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2015 MLB Draft Reviews – Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles 2015 MLB Draft Picks

(Quick scheduling note: due to the fact I’d really like to get going with some 2016 MLB Draft content while also wanting to finish draft recaps for all teams for the first time in site history, I’m attempting to scale back the draft reviews just enough to get everything done without going insane. Thanks to the many team sites and message boards that have linked to these over the summer…and apologies to fans of the teams that are getting the condensed versions now.)

26 – DJ Stewart
78 – Gray Fenter
105 – Ryan Mountcastle
130 – Garrett Cleavinger
150 – Ryan McKenna
263 – Jason Heinrich
267 – Seamus Curran
376 – Cedric Mullins

Seven of Baltimore’s top eight picks (25, 36, 68, 102, 133, 163, 193, 223) fell in my top 267 (26, 78, 105, 130, 150, 263, 267) with many of them lining up really well. The one pick not in my top 500 was RHP Jonathan Hughes, who couldn’t agree to terms with the O’s and will give pro ball another shot in a few years after playing at Georgia Tech. Let’s tackle the early round players first for a change…

Despite a disappointing pro debut, OF DJ Stewart (26) still looks like a solid pick at that point in the draft with big league regular upside. I stand by my February report on him…

Stewart’s build evokes the same kind of bowling ball vibe that has garnered comparisons to a pair of intriguing hitters: Matt Stairs and Jeremy Giambi. Physically those both make a lot of sense to me, but the comps go even deeper than body type. I could very easily see Stewart having the kind of career of either player. If we split the difference with their 162 game averages, then we get a player who puts up a .260/.360/.450 yearly line with 20 HR, 25 2B, 70 BB, and 100 K. A career that mirrors that of Billy Butler feels like a reasonable ceiling projection, though I could see that bumping up to something closer to Carlos Santana territory with a big final college season. Those are all really good hitters, so take the “reasonable ceiling projection” phrasing to heart.

RHP Gray Fenter (78) has some clear strikes against him — he’s an older, slighter high school righthander than you typically see go so high — but he can really pitch. With a fast arm (90-94 FB, 97 peak) and feel for multiple promising secondaries, he looks like a future mid-rotation or better arm with continued improvement. That kind of improvement shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially for a 6’0″ guy who enjoyed the perks of pitching against younger competition throughout his amateur career, but Fenter is so new to pitching that it stands to reason there’s unseen upside left once he figures out some of the heretofore hidden nuances of the craft.

Like Stewart, SS Ryan Mountcastle (105) had a rough pro debut; also like Stewart, I still believe in his bat and the value of the pick. If it works, it’s an average or better big league regular profile. Quite honestly, sorting out this year’s group of high school third basemen was as big a chore as ranking any one singular position player group this. After Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tyler Nevin, you could rank the likes of Austin Riley, Travis Blankenhorn, Trey Cabbage, Mountcastle, Bryce Denton, and Ryan Karstetter in almost any conceivable way and not come up with an indefensible order. Those six players ranked between 88th and 114th on my overall pre-draft board. With a grouping that bunched up, it comes down to personal preference in player archetype as much as anything. In Mountcastle’s case, the fact he was announced as a shortstop and has played the vast majority of pro innings a the six-spot should indicate what the O’s think of his glove; even if he doesn’t stick at short, that’s a vote of confidence for his defense at the hot corner or perhaps second base. I liked Mountcastle less for his glove than his bat, so we’ll see.

LHP Garrett Cleavinger (130) going in the third round blew up my market correction on college reliever theory that I touted at various points in the spring, but I still think the pick is fair value for a potential quick-moving late-inning reliever with closer stuff. His control will have to be watched closely as he progresses, but there’s no need to worry about his ability to miss bats. At Oregon he went 12.16 K/9, 13.78 K/9 and 14.85 K/9 in three seasons. There’s velocity (up to mid-90s), a breaking ball (above-average 78-84 MPH), and deception, so add all that up with his track record and handedness and you’ve got a keeper.

OF Ryan McKenna (150) is a really well-rounded athlete that does everything well (for lack of a better word) but nothing exceptional. I’m not cool with hanging a fourth outfielder ceiling on a high school prospect from a cold weather state (seems needlessly limiting), but the profile kind of fits. I feel as though we’ve seen an uptick in supposed “fourth outfielder types” who grind their way into everyday duty, so maybe that’s where McKenna’s career path takes him. Either way, quality pick at this point. The long-term outlook on OF Jason Heinrich (263) looks a lot better as an outfielder than as a first baseman (the position I thought he’d be limited to), so maybe he has more of a chance than I think. 1B Seamus Curran (267), the rare Baltimore prospect who could be considered young for his HS class, young, held his own as a 17-year old in the GCL. I think the comparisons to Boston College star and San Francisco pick Chris Shaw are apt. It’s a much higher risk profile grabbing a player like this out of high school rather than college, but it could pay off big time down the line.

