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Colton Cain and Scott McGough

I was planning on posting something with a more historical — going way back in the archives to the year 2009 — bent this afternoon, but with the trade deadline less than a week away and deals being made at a 2 Fast, 2 Furious pace, it only makes sense to go with what’s topical by discussing some of the prospects who are on the move. Pittsburgh and the Dodgers both beefed up their rosters in the hopes of some “flags fly forever” postseason glory, but, as we covered yesterday, the established big leaguers swapping laundry are nowhere as interesting — in the context of this site, naturally — than the recently drafted prospects hitting the road.

First, we have the Pirates overpaying Houston for Wandy Rodriguez. The money saved on moving Rodriguez and the addition of Robbie Grossman makes the trade a big win for the Astros, a franchise that I think will serve as a fantastic case study that will help answer the question “how long does it take to rebuild an organization?” over the next few seasons. One of the first steps to going from 100+ losses to competitive is figuring out how to flip bad contracts for useful parts. These useful parts tend to come in one of two standard archetypes: high ceiling/total bust floor lottery tickets OR average ceiling/big league backup floor near-ML ready talent. Ideally you can shed salary while picking up a combination of the two prospect types, though it is interesting to see that Jeff Luhnow and company have focused predominantly on the latter thus far. It’s too early to say that they are doing this as an organizational philosophy — there’s enough grey area between strictly adhering to an overarching philosophy and simply riding wherever the wave of the trade market takes you that as outsiders we can’t ever fully appreciate — but I happen to like Houston’s approach so far. The Astros have so far to come from a talent standpoint as an organization that adding cheap, controllable talent close to the big leagues will help buy time (and, as importantly, future payroll flexibility) while the players with star upside germinate in the minors.

Speaking of players with star upside, let’s finally tie this whole thing back to the draft. The Astros will get a full draft recap within the next few weeks/months, but, spoiler alert!, the addition of first overall pick Carlos Correa gives them the exact type of franchise-altering cornerstone talent that they’d be foolish to shop for on the trade market. The additions of overslot prep bats Rio Ruiz and Brett Phillips could also play major dividends down the road, though both players come with significant risk.

They stayed true to what I believe is their plan — we’ll call it the “hey, we owe it to our fans to not be terrible for years, so let’s instead try to identify a few cheap, young assets that the people of Houston can watch grow while we bide our time developing star talent in the minors that will make the fans thrilled that they stuck by our side during the lean years” —  by supplementing the high boom/bust factor of Correa, Ruiz, and Phillips with college position players (their draft was curiously short on arms, I’m now noticing) that should move quickly. Few better players embody the average ceiling/big league backup floor archetype better than second round pick Nolan Fontana, and later picks like Tyler Heineman and Dan Gulbransen also fit the mold. Brady Rodgers, the only arm drafted between rounds 2 and 8, is cut from the same cloth. Of course, after all that, it is worth mentioning that Lance McCullers (star-ceiling/big league floor) is proof that the two categories of prospects do not begin to describe all of the prospect types of the spectrum. We’re getting further and further (I reference this in my writing daily, yet still screw it up almost as often) away from my original point, so let’s get back to the recent trades before I get totally lost in the Houston draft wormhole.

Houston is clearly moving in the right direction, and I think their path, from terrible to slightly less terrible to better AND, hopefully, more willing/able to spend to, finally, consistently competitive in the wild AL West will be fascinating to follow. Grossman is a good player, lefthander Rudy Owens is fine, and, finally, Colton Cain was well worth a flier. Fun Colton Cain fact of the day: the newest Astros lefthanded pitcher (well, he’s as new as Owens but you get my point) was once ranked between Jeff Malm (Tampa) and Jonathan Singleton (Houston) on a list of top draft-eligible high school first basemen. I revisited that ranking last summer and wrote the following (non-bold was from last year, bold signifies pre-draft notes from 2009):

2. Colton Cain | Pittsburgh Pirates | 8th Round (2009)

3.13 ERA – 95 IP – 74 K/26 BB – 0.89 GO/AO

Cain is pitching well as a youngster (20 all season) in Low A with the added bonus of still not having a ton of mileage on his arm. His solid 2011 performance was preceded by good performances last year (strong peripherals). I like pitchers like Cain: guys with good enough fastballs to keep getting looks and secondaries that will either click and become legit big league pitches all at once or…not. Of course there is some middle ground between the two outcomes, but not as much as one might think. If you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch starting pitcher, but the risk here is fairly self-evident.

first thing that stands about about Cain is his very pretty lefthanded stroke; like a lot of the players on this list has an unusually strong arm for a first base prospect; because of that raw arm strength many scouts like him at least as much on the mound as at the plate; I like him as the prototypical two-way high school player that has the potential to really emerge once he concentrates on hitting full time; Texas commit

