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2017 ACC All-Draft Team (Hitters)

Brendan McKay, Adam Haseley, Pavin Smith, and Drew Ellis are the four clear top tier ACC hitting prospects in the 2017 MLB Draft. I’m not sure anybody would quibble with the first three — though you’re free to do so, of course — so that leaves Ellis as the only somewhat controversial pick. I’d like to think my love for him is pretty well established by now, so I won’t go into too much detail why I think the present .405/.500/.759 hitter with plus raw power and more walks than strikeouts deserves serious first round consideration. Some clarity on his long-term defensive home would be nice, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily needed with how he’s hitting. As a third baseman, he’s a potential star. Same for a corner outfield spot. At first base, the bar is raised high enough that you’d have to knock him down the board just a bit, but not all that far considering the confidence I have in him continuing to hit past the necessary threshold to start in the big leagues there. There’s more to player evaluation than college production (duh), but worth pointing out that Ellis and McKay, more likely to go out as a hitter with every passing four homer day, have very similar 2017 numbers. If the latter is a slam dunk starter at first at the next level, then why couldn’t Ellis do the same if that’s what it comes down to?

Beyond that foursome, things are wide open. I’d be willing to hear arguments on any of the following seven players being tier one prospects: Taylor Walls, Brian Miller, Colby Fitch, Gavin Sheets, Stuart Fairchild, Logan Warmoth, and Devin Hairston. That’s six up-the-middle prospects plus the seemingly unstoppable bat of Sheets. The next tier down includes too many players to even bother listing at this point. I mean, I’ll do it anyway because writing more than necessary is true to my #brand, but it’s almost too many names to derive much meaning beyond “damn, the ACC is stacked this year.” There are consensus favorites with impressive tools who have underwhelmed (note: we’re only using “underwhelmed” in the context of incredibly high expectations of on-field numbers; none of these guys are having bad years by any stretch, it’s just that they are showing one or more flaws that would need to be addressed by any interested front office) from a performance standpoint to date (Evan Mendoza, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester, Kyle Datres, Joe Dunand) as well as personal favorites like Rhett Aplin, Wade Bailey, Reed Rohlman, Trevor Craport, Cody Roberts, Ben Breazeale, Robbie Coman (who, incidentally, I’ll be very glad once he’s drafted and gone from my life since my fingers want to spell his last name “Comand” every single time), Ernie Clement, Tyler Lynn, Bruce Stell, and Charlie Cody…damn, the ACC really is stacked this year.

Here are some All-Draft Prospect Teams that I whipped up while my computer was dead last week. I’m going to try to do these for as many conferences as I can squeeze in. The depth of the ACC let me go three teams deep. Here’s the first team…

First Team

C – Colby Fitch
1B – Pavin Smith
2B – Taylor Walls
SS – Logan Warmoth
3B – Drew Ellis
OF – Adam Haseley, Brian Miller, Stuart Fairchild

I think every one of these guys has been covered by now with the exception of Stuart Fairchild. The Wake Forest center fielder has one of this year’s most well-rounded skill sets. Averages dot his card with above-averages within range (perhaps a plus for speed) depending on how much you like him. Fairchild is also one of this class’s “great approach, hasn’t really shown it” types. Everybody who has seen him has raved to me about his pitch recognition, ability to spoil good pitchers’s pitches, and general knowledge of the strike zone, but his BB/K ratios have been up (39/42 last year) and down (18/40 as a freshman, 22/37 so far this year) throughout his college career. Count me in as a believer that the results will catch up to his talent in pro ball. Fairchild has the ceiling of a first-division regular in center with a mature enough present skill set that seems too strong across the board to result in a complete flame out. In English, I like both his ceiling and floor quite a bit.

What you think about Taylor Walls‘s defense should dictate how high you’re willing to run him up your board. Indecisive internet draft writer that I am, I vacillate between shortstop and second base on him far more often than I’d like to admit. Case in point: when I wrote this last night, I decided on second base for him. The logic there was simple: his arm may be a bit light for short and erring on the side of caution in cases like these (i.e, if there’s debate on whether or not an amateur guy will stick at a position, chances are he won’t) often proves the smartest strategy in the long run. On the other hand, his range is great, he’s an above-average runner (a solid proxy for athleticism), and some of the mixed opinions on his arm have it closer to playing plus than anything. So…I don’t know. I’m leaning shortstop today after having him as a second baseman yesterday. Ask me again tomorrow and I might make him a free safety. Wherever he plays, he’s a keeper. Maybe you don’t see a regular when looking at him (or maybe you do), but it’s hard not to see a big league player in some capacity.

I’m still not convinced Adam Haseley isn’t a top ten player in this class. Maybe I’m nuts. I can live with that. I also don’t see why the aforementioned Drew Ellis can’t crack the top thirty. These are really good players. The feeling I get about Ellis reminds me a little bit how I felt about Edwin Rios, sixth round steal by the Dodgers in 2015. I loved Rios then (ranked 119, drafted 192) and I love Ellis even more now. The second he inevitably falls out of the first round, he’ll then become one of this draft’s best value picks.

