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2016 MLB Draft Prospects – Notre Dame

SR RHP Nick McCarty (2016)
SR RHP David Hearne (2016)
SR LHP Michael Hearne (2016)
JR RHP Ryan Smoyer (2016)
JR LHP Jim Orwick (2016)
JR LHP Scott Tully (2016)
SR RHP Connor Hale (2016)
SR OF/LHP Zac Kutsulis (2016)
JR 2B/3B Cavan Biggio (2016)
JR 2B/SS Kyle Fiala (2016)
SR SS Lane Richards (2016)
JR C Ryan Lidge (2016)
rSO OF Torii Hunter (2016)
SR C/OF Ricky Sanchez (2016)
SO RHP Brad Bass (2017)
SO LHP Sean Guenther (2017)
SO RHP Brandon Bielak (2017)
SO RHP Peter Solomon (2017)
SO RHP Evy Ruibal (2017)
SO OF Jake Johnson (2017)
FR OF Matt Vierling (2018)
FR RHP Connor Hock (2018)
FR RHP Chris Connolly (2018)
FR 3B Jake Singer (2018)

I like the collection of Notre Dame 2016 position player prospects quite a bit. We’re too removed to make any bold predictions about how pro teams will view them on draft day, but I can say with some confidence that this will be an entertaining offensive team to watch.

JR 2B Cavan Biggio, JR 2B Kyle Fiala, and SR SS Lane Richards make up three-fourths of what has to rank of one of college baseball’s most fun infields. Biggo has been covered before (search his name here and you’ll find plenty), but Fiala hasn’t gotten his time in the internet sun just yet. That needs to change. Compare these two sophomore seasons…

.258/.406/.462 – 50 BB/54 K – 14/16 SB – 221 AB
.301/.394/.452 – 31 BB/33 K – 10/12 SB – 239 AB

Top is Biggio, bottom is Fiala. That’s not to say that they are on the same prospect tier — there’s more than sophomore year stats that go into that equation — but Fiala is a damn good player. Middle infielders with the chance for average power, an above-average glove, average or better arm strength, and average or better speed that have done what he’s done in major college ball don’t grow on trees.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that thanks to the presence of Biggio. If you didn’t take my advice and search his name already, I’ve saved you the trouble by finding the most recent blurb written about him…

Without having seen every Notre Dame game the past two years — I’m good, but not that good — one might be confused as to how a player with Biggio’s pedigree and collection of scouting accolades (“line drive machine; born to hit; great pitch recognition; great approach, patient and aggressive all at once”…and that’s just what has been written here) could hit .250ish through two college seasons. I say we all agree to chalk it up to bad BABIP luck and eagerly anticipate a monster junior season that puts him squarely back in the first round mix where he belongs.

Biggio’s hit tool, patience, and ability to play important infield spots at a high level still have him at or near the first round range for me. Not sure if it’s instructive or not, but I like looking back at Biggio’s placement between Tyler O’Neill and Billy McKinney (the two hitters who signed pro deals that sandwiched Biggio in his initial draft year) and using that as a starting point as to what kind of hitter I think he can be as a professional. O’Neill if he sells out some of his patience and contact skills for power and McKinney if he keeps progressing as a hitter as is. McKinney in the infield is a pretty interesting prospect and one that I think can play his way into the first round even in a top-heavy year. Two pros that I’ve heard him compared to so far are Ryan Roberts (realistic floor) and Justin Turner (hopeful ceiling). I can see it.

Richards is an obvious step below, but there’s still pro upside in his game. Teams like guys who can defend, throw, and run like him, plus he has enough juice in his bat to at least make him a threat to occasionally knock one for extra bases. You can do worse for a mid- to late-round senior sign. SR C/OF Ricky Sanchez hasn’t done much in three seasons, but has flashed power and proven to be a dependable backstop if nothing else. JR C Ryan Lidge and rSO OF Torii Hunter both have damn fine bloodlines. They are very different players and prospects — Lidge is coming off an underrated 2015 season and is the more proven of the two while Hunter is know more for his speed, athleticism, and football skills at this point — but both are definite draft candidates to me. People may be surprised at how high I’ll eventually have Lidge on my personal list of college catchers. SR OF/LHP Zac Kutsulis doesn’t have a ton of power, but he’s a good athlete with a real knack for hard contact, above-average speed, and the strong arm you’d expect from a part-time pitcher.

The Notre Dame pitching staff doesn’t have quite the same level of prospects for 2016, but a part of me wonders if there’s an edict coming from the coaching staff about pitching to contact rather than going for whiffs. Some decent arms here are putting up fine earned run averages, but with dangerously low (in a prospecting sense) strikeouts per nine innings. If anybody who knows more about college ball and the Notre Dame team in particular knows what’s up here (if anything), let me know.

Take SR RHP Nick McCarty as one example. His stuff is fine: 87-90 FB, mid-70s breaking ball that flashes plus, and a usable change. He pitched well in 2016 (3.93 ERA in 68.2 IP), but did so while only striking out 4.59 batters per nine. Odd, right? SR LHP Michael Hearne (mid-80s FB, above-average CU that flashes plus, above-average command) kept runs of the board in 2016 (2.38 ERA in only 11.1 IP) without piling up strikeouts (3.98 K/9). SR RHP Connor Hale somehow pitched to a 1.33 ERA (20.1 IP) even though he only struck out 3.57 batters per nine. Maybe I’m easily amused, but this stuff blows my mind.

The only prospect I have listed who bucked this trend is JR LHP Scott Tully. He deserves a mention for his fine 2015 season: 8.68 K/9 and 2.21 BB/9 in 65.1 IP of 3.17 ERA ball. Of course he’s also one of the few Irish arms that I have with no meaningful notes on his stuff. JR RHP Ryan Smoyer kept runs off the board at an even better clip (2.27 ERA in 79.1 IP), but with nowhere near the same peripherals (3.75 K/9). He’s a big guy (6-4, 200) with decent stuff (88-91 FB, 77-80 SL), so we’ll wait and see if he starts missing a few more bats in 2016. What in the world is going on in South Bend?

Interestingly enough, I’ve had a few different people tell me that they think the best 2016 pitching prospect on the Notre Dame roster is SR RHP David Hearne. That’s the very same Hearne who hasn’t pitched much at all since 2013. The big (6-4, 220) righthander missed his share of bats that year (7.57 K/9 in 44.0 IP) with a fastball that got up to 93 and a nice mid- to upper-70s curve. If health and back to his old ways, he might make those who tipped me off to him look smart.

(The lowest K/9 of any of the impressive group of 2017 pitching prospects is 6.30. Every one of Brad Bass, Sean Guenther, Brandon Bielak, Peter Solomon, and Evy Ruibal has a chance to eventually go higher in the draft than any 2016 pitching prospect on the staff. Maybe it’s more of a talent thing than a coaching thing, after all. Who knows?)