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Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
Before we get to some updated stuff, here are a few words I’ve written about some of the SEC’s top pitching prospects (or so I thought…if I could get a do-over on some of those Second Team picks above, I sure would) from before the season…
Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
Beyond his smarts, pitchability, command, athleticism, and groundball tendencies, Buehler sticks out to me for having two legitimate, distinct above-average to plus breaking balls. They can run into each other at times — I’ve seen an unhealthy amount of baseball in my life and consider myself reasonably bright, but distinguishing between curves, sliders, and even cutters isn’t a personal strength — especially when they are both in the low-80 MPH range, but there’s enough separation between his mostly upper-70s curve (77-83, really) and his “hard CB” from high school (then 78-82) that is now a fully formed 80-85 slider that both get swings and misses. I will say that in my experience viewing him and talking to smarter people who have seen him way more, the two pitches don’t often seem to be in that above-average to plus range within the same game. I’d like to chart a few of his starts to test the validity of this claim, but it’s been said to me that he’ll figure out which breaking ball is working early in the game and then lean on it almost exclusively as his breaker of choice throughout the game. The ability to spin two quality breaking balls on top of an impressive fastball (90-94, 96 peak) and average mid-80s sinking changeup that flashes much better on top of all of Buehler’s previous strengths and two arguable weaknesses (size and inconsistencies with his breaking balls) make him a difficult pitcher to find an instructive comparable player for. Some of the names I’ve tossed out as ceiling comparisons over the past few years include Roy Oswalt, Javier Vazquez, and Julio Teheran. All of those work and don’t work for various reasons, I think. I also think I like Buehler so much as a prospect that I’m cool with dropping the Zack Greinke with a harder curve comp that’s been on my mind with him for a while now. It’s not meant to be a comparison we all get crazy carried away with — Greinke was already in the big leagues at Buehler’s current age, after all — but in terms of the total present prospect package of stuff, pitchability, build, and frame, I think it works very well.
Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
Fulmer has had almost as much success as Buehler through two college seasons with their only significant difference coming in the former’s more common bouts of wildness. It’s not the kind of wildness that raises any kind of red flags, but rather something that falls somewhere between the typical developmental path of an electric young arm and the potential start of a long, fruitful run of being “effectively wild” from now until the day he retires. That aside, the biggest real question about Fulmer will be future big league role. I’d like to think I’ve long shown a willingness to allow players to play themselves from bigger roles (starting, up-the-middle defensive spots, etc.) to smaller roles, so it should be no shock that I’d run Fulmer out as a starter for as long as he shows he is capable of holding down the job in pro ball. A big part of believing in Fulmer as a starter is the fact that his stuff does not appear to appreciably suffer in longer outings. He has the three pitches he’ll need to go through lineups multiple times (mid-90s FB, honest 99 peak; plus low-80s breaking ball; mid-80s changeup with promise) and more than enough deception in his delivery to make him a tough matchup in almost any circumstance. There is some fair cause for concern that his delivery — I’m not expert on these things and I mostly only care that it’s repeatable, but it’s rough enough that even I can see what the fuss is about — won’t allow him to hold up throwing 200+ innings a season. This isn’t the only reason why Buehler is universally regarded as the better prospect (see the silly amount of fawning I do over him above for more), but it’s a big one. Not all drafts are created equal, but I have a hard time imagining Fulmer falling too far on draft day one year after a very similar pitcher in Grant Holmes went 22nd overall.
Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
Put me down as believing JR RHP Trey Wingenter is in store for a monster 2015 campaign. All of the pieces are there for a big season: legit fastball (88-94, 95/96 peak), a pair of breaking balls ranging from average (mid-70s CB) to better than that (mid-80s SL), an average or better CU, a very low-mileage arm (only 36 innings through two college seasons), and an imposing yet still projectionable 6-7, 200 pound frame.
Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
Rash has been a hot name in prospect circles (78th ranked prospect in 2012 here) since his high school days. He couldn’t come to terms with the Phillies that same year after being selected with the 95th overall pick. Things haven’t gone quite according to script for him at Missouri (less than 50 combined innings pitched to date), but he’s missed bats when called upon (8.15 K/9 last year) and still flashes pro-caliber stuff. The lack of innings only presents an issue in how it’s limited opportunities for him to further develop the third pitch he’d likely need to start as a professional. Nobody questions his fastball (90-95), slider (low-80s, flashes plus), frame (6-6, 200), athleticism, or work ethic, so it’ll mostly come down to how he looks in an expanded role and whether or not his mid-80s changeup impresses evaluators enough to project him in a starting role going forward. He’ll be a high pick either way, but showing he can start could mean the difference between a top three round selection and a top seven round selection.
Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
JR RHP Trey Killian’s performances through two year are confusing. His first year was quite strong (8.59 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9), but he did it in limited innings (36.2). Last year he proved to be more of a workhorse (94 IP) and he did a great job of keeping runs off the board (2.30 ERA), but he missed way less bats (5.94 K/9) yet wound up improving his control (1.72 BB/9). Good, less good, good, good, less good, good…you see how he can confuse even the most brilliant internet baseball writers, right? His track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good cutter; really good yet underused low-80s CU; above-average slider; usable curve), command, and athleticism all add up to strong back of the rotation starter material, so maybe I’m overthinking it with him anyway. Or maybe I’m still waiting on a year when he combines really good peripherals with really good run prevention and we all point to him as a guy who figured it out enough to get the bump to middle of the rotation material. That’s my hope — I want to say expectation, but I’m not quite there — for Killian in 2015. He’s the best returning arm on the Arkansas staff either way.
Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good.
I’ll personally champion Walker Buehler as a candidate to go 1-1 because there’s little in his profile to suggest anything but a consistently above-average big league starting pitcher. Zack Greinke Lite with a firmer curve was my original comparison for him, and I’m sticking with it. Though I’d be fairly surprised if the Diamondbacks of all teams considered either Vandy arm with their pick, I personally believe that Carson Fulmer deserves to be in the 1-1 on merit. There’s something about so many tripping over themselves to talk about Dillon Tate (who is also awesome, just so we’re clear), but unwilling to go there with Fulmer that makes me laugh a bit. Worst case scenario he’s a better version of Joel Peralta (and much quicker moving), middle ground has him becoming an impact reliever like David Robertson, and his ceiling could be a little bit like a (WARNING: weird comp not to be taken literally ahead!) righthanded Gio Gonzalez. Or, if you hate my comps, just think solid middle reliever or elite closer or electric if a tad wild above-average starter. It’s a fun spectrum with both a reasonably high floor and pretty thrilling ceiling.
The third member of the presumed Vanderbilt weekend rotation also happened to rank third on the pre-season version of this list. I had to make a rare edit, however, because keeping Tyler Ferguson that high just straight up makes no sense at all. I hate saying that because he’s a really talented young pitcher, but until he can figure out the root cause for his serious control problems (categorized by some as a case of the dreaded “yips”) then he’ll remain one of the draft’s most mysterious prospects. Area scouts will earn their money and then some if they can properly identify whether or not whatever Ferguson’s got going on is correctable because it’s a fantastic arm otherwise.
Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody takes Ferguson’s place in the three spot (jumping all the way up from four!), which is only right because he has been really good this year. Good year + big guy (6-7, 250) + big stuff (mid-90s FB peaking at 98, chance for two average or better offspeed pitches) = serious prospect. I’ve seen and heard some top ten talk for Cody, but that seems a little much. Still, he’s a good one. I go back and forth on him, Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter (covered above and having a solid year), and Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long for the best non-Vanderbilt pitching prospect in the conference. It’s Cody for now, but Long seems like the stiffest competition going forward.
As far as unsigned 2012 high school pitchers go, only Buehler, Hunter Virant, Kyle Twomey, Trey Killian, and Keaton Haack ranked ahead of Long. Right behind him were Fulmer, Justin Garza, Alec Rash, Ryan Burr, and Cody Poteet. I dug that up initially because of wanting to talk about Long, but look at those names again. Long is obviously in the SEC now, and check out the rest (in order): SEC, Pac-12, Pac-12, SEC, SEC (Haack started at Alabama), SEC, Big West, SEC, Pac-12, and Pac-12. As a dispassionate observer of who actually wins and loses these games, I stay out of the conference pissing contests…so draw your own conclusions there. As for Long, here’s what I wrote about him back in his HS days…
62. RHP Grayson Long (Barbers Hill HS, Texas): 88-91 FB, 93 peak; good 80 CU; 75-77 CB with upside; SL with plus upside, but still a really inconsistent pitch; delivery ready for the pros; similar prospect to Walker Weickel in many ways, for better or worse; love his FB – command and movement make it a plus pitch even without big present velocity; has fallen off in the eyes of many this spring, but the long-term value is still very high; 6-6, 190 pounds
I like the Weickel comparison not because it was particularly prescient or anything (at this point in each player’s respective development, who knows), but, assuming it has even the slightest shed of validity, we can then compare/contrast each player’s career as if they are the same person living alternate timelines. Or not. It’s an admittedly silly exercise because there are way too many factors to ever pull off a realistic enough experiment to draw conclusions, but I still find it amusing. Anyway….
