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It’s April now. The weather is slowly getting warmer here in the northeast (finally), Major League Baseball’s Opening Day is just days away (finally), and the Rule 4 Draft’s first round is slowly beginning to take shape. I’ve been lax in publishing any of my macro draft projections, but it seems like as good a time as any to put this first look at the first round out there for all the world to see. And for those of you that only visit these parts for the mocks — something I do for plenty of NFL and NBA sites, so believe me when I say I’m passing no judgment — consider this a precursor to the eventual April mock draft (coming soon!) and, who knows, maybe a helpful resource to aid in putting together a mock of your own.
There are 32 picks in this year’s first round. How many of those spots are currently accounted for? How many are still up for grabs? Which players are most likely to land the last few spots in the round and which players are such stone cold mortal locks that they can feel safe putting down payments on a whole bunch of fancy new toys? Any player with a chance of going in the first round in June has been broken down into a distinct tier. The tiers are far from perfect (maybe a player is in Tier 4, but should be in Tier 5), but they serve as realistic classifications of where players are currently valued by big league clubs.
- Tier 1 —> 1 player
RHSP Stephen Strasburg
This guy is so far and away the best prospect in this draft that he gets his own tier…but you knew that already.
Confidence Level —> Couldn’t be higher
- Tier 2 —> 10 players
College: OF/1B Dustin Ackley, RHSP Kyle Gibson, RHSP Aaron Crow, RHSP Alex White, SS Grant Green
Prep: RHSP Shelby Miller, LHSP Tyler Matzek, LHSP Matt Purke, LHSP Tyler Skaggs, OF Donovan Tate
The only tier split up into distinct college and prep sides, Tier 2 includes 10 players that are “write it down in that super never disappearing pen that S. Epatha Merkerson advertises for” kind of locks for the first round. Seattle has to be hoping against hope that one of these players will separate himself from the group because, at this point anyway, you could make a legitimate argument for literally any of the players on the list going to the Mariners at pick number two. I’d love to hear the arguments in favor of any of the prep pitchers going that high (none of the four players are quite talented enough to warrant taking a chance on that high, I think), but the other 6 players all could conceivably wind up in the Pacific Northwest.
Confidence Level —> Bet more than you have on any odds that these players will be first rounders
- Tier 3 —> 5 players
RHSP Mike Leake, RHSP Tanner Scheppers, C Luke Bailey, C Austin Maddox, 1B Rich Poythress
These players just barely missed the previous tier, so know that if I was a bolder prognosticator I would have had them in that group without reservation. Of course, there are reasons why each player doesn’t get the Uniball pen Youtube video of approval. Leake may be my favorite prospect in all the draft, but I’m not sure how much my opinion matters to teams drafting in the first round…yes, he’s a very good prospect and an almost sure-fire first rounder, but I don’t want my inflated opinion of him getting in the way of properly assessing his relative value. Same story for Scheppers, another personal favorite.
Bailey and Maddox are hard to place on a draft board because, well, they are high school catchers. In a typical year it’s hard to figure out how early teams are willing to take a chance on a prep backstop, but it’s even wilder this year because of the excess of quality high school catchers expected to be taken early. Poythress is another player tricky to place, but for the opposite reasons. He is an established college first baseman, a position with an absurdly high success rate when taken early in the draft. However, this year’s draft is so devoid of quality bats (especially advanced bats) that it is hard to narrow down exactly what range he’ll go in – will teams overdraft a hitter knowing they are less likely to find a good one later? Or will teams instead focus on the strength of the draft — pitching, pitching, and more pitching — and go best player available, thus pushing hitters down the board?
Concerns aside, these players are still top-level prospects who should feel confident enough in their draft stock to begin daydreaming about their big first round pay days ahead.
Confidence Level —> As high as it gets without being a stone cold lock
- Tier 4 —> 8 players
LHSP James Paxton, LHSP Mike Minor, SS DJ LeMahieu, OF Jared Mitchell, OF Kentrail Davis, RHSP Trent Stevenson, RHSP Zack Wheeler, RHSP Jacob Turner
Much like the group prior, these latest 8 prospects should feel really good about getting the chance to hear their names called on draft day. We’re up to 24 overall players through 4 tiers with definite consensus first round grades at this point in the process. The biggest reaches on this group are the two fastest risers of the bunch – Paxton and Stevenson.