Second Team

C – Cody Roberts
1B – Brendan McKay
2B – Wade Bailey
SS – Devin Hairston
3B – Charlie Cody
OF – Tyler Lynn, Logan Taylor, Carl Chester

Happy to keep banging the drum for Charlie Cody from now until draft day. He can hit. Putting him back at his high school position of third base in the pros takes a significant leap of faith after he’s spent the past three years splitting time between DH and LF, but I’m enough of a believer in his bat that moving him to an outfield corner wouldn’t torpedo his value altogether. I like Wade Bailey a lot as well; his stock should keep rising considering the general dearth of quality middle infielders in this college class.

I’ve mentally gone back and forth between Pavin Smith and Brendan McKay a dozen times this spring with the expectation I do it another half-dozen times between now and the draft. I’m not really sure you can go wrong with either at this point. Smith feels like the better all-around hitter (by a razor thin margin), but McKay has more present functional power. Add in McKay’s ability as a pitcher and it’s hard to argue he’s the better (and safer) overall prospect. I still like Smith a bit more as a position player, so that’s what gives him the nod over McKay for this particular exercise.

Logan Taylor and Carl Chester are cut from the same cloth. We’re talking speed, defense, and minimal pop. It’s a prospect profile I’ve never been able to quit even as I see players like this get exposed in pro ball year after year. The floor makes it worth it at a certain point in the draft, but I need to stop overrating these types. Will I? Stay tuned!

Third Team

C – Robbie Coman
1B – Gavin Sheets
2B – Ernie Clement
SS – Bruce Steel
3B – Joe Dunand
OF – Rhett Aplin, Reed Rohlman, Jonathan Pryor

I wrote about Wake Forest in an as yet unpublished piece that will likely never see the light of day. It was half-finished, so I didn’t get to all of the big names on this year’s Demon Deacons team…but I did get to Bruce Steel. Here’s what I wrote about him about three weeks ago…

Bruce Steel makes my head hurt as a low-average, high-OBP, shockingly high-power potential middle infielder. His limited experience as a redshirt-sophomore after tearing ligaments in his thumb in 2016 just makes it all the more confusing. I’m super intrigued by Steel and think he’s getting slept on pretty heavily within the industry. His power and makeup are both legit (first two things I hear about when asking about him), reports about his defense this year at shortstop have been far more good than bad, and he’s young for his class (turns 21 in December). Did I just talk myself into making him a rare in-season FAVORITE? You bet.

Also wrote this about Jonathan Pryor with an lead-in about Ben Breazeale, who was narrowly edged out for this third catcher spot by Robbie Coman

Ben Breazeale’s hot start brings me great joy. I thought a big year was coming last season, but better late than never. He’s an outstanding senior-sign catcher with more than enough glove to stick behind the plate and enough offensive punch to profile as a big league backup. Jonathan Pryor could do similar things as an outfielder who can hang in center and provide a little something with the stick. It’s early yet, but his 15/20 BB/K ratio is cool to see from somebody who put up an impossibly ugly 5/40 ratio just two seasons ago.

Pryor’s BB/K is now at 23/32 for those of you scoring at home.

Then there’s Gavin Sheets. I have no idea what to do with Gavin Sheets. I think he hits enough to play regularly in the big leagues. As a first baseman, that means I think he’ll hit a whole heck of a lot. If he can do that, he’ll become only the third ever Gavin (Floyd and Cecchini beat him) to play in the majors. I’m leaning towards Sheets as the fifth best draft-eligible bat in the conference and think he’ll represent great value to teams if he winds up sliding on draft day as expected. I know teams pay a premium for up-the-middle talent, but sometimes the allure of a big bat is just too strong to ignore.

Others receiving consideration…

C – Ben Breazeale, Chris Williams, Ryan Lidge
1B – Sam Fragale, Quincy Nieporte, Justin Bellinger, Kel Johnson
2B – Jack Owens, Jake Palomaki, Johnny Ruiz, Kyle Fiala
SS – Justin Novak, Liam Sabino
3B – Trevor Craport, Ryan Tufts, Jack Labosky, Evan Mendoza, Kyle Datres, Dylan Busby, Zack Gahagan
OF – Jacob Wright, Chase Pinder, Coleman Poje, Ryan Peurifoy, Hunter Tackett, Adam Pate, Josh McLain, Brock Deatherage, Mac Caples, Rahiem Cooper

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2017 MLB Draft Report – Virginia

The success of Adam Haseley this year has me kicking myself. I enjoyed writing those 2016 MLB Draft Reviews this past fall/winter a ton, so, you know, no regrets but…fine, there are always going to be some regrets. Opportunity cost is a very real thing. Spending all that time, effort, and energy on those reviews meant a later start than usual on writing about the upcoming draft. Being first in this line of “work” shouldn’t be as big a badge of honor as some make it out to be, but, why lie, there is something undeniably satisfying about being ahead of the curve on a prospect. If I would have ranked Haseley as high as I was going to back in October when I first decided he’d be a definite first rounder, I’d be sitting pretty right about now. I mean, maybe instead of being the nineteenth most influential internet baseball draft writer, I’d be eighteenth. Dare to dream, right? As it is, I’m just one of the many internet draft bros following the obvious trend that puts Haseley at or near the top of his position group. Kidding aside, at the end of the day as long as a great player like Haseley gets his due, I’m happy. All of the praise he’s gotten this spring is very well deserved. My ego will live to fight another day.