I really did prefer him as a hitter back in his high school days, but obviously the Pirates, and, by extension, now the Astros disagree with me. What nerve. I’ll stand by what I wrote last year — “if you’re patient you may wind up with a three-pitch staring pitcher” — though, due to a mostly uninspiring season in high-A (6.12 K/9), I’m less confident in that outcome than I was twelve months ago. As a two-way player (predominantly a hitter) in high school and a pitcher who has missed some developmental time after back surgery, there’s still reason to believe that the light bulb will go off and his low-90s fastball will be joined by a consistent curve and changeup. It is worth repeating that Grossman and the money saved made this deal worth doing for Houston; the addition of Cain, a player the Pirates once paid over a million bucks to pass on Texas, is the lottery ticket. The Astros can’t expect to win the jackpot here, but scratching off the ticket is fun enough in and of itself…plus you never know when you might win a few bucks for your troubles.

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In the most controversial deal thus far, the Dodgers picked up Hanley Ramirez and Randy Choate from the Marlins for Nathan Eovaldi and Scott McGough. Eovaldi is a good get by the Marlins, especially considering the lack of money changing hands in this deal, though I think he ultimately winds up in the bullpen down the line. Take that analysis with a grain of salt, however, as I’ve never really met a Dodgers pitching prospect that I’ve particularly liked. I’m not so dumb to call any one of Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Eovaldi, Chris Reed, Garrett Gould, Chris Withrow, or Aaron Miller bad pitching prospects, but I think each one has been overrated by many of the national pundits. Always was, and remain, a big fan fan of Ethan Martin, so at least there’s that. Don’t hate me Dodgers fans!

The relevant draft piece to this trade is, of course, 2011 fifth round pick Scott McGough. McGough was the 164th overall pick and my own 139th ranked draft prospect heading into the draft. Here’s what I wrote both directly after (plain italics) and before (bold italics) the draft:

Oregon RHP Scott McGough has a fastball with excellent life, a much improved slider that has become an interesting future strikeout pitch, and enough of a low- to mid-80s changeup that leaves you thinking it could be a consistent above-average offering in due time. His profile reminds me a bit of former Angels reliever Scot Shields, but with a better fastball. Having seen both McGough and Reed pitch a few times each in conference play, I’m sticking with my belief that McGough has the brighter professional future.

Oregon JR RHP Scott McGough: 90-92 FB, peak 94-95; 78-79 CB; raw 83 CU; above-average 78-83 SL that flashes plus; potential plus 82-85 CU that is still very raw; working on splitter; great athlete; 6-1, 185 pounds

McGough hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire as a professional (control has been an issue at Rancho Cucamonga), but his career K/9 mark just under 10 in over 70 innings looks damn fine to me. His fastball remains a good pitch and he’ll flash enough above-average offspeed stuff to look like a future big league middle reliever. I’m still likely to look dumb for that McGough > Reed prediction, but if both wind up as solid big league pitchers, well, I could live with that.

Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft in Review

Dodgers 2011 MLB Draft Selections

As one of the most divisive 2011 MLB Draft prospects, Stanford LHP Chris Reed will enter his first full season of pro ball with plenty to prove. He could make me look very stupid for ranking him as low as I did before the draft (200th overall prospect) by fulfilling the promise of becoming a serious starting pitching prospect as a professional. I don’t doubt that he can start as he has the three-pitch mix, frame, and mechanics to do so; I just question whether or not he should start. Advocating for time spent in the bullpen is not something I often do, but Reed’s stuff, especially his fastball, just looks so much better in shorter stints. Of course, he might grow into a starter’s role in time. I like that he’s getting innings to straighten out his changeup and command sooner rather than later. Ultimately, however, Reed is a reliever for me; a potentially very good reliever, mind, but a reliever all the same. Relievers are valuable, but the demand for their work shouldn’t match up with the sixteenth overall pick in a loaded draft.

Stanford JR LHP Chris Reed: 89-92 FB, sits 92-94 as reliever; good low-80s SL; emerging CU; 6-4, 205

Mariner HS (FL) 3B Alex Santana intrigues me for his athleticism and projectable frame. I’m not yet convinced he’ll ever hit enough to put those positives to good use, but time is definitely on the youthful (he’ll be 18 the vast majority of his first full pro season) Santana’s side. It should also be noted that Santana signed right away and was thus able to log professional at bats in his draft year. I know it is silly to get worked up over a draftee’s performance in such a limited sample, but I wonder if there is any correlation between early playing time and long-term success. Is there any truth to the idea that a prospect is better off forgoing a few extra bonus bucks if it means they can get back to game action (if the theory that the more pro at bats early in a career the better holds true this would increase future earnings) as quickly as possible? Do those extra at bats translate to better long-term performances?

