Trenton Brooks

On Trenton Brooks (195) from March 2016…

Trenton Brooks has gotten off to a relatively slow start at the plate so far, but I remain firmly on his bandwagon heading into June. His athleticism, defensive upside (CF range and a strong arm befitting a two-way player), and flashes of offensive promise make him a really intriguing future pro, especially if you believe (as I do) that focusing solely on one side of the ball will help take his game to the next level professionally. Between that belief and the possibility he could always be shifted back to the mound down the line if need be – two points that are almost but not quite contradictory – Brooks has a chance to be a better pro than what he’s shown at Nevada.

I’m still very much a believer in Trenton Brooks, future big league player. The ceiling may now be more fourth outfielder/spot starter than potential regular, but that’s still some serious value down in the seventeenth round. I’ll throw out a maybe irresponsible (depending on how “real” you think his rookie season was…) comparison to Tyler Naquin with a bit less power upside.

18.542 – LHP Raymond Burgos

Really nice work by Cleveland here in getting Raymond Burgos signed and on board in the eighteenth round. I write that knowing very little about Burgos as a pitcher. What I do know, I like: his pre-draft notes here had him up to 89 MPH with his fastball and in the mid-70s with his breaking stuff. He’s also listed at 6-5, 175 pounds, lefthanded, athletic, and, by all accounts, a hard worker. Toss in the fact that he’s really young for his class — he won’t turn 18 until the end of November — and all the ingredients here are for a major draft sleeper. It would be completely irresponsible (again) to compare him to a lefty version of Triston McKenzie in any way other than their relative youth and frames to dream on, so I won’t.

19.572 – RHP Dakody Clemmer

I really like this one. Dakody Clemmer is a potential surprise quick-moving reliever. Armed with a power sinker/slider mix, the strong righthander has a chance to shoot through the Cleveland system in a hurry if allowed to focus on keeping the ball down with his low-90s heat and above-average slider. The only thing that could slow him down is needing some time to find a way to more consistently harness his stuff; plus movement can be a blessing and a curse for young pitchers sometimes.

23.692 – RHP Mike Letkewicz

Mike Letkewicz had himself an interesting senior season at Augustana. His final year stats (7.76 K/9 and 3.59 BB/9) dropped his career strikeout mark to 9.46 (boo) but came with the added benefit of dropping his career walks to 4.62 (progress!). He’s a middling middle relief prospect unafraid to throw back-to-back changeups when needed. That’s all I’ve got.

24.722 – LHP Skylar Arias

Searched “Skylar Arias” on my site not expecting to find anything (name wasn’t ringing a bell and it’s the kind of name that ought to, right?), but, lo and behold, some notes on him from his HS days…

LHP Skylar Arias (Oakleaf HS, Florida): 86-88 FB; CB; CU; 6-3, 165 pounds

His year at Tallahassee CC was a successful one with the young lefty sitting down 10.82 batters per nine. There’s some funk to his delivery that is either appealing or not (I’m into it) and the projection left in his 6-3, 190 pound frame (note the positive weight gain since his time at Oakleaf) suggest even more velocity to come. The only negative on his ledger for now is the 56-game suspension handed to him after testing positive to Nandrolone in August. That’s a bummer.

25.752 – 3B Jonathan Laureano

Jonathan Laureano had about as bad a debut as you can have after putting up a -14 wRC+ in his first 86 PA. Fortunately, that small sample nightmare came on the heels of an excellent freshman season at Connors State: .347/.472/.595 with 39 BB/33 K in 218 PA. I don’t have anything on him beyond that other than to say that somebody out there has his last name wrong. He’s listed as Laureno as Baseball Reference, but Laureano at both MiLB.com and his Connors State player page. I tend to think that the latter spelling is likely correct, but admitting that means I’m saying B-R is wrong and that makes me sad. Love you, Baseball Reference.

26.782 – LHP Tanner Tully

By law, Cleveland is required to draft at least one Ohio State player every year. Ignore the fact that they haven’t drafted anybody from the Buckeyes since 2004; can’t let that get in the way of a good narrative. Tanner Tully is a solid pick on merit, Ohio State connection aside. I like Tully even though I can’t quite figure him out. His stuff is solid — 88-92 FB, 93 peak; nice low-80s SL — and both his command and control are exceptional, but he’s never been able to miss bats even as he puts up sterling run prevention numbers. He kept up his confusing ways as a pro: 5.09 K/9 and a 1.17 ERA in 46.0 IP. Years of watching the numbers have me convinced he can’t keep this up forever, but strike-throwing lefties with decent stuff and good athleticism are tough guys to figure.

28.842 – SS Jamal Rutledge

I take it back. Jonathan Laureno is off the hook. Turns out you can have an ever worse debut as Jamal Rutledge managed a -18 wRC+ in the 48 PA to begin his pro career. This came after hitting .267/.295/.336 with 5 BB/27 K in 126 PA at Contra Costa as a freshman. The small sample size pro debut isn’t that big a deal — more of a “fun fact” than anything, and one I hope becomes but a footnote in his long, successful pro career — but that junior college line has me scratching my head a bit. If Rutledge makes it, I think we could chalk this up as one of the bigger mid-round scouting over stats wins of all-time.

