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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Los Angeles Angels

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Los Angeles in 2016

27 – Matt Thaiss
56 – Brandon Marsh
137 – Nonie Williams
197 – Connor Justus
181 – Francisco Del Valle
252 – Jordan Zimmerman
264 – Troy Montgomery
272 – Cole Duensing
280 – Chris Rodriguez
345 – Brennon Lund
378 – Andrew Vinson
382 – Mike Kaelin

Complete List of 2016 Los Angeles Angels Draftees

And now a few words on some Angels draft picks…

1.16 – C Matt Thaiss

One of the fun things about the draft for me is finding out how my opinions stack up against real live MLB decision-makers. I thought I was super into Matt Thaiss (27) this spring. I thought his pre-draft ranking (27, just in case you missed it the first time) was indicative of how much I liked him. I thought that actual teams would look at his questionable defensive future behind the plate and downgrade him in a way that I didn’t. I thought that his greatest offensive strengths, namely a special awareness of balls and strikes with the added dimension of knowing what to do with those “good” strikes he battles so hard to see when ahead in the count, would be undervalued (slightly) by big league teams chasing upside and athleticism instead. Turns out, I thought wrong. I may have been super into Matt Thaiss relative to the draft boards of 29 other teams (or not, who really knows), but my interest in him paled in comparison to where the Angels valued him.

That creates an interesting dynamic that I find hard to properly explain. I really like Matt Thaiss. His bat stacks up with just about any college hitter in this class. As a catcher, this pick would make all the sense in the world. The Angels would have picked him sooner than I might have, but, hey, an offensive catcher with a long history of stellar production? Sign me up. Oh, for this situation to be so simple. The Angels decision to have Thaiss shift from catcher to first base makes judging his offensive future a little trickier. Yes, Thaiss will hit. He’ll probably even hit a lot. But the bar is obviously raised with such a position switch. Will he hit enough to bring value as a regular first baseman?

A positive offensive score at first base this year (per Fangraphs) requires a .270/.350/.410 (give or take) line. That’s what David Freese has done so far. I don’t see why Thaiss couldn’t do that, but the Angels surely didn’t use the sixteenth overall pick on a player that breaks even offensively. You figure you want at least a top ten offensive first baseman at that point in the draft, right? The bar there this year is right around a .270/.350/.500 line, not unlike what Sean Rodriguez, Carlos Santana, and Hanley Ramirez (ranked 10th, 11th, and 12th, respectively, in wRC+ among 1B) have done so far in 2016. That line feels within reach for Thaiss as well, though the power would take a little bit of a leap of faith at this point to get there. One of the benchmarks mentioned above (Carlos Santana) has joined old school cool comp Wally Joyner (heard this more than once in the spring) as possible career paths that would have to be viewed as favorable outcomes for the young lefty slugger. I think you take six years of Santana or Joyner at first base with the sixteenth overall pick in a vacuum, though I understand the trepidation some Angels fans surely feel passing up higher upside teenage bats such as Delvin Perez, Nolan Jones, Blake Rutherford, and Carter Kieboom. It’s a solid B pick if you like Thaiss as I do, but I can see it argued down to something closer to the C range (maybe a C+) when you factor in position, ceiling, and what else was on the board. Future upside gambles in rounds two and three made the relative safety of this pick a little easier to swallow.

Now that Thaiss seems locked in as a first baseman, his potential defense behind the plate could be something that forever goes down as one of baseball’s little mysteries. As such, it’s easy to stand on my side of the aisle and claim that Thaiss could hack it as a big league backstop because it’s likely to go down as a wholly unverifiable assertion. I can never be totally wrong now! I’ll go to the grave believing Thaiss could have made it work as a catcher, but that no longer matters. The Angels want him hitting, so first base it is. I think he can clear the offensive bar and become an above-average regular there; that’s pretty appropriate value for a mid-first round pick, right?

2.60 – OF Brandon Marsh

There’s Mickey Moniak, Blake Rutherford, and Alex Kirilloff. Everybody had those three as their top prep outfielders in this class. The fourth spot was very much up for grabs. Some liked Will Benson, others liked Dylan Carlson, and others still preferred Taylor Trammell. Certainly decision-makers with the Indians, Cardinals, and Reds, respectively, believed those guys were best. I liked Brandon Marsh (56). Here’s what was said about him back in May 2016…

My current lean is Brandon Marsh, the highly athletic plus to plus-plus runner out of Georgia. We know he’s got four average or better tools (you can add a plus arm, average or better raw power, and easy center field range to his hot wheels), but, like many prospects of his ilk, we don’t know how his bat will play against professional pitching. Between the swing, the bat speed, and his approach to date, there are lots of encouraging signs, so gambling you at least get an average-ish hit tool out of him seems more than fair. Combined with his other tools, that player is a potential monster.

Obviously nothing since then would have happened to change my mind. If Marsh hits, he’s a monster. If not, he’s got enough physical gifts to keep rising up and potentially serve a useful big league role. That’s one of the nice perks about drafting athletes; the speed and defense gives them a little bit more floor than many otherwise assume. Doubling up with the guy picked one round after Marsh gives the Angels two boom/bust potential center fielders if they are patient. I like the diversification of selecting Marsh (upside!), Nonie Williams (upside!), and Matt Thaiss (safety?) with their first three picks.