I went out on a bit of a limb on junior college transfer OF Cedric Mullins (376) back in February…

JR OF Cedric Mullins (Campbell) is a highly speculative pick on my end. I’ve never seen him, though, as I’ve said many times before, I’m not sure how much utility such a viewing would even bring. What I’ve heard about him, however, has been thrilling. Mullins has the chance to show premium tools as a defender in center (both range and arm) and on the base paths (plus speed and a great feel for the art of base stealing led to him going 55/59 on his career junior college attempts) this spring. He also brings a patient approach to hitting, both in how he happily accepts free passes (a walk doesn’t feel like such a passive thing when you know you’re taking second and maybe third once you are there) and works pitchers until he’s in counts favorable for fastball hunting. The only tool he ranks below Washington in is raw power, but, as covered above, the emphasis on the raw cannot be taken lightly. In terms of current functional power, the battle tightens quite a bit. It’s an imperfect comp for an imperfect world, but I can see Mullins approximating the value of another former junior college guy like Mallex Smith, though with a bit more pop and a fraction less speed.

Even though he didn’t quite hit like I expected this past spring — only in the warped world of scouting would a .340/.386/.549 college season be viewed as unfulfilling — the scouting reports remained top notch all spring and summer long. I finally got a chance to see him up close after his pro debut and the experience was as magical as I imagined. I like that switch-hitting Mallex Smith comp and think Mullins has a long, productive big league career ahead of him.

RHP Jay Flaa and LHP Reid Love are both on the older side, but deserve attention as top-ten round picks (money-savers or not) who put up impressive numbers in their pro debuts. Flaa has middle relief upside while Love has a chance to keep starting thanks to a solid heater (86-91), above-average changeup, excellent control, and heaps of athleticism.

I think RHP Ryan Meisinger needs to be taken seriously as a potential future contributor in a big league bullpen. He followed up his huge draft season with a huge pro debut. Don’t believe me? Not cool…when I have ever lied to you before? You’ve got trust issues, man. Here’s the proof if you really aren’t convinced…

College: 15.6 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 37 IP with a 1.70 ERA
Pro: 13.7 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 in 23.2 IP with a 1.90 ERA

He’s not a junk-baller getting by without stuff, either. It’s not knockout closer stuff, but it’s solid (88-92 FB, above-average SL). If non-closing relief prospects are your thing, then Meisinger should quickly become a favorite.

RHP Rocky McCord has long been a favorite despite less than stellar collegiate results. The pre-draft report…

Despite coming to the close of what surely has not been the kind of college career he once dreamed of, I’m still all-in on SR RHP Rocky McCord. McCord, who has only thrown 45.1 innings in three years at Auburn, seems destined to be a quality big league reliever thanks to impressive now-stuff (mid-90s FB peak, excellent CU, rapidly improving SL) and a cool name.

He had a solid yet wild debut. I still think he has what it takes to pitch out of big league bullpen, though I admit the lack of a college breakout season (not even in his senior year!) tempers my enthusiasm some.

LHP Robert Strader gave up his final two seasons of eligibility at Louisville to give pro ball a shot. He’s debut went well, though he kept up his wild ways (8.1 BB/9 in college, 5.1 BB/9 as a pro). I’ve got little to nothing on junior college LHP Nick Vespi, but he’s a lefty with size and youth on his side coming off an intriguing debut run. LHP Will Dennis may not miss enough bats to keep advancing, but as a lefthander with some funk to his delivery (“submariner” in my notes) who piles up ground ball outs (67.8%) he’s worth keeping a distant eye on.

Baltimore took my advice (just kidding!) and spent a thirtieth round pick on RHP Andrew Elliott. Here was the pre-season take on him…

We really need to talk more about rSR RHP Andrew Elliott (Wright State). His is a name that you’ll never hear mentioned when talk of the best relief prospects in college baseball comes up. All the man does is get outs. I’ll admit that Elliott’s first season as a pitcher at Wright State (2012) didn’t go quite as well as you’d like to see. He kept guys off the board (3.17 ERA), but didn’t show the kind of bat-missing stuff to sustain it. By 2014, however, he transformed himself into a strikeout machine. If you can put down 13+ batters via strikes per nine while spotting four pitches (FB, SL, CB, CU) whenever and wherever you want them, then you’re a prospect. He’s undersized (6-1, 200), overaged (23), lacks a true plus heater (upper-80s mostly, can hit some 92s, 93s, and 94s), and can be viewed as a one-year wonder as of today, but I’d still happily snap an arm like this up in the mid-rounds and watch as he continues to mow down batters in the minors.