30.902 – RHP Ryder Ryan

As an age-eligible two-way prospect with virtually no competitive innings played the last two seasons, Ryder Ryan ranked as one of the draft’s bigger mysteries heading into June. Older scouting reports were favorable — most notably those citing a big-time arm capable of living 90-94 MPH and touching 96 — and his obvious athleticism as a legit power-hitting prospect make this a chance well worth taking by Cleveland. Ryder is as strong a candidate of any as becoming one of this year’s “where did HE come from” thirtieth round picks.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Austin Shenton (Washington), Spencer Steer (Oregon), Mike Amditis (Miami), Blake Sabol (USC), Zack Smith (Charlotte), Pedro Alfonseca (Black Hawk CC), Armani Smith (UC Santa Barbara), Dan Sinatro (Washington State), Ben Baird (Washington), Andrew Baker (Florida), Nelson Alvarez (Miami-Dade CC), Mason Studstill (Miami), Kramer Robertson (LSU), Jacob DeVries (Air Force), Chris Farish (Wake Forest), Wil Crowe (South Carolina)

2016 MLB Draft – High School Third Basemen

I still have a few weeks left to finalize things, so don’t consider the following statement set in stone just yet. However, I feel pretty good about this particular 2016 MLB Draft take: the top two high school third base prospects are better than the top two high school outfield prospects. I’ll take Josh Lowe and Nolan Jones over Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford. I’m not quite plugged in enough to know if that’s a bold statement or not, but it feels at least a little out there. Allow me to explain.

First off, I’m incredibly biased when it comes to Jones. I’m pleased to admit that out front because said admission of bias was well worth getting to watch him play a bunch this spring at Holy Ghost Prep. Getting the chance to see a young man with his kind of talent thirty minutes play his home games thirty minutes from the office was an incredible experience. Jones is an electrifying player who really can do it all as a prospect. In about twenty minutes of game time in his most recent appearance, he was able to hit a homer (one of two on the day), swipe a bag, and turn a slick double play at short. That run was topped only by an earlier game when he smoked the ball every time up before ending the game in extras with an opposite field rocket that cleared the fence in left. He’s outstanding. I think the sky is the limit for him as a professional ballplayer. I’ve seen him more frequently than any other top prospect in this class, which gives me a little more insight to his strengths and weaknesses as a player (whether or not said insight should be trusted is up to the reader) but also presents a challenge in fighting human nature. It’s only natural to want to see a player you’ve come to watch and appreciate throughout the past year succeed going forward. My assessment of him as a player won’t help him or hurt him in any conceivable way, but there’s definitely some subconscious work going on that pushes players we’re more familiar with up the board.

Of course, all of those firsthand observations can be a double-edged sword when it comes down to doing what I attempt to accomplish with this site. My process for evaluating players here includes all kinds of inputs, the least critical of which being what I see with my own two eyes. It’s not that I lack confidence my own personal evaluations; quite the opposite, really, so realizing that my ego needs to be in check brings me to not wanting to fall into the trap that has led to more botched first round picks than any other singular mistake. The easiest way to ruin all the hard work of so many is to have one supposed “expert” come in and make decisions with little regard to the opinions of the group. When a general manager overrules the collective decision of the scouting staff to select a first round player that he has fallen in love with after just a few short views, the resulting pick is almost always a disaster. It’s admittedly a rare occurrence – there’s a reason real analysis of a team’s drafting record gets pinned on the scouting director and not the general manager – but it does happen. Whether it’s ego, pressure to find a quick-mover to potentially save jobs (including his own), or actual conviction in the prospect (the most palatable option for sure, but still tough to stomach when dealing with small firsthand scouting samples), it happens.

Long story short: I don’t want to be like one of those GM’s. I like trusting what I read and hear, both publicly and privately, because those are the closest analogues to a “scouting staff” that any one outsider like me can hope to assemble. That will never stop me from going to games and showcases to form my own opinions, but I’d prefer to use those to supplement the larger scouting dossier assembled than to make up the basis of it. In many ways I consider what I see up close as a tie-breaker and not much more.

It is, however, quite nice when what I’ve heard is backed up by what I’ve seen. That’s exactly what has happened with Jones this spring. The total package is awfully enticing: chance for a legit plus hit tool (lightning fast hands, advanced pitch recognition, consistent hard contact), plus arm strength (confirmed via the eye and the low-90s fastballs on the gun) that is also uncannily accurate, average or better run times, prodigious raw power (have seen him go deep to all fields this spring), and loads of athleticism. I’d even go so far as to suggest he’s shown enough in the way of shortstop actions to at least get certain teams thinking about letting him try to stay up the middle for a bit, but that might be pushing it. Recent big shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have reversed the trend somewhat, but I still think Jones would be best served getting third base down pat as a pro.

Finding reasonable comps for a lefthanded hitting third baseman – which, naturally, just so happens to be what our top three prospects here happen to be – is unreasonably challenging. I’ll start with the WHOA (not to be confused with wOBA, BTW) comp and work backwards.

One older fan – not a scout, not a Holy Ghost Prep booster, but just a fan of the game – was at frequent games this spring. I got friendly enough with the gentleman, around the same age (late-60s) as my father if I had to guess, over the course of the spring that he felt good about dropping an Eddie Mathews comp on Jones as an all-around player. Now that’s a name that gets your attention. My dad raves about Mathews’s physical tools to this day. All of the numbers suggest that he’s on the very short list of best lefthanded third basemen ever to play the game, so that’s not a comparison to be taken lightly. I’ll repeat that it was coming from a fan – though, again, not one with a vested interest in the team or the player, only the sport – and I’m nowhere near qualified to say whether or not he was on the right path with such a lofty comp, but, hey, Hall of Fame comps are fun, so there you go.

Two additional names that came up that I think fit the lefthanded hitting third base profile pretty well were Hank Blalock (strictly as a hitter, though I think the raw power difference between the two makes this one questionable) and Corey Koskie. The Koskie comparison is one I find particularly intriguing. Koskie, a criminally underrated player during his time, was good for a career 162 game average of .275/.367/.458 with 20 HR, 12 SB, and 75 BB/130 K. We’re totally pulling numbers out of thin air with any amateur prospect projection – doubly so with teenagers – but that seems like a reasonable hope based on what I’ve seen out of Jones. Offense like that combined with plus defense at third would make one heck of a player in today’s game. For reference’s sake, that’s almost like a better version of late-career Adrian Beltre. Of course, the mention of Beltre is not meant to serve as a direct comparison but rather a potential production comp.