3.96 – SS Nonie Williams

Raw. Raw. Raw, raw, raw. And raw. That’s what I’ve heard from those who saw Nonie Williams (137) play this past summer. Makes sense based on what we saw from him in the calendar year leading up to the draft, but always interesting to get confirmation (or a dissenting view, it’s all good) from pro eyes. The tools and athleticism are eye-popping, and his approach improved enough over the course of his spring season that I thought he might hit the ground running a little bit more than he did in pro ball. No matter, as the 18-year-old has plenty of time to turn his plus speed, average to above-average raw power from both sides of the plate, and quick bat all to work for him offensively. I’m very much in on Williams, but it’s going to take some time.

4.126 – RHP Chris Rodriguez

Chris Rodriguez (280) has a big-time arm. You get the “big-time arm” treatment when you have two potential plus pitches (90-95 FB, impressive hard cut-SL) and youth (17 when drafted) on your side. There’s really no telling where Rodriguez will go from here, but with those two pitches at the ready he’s off got a chance to make some noise. It’s easy to envision him as a nasty late-inning reliever if something softer can’t be developed over the years, though (of course) the Angels will make every effort to develop him as a starter first.

5.156 – SS Connor Justus

A “friend” of mine who is actually a great big jerk likes to point out how much I liked Kyle Holder in last year’s draft every time we talk. He tried to talk me out of it by saying he thought Holder would never hit enough to make any kind of impact at the big league level. We’ll see. I bring it up because he was insistent this spring that anybody who liked Holder last year (as I did) should be all about Connor Justus (197) in 2016. I think he’s right. Justus can play. There are no questions here about his ability to stick at short; in fact, he’ll do more than just stick there, he’ll thrive there. That alone makes him a prospect of some value, so anything you get with the bat is gravy. Something between a reliable fielding utility type and an average or so regular feels like a realistic outcome. I like that value in round five quite a bit.

6.186 – RHP Cole Duensing

If you’re an Angels fan, you have to be excited about the front office drafting and signing both Chris Rodriguez and Cole Duensing (272) in the first six rounds. I mean, I’m not an Angels fan and I’m excited so that should tell you something. Duensing is long on projection with a frame (6-4, 180 pounds) that seems ready willing and able to pack on a few good pounds and up his already solid (88-92, 94 peak) fastball velocity a few ticks before we call him a finished product. His slider looks like a potential weapon as is and his athleticism is exactly where you want it to be for a prep righthander.

7.216 – 2B Jordan Zimmerman

Jordan Zimmerman (252) is a nice prospect. His draft ranking shows that I like him. Forthcoming words will confirm this. So please don’t take this the wrong way. But…

.422/.478/.639 in 92 PA
.154/.236/.208 in 148 PA

Top is Zimmerman in rookie ball. Bottom is Zimmerman in Low-A. Plenty of guys have come back from slow starts in full-season ball, so, again, this isn’t a knock on Zimmerman as a prospect. All I’m trying to say is DAMN pro baseball is tough. Zimmerman is a really good hitter. His rookie ball numbers line up nicely with his junior year stats at Michigan State. He can hit. But the jump to a full-season league is no joke. Anyway, here what was written about Zimmerman in April…

The one non-catcher in the group is Jordan Zimmerman. The offseason buzz on Zimmerman was that he was a good runner with an above-average arm and a chance to hit right away. All true so far. The only issue I have with Zimmerman as a prospect is where he’ll play defensively as a professional. I had him as a second baseman in my notes throughout the offseason, but he’s played a ton of first base so far for the Spartans. If he’s athletic enough to make the switch to second as a pro, then he’s a prospect of note. If not, then all the standard disclaimers about his bat needing to play big to keep finding work as a first baseman apply. I believe in the bat and skew positive that he can handle a non-first infield spot (again, likely second), but those beliefs don’t change the fact that I need to find out more about him.

Zimmerman played exclusively second in his debut, both in rookie ball and Low-A. That’s a promising sign. Getting back to those rookie ball/college ways AND continuing to play a passable second base would make Zimmerman some kind of prospect. A potential big league player even. If that’s the case, then he’ll be the second player with that name with that name to get to the highest level. Not that one, though. Jordan Zimmermann is one of a kind. We’re talking Jordan Zimmerman, reliever on the 1999 Mariners. Go win yourself a bar bet with that one.

8.246 – OF Troy Montgomery

OF Troy Montgomery (264) is such a good ballplayer. Underrated for almost all of his three years at Ohio State, his pro debut opened seriously opened some eyes around the game. Here was the chatter from April…

Montgomery is built just a little differently – he stands in at 5-10, 180 pounds, giving the OSU faithful a fun visual contrast to Dawson’s stacked 6-2, 225 pound frame – but is an area scout favorite for his smart, relentless style of play. Every single one of his tools play up because of how he approaches the game, and said tools aren’t too shabby to begin with. Montgomery can hit, run, and field at a high level, and his lack smaller frame belies power good enough to help him profile as a regular with continued overall development. I’m bullish on both Buckeyes.