As for Haseley the actual draft prospect, my only question now is how high he can rise. I know I’m going to have him really, really high on my personal college draft rankings, but the decision on how high is still, pardon the pun, up in the air. I’m not 100% sure just yet, but it would seem awfully hard to justify any other college outfielder ahead of him at this point. Few players in the college game can match Haseley’s combination of hit tool (legit plus, a rarity at this level), raw power (above-average to all fields), and defensive future (sure-fire center fielder at the next level). There are some that can rival his upside in each individual area, but it’s the overall package in one player that makes Haseley stand out. To be as good as he is in the three most critical areas of the game is rare, and his speed and arm (both at least above-average for me) are pretty impressive in their own right. I get that he’s taken his game to another level in 2017, but acting like he’s come out of nowhere couldn’t be further from the truth. Dude hit .304/.377/.502 last year with 28 BB/28 K. So you’re not only getting the tools but also a lengthy track record to back it up. Or vice-versa (i.e., he’s more than just a college star but also a super projectable pro athlete) depending on where your scouting vs stats allegiances lie. It’s not a direct comparison per se, but watching Haseley in 2017 makes me think about what Mickey Moniak might have looked like after a couple of years at UCLA. Superstar upside.

Virginia being Virginia means that they not only have arguably the top outfielder in this class but also the top first baseman. That’s where I currently have Pavin Smith, the Cavaliers sweet-swinging junior slugger. Much like Haseley, the first thing to stand out about Smith is the hit tool. Smith has everything it takes to hit .300 or better in the big leagues. With above-average to plus raw power and a fantastic approach at the plate, he’s one of my favorite bats in this class. More on him from a few days ago…

As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?

If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.

I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…

.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB

Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.

No player was harder for me to rank on the position lists than Ernie Clement. The guy is just a weird prospect. That’s of course meant in the most flattering way possible. Clement excels at things that don’t typically get much scouting buzz except from the super old-school types. He’s among the best in the country at spoiling pitchers’s pitches, bunting both for hits and to move teammates over, and, above all else, making insane amounts of contact. Defensively, he’s great just about anywhere you put him. Response was split as to his best long-term position with half preferring him at second and the rest thinking he’d be best in center. Most agreed that he could even play a good shortstop if asked. Such defensive versatility opens up a whole world of fun comps for the weird and wonderful Clement.

I had to look it up to see if I have ever used David Eckstein as a comp before — for the curious, yes, once, Tyler Hanover — because I think it really fits Clement well. Eckstein with better speed feels about right. I’ve also heard Fernando Vina and Eric Young. Baseball America has offered Chris Taylor in the past. Interesting group on the whole. I’ll stick with speedier Eckstein for now. Just yesterday I got a Jose Peraza for him. I don’t hate that at all. Something on that spectrum would be a fine outcome for Clement, a high-floor prospect as a future utility guy with a ceiling limited much beyond that due to his serious lack of pop. Figuring out where to properly rate such a weird player like this is above my current pay grade.

(My goal was to use the word weird five times when describing Clement. Three will have to do. Until next time…)

Somebody shut me up before I write an extra thousand words about the rest of Virginia’s 2017 draft-eligible hitters. The short version: Robbie Coman, Charlie Cody, and even Caleb Knight all have flashed enough ability to warrant pro consideration this June. Coman is easy to like as a steady glove with a veteran’s approach to hitting. His arm strength, not particularly special to begin with, was sapped by last year’s Tommy John surgery, so he’ll have to prove to teams he has enough mustard on his throws to keep catching as a pro. Cody is a huge personal favorite who has his best ball ahead of him. DID YOU KNOW that Perfect Game once compared him to David Wright as a prep prospect? Pretty heady praise. He’s played intermittently through two and half years at Virginia, but a really strong start to 2017 has me all-in on the Charlie Cody bandwagon once again. Hope on that bandwagon while there’s still space left. I’m by no means an expert on Knight, but all the quiet buzz I’ve heard on him has been positive. Catchers who can stay catchers and can hit a bit will always get love from me, and Knight is no exception.

I like Justin Novak as a potential low-minors chess piece that can be moved all over the infield. I talk often about the utility of such players and Novak seems like a potentially useful one. Guys who can multiple spots like Novak can help protect other prospects by filling in defensively as needed. It also doesn’t hurt to show teams you have a diversified defensive skill set when it comes to making you more marketable, especially in the age of tiny benches.

I’m not sure why Tommy Doyle doesn’t get more love as one of the draft’s top college pitchers. Maybe it’s his usage out of the bullpen at Virginia that obscures the fact he’s got everything you’d want in an innings-eating big league starting pitcher. It’s not wise to chase the reliever to starter waterfall — former Cavaliers Nick Howard, Josh Sborz, and Branden Kline being three such recent flops — but Doyle has the stuff (88-94 FB with sink, 95-96 sink; 77-81 CB, flashes average; above-average 82-87 cut-SL; above-average split-CU) and frame (6-6, 225) to make the move. Whether or not he has the delivery or command remain open questions, but I think an early round pick on finding out firsthand is worth the investment. I’m of the opinion that just about any Virginia pitcher needs some mechanical tweaking anyway (hate the crouch), so knowing you’ve got a little work to do with his windup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bet on the stuff, body, and results, and figure out the delivery later, I say.