Now if I wanted to drop a righthanded hitting third baseman comparison on Jones that wasn’t Beltre, I think I’d go with a young Ryan Zimmerman. His 162 game average to date: .282/.347/.473 with 25 HR, 5 SB, and 64 BB/124 K. Not entirely dissimilar to Koskie, right? A young Zimmerman/Koskie type is a tremendously valuable player, with those two each clocking in right around 4.0 fWAR average (Zimmerman a bit more, Koskie a hair less) during years of club control. Going back to our lefthanded third base comp in Koskie brings us to this final “hey, maybe Jones should be a top five pick in this class” moment of the day. Koskie, the 715th overall pick in 1994, finished his career with 24.6 rWAR. That total would have placed him fourth behind only Javier Vazquez (46.0), Nomar Garciaparra (44.2), and Paul Konerko (27.6) in his draft class. He’s just ahead of Jason Varitek (24.3) and AJ Pierzynski (24.0). My non-comprehensive look on the Fangraphs leaderboards has him ahead of all but Vazquez and Garciaparra. We live in a world where Corey Koskie ranked in the top three (or four) in a given draft class, so why not Nolan Jones?

Jones really is that good. Believe the hype. And yet I have him second to Josh Lowe. That should tell you a good bit about what I think about Lowe as a player. He’s a little bit of a higher variance prospect than 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.

Drew Mendoza is a third potential first round high school third baseman with the kind of physical tools to project a long-term above-average regular at the hot corner. Opinions about his hit tool run the gamut from “love” (above-average to plus) to “wait, what’s the opposite of love again?” (too much swing-and-miss with exploitable holes against more advanced pitching), but I tend to side more with those who really liked him over the summer than those who have cooled on him some this spring. That again shows a little bit of the bias that I’d ideally eliminate from these evaluations – summer showcase performances are still generally given too much weight by many, myself included – but figuring out the right balance of so many informational inputs is the ongoing challenge of any talent evaluator. One interesting head-to-head prospect comparison I’ve had scouts debate over the past few months is Mendoza vs Carter Kieboom; I prefer the latter by a healthy margin, but there was little consensus among people I’ve talked to. My hunch is that Kieboom will be off the board first, but if the chatter I’ve heard is any indication, it’ll be very close.

Andres Sosa is neither built like Pope, Jones, nor Mendoz and he does not quite match any of those young lefthanders in the power department, but the righthander from Texas has a sweet stroke, a mature beyond his years approach to hitting, average or better speed, and high level defensive tools. He comes by it differently, but there are some similarities that I can see between Sosa, potential future Longhorn, and CJ Hinojosa, former Longhorn and current Giants prospect.

It’s easy to ignore high school statistics for top draft prospects. There are way too many complicating factors that make relying on performance indicators little more than a waste of time at that level, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with some of the outstanding efforts put forth by some of this country’s best hitters. Take Bo Bichette, for example. All he’s done as a high school ballplayer is hit .545/.650/1.272 in 200 HS PA since his sophomore season. That line includes fifty extra base hits (almost half of which being home runs) with 52 BB and just 18 K. When you’re flirting with an OPS that begins with 2.something, you’re doing something right. It’s hard to put up such monster numbers in a competitive baseball state like Florida without having some pretty intriguing physical abilities to match. Interestingly enough, one of his physical traits that seems to have talked about the most is something that not all agree is a good thing. Bichette’s “weird back elbow thing” has been brought up by multiple contacts as a potential point of concern going forward; others, however, aren’t bothered by it in the least. I suppose like any unique swing setup, it’s only an issue for those who don’t believe in him as a hitter in the first place. If you like him, it’s a fun quirk that will either work as a pro or be smoothed out just enough to keep working after getting in the cage a few dozen times with pro coaching.

If you don’t like him, then it’s hard to get past. This is far from a one-to-one comparison, but the never-ending discussion among scouts about Bichette’s mechanics at the plate reminds me of the internet’s incessant chatter about Maikel Franco’s “arm-bar swing.” Breaking down players’ mechanics to the point that no pro team ever does makes you stand out as super smart on the internet, you see. Less cynically, I’d acknowledge that young hitters are hard to judge, so it’s hard to blame a neutral observer tasked with making a long-term assessment on a prospect’s future for being concerned with a hitter who does something different at the plate. Different can get you fired in this business, after all.

My own stance on hitting/pitching mechanics hasn’t changed much over the years: if it works for the individual and he is comfortable repeating it consistently, let it ride. I get that there are instances where guys can get away with mechanical quirks against lesser competition that need to be noted and potentially tweaked as they advance, but, for the most part, positive results beget positive results. If a kid can hit, let them do what they do until they stop hitting. Then and only then do you swoop in and start making peripheral changes to the approach. Of course, this makes me sound like a caveman: results over process is a terrible way to analyze anything, especially if we’re trying to make any kind of predictive critical assessments. Process is critical, no doubt, but I’m open to all kinds of processes that get results; it should go without saying but just in case, there’s no “right” way to swing a bat. Open-mindedness about the process is as important as any other factor when scouting.

I guess my positive spin on players with unique mechanics is simple: if a guy like Bichette can hit the ball hard consistently with a “wrong” swing, then, as a scout confident in my team’s minor league coaching and development staff, I’d be pretty excited to get him signed to a contract to see what he could do once they “fix” him. Said fix would ideally be a tweak more than a total reconstruction – why completely tear down a productive player’s swing when you don’t have to? – but drafting a player you plan on drastically altering mechanically doesn’t make a ton of sense in the first place anyway.