I just really like Montgomery. Sometimes guys you just plain like are the hardest to write about. Love Montgomery, love this pick. I think Montgomery is a future regular with sneaky star upside.

9.276 – C Michael Barash

It was surprising to me to see Michael Barash go before a few other college catching favorites, but his nice debut in Low-A has made the Angels look pretty smart so far. He certainly has the defensive chops to remain behind the plate — as noted below, he was the only one of the four college catchers selected by Los Angeles to play regularly as a catcher this season — so the onus will be on his bat to see how high up the system he’ll advance. If he keeps hitting, I could see him logging some time as a big league backup down the line.

10.306 – RHP Andrew Vinson

Andrew Vinson (378) does a lot well. His fastball is fine if a tad short (86-91), his offspeed is solid (CB and CU), he’s a really good athlete, and he put up stellar numbers every single season he was at Texas A&M. I could see him soaking up innings as a starter in the low-minors before eventually getting shifted to the bullpen in the high-minors, a spot that should give him his best shot at pitching in the big leagues one day. I have a hard time betting against a guy coming off consecutive dominant years in the SEC — 9.00 K/9 and 1.97 BB/9 in 2015 (2.11 ERA), 10.19 K/9 and 1.48 BB/9 in 2016 (2.40 ERA) — with just enough stuff that shows he did it with more than just smoke and mirrors. Vinson is my kind of senior-sign.

11.336 – OF Brennon Lund

We go way back with Brennon Lund (345), as you can see from these notes from his high school days…

OF Brennon Lund (Bingham HS, Utah): quick bat; really good defender; CF range; plus speed; leadoff profile; above-average to plus arm; great athlete; not a ton of power, but enough; plays within himself offensively; 5-10, 180 pounds

That evaluation was enough to rank him exactly one spot ahead of fellow prep outfielder Corey Ray. Old rankings are fun. In the not-so-distant past (March 2016), this was said…

Lund is putting it all together this year for BYU. In his case, “all” refers to plus speed, easy center field range, a plus arm, and above-average raw power. My soft spot for Jones has to be evident because the player I just described in Lund sounds pretty damn exciting. I’d consider it a minor upset if he doesn’t overtake the field as the second highest WCC hitter drafted (and ranked by me) this June.

He wound up the fifth highest WCC hitter drafted behind Bryson Brigman (87), Gio Brusa (185), and Nate Nolan (236), and Joey Harris (274). So there’s your minor upset. His solid debut, much of which was spent in Low-A, reinforces his upside as a potential average-ish regular player or damn fine backup piece. I think the tools are starter quality while his approach might make him more of a bench bat.

12.366 – LHP Bo Tucker

Here we have an age-eligible sophomore pitcher who I had no idea was an age-eligible sophomore pitcher. There are limits to my knowledge, it appears. Here were my notes on him from my 2017 MLB Draft file…

SO LHP Bo Tucker (2017): 87-90 FB; good CU; good 75 CB; good deception; 6-4, 210 pounds (2015: 8.13 K/9 – 4.65 BB/9 – 31.0 IP – 2.03 ERA) (2016: 8.61 K/9 – 3.88 BB/9 – 53.1 IP – 3.71 ERA)

It’s a little weird (and encouraging!) how steady his peripherals have remained. You can see what he did in his first two years at Georgia. Then he did this in his pro debut: 8.33 K/9 – 3.45 BB/9 – 31.1 IP – 5.17 ERA. Could be an interesting matchup lefty if he can keep it up.

14.426 – OF Francisco Del Valle

OF Francisco Del Valle (181) has monster lefthanded power and loads of strength in his 6-1, 190 pound 18-year-old frame. There is a very long way from what he could be from where he is now, but the upside is exciting. Prototypical boom/bust prospect that is outstanding value this late in the game.

15.456 – RHP Mike Kaelin

I love Mike Kaelin (382), as that number in parentheses may suggest. Undersized righthanded relievers who can crank it up to 95 are almost always going to be favorites in my book. Add on to that Kaelin’s long history of missing bats (12.14 K/9 in 2015, 11.31 K/9 in 2016) and impeccable control, and the Angels very well could have just nabbed a handy middle reliever in round fifteen.

16.486 – SS Keith Grieshaber

The name Keith Grieshaber did not ring a bell at first, but after a quick search it all came back to me. I’m not 100% sure if this is the only draft site on the internet to have Keith Grieshaber notes, but I can’t imagine the list is very long…

2B/SS Keith Grieshaber (Marquette HS, Missouri): good athlete; good speed; good arm; good bat speed; power upside; 6-2, 185 pounds

Those were his notes after his high school season wrapped up in 2014. He went from there to Arkansas before eventually finding a home at Jefferson JC. A good redshirt-freshman season there gave the middle infielder notoriety to get drafted in the sixteenth round by the Angels. I’ll be curious to learn more about his defense, but the bat is enough to get my attention for now.