(I did the UVA prospects in the pros thing for the hitters when I wrote about Pavin Smith a few days ago, so I won’t go into too much detail with the pitchers…but the recent track record of Virginia arms does not inspire much confidence. There have been 22 Cavalier pitchers drafted since 2009. Only three players [Tyler Wilson, Kyle Crockett, Kline] out of 22 [13.6%] have reached the big leagues. Not great.)

Pitchers besides Doyle looking to buck that parenthetical trend include Alec Bettinger, Jack Roberts, Derek Casey, and Bennett Sousa. Count me as a big fan of all of them. Bettinger is a personal favorite senior-sign with a potent sinker/slider mix and experience as a multi-inning reliever. His peripherals have always outstripped his run prevention ability, but smart teams will focus on all the positives he brings to the mound rather than the negatives (many of which are out of his control). From my notes on Roberts: “getting wild ways under control…but still pretty wild.” Seems fair for a guy with BB/9’s of 7.50, 8.86, and 6.29 over the last three seasons. When he throws strikes, his stuff (87-92 heat, 94 peak; average breaking ball, flashes better; average change) impresses. Casey flashes similar stuff along with far better control made all the more significant considering he’s on the road back from Tommy John surgery. Sousa is a lefty with above-average velocity (90-94) and a low-80s slider with serious promise. Can’t hate that.

*****

JR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
SR RHP Alec Bettinger (2017)
rSO LHP Riley Wilson (2017)
SR RHP Tyler Shambora (2017)
rJR RHP Jack Roberts (2017)
rSO RHP Derek Casey (2017)
JR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
JR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith (2017)
JR 2B/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
JR SS/2B Justin Novak (2017)
rSR C Robbie Coman (2017)
JR 3B/OF Charlie Cody (2017)
JR C Caleb Knight (2017)
SO LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rFR RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
SO RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
SO LHP Connor Eason (2018)
SO RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
SO OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
SO C Cameron Comer (2018)
rFR OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SO 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
FR RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
FR SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
FR OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR C Drew Blakely (2019)

2017 MLB Draft – College First Basemen (Top 10)

I’m down on this year’s college hitting class on the whole, but you really wouldn’t know it based on the first two positions previewed. We took care of the catchers a few weeks back; that group is admittedly more of a list of personal favorites rather than guys I genuinely believe will crash the top one hundred pick party. First base, however, looks pretty damn loaded to me. A strong emphasis on up-the-middle defenders has caused fans and front office types alike to reevaluate the relative importance of big bats confined to first base. This is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but since I knew it felt familiar writing about it — pretty sure I do this every year — and took the time to look it up, here’s a true blast from the past on the topic from almost six (!) whole years ago…

What I think I’ve always been fascinated about with respect to first base prospects is the high stakes gamble that comes with taking a first baseman early on draft day. If your athletic five-tool up-the-middle draft prospect doesn’t hit as expected, you’ve still got — wait, let me get my calculator — four tools, including defense and the ancillary positional value boost, remaining. If your first base prospect doesn’t hit (and hit a ton), then you’re left with nothing but regret.

Snappy writing! Here’s a guy on the internet talking to himself again, this time from May 2013…

Taking shots on bat-first guys in those rounds [5-10] has always been a favorite draft practice of mine. All things being equal you’d rather have a toolsy, athletic prospect perched atop the defensive chain (C/SS/CF), but those guys aren’t always hanging around in the middle rounds waiting to be signed easily. Bringing in a handful of guys you know can hit in every draft seems like a smart idea as well. Drafting is such an inexact science/art that you can’t point to any one player as the model prospect for a given strategy, but I’m going to do it anyway. The Diamondbacks drafted the tenth college first baseman off the board in 2008 with pick 246 in the eighth round. Paul Goldschmidt could never hit another ball hard for the rest of his career — spoiler: that won’t happen — and they would still have gotten tremendous value for the pick. Heck, move up a few rounds and you’ll find Brandon Belt to the Giants in the fifth. There are equal and opposite examples that knock down the argument a bit — still waiting on AJ Kirby-Jones to hit — but too often college first basemen are knocked unfairly as throwaway picks outside of the first few rounds. There will always be a need for guys who can hit. These guys can hit.

Good call on Goldschmidt not immediately retiring after finishing that post. Was holding my breath on that one. Once more from March 2014…

College first basemen are some of the most difficult players to rank this early in the draft process because, of any amateur position, first base is the spot I utilize data almost as much as scouting reports. There are many things to look for in young batters when it comes to projecting the hit and power tool; for starters, you’re looking for swing mechanics (balance, rotation, gather, load, fluidity, repeatability, etc.), vision (tracking pitches), bat to ball contact (cliché or not, there is a unique sound you’re hoping to hear), bat speed, and, one of my biggest things for power, how well the hitter’s upper and lower body work together. Seeing and hearing about these things is vitally important, but, more so than any other tools (and to paraphrase national treasure Rasheed Wallace), bat don’t lie. If you can hit, your production will reflect it.