Draft Bichette for his electric bat speed, above-average to plus raw power, and drastically improved whole-fields approach as a hitter. Draft him because he’s a solid runner who has flashed enough defensive tools to profile at multiple spots (3B, 2B, corner OF) on the diamond. Draft him because you believe that his “weird back elbow thing” can be channeled in a positive direction and turned into a helpful trigger when facing off against high-caliber arms. Don’t draft him to reinvent him as something he’s not.

*****

3B Austin Shenton (Bellingham HS, Washington)
3B Blake Berry (Casa Grande HS, California)
3B Braden Shewmake (Wylie East HS, Texas)
3B Brett Esau (Foothills Composite SS, Saskatchewan)
3B Chad McClanahan (Brophy College Prep, Arizona)
3B Cole Henderson (Valhalla HS, California)
3B Colin Ludwig (Chandler HS, Arizona)
3B Jake Slaughter (Ouachita Christian HS, Louisiana)
3B Joey Polak (Quincy Notre Dame HS, Illinois)
3B Joey Rose (Toms River North HS, New Jersey)
3B Kyle Johnson (Jackson Memorial HS, New Jersey)
3B Laney Orr (Reynolds HS, North Carolina)
3B Mason Templet (St. Thomas More HS, Louisiana)
3B Matthew Miller (Paintsville HS, Kentucky)
3B Mitchell Caskey (Westside HS, Texas)
3B Peyton Russoniello (Quaker Valley HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Riley Hogan (Edgewater HS, Florida)
3B Spencer Steer (Millikan HS, California)
3B William Matthiessen (West Linn HS, Oregon)
3B Zach Weller (Coronado HS, California)
3B/2B Bo Bichette (Lakewood HS, Florida)
3B/OF Anthony Gonnella (Riverside HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Grant Judkins (Pella HS, Iowa)
3B/RHP Josh Lowe (Pope HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Mason Studstill (Rockledge HS, Florida)
3B/RHP Matt Mervis (Georgetown Prep, Maryland)
3B/RHP Rylan Thomas (Windermere Prep, Florida)
3B/SS Andres Sosa (Reagan HS, Texas)
3B/SS Colton Welker (Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS, Florida)
3B/SS Daniel Bakst (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
3B/SS Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS, Florida)
3B/SS Kevin Brophy (Morristown-Beard School, New Jersey)
3B/SS Luis Curbelo (Cocoa HS, Florida)
3B/SS Matt Burkart (Eaton HS, Colorado)
3B/SS Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep, Pennsylvania)

The Philadelphia Phillies and 1-1

I grew up less than twenty miles from City Hall in downtown Philadelphia. After a college detour in Boston, I returned to my hometown where I have now lived a ten minute subway ride from Citizens Bank Park the better part of the past decade. I’d say a good 80% of my friends and family who are into baseball would call themselves Phillies fans. So it’s probably no stunner that the Phillies having the first overall pick in next month’s MLB Draft has been a go-to topic of discussion of late. It’s not as though people are stopping me on the street frantically asking about PUK OR GROOME, but I have gotten emails and texts from people I haven’t talked to in months curious if I knew anything about which way the Phillies are leaning. Those messages back where always “off the record,” but it occurred to me that there’s really no point in being secretive. I’m not a journalist. I’m not a reporter. Integrity? What’s that? And there’s always the distinct possibility that I’m making stuff up to get sweet sweet page views on the website I haven’t made a single penny off of in eight years. So I’ll lay out a little bit of what I’ve heard and deduced from talking to some of my friends in the game. I should note that said friends are largely in low places; the highest ranking sources I can count on aren’t particularly high up on the decision-making chain. I think they are reliable contacts all the same, but I think that’s something worth keeping in mind. Here we go…

I think that the Phillies are far less enamored with AJ Puk than the national media would have you believe. While it’s true that their preference since last October has been to use their first pick on a quick-moving college starting pitcher, the idea that they zeroed in on Puk has been blown way out of proportion. While I’m not personally sure what to make of this — as far as I know, Pat Gillick’s one and only fall ball appearance was in Gainesville, and that has to mean something, right? — it does make some sense in the larger draft context. The odds of any team focusing so intently on one player so early in the process is a little hard to believe. Of course, the obvious question then becomes if not Puk then which college pitcher might they prefer? I legitimately have no idea. My own two cents says there’s no college pitcher with the kind of upside worth spending the first overall pick on. This class has lots of depth, lots of relatively high floor mid-rotation types, and a few young guys with number two starter ceilings, but you need to be greedier than that when you’re picking first. Which brings me to…

I think Jay Groome is still very much in the mix for Philadelphia at 1-1. There’s a lot to unpack with this one, but I’m 100% not buying the Phillies not having serious interest in Groome. Common sense alone says they are at least doing their due diligence, independent sources confirm real interest in the young lefty, and my own two eyes have seen high-ranking Phillies front office personnel every single time Groome has touched a mound this spring. The Phillies may not want to take a high school pitcher with their first pick, but if Groome or one of his 2016 HS peers can separate themselves from the pack between now and June then it might just force their hand.

I think a lot of the perceived uncertainty at the top of the draft is something that the Phillies are trying their best to work to their advantage, especially as it pertains to contract negotiations. I think they have been very vocal in a private public way (i.e., well-placed leaks to the industry’s biggest draft writers) about their preference for a college arm. I think that’s being done strategically. Long story short, I think the Phillies have a vested financial interest in making the number one pick as big a mystery for as long as they can. That may not be a particularly revelatory observation, but I think many are taking the reported rumors about which way the Phillies are leaning as facts rather than messaging straight from the front office.