17.516 – OF Zach Gibbons

You can skip down to the John Schuknecht to save a little time here. Like Schuknecht, Zach Gibbons torched pro pitching in his first shot playing in the Pioneer League. Like Schuknecht, Gibbons was a 22-year-old beating up on teenage pitching in a short-season league. We don’t really know what it all means just yet, but we do know it’s better to hit than to not hit. Gibbons brings interesting power and a strong arm to the fold, and his plate discipline indicators were consistently excellent over his years at Arizona. He’s off to a good start. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

19.576 – SS Cody Ramer

In part of the pre-draft notes on Cody Ramer here, it was said that he “has flashed more pop than thought possible” noting that “whether or not it is sustainable is the question.” Ramer’s most substantial run of playing time before his breakthrough senior season at Arizona came during his sophomore campaign. That year he hit .250/.392/.290 in 124 AB. In his senior season, he hit .356/.452/.494. That’s some transformation. Questioning the realness of said changes felt more than fair at the time, but we’re getting close to the point that maybe accepting the new Cody Ramer would be a smart move. His more than solid (and completely out of nowhere) senior year ISO of .138 was actually lower than the .154 ISO he had in his pro debut. Small samples all around, but certainly encouraging. If Ramer is anything close to the hitter he has shown himself to be in his last 250 or so AB split between Arizona and the pros, then his utility player upside could tick up to potential big league regular at second base.

20.606 – C Jack Kruger

Jack Kruger was the third of four college catchers taken by the Angels in 2016. It might not seem like it, but that’s a lot. I remember wondering on draft weekend how they’d find a way to get each guy enough reps behind the plate to keep them developing as backstops. Well, it turns out that doing so wasn’t part of the plan after all. Matt Thaiss played first base and first base only. Brennan Morgan saw some time behind the plate, but the majority of his on-field innings were at first. Michael Barash actually caught, so that’s cool. And here we have Kruger, who might be a catcher…or not. Maybe he’s a utility guy who can catch. Maybe he’s just a plain old regular utility guy. No matter where he lands defensively, I think he can hit. From April 2016…

Jack Kruger, the best of the bunch, is an advanced bat and consistently reliable defender behind the plate. He’s got the best shot at playing regularly in the big leagues, especially if you’re buying into his hit tool and power both playing average or better. I think I do, but his “newness” as a prospect works against him some. Of course, like almost all real draft prospects, Kruger isn’t new. Here was his quick report written on this very site back in 2013…

C Jack Kruger (Oaks Christian HS, California): outstanding defensive tools, very strong presently; gap power

For area guys covering him this spring, however, he’s “new.” From limited at bats as a freshman at Oregon to solid but unspectacular junior college numbers at Orange Coast to his solid and borderline spectacular start to 2016 at Mississippi State, there’s not the kind of extended track record that some teams want to see in a potential top ten round college bat. Maybe I’m overstating that concern – he was a big HS prospect, Orange Coast College is a juco that gets lots of scout coverage, he played well last summer in the California Collegiate League, and both Oregon and Mississippi State are big-time programs – but players have slipped on draft day for sillier reasons. Any potential fall – no matter the reason — could make Kruger one of the draft’s better catching value picks.

I think getting Kruger in round twenty qualifies as enough of a fall to call him one of the draft’s better catching value picks. Of course, that assumes he’ll be tried behind the plate again. Kruger played only designated hitter in his debut pro season. I think he can catch, but the backup plan of him hopping around the diamond as needed is fun, too. He’s versatile enough to play a variety of positions including both second base and third base. I haven’t seen enough of Kruger to feel great about this comparison, but a lot of the notes I have on him remind me of what we were saying about Austin Barnes back in his Arizona State days. Have to like that in the twentieth round.

21.636 – OF LJ Kalawaia

I know nothing of LJ Kalawaia except for his stellar senior year stats (.396/.493/.578 with 40 BB/32 K and 23/31 SB), plus speed, and muscle-packed 5-11, 180 pound frame. As I always say (and will likely repeat a few times before this very draft review concludes), if you’re going to take a chance on a mid- to late-round college guy, find an ultra-productive one. Kalawaia fits the bill.

23.696 – OF Torii Hunter

Notre Dame rSO OF Torii Hunter: plus-plus speed; CF range; 40th round pick to Twins lock; 6-0, 190 pounds (2016: .182/.308/.182 – 2 BB/6 K – 2/2 SB – 11 AB)

That’s what I wrote about Hunter before the draft. The speed and range are legit, but my Minnesota prediction can be tossed out. My only solace comes in the wondering if the Twins were actually planning on taking Hunter later, but were cut off at the pass by the Angels. If that’s the case, I don’t think anybody could blame the Twins for being caught flat-footed. Never in my wildest imagination could I have seen Hunter going in the twenty-third round. Thirty-third? Maybe. I had assumed he was a final three round nepotism pick. Not only did the Angels take him with a “real” pick, but they also gave him $100,000 to sign. Whether or not he ever suits up for an Angels affiliate remains to be seen. He’s currently in the midst of his redshirt-junior season as a wide receiver on the Notre Dame football team. He can a) enter the NFL Draft in 2017, b) return to Notre Dame for a final post-grad season in 2017, or c) give up football for baseball and report for spring training next year. He could also combine option a or b with option c, assuming all parties involved are cool with the agreement. The first option seems most likely considering Hunter is set to graduate at the halfway point of the current school year. From there, who knows if or when he’ll return to the diamond.