As a plus athlete with above-average speed, Santana is a bit of an anomaly in this year’s high school class. Some question his power upside, but there is a long way to go before his body (6-4, 190) fills out.

My biggest worry about North Carolina State C Pratt Maynard is his defense. He isn’t quite a non-prospect if he can’t catch regularly, but his stock would take a drastic hit if he’s forced to move to a corner. Bat looks good for a backstop, though.

In an effort to show more power, Maynard’s been more aggressive at the plate this year. I wonder if his positional versatility will help or hurt him in the eyes of pro scouts. He reminds me a little bit of a less athletic Ryan Ortiz, former Oregon State star and current A’s prospect. Ortiz was a sixth rounder in his draft year; that seems like a plausible outcome for Maynard at this point.

I really like the pick of Oklahoma City RHP Ryan O’Sullivan. He comes equipped with a darting low-90s fastball that is tough to square up on and a low-80s curve with plus upside. If his mind’s right (a bigger if with O’Sullivan than for most prospects), he has a shot to outperform the much wealthier Chris Reed, especially if pro coaching can help him develop a third usable pitch.

Oregon RHP Scott McGough has a fastball with excellent life, a much improved slider that has become an interesting future strikeout pitch, and enough of a low- to mid-80s changeup that leaves you thinking it could be a consistent above-average offering in due time. His profile reminds me a bit of former Angels reliever Scot Shields, but with a better fastball. Having seen both McGough and Reed pitch a few times each in conference play, I’m sticking with my belief that McGough has the brighter professional future.

Oregon JR RHP Scott McGough: 90-92 FB, peak 94-95; 78-79 CB; raw 83 CU; above-average 78-83 SL that flashes plus; potential plus 82-85 CU that is still very raw; working on splitter; great athlete; 6-1, 185

I had Golden Valley HS (CA) RHP Scott Barlow pegged as a college guy because of the general lack of polish to his game. He’s a project with some upside, but I’ve heard from somebody who watched him multiple times in high school that there is a worry lefthanded hitters are going to eat him up in pro ball.

Coastal Carolina OF Scott Woodward’s versatility is his ticket to the bigs. He played both third base and the outfield in his first pro season, but also could handle second in a pinch. His value isn’t entirely tied to his defense; Woodward’s speed and plate discipline are also above-average aspects of his game. This pick is also noteworthy because it marks the third straight Scott drafted by the Dodgers. That’s a big deal!

It’s very easy to envision Scott Woodward playing in the big leagues someday. He’s got an outstanding approach to hitting, a discerning batting eye, and a really good idea of his fundamental strengths and weaknesses at the plate. Woodward ably uses his plus-plus speed to leg out infield hits, turn balls driven to the gaps into triples, and steal bases at a great success rate. Home runs will likely never be a big part of his game, but his is a game based more on speed and plate discipline anyway. He could have the type of career many once projected for former Dodgers prospect Joe Thurston. Another comp that I like a lot is Phillies minor leaguer Tyson Gillies, a comparison made more interesting due to the fact both players are hearing impaired, but one not at all dependent on that fact as the basis of the comp. When I first thought of it a few weeks ago the connection didn’t even occur to me, but the two players share enough distinct offensive similarities to make it work.

The budget-conscious Dodgers grabbed their second college senior in a row with the selection of Utah LHP Rick Anton. His fastball isn’t anything special, but lefties who throw four pitches for strikes – in addition to his upper-80s heater he throws a low-80s change, upper-70s curve, and mid-80s cutter – get chances in pro ball. I think his best chance is to continue to focus on his newly learned cutter, pick an offspeed pitch (curve, probably), and hope he can consistently hit the low-90s coming out of the bullpen. If he can do all that, then maybe he’ll grow up to be a big league reliever.

Utah SR LHP Rick Anton (2011): 87-90 FB, 91 peak; 82 CU; 75-78 CB; leans on 85-86 cutter; 6-0, 190; FAVORITE; (6.67 K9 – 2.57 BB/9 – 4.10 FIP – 87.2 IP*)

Though he lacks a standout tool, Oklahoma C Tyler Ogle’s ability to do everything pretty well make him an interesting catcher to track in pro ball. His outstanding junior production doesn’t hurt, either.