I think this would have been a lot more controversial before so many started to turn on him these last few weeks, but I think the internet — myself included — likes Groome a lot more as a prospect than many actual scouting departments. Not one team source I spoke to was willing to claim Groome as the clear number one high school pitching prospect on their current “board.” A few said that he was in the top spot but it was still too close to call (there are no actual boards stacked up just yet, but teams are getting closer by the day to setting some meaningful albeit flexible rankings) while others said he was part of a larger mix of prospects that includes Riley Pint, Ian Anderson, Braxton Garrett, and Charles King. I’ve heard that Groome’s draft floor is much lower than many on the outside think. I think this is something to keep in mind if/when the Phillies pass on Groome; doing so is a perfectly legitimate baseball decision, even if some of the louder internet voices (again, potentially even a dope like me) disagree. There’s no consensus at the top this year, so it’s hard to make a “bad” pick in terms of process. Results…we’ll have to wait and see. I’d still take Groome if the decision was mine, but I’ve admittedly softened on the idea that it’s him or bust at this point.

I think that a disproportionate amount of attention — I’m guilty of this as well, clearly — has been spent on the pitchers the Phillies are considering at the top of the draft. Prep outfielders Blake Rutherford (a favorite of some of the older brass) and Mickey Moniak (for those who want a do-over of 2010 when Christian Yelich was taken before they had their shot at him) are both very much in play for the top spot while college outfielders Kyle Lewis and Corey Ray are long shots at best. The two high school guys are in the midst of a huge week for them as certain members of the Phillies brass — perhaps a former manager known for his ability to identify and develop hitters — are getting some extended up close and personal looks. Interestingly enough, I’ve heard no buzz — like, seriously none at all — about Delvin Perez. Could be that he’s far enough off the radar that his name doesn’t even realistically come up. Could be that the Phillies are running the ultimate smokescreen. Odd to not hear his name come up at all, though.

I think the possibility of an underslot first overall pick out of left field (though likely not literally a left fielder…) is real. Zack Collins is a name that came up more than once to help get this plan rolling. High school prospects Josh Lowe (Almaraz Georgia connection) and Nolan Jones (fair amount of Phillies heat throughout the spring and very strategic in their deployment) were also mentioned. My personal take here is that I’m more excited about the players mentioned — all guys who should be in the 1-1 mix, but aren’t for whatever reason — than the strategy behind it. My hunch is that take is likely the opposite view of many Phillies fans, an endearingly anxious bunch when it comes to the draft. I’d generally like the money saving strategy (the more lottery tickets the better), but for such a plan to work you need overslot guys to pay later. That’s almost impossible to predict in real time. It’s a great approach in theory, but far too risky a strategy in practice. I don’t think the first overall pick in a year like this is the time to play games. Get the best guy and go from there.

I think in thirty days in beautiful Secaucus, the Phillies are most likely to take Blake Rutherford with the first overall pick than any other player. I think I’d put his odds at 30%, Moniak’s at 20%, Puk’s at 15%, Groome’s at 10%, and the field at 25%. I think I’m not at all confident about those predictions, but they’re the best I’ve got.

2016 MLB Draft Mock Draft – Territorial Rights

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

So until then (or not) we’ll have some fun and take the idea of a mock draft to the logical extreme. If “mock” means to make something seem laughably unreal or impossible, let’s make our mock draft as unreal or impossible as we can. Our fourth edition of this 2016 MLB Mock Draft is based on territorial rights. Teams can only draft a player that currently plays amateur ball in within the confines of their state. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately this means no Jay Groome, Nick Senzel, Riley Pint, Delvin Perez, Corey Ray, Alec Hansen, Connor Jones, Josh Lowe, Bryan Reynolds, Matt Krook, Dakota Hudson, Anthony Kay, Joe Rizzo, Jordan Sheffield, Will Craig…and on and on and on and on. It does, however, allow for some fun mid-first round steals and a few interesting decisions when picking players from states both big and small. Let’s do it…

1 – Philadelphia Phillies – Holy Ghost Prep SS/3B Nolan Jones

My home state of Pennsylvania has nine D1 schools with baseball programs covering five different conferences. I’ve seen four of the schools already — Penn, Lafayette, St. Joe’s, Villanova — and have a shot to see all nine by the end of the season if I plan my schedule out creatively. There are some solid prospects at those universities — David Bednar stood out so far — who will most definitely be drafted this June, but the real strength of the 2016 Pennsylvania draft class is in the prep talent. My very preliminary look at this year’s high school class has around a dozen names that could get drafted this year out of the state. The best is Nolan Jones, a prospect good enough to be on the short list of the Phillies in a non-nonsense mock draft (i.e., what we call “real life”). Jones has all the tools to be a plus defender at the hot corner with the raw power and aptitude for hitting that could make him one of the best all-around infielders to come out of this class. He’s a really exciting prospect…and a truer “local” prospect to Philadelphia than a certain Jersey lefty, if you’re into that sort of thing.

2 – Cincinnati Reds – Ohio State OF Ronnie Dawson

Cincinnati had a surprisingly high number of options despite being limited to picking only from Ohio. With eleven D1 schools to choose from — some of which were not instantly recognizable to me as Ohio schools, like Wright State and…fine, just Wright State — there was plenty of college talent to make up for the lack of interesting high school prospects. Ronnie Dawson barely beat out teammate Troy Montgomery, Sean Murphy, and the TBD eventual pick of the Indians below. I cringe a little when I hear some of the terms scouts use to describe players — a far worse practice in football than baseball, admittedly — but one of those terms I hate applies too well to Dawson to ignore: he’s a beast. Big, strong, athletic, powerful, fleet of foot…there’s no other way to put it, he’s a beast.

3 – Atlanta Braves – Mercer OF Kyle Lewis

Turns out Georgia, one of the strongest states for high school draft prospects in recent years, actually has less D1 schools that play ball (seven) than either Pennsylvania or Ohio. Go figure. Josh Lowe, Carter Kieboom, Will Benson, Taylor Trammel, and Alex Speas (among many others) keep that impressive prep tradition alive in 2016, but the Braves, long rumored to covet a college bat early on draft day, can’t pass up the biggest, baddest name in the college game. Locking down a future fixture in the middle of your order isn’t a bad way to accelerate the rebuild. Between those high school players and Lewis, Georgia just might be my favorite prospect state in this year’s class.