I stand by this today. Too many like to bust on people who “scout the box scores,” but, you know what, you can learn a whole heck of a lot based on information found in box scores. Those box scores reflect real world events that actually happened on a baseball field. You can’t learn everything from them, of course, but I’m not sure anybody is arguing that. I’d still bet if you found a list of most productive college hitters and adjusted for park/schedule/age, those players would stack up really well with either draft position, professional success, or both. This gets trickier the more you begin to factor in the aspects of scouting that aren’t reflected in a basic box score (i.e., this would work a lot better for one-dimensional sluggers than five-tool athletes at premium defensive spots), but I think using on-field performance indicators as a starting point (if nothing else) makes sense. ANYWAY, last one from December 2015 back when I had my act together and was posting real draft thoughts six months ahead of the big day rather than two…

(This may totally undercut the previous point, but it’s crazy enough to me that I don’t mind. You want the list of first day college first basemen taken since I started the site back in 2009? We’ve got Chris Shaw, Casey Gillaspie, CJ Cron, and…that’s it. Three guys in seven drafts. That probably shouldn’t amaze me, but it does. As we’ve repeated already, many first basemen are made and not born. College first day guys who can also handle and may eventually play 1B full-time include Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Stephen Piscotty. I think all can be corner outfielders at worst, but reasonable minds may disagree. If you’re feeling kind you could also add Bryce Brentz, Kyle Parker, and Michael Choice to that list. I’m not sure I see a future big league first baseman of worth out of that trio, but you never know, right? I suppose the point here is that recent historical trends point towards college first basemen lasting longer than one might think. Or maybe it’s a coincidence based on the fact that we’ve had an unusually underwhelming group of college sluggers in this time frame. Or maybe it’s an arbitrary endpoints thing. Who knows!)

Embarrassing confession time: I don’t know how many picks constitute the “first day” of the draft. Does it change year to year? It must. Do the rounds they televise change? Or is it always the first two? Does that include the supplemental second round? After an exhausting thirty seconds of trying my best to remember, I still wasn’t 100% sure. Thankfully, it’s 2017 and Google exists, so SB Nation to the rescue. I am glad I double-checked rather than just relying on memory — probably would have gone first round and comp picks only — because we can now add 2016 second rounder Pete Alonso to the list. That’s four guys in eight drafts. Will Craig could be the fifth guy, but Baseball Reference has him listed as a 3B on their draft page so that’s that. If I expand my list to Top 100 picks, then we can add AJ Reed, Sam Travis, Daniel Palka, Alex Dickerson, Rich Poythress, Tyler Townsend, and Ben Paulsen to the list. Those last three, all taken in the top 100 — top 90 if you want to be precise — in 2009, my first year doing this for the site, are probably the reason why I didn’t use Top 100 as a cutoff in the first place. So that’s eleven college first basemen in eight drafts taken within the first 100 picks. Wording it that way doesn’t give it quite the same punch as four guys in eight drafts, but it’s still not a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

If you’ve read this far, thank you and sorry for losing the plot. The point of everything above, if there is one at all, is fairly open-ended. I think there’s something to these recent draft trends; real big league teams would be wise to take note and set their own big boards accordingly. Ultimately, my personal hypothesis is that college first basemen remain undervalued draft day assets. Nobody following the modern game will tell you the recent movement towards athleticism and defense is anything but brilliant, lest they get made fun of Twitter for having an opinion that breaks from consensus. I like athletes and premium defenders as much as they next guy. BUT…you need players who can hit, too. And if we’re trying to apply a lesson to any of the rambling mess that preceded this, then maybe all it takes to “win” on draft day is a general awareness of the larger trends going on across baseball. Pick a bat or two you like and wait it out. If you believe there’s any predictive power in yesterday’s post, then at least one or two of the players listed in this top ten will fall outside of the draft’s top ten rounds. That’s wild to me. These are good players! If all of baseball is zigging towards one type of player, then maybe consider zagging towards the big bats. Just a thought.

Hey, 2017 college first basemen! Almost forget about them. Here’s a list…

  1. Virginia JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith
  2. Louisville JR 1B/LHP Brendan McKay
  3. Kentucky JR 1B/OF Evan White
  4. Wake Forest JR 1B Gavin Sheets
  5. Michigan State rSO 1B/LHP Alex Troop
  6. Oregon State JR 1B/C KJ Harrison
  7. Binghamton rSO 1B/3B Justin Yurchak
  8. BYU JR 1B/C Colton Shaver
  9. Florida JR 1B/C JJ Schwarz
  10. UCLA JR 1B/3B Sean Bouchard

And here are some 2016 lines to kick things off…

.329/.410/.513 with 36 BB/23 K in 228 AB
.333/.414/.513 with 24 BB/33 K in 228 AB

That’s freaky, right? Nearly identical triple-slash lines, same number of at bats, and almost perfectly inverted BB/K ratios. Top is Pavin Smith, bottom is Brendan McKay. There’s been some divergence in their numbers so far in 2017…

.328/.394/.597 – 16 BB/5 K – 134 AB
.388/.508/.633 – 24 BB/16 K – 98 AB

…but not so significantly that any pre-season beliefs should be tossed out. McKay is a really great prospect. When you factor in his ability as a pitcher — and likelihood that he remains a pitcher rendering everything written below little more than a potential backup plan — I’d give him an edge over Smith as an overall prospect. As a hitter and hitter only, I lean Smith. Before we get to him, the skinny on McKay as a hitter…