Long hasn’t progressed quite as much as I was expecting back then, but that’s not to say he hasn’t progressed at all. It’s been a slow and steady climb for him, and the results so far this year indicate that real honest improvements have been made. Long lives 88-92, but can climb up to 94-95 when needed, though those mid-90s figures are an admittedly rare occurrence. The fact that the long and lean high school version of Long, thought for all the world to be full of projection and potentially of capable of eventually lighting up radar guns once he filled out, hasn’t added much to his fastball can be taken either as a negative (for obvious reasons) or a positive (he’s pitched damn well even without the big fastball and there could yet be some more in the tank coming) depending on your world view. All of those other extras that made me fall for his heater in the first place remain, and I’d call his fastball a plus pitch still even without the knockout velocity. There still isn’t one consistent offspeed pitch that he can lean on from start to start, but there are enough flashes of his change and slider that you can understand what the finished product could look like.
If Tyler Ferguson is one of this draft’s bigger mysteries, then Alec Rash and Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold have to be right there with him. Rash (see above) might be my favorite pitcher who hasn’t actually pitched. Hanhold hasn’t pitched much either (12.1 IP as of 4/11) and been wild when given his shot (7 BB), but I still like the overall package. I’ll stubbornly hold out hope for both because the arm talent is hard to give up on, inconsistent college careers be damned.
Ferguson’s stumble this season has opened the door for draft-eligible sophomore (he’ll be 21 in May) LHP John Kilichowski to slide in as Vanderbilt’s third best 2015 pro pitching prospect. He was great as a freshman last year (8.61 K/9 and 1.57 ERA in 23 IP) and has continued to do good things in 2015 (44 K/11 BB in 37.2 IP). His fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch (86-92), so he wisely leans on a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) to help him miss bats. Good stuff, solid track record, relatively fresh arm, and plenty of size (6-5, 210) all coming in from the left side? Nice. Statistically he’s had a very similar season to teammate rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer, yet another potential early pick off the Commodores staff. Pfeifer can’t match Kilichowski’s size or track record as a starter, but his fastball is a tick faster (94 peak) and his curve a bit sharper. How much of that can be attributed to his fastball/curveball combo playing up in shorter outings – in fairness, though he’s pitched out of the bullpen exclusively this season he almost always goes multiple innings at a time – or just having flat better stuff is up for the smarter area guys to decide. I give Kilichowski the edge for now based on what I know, but I can see it being a coin flip for many.
Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson is another pitcher who hasn’t pitched much, but when he has he’s had the chance to show off a nasty cutter that ranks as one of the nation’s best pitches of its kind. I’ve banged the drum for Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby before, so what’s one more bold statement with a ton of weird qualifiers: of all of college baseball’s current relievers who aren’t primary closing options for their team, he’s the safest bet to pitch in the big leagues.
Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee is a fascinating two-way prospect currently killing it on both ends. When he finally gets a chance to concentrate full time on pitching then he could really take off. His teammate, LHP Andy Cox, is one of my favorite “sleepers,” thanks in part to his well-rounded arsenal (88-91 FB, average or better low-80s SL, average or better CU) that could make him an interesting relief to rotation project in the pro ranks.
There are a ton of pitchers that I don’t yet have the time to cover as much as they deserve, but rest assured all of the following have had really good starts to the season worthy of more attention than they are getting: Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp, Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner, LSU rSO RHP Hunter Newman, Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett, Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor, Georgia JR RHP Sean McLaughlin, Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee, Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts, Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks, Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain (the most famous name of the bunch and arguably the best), Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams, South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop, Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks, Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent, Texas A&M JR RHP Andrew Vinson, and Texas A&M LHP AJ Minter. All of those players will be higher on an updated ranking.