Confidence Level —> Beginning to waver slightly, but still feeling good about 7 of the 8 players listed winding up as first rounders…which player or two (or three) doesn’t make the cut is anybody’s guess
- Tier 5 —> 6 players
RHSP Alex Wilson, RHSP Ryan Berry, LHSP Andy Oliver, OF Brett Jackson, RHRP Jason Stoffel, RHSP Matt Hobgood
With the inclusion of Tier 5, our grand total of potential first rounders is now up to a nice, round 30. There are 32 first round spots up for grabs this year. Of note, Wilson and Berry are both Texas-based college guys that have risen in tandem up the boards this spring, Oliver has seen a dip in his stock but could still easily be a tier or two higher (I’m doing my best to be conservative here), and Stoffel is another hard to judge player based on the position he plays.
Confidence Level —> Nobody predicts who will go in the first round over two months ahead of time, so confidence is low that these are the right names. However, and remember this is me going out on a limb (something I’m too big a pun to normally do), at least three of the five college guys will be first rounders. Bold, right?
- The Rest…
3B/OF Matt Davidson, 3B Bobby Borchering, C Max Stassi, SS Jiovanni Mier, OF/2B AJ Pollock, OF Brian Goodwin, RHSP Kendal Volz, RHSP Sam Dyson, LHSP Brooks Raley, SS Robbie Shields, SS Ryan Jackson, RHSP Mychal Givens, RHRP Brad Boxberger, C Josh Phegley, C Tony Sanchez, RHSP Keyvius Sampson
16 other names in the mix as potential first rounders bringing our final tally to 46 players duking it out for 32 spots. If I had to bet, I’d say Borchering and Mier wind up as first rounders based little more on the fact that a) the first round needs more high schoolers, and b) the first round needs more hitters, especially if said hitters can defend at important infield positions.
Who am I missing? Who do I have that won’t wind up a first rounder come June?
Quick spin around college baseball’s opening weekend. A whole bunch of Friday starters (and relievers) were already covered, so let’s take a look at some of the most meaningful hitting performances of the weekend. Of course, since I can’t resist, I threw some interesting pitching lines in at the bottom. Small sample size caveats apply, as always. (more…)
1. Steven Strasburg (RHSP – San Diego State)
Alright, so far this is pretty easy…
2. Alex White (RHSP – North Carolina)
3. Grant Green (SS – Southern California)
4. Dustin Ackley (OF – North Carolina)
5. Kyle Gibson (RHSP – Missouri)
White is a confusing prospect. On one hand, he’s second on the board and, while Green may be very close behind him at number three, is a worthy candidate to go number two overall. On the other hand, if we pretended Strasburg wasn’t draft-eligible this year, would White as the number one pick in the country feel right? That may be a silly way of looking at it, but I can’t help it. Maybe it’s more about my personal hangup about what a number one overall pick should be. I like White a lot and genuinely believe he can front a big league rotation, but it would feel like a weak draft if he went number one overall. Ugh, that makes no sense. I’m just thinking out loud, disregard this paragraph…
6. Mike Minor (LHSP – Vanderbilt)
7. Tanner Scheppers (RHSP – Fresno State/St. Paul Saints)
8. Aaron Crow (RHSP – Missouri/Forth Worth Cats)
9. Andrew Oliver (LHSP – Oklahoma State)
Minor is a personal favorite and higher on this list than he’ll sure be on others – watching Cole Hamels every fifth day the last few years has turned me into a huge backer of lefties with plus changeups. Scheppers is also higher here than he’ll be on most rankings, but, remember, this ranking is based on the assumption of good health into the summer.
10. Josh Phegley (C – Indiana)
11. Mike Leake (RHSP – Arizona State)
12. James Jones (LHSP – Long Island)
13. Kendal Volz (RHSP – Baylor)
14. Mike Nesseth (RHSP – Nebraska)
Phegley as the third ranked college bat may seem a little strange, but his statistical profile is hard to ignore. He heads up an underrated group of college catchers that feature a surprisingly high number of players on the list – well, maybe it isn’t all that surprising, but it was surprising to me as I put the list together, whatever that’s worth. Leake over Volz is a little strange, but it came down to present plus command and movement over potential power plus stuff across the board.