4 – Colorado Rockies – Air Force RHP Griffin Jax

I debated on a few high school arms before finally settling on Regis Jesuit RHP Bo Weiss as the pick here. Then I realized I totally blanked on Air Force being right around Colorado Springs. That made the selection a little bit easier and a little bit harder all at once. I’d take either Griffin Jax or Jacob DeVries over any of the admittedly intriguing group of 2016 Colorado prep pitchers (really like Paul Tillotson and Travis Marr is interesting, too), but choosing between the two Air Force co-aces isn’t easy. Jax gives you a little more certainty than DeVries — who might have a little bit of recently acquired Rockies closer Jake McGee in him now that I think about it — with the added benefit of being no slouch in the upside department in his own right. I really think Colorado is building something potentially special. While a rock solid mid- to late-rotation arm might seem like the sexiest pick, Jax is the kind of guy you can take for granted (in a good way) as a useful big league piece without worrying about him stalling out for anything but an injury.

5 – Milwaukee Brewers – Verona Area HS C Ben Rortvedt

Much has been made about this year’s high school class having talented players spring out of traditionally unconventional places. One of the better examples of that is how top-heavy the prep prospects in Wisconsin are this year. There’s depth to be sure, but it’s the top tier guys that really make the state stand out. As I cycled through names I kept finding myself saying “Oh yeah, it’ll be him,” before getting to the next name and reconsidering. Nate Brown and Gavin Lux, in particular, are players that would almost certainly be the best in their class in any other year. Instead, the Brewers attempt to get their catcher of the future in Ben Rortvedt, a wholly impressive defensive player who combines outstanding physical strength with above-average agility behind the dish.

6 – Oakland Athletics – La Costa Canyon HS OF Mickey Moniak

If the draft is held on a day that ends in a Y, then that must mean that California is loaded with pro prospects. This pick came down to Mickey Moniak vs Blake Rutherford, easily the most fascinating prospect head-to-head battle in this class right now. I’d get more enjoyment watching Moniak run down fly balls in Oakland’s big dumb ballpark than Rutherford hit balls out of it, so Moniak takes it.

7 – Miami Marlins – Miami C Zack Collins

I’ll keep banging the drum for Zack Collins as a legitimate top ten pick as long as it takes for somebody to take note. If Kyle Schwarber can go fourth overall, then why not Collins? If anything, I think Collins is the better draft prospect of the two.

8 – San Diego Padres – Chaminade Prep OF Blake Rutherford

The Padres might be best served by these rule changes than any other team in this mock. Their future real life haul should be pretty impressive — holding three picks in the top twenty-five makes them the envy of every scouting department — but the damage they could do just by poaching half of the top half-dozen prospects from California could wind up just as extensive. Whether you love Rutherford or still have reservations about his game (or find yourself gutless riding the fence…like me!), getting him with the eight overall pick is fun.

9 – Detroit Tigers – Michigan 1B/LHP Carmen Benedetti

Search for “Carmen Benedetti” on this site. I’ve written a lot about him lately. Assuming you don’t — and good for you not being bossed around by some baseball nerd on the internet — the quick version is he’s really good at baseball, both the hitting/fielding part and the pitching part. I’ve likened him to Brian Johnson more than once, and I think he’s shown enough as a position player to get a shot in the field first. The raw power might not scream slam dunk future big league regular at first base, but the overall offensive and defensive profile could make him an above-average regular for a long time.

10 – Chicago White Sox – Illinois RHP Cody Sedlock

I appreciate that of the eleven schools that play D1 baseball in Illinois, eight have Illinois directly in the university name. That made my life a lot easier when searching my database. My mind still kept wanting to give the White Sox Corey Ray, but that would be against our hastily put together yet very important ironclad rules. Future big league starter Cody Sedlock isn’t a bad consolation prize. Bradley, Chicago State, and Northwestern are the three Illinois schools without Illinois in the name…just in case you were wondering.

11 – Seattle Mariners – Federal Way HS 1B/OF Christian Jones

It was a close call between Ian Hamilton and Christian Jones, but the bat trumped the arm in the end. That’s often my personal preference on these things. Jones has been on the radar for me as much for the sound he makes on contact than any visual observation I’ve made. If he can play the outfield professionally, as many are beginning to think, then so much the better.

12 – Boston Red Sox – Boston College RHP Justin Dunn

With apologies to the dynamic duo of Dustin Hunt and Aaron Civale at Northeastern, it’s Justin Dunn and his easy upper-90s heat that finds himself on the fast track to Fenway’s bullpen. If Dunn (or Jesse Adams, John Nicklas, Mike King, or any other Eagle) does get drafted by Boston this June, then he’ll be the first to turn the trick since Jed Rogers in 2001 and only the sixth BC to the Red Sox draft connection fo all-time. How about that? Dunn (and/or the rest) would also attempt to have a pro career that finished with positive bWAR, something that has been done only once (!) in school history so far. Of the six Boston College players to reach the big leagues, five had/have negative career bWAR. Only Tony Sanchez’s 0.4 figure is in the black.

13 – Tampa Bay Rays – Florida LHP AJ Puk

The Rays take advantage of our draft rules to land arguably this draft’s top college pitching prospect. Even coming off an aborted start due to a balky back, AJ Puk is currently trending up as he rides the rollercoaster that has taken him from underrated (this time last year) to overrated (much of the offseason) to potentially a tad underrated once again. He probably never should have been pushed so heavily as a potential 1-1 guy — in the mix, sure, but not as the favorite/co-favorite — but his value settling even just a few picks after feels about right. It sounds a bit superficial because maybe it is, but 1-1 guys get picked apart in a way that even potential top five candidates do not. The focus has been on Puk’s inconsistent slider, underwhelming change, and spotty command. That’s what he can’t do. What he does well — pitch off an explosive mid-90s fastball, flash a dominant mid-80s slider, and use his 6-7, 225 pound frame to every advantage possible — he does really darn well. Needless to say he’d be a steal at thirteen.