His 2015 didn’t quite match his 2014, but it was still damn good. Then he went out and tossed 26 very effective innings in his first pro season. I like Meisinger a hair better now — it was a coin-flip pre-draft, though I gave Elliott the edge then — but both are my kind of mid-round deep sleeper relief prospects worth loading up on. Even if these guys top out as up-and-down last man in the pen types, that’s money saved on going out and spending stupid money on volatile middle relief help.

LHP Will Shepley fits the mold as another late-round reliever with strong college peripherals and better than you’d think stuff. The game is in such good shape when lefties who can hit 93 with nice curves fall this late (reasonably so) in the draft. RHP Steven Klimek had a rough debut. He’s got an above-average breaking ball, so that’s cool. LHP Xavier Borde can get wild, but, not to sound like a broken record, he’s missed bats in the past and has solid stuff from the left side (88-92 FB, average or better CB). That’s good enough to place you as one of the most promising 1100 amateur players in the country these days.

There aren’t too many top ten round picks that I completely whiff on, but I published nothing about OF Jaylen Ferguson on my site this past year. Asked about him recently and got back the following: “young, raw, promising.” Not particularly helpful considering how generic that is, but it’s all I’ve got.

C Chris Shaw and C Jerry McClanahan and C Stuart Levy and C Tank McSturdy (guess which one I made up) all shared in their struggles this summer as they got their first taste of pro ball. Of the trio, I was easily the highest on Shaw this spring…

I’m still holding out hope that we see Oklahoma JR C Chris Shaw get going on the big stage, especially after the tremendous power displays he put on after relatively slow starts the past two seasons in junior college. Truthfully, the question as to whether or not he’ll hit for power isn’t a debate; Shaw’s success or failure going forward will be determined by the adjustments in approach he is able to make. He’s always been a touch too aggressive for his own good, but his power could mask some of the deficiencies he’s shown at lower-levels. More experienced arms will keep exploiting the holes in his approach unless he makes some changes. The power alone still makes him a high follow, but much of the optimism I felt in January has eroded under the rocky shores of reality.

I’ll be honest: I’m not really holding out much hope any longer. Stranger things have happened, but it doesn’t look great for him right now. His disappointing (to me) year at Oklahoma combined with early pro struggles (not that I’d ever overreact to those…) concern me. His power made him worth a shot in the fifteenth round, but the approach really holds him back as a hitter. McClanahan looks like the org guy that he’s always been…

On the other end of the spectrum is the reliable yet unexciting profile of UC Irvine rSR C Jerry McClanahan. The veteran Anteater’s patient approach at the plate is my kind of prospect, but his lack of power and advanced age make him more organizational depth than future big league backup. Of course, the former can become the latter in certain cases, and there are all kinds of unseen advantages in bringing in quality workers like McClanahan to work with your minor league pitchers.

1B Steve Laurino hit a bit at Marist and could do a little bit of hitting in the pros. 2B Drew Turbin had a big senior-sign type of season (.349/.490/.521), so I’m cool with taking a shot on him in the fourteenth even though he’s almost certainly locked in at second base. SS Branden Becker is intriguing as a surprise sign who flashes a little bit of pop and a whole lot of defensive versatility. 3B Kirvin Moesquit gives you that same kind of defensive flexibility with similar upside with the stick and a massively underrated name. As you can read right here —> UT Frank Crinella was announced as a utility guy on draft day, but played mostly third base with a little second mixed in during his solid debut as a pro.

I grouped this top-ten round prospects, then the rest of the pitchers, and then the rest of the hitters. That means I really shouldn’t close with a pitcher, but I’m a rebel bad boy who breaks all the rules. I mean, sometimes you just have to follow your heart, you know? The world really needs more exposure on this: Baltimore drafted a guy named Christian Turnipseed from Georgia Gwinnett College in the 28th round (pick 853) this year. Turnipseed didn’t allow a single run in 28.1 professional innings in his debut! Only 11 hits allowed with 30 strikeouts and 7 walks! That’s after a final college season where opponents hit just .100 off of him (12 hits in 36 innings!). He struck 15 batters per nine with an ERA of 1.50. And his name is Christian Turnipseed! I vow in writing here to buy myself a shirsey and then ten more for charity if/when such a glorious garment exists.

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)