15. Sean Black (RHSP – Seton Hall)
16. Jake Locker (OF – Washington)
Sometimes I have a hard time letting go. I know I previously admitted having Locker = poor man’s Grady Sizemore burned into my brain, but Sean Black this high could be just as egregious a selection. Black was a big prep prospect not too long ago who has failed to live up to the hype at Seton Hall. Loads of raw talent + more difficult playing conditions (subpar team, so-so conference, and colder weather) = potential sleeper prospect. Locker will fall down the list (and eventually off altogether) as other players emerge this spring, but I had to put him way up here as a nod to his prodigious talent.
17. Kentrail Davis (OF – Tennessee)
18. Robbie Shields (SS – Florida Southern)
19. Jared Mitchell (OF – Louisiana State)
20. Kyle Seager (2B – North Carolina)
21. Rich Poythress (1B – Georgia)
Counting Locker at 16th, that gives us sixth straight position players in a row. How about that? These five should all be big league starters if all goes according to plan, though only the two outfielders profile as potential all-stars.
22. Sam Dyson (RHSP – South Carolina)
23. Chris Dominguez (3B – Louisville)
All or nothing, here we come. Dyson’s arm is electric, but his injury history and control both need some cleaning up. Dominguez has his detractors, but two plus tools (arm and power) make him stand out in a weak college class for hitters. If he puts it all together this season, expect crazy power numbers out of Dominguez, especially in Big East play.
24. Ryan Ortiz (C – Oregon State)
25. DJ LeMahieu (SS – Louisiana State)
26. Trevor Coleman (C – Missouri)
27. Robert Stock (C – Southern California)
28. Ryan Jackson (SS – Miami)
Five spots, only two positions. Sorting out the college catchers and middle infielders is one of the trickier things to do in this class. Ortiz is an underrated player because his skillset is so broad. Players like this often get overlooked for not having one standout tool to suck scouts in. LeMahieu is a far better hitter than Jackson, but they are close in the overall rankings because Jackson’s defense is outstanding. Big league front offices realize the importance of quality defense now more than ever, so where Jackson falls on actual draft boards will make an interesting case study in just how focused teams are developing their own standout defenders through the draft. As I already wrote about in the mock draft, Stock = catching version of Sean Black. Of course, baseball is a weird game so there may be more to the story than that simple equation (I like equations, by the way…if you haven’t noticed. We might be able to claim that Stock = Black without the catching disclaimer if the Southern Cal product has a big season on the mound for the Trojans.
29. AJ Pollock (OF/2B – Notre Dame)
30. Jason Stoffel (RHRP – Arizona)
31. Bryan Morgado (LHSP – Tennessee)
32. Kyle Heckathorn (RHSP – Kennesaw State)
Pollock is a hard player to figure, but if the position switch to second base actually sticks, he’ll fly up draft boards this spring. He is a very good basestealer, has playable pop, and is difficult to strike out. Pollock is one of the few I haven’t seen play yet, so I’m just throwing this out there…what about Chone Figgins as a comp?
33. Ben Tootle (RHRP – Jacksonville State)
34. Shawn Tolleson (RHSP – Baylor)
35. Jake Cowan (RHSP – San Jacinto JC)
36. Blake Smith (OF/RHSP – California)
The first junior college player to make the list is a righty with a great frame, 95 MPH fastball, and three plus pitches. Cowan, the former Virginia recruit, will be in contention to be the first juco player picked in 2009.
37. Tyler Lyons (LHSP – Oklahoma State)
38. Jeff Inman (RHSP – Stanford)
39. Ryan Weber (RHSP – St. Petersburg JC)
Weber is the second junior college arm on the list, a fact worth noting because neither the aforementioned Jake Cowan or Weber is Daniel Webb. Webb, the consensus top junior college talent, failed to crack the top fifty. Blazing fastball or not, he was just too raw a prospect for our tastes.
40. Micah Gibbs (C – Louisiana State)
41. Matt Thomson (RHSP – San Diego)
42. Brad Boxberger (RHRP – Southern California)
43. Tommy Medica (C – Santa Clara)
44. Brad Stillings (RHSP – Kent State)
45. Steve Fischback (RHRP – Cal Poly)
46. Nick Hernandez (LHSP – Tennessee)
47. Gavin Brooks (LHSP – UCLA)
48. Jordan Henry (OF – Mississippi)
49. David Hale (RHSP – Princeton)
50. Ben Paulsen (1B – Clemson)
And that’s 50. Not a very inspiring last group, but, let’s be real, it’s not a very exciting year for high-end college talent. I think I picked the wrong year to start doing this…
Check back all weekend long for occasional updates on college baseball’s opening weekend.