So there you go: 235 words on a football player coming off a draft year of 11 whole at bats who may or may not ever play a single inning in pro baseball. I regret nothing.

24.726 – C Brennan Morgan

We’ll know more about Brennan Morgan after he gets challenged with full-season ball next year, but so far so good. He hit for the Orem Owlz just like he did for the Kennesaw State Owls. I guess you can think of him as the twenty-fourth round version of Matt Thaiss. Both are accomplished college hitters that I think are good enough to catch a little bit (admittedly a minority opinion at this point), but played tons of first base to kick off their pro careers. Even at first, Morgan’s bat could make him an actual prospect in this system. Maybe you can turn this mid-round pick into a platoon bat down the line. That are worse outcomes here.

25.756 – OF Cameron Williams

I can’t say with any certainty what the Angels saw in Cameron Williams, but if I had to guess I’d lean towards his burgeoning power and solid speed tempting them into taking a mid-round chance on him. Too much swing-and-miss for me personally, but I saw Williams up close far less than Los Angeles did. Like, take the number of times they saw him and subtract that by itself. That’s how many times I saw Williams play this past year.

26.786 – OF Derek Jenkins

Speed and center field range are the calling cards for Derek Jenkins. His complete lack of power could be his undoing. Check him out through his years at Seton Hall: .023 ISO in 2014, .018 ISO in 2015, and .039 ISO in 2016. Predictably, his biggest problem in pro ball as a rookie came in the way of a .009 ISO. That’s one double 127 plate appearances. Not going to cut it.

27.816 – RHP Greg Belton

If results are your thing, then Greg Belton is a guy to know. The Sam Houston State alum has a knack for sitting down a batter per inning with decent control to boot. His stuff mostly fits the generic righthanded reliever mold (88-93 MPH fastball, solid curve), but a changeup that flashes plus could be a separator for him in the pros. Like many of the Angels later round college picks, time is against him. Belton will be 24-years-old to start his first full pro season in 2017.

29.876 – RHP Blake Smith

Size (6-5, 230), heat (up to 94-95), and a potent breaking ball (knuckle-curve in my notes, but I’ve seen it listed as a few different things elsewhere) give Blake Smith a chance to keep pitching late in games as a pro. He’ll have to curtail some of his wildness to hit that ceiling, but his physical gifts are impressive and his mound presence imposing.

31.936 – RHP Johnny Morell

I could have sworn I’ve written about Johnny Morell at some point here, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. Kind of a shame, as the $100,000 prep righthander has more promise than most draftees taken this late in the process. Doug Miller wrote a really cool story about Morrell and his relationship with Ryan Madson; come for the heartwarming tale, stay for the details about Morell’s stuff (e.g., fastball up to 94).

32.966 – RHP Doug Willey

All I have on Doug Willey in my notes on the site: “Franklin Pierce transfer.” Good senior year numbers at Arkansas, too. He’ll be 25 (!) in January.

33.966 – LHP Justin Kelly

Justin Kelly had a fantastic final season for UC Santa Barbara: 14.37 K/9 and 3.50 BB/9 in 20.2 IP. His debut with the Angels had solid peripherals (maybe a little too wild) and ugly run prevention stats. He’ll be 24-years-old next April, so his career will really have to get moving quickly if he has a shot in this game. I’m rooting for him because I root for everybody, but I don’t quite know what to do with a player who’s name is a living reminder of this. Can’t tell if it makes me like him more or less. I’m leaning…more.

34.1026 – LHP JD Nielsen

You could do worse than a lefty with size (6-6, 240) and a solid breaking ball in the thirty-fourth round. JD Nielsen can run it up to the upper-80s and has consistently found a way to miss bats while a member of the Fighting Illini. Interesting thing that may not actually be all the interesting: Nielsen walked over twice as many batters in half as many innings as a pro than he did as a college senior. He walked five guys in thirty innings as a senior before walking eleven guys in fifteen innings as a pro.

35.1056 – RHP Sean Isaac

Sean Isaac was an absolute workhorse for Vanguard this past spring. He averaged over seven innings per start and accounted for almost 40% of his team’s strikeouts on the mound. He whiffed over one hundred more batters than his next closest teammate. That’s all I really know about him. Fangraphs has him incorrectly listed as “Sean Issac,” so I guess there’s that, too. Get it together, Fangraphs!