As for McKay specifically, well, I think he’s just a more appealing hitting prospect than a pitcher. As you’ll read below, this isn’t an opinion that I can justify objectively as much as a weird hunch I’ve had while watching him over the years. McKay’s hit tool (above-average to plus), power (above-average to plus), and approach (SHOCKER – above-average to plus) all fit the bill for a middle of the order big league first baseman. The excellent Sam Monroy dropped Logan Morrison’s name when discussing McKay; I’ll go a little richer and say he reminds me of Eric Hosmer. Keeping in mind both guys are still active and at different points in their respective careers, it should be noted that my “rich” comparison (106 career wRC+) has only outhit Morrison (105 wRC+) by a whole point to date. Anyway, the good version of Hosmer (.300/.360/.460) is a really damn good hitter and exactly the type of prospect I’d deem worth using a first round pick on. The not so good version, unfortunately, is just a guy. That’s a bummer, but there’s still hope. If you’re seeing “bad Hosmer” after a predetermined increment of time passes (two full seasons?), then the plan to get McKay back on the mound and pitching again should be rolled out posthaste. I don’t think this is what will happen — I’d bet tonight’s pizza money that he gets drafted and signed as a pitcher — and I’m not yet entirely convinced it’s what should happen, but, as I’ve said, it’s my current lean as of April 5, 2017.

As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?

If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.

I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…

.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB

Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.

Pumping Evan White up as a potential regular at first base takes a little more of a leap of faith considering his underwhelming plate discipline (29 BB/75 K) through two seasons at Kentucky. Despite the ugly numbers, however, scouts who have seen a lot of White up close have maintained that his approach isn’t that of a hacker who will never get it but a far more mature hitter who shows the kinds of flashes of pitch recognition and patience that give them confidence he’ll wind up with a manageable or better BB/K ratio in the long run. Those two sentences were written before the season, believe it or not. This is absolutely not a comp, but the feedback I got on White over the offseason reminded me a bit about what I was consistently told about Kyle Lewis last winter. The approach looks bad on the stat sheet for now, but all scouting signs point to better days ahead. They were right on Lewis and they seem to be right on White so far.

Smith and McKay are both clearly great prospects, but White, while not the best (yet) of this group, is my favorite. He has such a funky profile that is unlike almost anybody I’ve ever covered. How into White am I? I was at a bachelor party this past weekend boring my brother and the father of the groom-to-be about “this freaky athletic first baseman at Kentucky who could seamlessly make the move to center field.” White is a fantastic athlete who is an easy plus defender at first. He’s got the above-average to plus arm and above-average foot speed to handle the outfield, a move that would make perfect sense if the prospect of him playing transcendent defense at first didn’t exist. George Horton, via D1 Baseball, compared him to JT Snow. In addition to Snow, I heard a really good comp for White recently…and I have one of my own to offer. I’ll let you decide which is which: Jeff King (on the lower end) and Derrek Lee (on the upper end). A spectrum from King to Snow (if you can forgive the handedness) to Lee seems like a fair range of big league outcomes for White.

Reading up on Alex Troop this past offseason, the same thought kept occurring to me over and over: Troop is the cold weather version of Brendan McKay. Hyperbolic? Sure, but only a little. Troop is really good and not nearly discussed enough as one of the college game’s best two-way prospects. Most smart people I’ve checked in with prefer him on the mound. I get it. He’s 86-92 with his fastball with an easy plus 77-80 CU (one of my favorites of its kind in this entire class) and a usable 79-80 breaking ball. Still, I can’t shake the thought of what a 6-5, 210 pound present hit over power type (with power coming on fast) and a seasoned veteran’s approach at the plate could do once dedicated to hitting full time.

If you’re not buying the Troop/McKay parallels, let me try another prospect to prospect comparison. There’s a lot about Gavin Sheets, mainly as a hitter, that reminds me of Evan White. Both are hit over power types with lots of athleticism. Wake Forest is a great place to hit, but I’m buying Sheets’s bat in a big way right now.

It’s only natural to lump KJ Harrison, Colton Shaver, and JJ Schwarz together as prospects. All three have experience behind the plate, but, as their presence on this list suggests, are likely to move full-time to first base in the pros. I’m typically slower to move prospects down the defensive spectrum if I can help it, but sometimes the most likely outcome is exactly how things play out. “It’s always the person you least suspect” is nonsense, after all. It’s almost always the person you most suspect! So maybe it’s time to stop overthinking things here and start buying into the defensive groupthink a little more freely. We’ll see.

Harrison is the most likely of the three to remain a catcher, so he gets bonus points for that. He also gets bonus points for really knowing how to hit. Most of the feedback I had on this group of players had some combination of McKay, Smith, and Harrison as the top trio of hitters. Watching Harrison work is a joy. He takes some of the most professional amateur at bats around. He can hit it anywhere on the field, deftly taking what the pitchers give him and willing to shoot the ball the other way or up the middle when necessary. I think pro scouts and coaches are really going to love Harrison in a way that us amateur chumps don’t quite appreciate just yet.

