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2015 MLB Draft: HS Third Basemen (May Update)

I’ve stalled on this piece for two reasons. The most honest reason is that it’s because I don’t feel like I have much to say about this year’s high school third base class that you can’t find elsewhere on the internet. It’s not that I don’t have any original insight – I saw three of the names below multiple times this spring, including one guy who played home games five minutes from the house I grew up in – but it’s more that the top few names on any ranking of this position are all so closely bunched that I don’t know how to cleverly come up with ways to separate them. That blends into the second reason for the delay. I’ve played a long waiting game over the past few weeks trying to hear from somebody – anybody – who could help shed a little light on the cloudy high school third base picture. Maybe an original take, maybe a comp or two, maybe something that differentiated what I could run from anything else you might read. No such luck. Everybody I’ve talked to has their own top guy in this class. No less than a half-dozen players were mentioned to me as the best high school third base prospect this year; interestingly enough, almost every  time that a player was mentioned as a favorite it was quickly followed with a “but I still wouldn’t take him until late in the first, if that” sentiment. All in all, appealing depth with minimal consensus star talent sounds like a pretty fair descriptor of a group of players I once called “rough,” an adjective that qualifies as just about as mean as I’ll publicly get when discussing teenage athletes. Nobody has truly emerged since last summer, but nobody has drastically fallen off, either.

Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia) heads the class as a potential plus hitter with above-average power upside. He’s at or around average elsewhere (speed, glove, arm), so it’ll be the continued development of the bat that will define him. I threw out a weird and wild Gregg Jefferies comp on him last time his name came up. Recently I heard from somebody who said that there were aspects of his game (namely his stick) that reminded him of the high school version of Anthony Rendon. Both of those comparisons are bold and exciting, but I keep coming back to a lefthanded version of Edgardo Alfonzo. The issue with that comp is the difference in approach between the two hitters. I couldn’t unearth an old Alfonzo scouting report to make a direct comparison, but it stands to reason that his career BB/K ratio of 596/617 hardly came as a surprise after posting more walks than strikeouts as a quick-moving minor league talent. Even without the benefit of those old reports, it’s clear that Alfonzo was a preternaturally mature hitter from the day the ink dried on his first pro contract. Excellent plate discipline numbers like that are impossible to project on any high school prospect, but I’d be especially wary of expecting anything close to Randolph, a player who will have to answer many of the same questions of approach that I brought up in the recent Brendan Rodgers deep dive. Present concerns aside, I don’t think it’s crazy to believe that Randolph can be an impact big league hitter with average or better plate discipline in time.

Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas) is in many ways a similar offensive player to Randolph right down to the shared concerns about his approach translating to pro ball. I’ve heard more positive things concerning Hayes’s approach – you’d think the bloodlines wouldn’t hurt in this area, though there’s hardly a direct correlation – and I prefer his defensive upside to Randolph’s, though I still give Cornelius the overall edge because of a stronger belief in the bat. Hayes was one of the guys I was hunting for a good comp for, but couldn’t think of anything worth making public. I suppose that makes him a fairly unique player, if you want to look at it that way.

I said earlier that nobody had emerged, but Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California) qualifies as the closest thing to a breakout player in this group. Of course, that’s cheating because he hasn’t really broken out in terms of showing anything in the way of new and improved talent (that’s not a knock as he was damn good to begin with and has reinforced that belief with a good spring), but rather by getting and staying healthy this spring. I’m a huge fan of his game based on what I’ve seen and heard, and wouldn’t discount the idea that he’ll wind up the best overall player to come out of his position group. Everybody was waiting on to see and hear how his arm would bounce back after Tommy John surgery, but the current word is so far so good. That’s great news for a guy already with elite defensive tools and plenty of upside with the bat. Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee) is probably the better example of a player breaking out on merit in this group. He checks just about every box for me when looking at a high school prospect: chance to hit, average or better raw power, athleticism, knowledge of the strike zone, cool name, etc.

I said earlier that nobody had drastically fallen off, but John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania) qualifies as the closest to a player who might have slipped enough to be thinking more about college (Wake Forest) than professional baseball. Without going into too much detail – as I’ve mentioned before, I have to be a bit coy about the eastern PA, south Jersey, and Delaware prospects I’ve seen a bunch firsthand due to some part-time consulting work – the 2015 season has been a series of struggles for Aiello, who has been slow to get his timing back at the plate after Tommy John surgery last fall. It hasn’t helped matters that he’s one of the lone offensive bright spots on an otherwise disappointing high school team (7-15 regular season record). I saw a lot of Aiello this spring and only witnessed one extra base hit (a double) in well over thirty plate appearances.