36.1086 – SS Jose Rojas

Vanguard University is fifteen minutes away from Angel Stadium. I think that’s noteworthy, but maybe that’s just me. I go back and forth when it comes to teams using multiple picks from players from the same school (pros: they’ve seen them often and know them best; cons: the odds that an entire nation’s [plus Canada and Puerto Rico] worth of prospects both attend a small local university seem…remote), but I realize I’m just one tiny voice railing against a fairly obscure draft idiosyncrasy that nobody else seems to worry too much about. Anyway, Jose Rojas had a really nice season at Vanguard (.361/.430/.673 – 30 BB/14 K – 16/18 SB) and a solid pro debut. He played both second and third in said debut, so a long shot future as a utility guy seems like the dream here. This means nothing at all, but it intrigued me: his favorite player, per the Vanguard website, is Mo Vaughn. Fun favorite player to have.

37.1116 – OF John Schuknecht

Coming off a legitimately great debut as a professional, John Schuknecht is ready for a bigger challenge. Many times a great debut from a late round pick is not much more than the vagaries of small sample size leaning to the positive, but it’s still worth it to explore a bit deeper just in case. I can’t imagine the pressure late round picks must feel in their first few months in pro ball. A bad debut often means an offseason release. A good debut, like Schuknecht’s, can get you a longer look during instructs and potentially set you up for a full season “sink or swim” assignment. Hope Schuknecht is ready to dive into the deep end.

38.1146 – OF Tyler Bates

As far as I can tell, Tyler Bates is the first player drafted out of East Texas Baptist in forty years. He hit .407/.495/.751 (22 BB/19 K and 12/15 SB) in his final season as a Tiger. Then he went out and had a fine debut in the AZL. He’s got my attention.

39.1176 – 2B Richard Fecteau

Richard Fecteau is the second ever draftee from Salem State. Though listed as a second baseman during the draft, the 22-year-old infielder played the majority of his innings at third base in his debut. He struggled adjusted to pro pitching in his debut, but at least managed to keep his reputation as a patient, smart hitter very much intact. Between that and his senior line of .393/.478/.601 (24 BB/11 K and 14/15 SB), I’m intrigued enough to put him on the super duper mega deep sleeper list. I like these last two picks by the Angels a lot. Taking highly productive small school players shows that they value these late round picks.

40.1206 – 1B Brad Anderson

Brad Anderson was one of five fortieth round picks to sign this year across baseball. That alone is pretty cool to me. The last signed fortieth round pick to reach the big leagues is Brandon Kintzler, a still active reliever out of Dixie State who has pitched in the big leagues with both Milwaukee and Minnesota. That was back in 2004. Since then there have been plenty of quality players drafted in the last round (many have gone back to school and eventually reached the big leagues), but none have reached the majors using their round forty draft position as their jumping off point. Anderson and his four fortieth round brothers will attempt to be the first to climb the major league mountain in a dozen years. The odds are obviously against them, but the precedent set by Kintzler and others like him give the glimmer of hope needed to make a run at it. Lost in this somewhat is the fact that Anderson is a pretty decent prospect. The approach isn’t what you’d want, but his power is legit. Can’t argue with getting a guy with a clear big league tool with pick 1206.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

David Oppenheim (USC), David Hamilton (Texas), Robbie Peto (North Carolina), Anthony Molina (Northwest Florida JC), Troy Rallings (unsigned as he recovers from TJ surgery, but out of college eligibility and the Angels still hold his rights)

If Rallings does eventually sign, he’d be a fine addition to the system. He’s one of the best of this year’s sinker (88-92)/slider (78-84) reliever archetype with pinpoint control and a long track record of success as a collegiate closer at Washington. If the recovery goes well, I think he’s a future big league pitcher.

2016 MLB Draft – High School Shortstops

A brief history of the top high school shortstops selected and their respective ages in their draft year…

2015: Brendan Rodgers – turned 19 that August
2014: Nick Gordon – turned 19 that October
2013: JP Crawford – turned 19 that next January
2012: Carlos Correa – turned 18 that September
2011: Francisco Lindor – turned 18 that November
2010: Manny Machado – turned 18 that July
2009: Jiovanni Mier – turned 19 that August

Delvin Perez, set to turn 18-years-old this November, will join that club in a few weeks. He’ll be younger than everybody on that list, though Lindor, the player I used as the best case scenario comp for Perez at the start of the draft process, was only ten days older than Perez when comparing their respective draft years. We’ll come back to him shortly.

If we deem the past few seasons as too recent to make fairly assess, then we’re left with a ton of quick-moving impact big league talent at the position. There’s are many reasons why Major League Baseball is in the midst of yet another shortstop renaissance, and the recent influx of talented prep prospects has a lot to do with it. Take a look at this stretch of big league players (guys with * were drafted as shortstops but moved off sooner rather than later)…

2012: Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager
2011: Lindor, Javier Baez, Trevor Story, Mookie Betts*
2010: Machado, Ryan Brett*, Garin Cecchini*, JT Realmuto*
2009: Nick Franklin, Chris Owings, Billy Hamilton*, Enrique Hernandez*, Scooter Gennett*

You also have Gavin Cecchini, Daniel Robertson, and Roman Quinn on the way, though there’s a chance that all of the above will have asterisks by their name eventually if they don’t have one already. Then there’s also clear asterisks Michael Taylor (a negative value player to date, but there’s plenty of time to change that) and Mychal Givens, who really should have been on the mound in the first place. We’re just using that 2009-2012 draft band here; if we include the past three classes, we’ve got Crawford, Gordon, and Rodgers, among others, on the way. That’s a healthy group of high school shortstops drafted this decade.