Shaver is the least likely of the three to remain a catcher. Power bats from Shaver’s part of the country are a little scary due to park factors inflating offense, but the BYU slugger’s power is prodigious enough to play in any park in the country. That power coupled with a mature approach make him a bat to watch, slow offensive start to 2017 or not. Speaking of slow starts…

I brag a lot about not overreacting to small samples, but when those small samples cease to be all that small…well, that’s a different beast altogether. JJ Schwarz’s dip in production and increasingly tepid scouting reports are tough to ignore. “Defense and body took major step back in 2016” is a line taken directly from my notes that scares me every single time I read it. His athletic profile fascinates me. Schwarz improved a lot in both areas as a freshman, took that aforementioned step back in 2016 as a sophomore, and then took a small step ahead on the Cape this past summer. Through it all I never really considered his bat to be anything but a weapon going forward — major bat speed (I know, I know…I’m a hypocrite), serious power, and a freshman season so good you could always point to as proof that he can do it — but this spring has been undeniably underwhelming. I started the season thinking we’d be having the same debates we had last year about Zack Collins, but now think Schwarz’s closest college comparison might be Matt LaPorta. Read into that what you will.

ACC bats make up three of the top four prospects on this list. Number seven on the list comes from Binghamton by way of another ACC school (Wake Forest). Justin Yurchak hit in 2015. He’s hit in 2017. It’s not a huge sample, but sometimes spotting a hitter who can hit isn’t exactly rocket science. My only question with Yurchak right now is about his defense. It’s a happy question, too. Is Yurchak miscast with the first basemen here? Can he play a good enough third base to stick there in the pros? I don’t know the answers to those questions yet — if you do, let me know — but I’m excited to find out more about him over the next two months. I know he can hit, and that’s more than enough for now.

Sean Bouchard is still a little too aggressive for his own good, but his power, arm, and athleticism will check a lot of boxes for teams. Bouchard isn’t really my type, but finding a tenth guy for this list was a bigger challenge than anticipated. My hunch is that will change by June when I have a little more time to dig deeper and find bats more to my liking. But if Bouchard keeps up his .300/.400/.600 pace then he’ll be tough to push out ugly BB/K or not…

A few other names of note are listed below. It’s hardly an exhaustive list…we have to save something for June, right?

Chipola JC SO 1B/OF Reynaldo Rivera
Duke JR 1B Justin Bellinger
Georgia Tech JR 1B/OF Kel Johnson
Hartford SR 1B/3B David MacKinnon
Hawaii JR 1B Eric Ramirez
Michigan JR 1B/3B Drew Lugbauer
Seattle JR 1B Sean Sutton
Southern Illinois Edwardsville SR 1B Keaton Wright
UNC Wilmington JR 1B Mason Berne

2015 MLB Draft Prospects – Virginia

JR OF Joe McCarthy (2015)
JR 2B/3B John LaPrise (2015)
SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero (2015)
SR 3B Kenny Towns (2015)
JR C/RHP Robbie Coman (2015)
JR LHP Brandon Waddell (2015)
JR LHP Nathan Kirby (2015)
JR RHP Josh Sborz (2015)
JR LHP David Rosenberger (2015)
SO RHP Connor Jones (2016)
SO C Matt Thaiss (2016)
SO RHP Jack Roberts (2016)
SO RHP Alec Bettinger (2016)
FR 2B Jack Gerstenmaier (2017)
FR 1B/RHP Pavin Smith (2017)
FR RHP Derek Casey (2017)
FR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
FR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
FR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
FR 3B Charlie Cody (2017)
FR C/2B Justin Novak (2017)
FR OF Christian Lowry (2017):
FR INF/OF Ernie Clement (2017)

Virginia has spoiled us all when we look at the talent above and think “yeah, it’s good but I’m just not feeling blown away.” That was my initial reaction to seeing the team laid out like this, but then you start doing the math. We’ve got a super athletic corner outfielder with a plus approach and strong hit tool (JR OF Joe McCarthy), a 6-5, 210 pound defensively gifted middle infielder (SO SS/3B Daniel Pinero), a crafty lefty with a plus curve who struck out almost a batter an inning his last healthy season (JR LHP Brandon Waddell), and a power-armed potential professional closer who lives in the mid-90s with three average or better secondaries including a hard cut-SL that could be a major weapon in time (JR RHP Josh Sborz). Then there’s JR LHP Nathan Kirby. All he’s done since getting to Virginia is a) strike out a batter an inning while consistently shutting down some of the stronger lineups in the country each week, b) see his stuff tick up to where he’s now hitting 94/95 with a knuckle curve at 76-84 that is unhittable when on, and c) retain his always above-average or better athleticism and command. He also had that no-hitter with 18 strikeouts against Pittsburgh last season, a performance so dominating he now has his own Wikipedia page. I am far too lazy to do a comprehensive list of all 2015 college draft prospects with Wikipedia pages, so you’ll just have to buy that the only ones I found in my two minutes of research are Kirby, Alex Bregman, Carson Fulmer, and Phil Bickford, though I suppose once Brady Aiken is officially enrolled at a junior college he can be added to the mix. Add those players to a potential first round pick in Kirby (who could be joined in the first by McCarthy, it should be noted) and you’ve got yet another talented Virginia squad. What else is new?