On a happier note, competition and timing issues aside, Aiello still looked like the potential future quality pro that everybody took note of over the summer. He’s got a big league frame that balances current mature strength with enough lankiness (for lack of a better word) that you can still project future physical gains, surprising athleticism and speed (he improved in both areas since the summer, especially the latter), and an approach tailor-made for pro ball that stayed consistent (more total walks than strikeouts in the games I saw) despite teams pitching him very carefully all spring. Defensively, without seeing him play the field since last summer, it’s hard to apply some of the aforementioned athletic gains to his long-term positional prognostication. Like many, I’m inclined to believe he’s still a long-term pro third baseman, but I now can at least see a path where he sticks up the middle either initially at Wake or in pro ball, depending on which way he is leaning. To that point, without getting myself into trouble, I’ve heard some chatter that Aiello is destined for college almost no matter what goes down on draft day. When a high school prospect as prominent as Aiello attracts so little attention from the scouting community in his spring season it’s typically a sign that he’s made it fairly clear college is happening. There is the unusual wrinkle of Aiello being banged up and unable to play the field that could be keeping scouting heat away, but I think the combined number of pro guys I saw at his games this spring was less than what I saw at a single Penn-Princeton game. Maybe that doesn’t mean what I think it means, but time will tell.

We’ve hit Randolph, Hayes, Nevin, and Cabbage already, so it would be silly to touch on four of the top five and leave Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania) hanging. Blankenhorn played home games about ninety minutes from where I grew up, so I saw him a fair amount this spring. Again, without giving too much away, I’ll say that I really, really like Blankenhorn’s game. It’s a bit of a lame hedge to rank a guy fourth on a given list and then call him a FAVORITE prospect (for what it’s worth, Nevin was the only other HS third basemen to get the all-caps FAVORITE treatment in my notes), but here we are. Blankenhorn is a favorite because of his athleticism, approach, and phenomenal feel for hitting. Perfect Game recently threw out a fascinating Alex Gordon ceiling comp. I’ll throw out the name he reminded me of: lefty Jeff Cirillo. If it all comes together I can see a high average, high on-base hitter who will wear out the gaps at the plate and play above-average to plus defense in the field.

3B/OF Cornelius Randolph (Griffin HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Ke’Bryan Hayes (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
3B Tyler Nevin (Poway HS, California)
3B/2B Travis Blankenhorn (Pottsville Area HS, Pennsylvania)
3B Trey Cabbage (Grainger HS, Tennessee)
3B Ryan Mountcastle (Hagerty HS, Florida)
3B/OF Bryce Denton (Ravenwood HS, Tennessee)
3B/SS John Aiello (Germantown Academy, Pennsylvania)
3B Ryan Karstetter (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B/SS Matt Kroon (Horizon HS, Arizona)
3B Cody Brickhouse (Sarasota HS, Florida)
3B John Cresto (Cathedral Catholic HS, California)
3B/C Willie Burger (IMG Academy, Florida)
3B Alec Bohm (Roncalli Catholic HS, Nebraska)
3B Zack Kone (Pine Crest HS, Florida)
3B Brendon Davis (Lakewood HS, California)
3B/RHP Julian Infante (Westminster Prep, Florida)
3B/RHP Parker Kelly (Westview HS, Oregon)
3B Brenton Burgess (Chamblee Charter HS, Georgia)
3B Ben Ellis (Briarcrest Christian HS, Tennessee)
3B LJ Talley (Charlton County HS, Georgia)
3B/RHP Tyler Wyatt (Liberty HS, Arizona)
3B Jake Franklin (Jefferson HS, Georgia)
3B David Chabut (Loganville HS, Georgia)
3B/SS Lucas Larson (Jefferson HS, Iowa)
3B/RHP Ty Buck (Red Wing HS, Minnesota)
3B Ross Dodds (Buchanan HS, California)
3B Jack Mattson (Chanhassen HS, Minnesota)
3B/SS Austin Pharr (Cherokee HS, Georgia)
3B Zack Quintal (Marshwood HS, Maine)
3B Jared Mang (Los Alamos HS, New Mexico)
3B/1B Greyson Jenista (De Soto HS, Kansas)
3B/RHP Ryan Mantle (Linn HS, Missouri)
3B/1B AJ Curtis (Amador Valley HS, California)
3B/RHP Blake Burton (Mater Dei HS, California)
3B/RHP Grant Sloan (Zionsville HS, Indiana)
3B/SS Jack Johnson (Roosevelt HS, Washington)
3B Graham Mitchell (Eastside HS, South Carolina)
3B Jacob Williams (Heritage Christian Academy, California)
3B Jared Melone (North Penn HS, Pennsylvania)