If so inclined to use recent history as a guide, then the point here is pretty simple: when in doubt, draft a prep shortstop. We’ve seen how high school catchers, first basemen, and second basemen have proven to be questionable investments over the years. High school shortstops, on the other hand, have had a great deal of success. Nothing here is conclusive, nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s gonna die. Let’s talk about high school shortstops.

One of the fun things about having a site like this for so long is having a long track record, good and bad, to look back on. I find looking back at the bad to be particularly illuminating. A crucial element to evaluation, in any walk of life, is the willingness and ability to self-scout. My own track record with the top high school shortstops of recent years is spotty at best. I’d like to think I’ve learned a few things along the way, but that can be a tough thing to see when you’re still in the middle of the seemingly never-ending year-to-year draft game. My evolution can be seen somewhat when looking at my experiences with Manny Machado in 2010, Francisco Lindor in 2011, Carlos Correa in 2012, and eventually Brendan Rodgers in 2015…and hopefully Delvin Perez in 2016.

This quick, admittedly self-indulgent journey begins with both Machado and Correa as I explained the latter’s high ranking at one point using the former’s far too low ranking as the learning experience that it was…

Correa represents my mea culpa for underrating Manny Machado in 2010. Their scouting reports read very, very similar, and are best summed up by the abundance of “above-average” and “plus” sprinkled throughout. Correa can throw with the best of them, and his foot speed, bat speed, approach, and range are all well above-average. He’ll need plenty of at bats against quality pitching, so his drafting team will have to be patient, but his experience against high velocity arms is encouraging.

I had Machado thirteenth on my final 2010 board. That means he was behind AJ Cole, Karsten Whitson, Stetson Allie (perhaps there’s a lesson there about HS arms…), Brandon Workman, Deck McGuire (or low-ceiling college arms…), and Justin O’Conner (think I’ve learned my lesson about non-elite HS catchers by now). Austin Wilson (ranked fifth) also stands out as a bad miss this year; there’s maybe some Will Benson or Blake Rutherford parallels with him, depending on how you look at things. As far as Machado, I just flat missed on his physical tools. Missing on aptitude or work ethic or willingness to take instruction or even projection of physical growth is one thing, but what I saw and heard of Machado was drastically different than how he really played the game. You could say I underrated his tools, but I’d go a step further and say I just flat didn’t appreciate him for what he was and could be. There could have been some contrarian bias in me then that I hope has gotten beaten out of me by now; sometimes guys are hyped for good reason, so going against the grain to be different is just flat stupid. If he’s good, say he’s good. If that means you have the same top five as everybody else, so be it. That exact contrarian streak kept bubbling up here as I had assumed most of the spring that Carter Kieboom would overtake Delvin Perez on this rankings one he showed everybody he could hang at shortstop. I LOVE Kieboom, as I hope I’ll clearly explain below. Perez just has that extra gear of athleticism, speed, and range that puts him in the same class as too many of the recent shortstop hits to ignore. One such hit is Francisco Lindor.

My take on Lindor after his limited debut season (20 PA) showed just enough personal growth that I’ll give myself a tiny gold star for the day…

Without repeating myself pre-draft too much (check all the bold below for that take), here’s where I stand on Monteverde Academy (FL) SS Francisco Lindor. Of all the positives he brings to the field, the two biggest positives I can currently give him credit for are his defense and time/age. 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 last line is where there’s some progress shown: “Cleveland saw the opportunity to land a superstar talent at a premium defensive position and went for it, high risk and all.” I think that belief informs where I’m at with Perez right now. There’s almost no denying the enormity of his ceiling, but the risk factor is very real. The list of successful prep shortstops who no longer play shortstop above helps mitigate some of those concerns as it seems that importance of being able to slide down the defensive spectrum can’t be overstated enough. Draft for stardom, hope for the best, and be willing and ready pivot developmentally to another defensive spot if necessary. Of course, if you get the stardom part wrong as I did with Machado, then your evaluation is doomed from the start. I at least allowed for that stardom with Lindor, so, yeah, some growth there. Not a ton, but some. I’ll take it.

I think I had mostly learned my lesson by the time it came to rank the aforementioned Carlos Correa first overall in 2012. That lesson was applied, more or less, last year when discussing Brendan Rodgers…

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. The difference in ranking opinion is minute, but for a decision-maker picking within those first few selections it can mean the difference between job security for years to come (and, perhaps eventually, a ring…) or an outright dismissal even before getting to see this whole thing through.

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.

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.

Falling behind Perez and Kieboom are names like Gavin Lux, Grae Kessinger, Nonie Williams, and Nicholas Quintana. I’m not sure there’s a bad way to rank those guys at this point. 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.