Kirby fascinates me not only because he’s achieved my dream of someday being important enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry but also because I really don’t have a firm grasp on what he is nor what he will be. I mean, I think he’s a high-floor future big league starting pitcher, but I’m not quite sure how high I’m willing to go with his ceiling. Perhaps I’m waiting to see more out of the changeup, a pitch that, as mentioned, seems to get a little better looking every time out. I got a comp from an area guy who has seen Kirby pitch more than 99.99% of human beings on the planet who actually compared him to a lefthanded Ian Kennedy, but with the caveat that his changeup still had some improvement left to truly “earn” such a comp. In terms of repertoire only (future performance as well, I suppose), I see some Alex Wood in Kirby. That comes with the big difference of Kirby’s Danny Hultzen style delivery replacing Wood’s painful looking arm action. Hultzen, the most logical comparison, doesn’t really work because of their flip-flopped stuff (Hultzen had the plus change and emerging breaking ball, Kirby is the other way around) but it’s not the craziest thing in the world. It’s yet another imperfect comp — a familiar refrain if you’ve been paying attention — but of all the recent first round lefties you’ll read about below, I think the closest comp at the same developmental stage is Andrew Heaney.

That leads into the other reason why Kirby fascinates me so. College lefties are weird. College lefthanded pitchers have had a surprisingly (to me) spotty track record since I’ve started this site up in 2009. If we take a look back through the years, you’ll see what I mean. Off the top, let’s be clear that Carlos Rodon is a separate animal altogether. I haven’t written a ton about him because this was a quiet last year for me on the site, but he’s not a guy I’m willing to compare to any other young arm at this point. He’s a man on the mound, and trying to shoehorn him into this discussion would be fruitless. Last year we also saw Kyle Freeland, Sean Newcomb, and Brandon Finnegan off the board in the first fifteen picks. Marco Gonzales went 19th in 2013 while Sean Manaea fell to 34th overall albeit for unique (injury, bonus demands) circumstances. Heaney (9th overall) and Brian Johnson (31st) were first round picks in 2012. Hultzen, Jed Bradley, Chris Reed, Tyler Anderson, Sean Gilmartin, Andrew Chafin, and Grayson Garvin all went in what we now know as a highly disappointing first round (for lefthanded college pitchers, at least) in 2011. Drew Pomeranz and Chris Sale were both popped early in 2010. Mike Minor was the only real first round college lefty in 2009, but a run of ill-advised southpaws saw Rex Brothers (fine, he’s good), Aaron Miller, James Paxton (good, but unsigned), Mike Belfiore, Matt Bashore, and Tyler Kehrer all taken within the top fifty overall picks in the sandwich round.

We’ll leave the two most recent drafts alone because we need at least a little bit of time before rushing to crazy conclusions. So far, however, Rodon, Finnegan, and Gonzales all look good, as each guy is expected to play an important role in the big leagues at some point in 2015. Heaney, Johnson, and Paxton are all still probably too young to say, but each guy has done enough that I think we can call them successes at this point. Pomeranz appears to finally have something cooking with Oakland. Minor is an easy win. Brothers is a maybe, but I’ll be generous and say he’s shown enough at his best to be a positive. I guess that Chris Sale guy is pretty good, too. Not counting 2014 and 2013, that’s seven happy endings from the past four first and supplemental first rounds. On the downside, I count eight pitchers (Bradley, Reed, Anderson, Gilmartin, Miller, Belfiore, Bashore, Kehrer) that have disappointed, and that’s at least partly generous in some respects (still giving time to Hultzen, Chafin, Garvin). For the record, it’s really painful for me to call anybody a disappointment, but I’m trying to be as objective as I can here. I still have plenty of hope for Bradley, Anderson, and maybe even Reed to be average or better big leaguers. Anyway, by draft standards, even when taking into account we’re talking first round picks, that’s not necessarily a devastatingly low number of successes, but college pitching really should be a spot where you have a higher hit rate.

Anyway, diversion aside, I think a Kennedy, Wood, or Heaney type career path is well within reach for Kirby at this point. On the highest of high ends is a ceiling reminiscent of none other than Cliff Lee. We’re talking young Cliff Lee (i.e. before the plus command), so don’t think I’m 100% crazy (just 75% or so). Maybe you can bump that figure up a little higher, as I’ve previously compared two draft prospects (both righties, go figure) to Lee in the past: Chris Stratton (still love him, but whoops) and Trevor Bauer. That last comp remains one worth watching, I think. Bauer hit the big leagues before Lee, so we can’t do a straight age comparison but here’s a rough comparison by innings…

Lee: 7.9 K/9 – 4.1 BB/9 – 90 ERA+ – 241.2 IP
Bauer: 8.3 K/9 – 4.3 BB/9 – 85 ERA+ – 186.1 IP

We can’t finish up writing about Virginia by referencing two players with no connections to the program. That’s my stilted attempt at a transition to a quick discussion of the “other” UVA 2015 draft-eligible players and the many interesting Cavalier underclassmen. SR 3B Kenny Towns (steady glove, has flashed at times with the bat), JR C Robbie Coman (strong arm, good approach), and JR LHP David Rosenberger are all solid college role players that could sneak into the late round mix with bigger than anticipated seasons. The battery of SO RHP Connor Jones and SO C Matt Thaiss could both find themselves as first round picks in a year. SO RHP Alex Bettinger really impressed as a freshman (32 K in 36.2 IP) despite a less than stellar fastball. There are plenty of potential impact players in the freshman class, most notably 3B Charlie Cody, LHP Bennett Sousa, 1B/RHP Pavin Smith, and 2B Jack Gerstenmaier.