Big, big season so far for the very well-rounded Ogle. Pro-caliber defense, good arm, level line drive swing, and gap power. The only thing that could ding Ogle (and Bandy, a similarly talented prospect) is the lack of a standout tool. Many teams look for a plus tool — often arm strength or raw power — when they are in the market for college catching. Players who are solid across the board sometimes get overlooked. Ogle’s very consistent college production could help him appeal to more stat-oriented clubs picking in the top ten rounds.

Westchester HS (CA) LHP Jamaal Moore was a surprise top ten round selection who spurned the Dodgers to instead attend baseball hotbed Los Angeles Harbor College. He throws a low-90s fastball, changeup, curve, and a splitter. He’ll be draft-eligible once again next spring. There’s enough present stuff and athleticism here to follow him closely this year.

South Carolina 2B Scott Wingo (Round 11) reminds me of another college middle infielder who won back-to-back championships before being drafted to the pros. It’s not perfect, but I see a lot of Darwin Barney in Wingo’s game.

I underrated Wingo all year long, and feel pretty guilty about it now. He had an excellent year at the plate (.329/.463/.419 – 45 BB/31 K – 7/8 SB – 222 AB) and is an outstanding defender at second.

The dearth of quality middle infield prospects throughout the minor leagues makes Southeastern Louisiana SS Justin Boudreaux (Round 14) a name worth stashing somewhere deep in the back of your mind. He’s not a star, and almost certainly not a starter, but his bat isn’t inept and he can field his position (and, if not, he’ll be fine at second), so there’s a chance he can find a role on a big league roster somewhere down the line. Standards for quality shortstopping are low, after all.

Boudreaux has a strong arm, above-average range, and steady hands. All in all, his defense works. That said, his best tool could be his wonderfully appropriate name; have to love a Boudreaux playing for Southeastern Louisiana.

There are a lot of averages in a Clemson OF Jeff Schaus (Round 16) scouting report — power and speed, to name two — but he’s a gifted natural hitter with a smart approach at the plate who possesses just enough of every relevant tool to remain intriguing. There’s definite fourth outfielder potential here.

[pretty swing; good natural hitter; average power; average speed, more quick than fast; inconsistent arm strength, but flashes plus; top ten round possibility last year who fell due to bonus demands]

I prefer Oxnard JC 3B Jesus Valdez (Round 17) on the mound, but the Dodgers didn’t consult me when they decided to move Valdez to the hot corner for regular duty. By all accounts he’s a good defender with solid power upside. Valdez the pitcher is athletic, projectable, and has shown flashes of a good slider and changeup to go along with his low-90s fastball.

Oxnard CC FR RHP Jesus Valdez: 90-92 FB, 94 peak; good SL; emerging CU; 6-3, 180

Wichita State C Chris O’Brien (Round 18) was almost always the last cut whenever I made up a list of top 2011 college catching prospects. It sounds silly to put this much of an emphasis on makeup, but I’ve had scouts tell me that O’Brien’s leadership skills behind the plate and in the clubhouse could be enough to make him a ten-year big league backup catcher. I’ll just say that if there is one position on the diamond where I’d emphasis intangibles it would be catcher…and leave it at that. If intangibles aren’t your thing, then the strong start to his pro career lends credence to the idea that his breakout 2011 season with the bat wasn’t a mirage.

I know I’m not alone in being excited to see what kind of year Johnson County CC RHP Vince Spilker (Round 20) has in store in 2012. I wasn’t sure where I’d be able to follow him this spring, but after some digging I found out he’ll be suiting up for the University of Central Missouri. He should get the chance to start there, a role well-suited for his plus fastball and pair of solid or better secondary offerings (curve and change).

Johnson County CC SO RHP Vince Spilker: 96 peak FB; good CB; solid or better CU

Oklahoma State OF Devin Shines (Round 38) gets a mention because of the overall weakness of the Dodgers late round picks. True, the crazy athletic Hamilton HS (AZ) 2B Malcolm Holland (Round 33) got overslot cash to sign, but beyond him there’s not much to talk about. Enter Shines, a player with big league bloodlines, solid speed, and more pop than his 5-8, 180 pound frame suggests. When drafting on a budget like the Dodgers, you have to take what you can get in the later rounds.

I’m really excited to see Bolles School (FL) SS Austin Slater (Round 44) play college ball this upcoming season for Stanford. I like his long-term upside a lot and believe there’s a chance he’ll wind up closer to the player many thought new teammate Kenny Diekroeger would be.

I don’t often account for signability in these rankings unless something obvious is up. That’s exactly the case with Slater, a player who would be ranked higher on merit (really like the bat) but dinged for being a 99% slam dunk to attend Stanford (their new strategy targeting top prep stars named Austin has now worked two years in a row) after hobbling through an injury plagued senior season of high school. He could reemerge in three years as a premium pick once again.