14 – Cleveland Indians – Kent State LHP Eric Lauer

I’ll quote myself on Lauer, if you’ll allow it…

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.

15 – Minnesota Twins – Minnesota C Austin Athmann

There’s no young Joe Mauer hiding in the the Gopher State this year, but the Minnesota University battery of Dalton Sawyer to Austin Athmann gives the Twins two intriguing draft options right off the top. Again we go hitter over pitcher when the talent levels appear close from the outside looking in. Athmann has a strong arm and really solid 2016 numbers. Good enough for me.

16 – Los Angeles Angels – Cal RHP Daulton Jefferies

I like this pick because it helps make this feel more like a mock draft than a random assortment of players listed according to arbitrary rules. The Angels would have their pick from a ton of talented California prospects, but here they opt for the relatively safety of Daulton Jefferies. As much fun as going for a home run pick would be — Avery Tuck, one of the many prep arms, and Lucas Erceg all come to mind — the Angels simply can not afford to come away from this draft with a serious early round hit. Jefferies is as close to big league ready as any college starter in this class, so it’s a pretty perfect marriage.

17 – Houston Astros – Rice RHP Jon Duplantier

I’ve typed and deleted a few different variations of how down Texas is this year, but can’t bring myself to go through with it. There are a handful of high school prospects as always — less than usual it seems — and all of the college programs seem down. Those might be too broad generalizations — I’m waiting for a fan of one of the schools in Texas (not Dallas Baptist, though, because they are awesome and everybody should know that) to call me out any second now — but A&M (the best of the bunch), Baylor, Rice, TCU, Tech, and, most egregiously, Texas all seem down relative to the standards we’ve come to expect. None of that should diminish the accomplishments and credentials of Jon Duplantier, who has pitched his tail off all season long. Despite rarely mentioned as a potential first round pick, Duplantier has sneaky top of the rotation upside. The only red flag is the university he pitches for; thankfully, that risk is mitigated some by the fact his history of missing time with relatively minor injuries has prevented his coach from overworking him so far. Smaller injuries might have prevented him from getting overworked to the point of larger injuries. Ironic, right? If Duplantier flops in the pros, I’m out on Rice pitchers forever.

18 – New York Yankees – Shenendehowa HS RHP Ian Anderson

Fans of twenty-nine other teams would not like this one bit. 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.

19 – New York Mets – Henninger HS LHP Jeff Belge

Jeff Belge would help replenish the Mets pitching pipeline. That’s about all I’ve got. Belge got off to a fast start as a prospect relative to his peers thanks to his imposing size (6-6, 240) and present arm strength (85-92 FB, up to 94-95). Others have caught and exceeded him in this class, but he’s still a talented young lefty capable of using three offspeed pitches and blowing fastballs by the opposition.

20 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Stanford RHP Cal Quantrill

Plus fastball, plus change, plus pitchability, and flashes of two different breaking balls with upside. Get Cal Quantrill back on a mound and watch him fly up boards as we get closer to June. Sight unseen from last spring, I’d still consider taking him just outside the top ten picks or so.

21 – Toronto Blue Jays – York Mills Collegiate Institute C Andy Yerzy

Covering the entire country is one thing, but trying to develop solid contacts in Canada and Puerto Rico gives me that extra degree of difficulty that makes me want to bang my head against the wall at times. I do like what I know about Andy Yerzy and Austin Shields. Are they the top two Canadian prospects for 2016? Beats me. But they are my favorites for now.

22 – Pittsburgh Pirates – Plum HS OF Alex Kirilloff

Pittsburgh opts to stay close to home with the nod going to the local prep star over the local college star. Even with the successful recent return to health of the very talented TJ Zeuch, the potential plus all-around bat of Alex Kirilloff is too tempting to pass up on. Hey, it worked with the Neil Walker pick, so why not go to the Pittsburgh high school baseball well again in the first round? 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.

23 – St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri SS Ryan Howard

The Cardinals can only hope that I still have the patience to do these silly mocks next year. Instead of trying to decide on which prospect to reach on like this, they’d have the luxury of debating between Tanner Houck and Jake Burger. Because it’s 2016 and not 2017, however, Ryan Howard resembles the most sensible pick. I think he probably tops out as a quality utility infielder in the big leagues, but focusing on the “in the big leagues” part rather than the “utility infielder” aspect makes it worthwhile.

24 – San Diego Padres – San Diego SS Bryson Brigman

I’m not sure I have much more to add on Brigman at the moment than what I wrote recently about him…

Doing so would allow me to regularly see Bryson Brigman, a prospect that has begun to remind me a lot of Arizona’s Scott Kingery from last year’s draft. Kingery was a second round pick (48th overall) and I could see Brigman rising to a similar level by June. Like Kingery last year, Brigman’s defensive future remains a question for scouts. Fortunately for both, the question is framed more around trying him in challenging spots than worrying about having to hide him elsewhere on the diamond. Brigman has an above-average to plus defensive future at second back in his back pocket already, so his playing a solid shortstop in 2016 is doing so with house money. In much the same way that former second baseman Alex Bregman wore everybody down with consistent above-average play at short last college season, Brigman has proved to many that he has what it takes to stick at shortstop in pro ball. Brigman’s appeal at this point is pretty clear: tons of defensive potential in the middle infield, contact abilities that elicit the classic “he could find a hole rolling out of bed” remarks from onlookers, and enough of the sneaky pop/mature approach offensive extras needed to be an impactful regular in the big leagues. I’ll stick with the Kingery – who smart people told me here could play shortstop if needed, a position since corroborated by those who have seen him in the pros (I’ll be seeing him for myself on Saturday, FWIW) – comparison for now, but I wouldn’t object to somebody who offered up a mix of the best of both Kingery and his old double play partner Kevin Newman. That would obviously be some kind of special player, but Brigman doesn’t seem too far off. I’ve said before I hate when people throw around terms like “first round player” so loosely that you could count 100 first rounders in their eyes in the months leading up to June, but I’ll be guilty of it here and call Brigman a first round player as of now. I’ve really come to appreciate his game since the start of the season.