I really like Kessinger’s hands, range, and first step actions at short. He’s just a half-step behind Perez – if that – defensively. Offensively he’s more athlete with bat speed than finished product, but you could do a lot worse than what he gives you as a starting point. Williams matches Kessinger’s athleticism, speed (both of the bat and foot variety), and defensive upside, but the latter area is where Kessinger’s present value trumps where Williams is currently at. Williams could get there, but Kessinger has the head start. Many have slid Williams to center field on their boards, but he’s come on fast as an infielder since his inconsistent showing in the dirt this past summer. The defensive gap between Kessinger and Williams is potentially made up by the advantage that Williams has shown in the power department. He’s currently more physical than Kessinger with a swing geared toward more natural pop. Two similarly talented players with just enough differences to keep things interesting; I like Kessinger by a hair, but that could flip by June.

I’m running out of time, but I’m still not quite sure what to feel about Quintana as a prospect. I like him a lot, but I’m not quite sure yet how high “a lot” will get him on the board. Though most I talked to saw him moving off of shortstop sooner rather than later – second, third, and even catcher were mentioned as long-term spots for him – I kind of like the strong armed righthander to stick at short for the foreseeable future. Offensively, I believe. Quintana can hit and hit for power. If his approach comes around, then defensive questions won’t loom quite as large.

Jose Miranda is a particularly well-rounded shortstop with a strong hit tool, solid approach, and reliable hands. Grant Bodison is a little older than his peers, but with a plus arm, plus speed, and an average or better shot to stick at shortstop, he’s a fine prospect. His approach as a hitter has always stood out as particularly intriguing, so I’m more willing to overlook the extra few month lead he has on much of his current competition than I might be otherwise. 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. Only one team will get Perez in the first round, so the value of nabbing players like Kieboom (second if you’re very lucky), Lux (same), and then one or more of Kessinger, Williams, Quintana, Jaxon Williams, Miranda, Bodison, Hamilton, Sanchez, Francisco Thomas, Cam Shepherd, and Alexis Torres (all third round or later) will certainly be on the forefront of twenty-nine other teams’ minds in this upcoming draft.

*****

SS Anthony Prato (Poly Prep Country Day School, New York)
SS Austin Masel (Belmont Hill HS, Massachusetts)
SS Austyn Tengan (Cypress HS, California)
SS Brady Whalen (Union HS, Washington)
SS Branden Fryman (Tate HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Chinea (Florida Christian HS, Florida)
SS Brandon Hauswald (University School of Jackson, Tennessee)
SS Brian Rey (Deltona HS, Florida)
SS Cameron Cannon (Mountain Ridge HS, Arizona)
SS Camryn Williams (Gaither HS, Florida)
SS Carter Aldrete (Montery HS, California)
SS Cayman Richardson (Hanover HS, Virginia)
SS David Hamilton (San Marcos HS, Texas)
SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Duncan Pence (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
SS Francisco Thomas (Osceloa HS, Puerto Rico)
SS Grae Kessinger (Oxford HS, Mississippi)
SS Grant Bodison (Mauldin HS, South Carolina)
SS Grant Little (Midland Christian HS, Texas)
SS Hunter Lessard (Sunrise Mountain HS, Arizona)
SS Jeremy Houston (Mt Carmel HS, Illinois)
SS Kevin Rolon (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS Kevin Welsh (Northern Burlington HS, New Jersey)
SS Logan Davidson (Providence HS, North Carolina)
SS Matthew Rule (Kearney HS, Missouri)
SS Mitchell Golden (Marietta HS, Georgia)
SS Nicholas Novak (Stillwater HS, Minnesota)
SS Nick Derr (Sarasota Community HS, Florida)
SS Nonie Williams (Turner HS, Kansas)
SS Palmer Ford (Virgil Grissom HS, Alabama)
SS Peter Hutzal (Ernest Manning SS, Alberta)
SS Ryan Layne (West Jessamine HS, Kentucky)
SS Sal Gozzo (Sheehan HS, Connecticut)
SS Samad Taylor (Corona HS, California)
SS Tyler Roeder (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
SS Zachary Watson (West Ouachita HS, Louisiana)
SS/2B Alexis Torres (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/2B Cam Shepherd (Peachtree Ridge HS, Georgia)
SS/2B Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, Wisconsin)
SS/2B Jakob Newton (Oakville Trafalgar SS, Ontario)
SS/2B Nicholas Quintana (Arbor View HS, Nevada)
SS/2B Will Brooks (Madison Central HS, Mississippi)
SS/3B Carter Kieboom (Walton HS, Georgia)
SS/3B Hudson Sanchez (Southlake Carroll HS, Texas)
SS/3B Jose Miranda (PR Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico)
SS/3B Josh Hollifield (Weddington HS, North Carolina)
SS/CF Jaxon Williams (BF Terry HS, Texas)
SS/OF DeShawn Lookout (Westmoore HS, Oklahoma)
SS/OF Jaylon McLaughlin (Santa Monica HS, California)
SS/RHP Quincy McAfee (Westside HS, Texas)
SS/RHP Will Proctor (Mira Costa HS, California)