25 – San Diego Padres – Santa Barbara HS RHP Kevin Gowdy

I haven’t been able to sneak Kevin Gowdy on to one of these mocks just yet, so it’s great that he finally made the cut. It wasn’t easy, what with guys like Matt Manning, Reggie Lawson, Nick Lodolo, Corbin Burnes, and Lucas Erceg all vying for the second to last California spot, but he made it. Since we’re firmly in the quote yourself section of the mock by now, here’s me from the comments section earlier this week on Gowdy: “Love Gowdy. Command, deception, and frame are all really promising. Puts his fastball where he wants it better than most of his college-aged peers. Velocity is good and breaking ball looks legit. And on top of all that, his delivery is a thing of beauty to me. I normally leave mechanics alone — don’t care what it looks long as long as the pitcher can repeat it consistently — but Gowdy’s stand out as being particularly efficient. I’m a big fan. Likely a top five prep pitcher in this class.”

26 – Chicago White Sox – Carmel Catholic HS C Cooper Johnson

I do not know if Cooper Johnson will hit enough to be a viable big league player. I do know that he can defend the heck out of his position. I had him on a Russell Martin (high), Francisco Cervelli (medium), and Austin Hedges (low) spectrum after seeing him over the summer. We’re getting late enough in this draft that even the low outcome for him would give you enough value back. Gambling on a defensive weapon behind the plate figuring things out just enough as a hitter seems like a smart bet to me.

27 – Baltimore Orioles – Maryland RHP Mike Shawaryn

Many words were written about Mike Shawaryn in yesterday’s post, so I’ll refer any new readers to that first and foremost. If you recall, my conclusions about Shawaryn centered on the idea that he has the chance to be one of the draft’s best undervalued assets, assuming his 2016 funk is attributable more to fatigue than anything else. Draft him in the second or third round — late first is pushing it, but so go the rules of the mock — and give him all the time off he needs to feel 100% again. There are lots of health-based assumptions here that I really shouldn’t be making, but I figure the underlying point is that the real Shawaryn is still really good when rested and ready gives me a little bit of moral leeway. Anyway, please don’t let this happen in real life. Shawaryn, a man (maybe) in need of a team with an expert minor league medical staff, should be kept as far a way as possible from whatever it is that’s causing all of Baltimore’s pitching prospects to fall apart.

28 – Washington Nationals – Georgetown RHP David Ellingson

This really isn’t fair to the team in our nation’s capital, but they had the top pick in back-to-back years with a generational talent waiting for them AND somehow got to watch a bunch of teams let a pair of injured stars fall into their laps. It’s only right that they get some bad draft luck for a change. The player pool is all but limited to George Washington, Georgetown, and a very small group of high school players. David Ellingson could give them some middle relief help in a few years. That’s literally better than passing on the pick, right?

29 – Washington Nationals – Georgetown RHP Matt Smith

What’s really messed up about the Nationals being stuck only picking players from DC is how close (yet so far) they are to an absolute hotbed of baseball talent. How nice would Connor Jones look in this spot? Or any one of the good to great high school prospects found in Virginia this year? We’re talking Joe Rizzo, Khalil Lee, Zach Hess, Noah Murdock, Bobby Nicholson…the list goes on. Like his once and future teammate Ellingson, Matt Smith could be a nice middle reliever down the line. That’s good, too!

30 – Texas Rangers – Alamo Heights HS RHP Forrest Whitley

A big Texan with power stuff going to the Rangers. Narratives everywhere! Though I guess he had to be a Texan automatically because that’s the whole point of the draft. And he’s the best of an underwhelming crop from the state. You could argue Nick Banks here, but I’ll go with a pitcher over the hitter to change things up. Can you tell that we’re only a few picks away from the finish line?

31 – New York Mets – Buffalo RHP Mike Kaelin

The Mets have cleaned up in some of the other drafts we’ve done so far, so I don’t feel too bad with them being challenged in our geographical version of things. Thomas Hackimer would be an equally fine pick to Mike Kaelin, but I have too much of a soft spot for the undersized reliever from Buffalo to pass on him now.

32 – Los Angeles Dodgers – Steele Canyon HS OF Avery Tuck

With all the talent in California this year — I named names in the last San Diego pick — some might be surprised to see Avery Tuck emerge as the final pick from the Golden State. I’m an unabashed fan of upside, what can I say?

33 – St. Louis Cardinals – De Smet Jesuit HS LHP Erik Miller

Making the best of being limited only to the great state of Missouri, the Cards nab the state’s best high school prospect in Erik Miller. A three-pitch lefthander with enviable size (6-5, 220), present velocity (88-93), and deception in his delivery isn’t a bad way to spend a first round pick.

34 – St. Louis Cardinals – Missouri RHP Reggie McClain

The Cardinals would have to be so jealous of the Padres in a draft like this. Reggie McClain as a consolation prize isn’t the worst thing in the world. In fact, I like the redshirt-senior quite a bit as a late single-digit round senior-sign option. Easy to love his changeup, control, and athleticism. It’s just that Howard, Miller and McClain isn’t exactly Rutherford, Brigman, and Gowdy.