2015 MLB Draft Talent – Pitching
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Walker Buehler
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Carson Fulmer
- Kentucky JR RHP Kyle Cody
- Auburn JR RHP Trey Wingenter
- Texas A&M JR RHP Grayson Long
- Missouri JR RHP Alec Rash
- Florida JR RHP Eric Hanhold
- Arkansas JR RHP Trey Killian
- Tennessee JR LHP Drake Owenby
- Vanderbilt SO LHP John Kilichowski
- Vanderbilt JR RHP Tyler Ferguson
- Missouri JR RHP Reggie McClain
- Florida rSO RHP Mike Vinson
- Mississippi rSR RHP Scott Weathersby
- Tennessee JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee
- Tennessee JR LHP Andy Cox
- Texas A&M JR LHP/OF AJ Minter
- Florida rJR RHP Aaron Rhodes
- Kentucky JR RHP Dustin Beggs
- Alabama rJR RHP Jake Hubbard
- Alabama JR RHP Ray Castillo
- Alabama JR RHP Will Carter
- Louisiana State rSO RHP Hunter Newman
- Mississippi rJR LHP Christian Trent
- Mississippi rSO RHP Brady Bramlett
- Texas A&M SO LHP Tyler Stubblefield
- Mississippi rSO RHP Jacob Waguespack
- Mississippi JR RHP Sean Johnson
- Auburn SR RHP Rocky McCord
- Missouri JR RHP Breckin Williams
- Texas A&M JR RHP/INF Andrew Vinson
- Texas A&M JR LHP Ty Schlottmann
- South Carolina JR LHP Jack Wynkoop
- Arkansas SR RHP Jacob Stone
- Tennessee SR RHP Bret Marks
- Mississippi State SR RHP Trevor Fitts
- Louisiana State SR RHP Zac Person
- Tennessee SR RHP Eric Martin
- Tennessee JR RHP Steven Kane
- South Carolina SR LHP Vincent Fiori
- Alabama SR LHP Taylor Guilbeau
- Louisiana State rSO RHP Russell Reynolds
- Tennessee SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm
- South Carolina SR RHP Cody Mincey
- Alabama SR LHP Jonathan Keller
- Mississippi SR RHP Sam Smith
- Kentucky rJR LHP Matt Snyder
- Alabama rSO LHP/OF Colton Freeman
- Alabama JR RHP/C Mitch Greer
- Georgia JR RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin
- Texas A&M SO RHP Cody Whiting
- Mississippi State rSO RHP Paul Young
- Missouri JR RHP Brandon Mahovlich
- Florida JR LHP Danny Young
- Missouri rJR RHP John Miles
- Florida SR LHP Bobby Poyner
- Texas A&M SR RHP Jason Freeman
- Kentucky JR LHP Dylan Dwyer
- Georgia SR RHP Jared Cheek
- Georgia rJR RHP David Sosebee
- Kentucky JR LHP Ryne Combs
- Georgia JR LHP Ryan Lawlor
- Georgia JR RHP David Gonzalez
- Florida JR RHP Taylor Lewis
- Auburn rJR RHP Justin Camp
- Kentucky SR RHP Andrew Nelson
- Vanderbilt rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer
- Mississippi State JR RHP Myles Gentry
- Kentucky SR RHP Spencer Jack
- Arkansas rSR RHP Jackson Lowery
- Auburn SR RHP Jacob Milliman
- Missouri JR RHP Peter Fairbanks
- Texas A&M JR LHP Matt Kent
- Louisiana State SR LHP Kyle Bouman
- Missouri SR RHP Jace James
rJR LHP Christian Trent (2015)
rSO RHP Brady Bramlett (2015)
JR RHP Jacob Waguespack (2015)
JR RHP Sean Johnson (2015)
SR RHP Sam Smith (2015)
rSR RHP Scott Weathersby (2015)
JR LHP Matt Denny (2015)
JR 1B Jack Kaiser (2015)
SR 1B/C Sikes Orvis (2015)
SR C Austin Knight (2015)
SO LHP Evan Anderson (2016)
rFR OF Peyton Attaway (2016)
SO 3B/1B Colby Bortles (2016)
SO LHP Wyatt Short (2016)
SO SS/2B Errol Robinson (2016)
SO OF JB Woodman (2016)
FR SS/2B Tate Blackman (2017)
FR RHP Will Stokes (2017)
FR RHP Calder Mikell (2017)
FR SS/2B Kyle Watson (2017)
FR 1B Joe Wainhouse (2017)
FR SS/2B Will Golsan (2017)
FR C Nic Perkins (2017)
FR RHP John Wesley Ray (2017)
There’s a serious void of power at first base in college this year, so much so that SR 1B/C Sikes Orvis could find himself in position to get drafted way higher than expected if he has another big spring. Maintaining his power numbers from last year while bumping up his already average (for a power-first bat) plate discipline should get the job done. That’s about it in the way of 2015 bats for Ole Miss, unless consistent at bats (he has less than 100 total in his first three seasons) are in store for good glove, questionable bat SR C Austin Knight. Thankfully, fans of the Rebels will have a deep pitching staff and an exciting group of underclassmen to pay extra close attention to.
I’ve called former Mississippi star RHP Scott Bittle one of my all-time favorite college pitchers to watch before. I think I’d now like to go on record, after careful consideration of all the arms that have come and gone before and since, and amend that to say he’s at the top of the list. When “The Thing” was working, he was, at times, literally unhittable. That pitch was the closest thing I’ve ever seen up close to Mariano Rivera’s cutter. The way his professional career unfolded is undeniably unfortunate (shoulders, man), but it’s fantastic to read that he’s doing well as he pursues his longstanding goal of becoming a doctor. I’m reminded of Bittle because of the presence of rSR RHP Scott Weathersby. Honestly, seeing the impressive K/9, relief profile, Ole Miss allegiance, and first name Scott were the triggers that got me to reminiscing. This isn’t a comparison beyond those similarities in any way. Weathersby is a solid draft prospect, though. He doesn’t have one pitch he relies on quite like Bittle’s cutter, but he does lean heavily on a darting fastball. Combine that with an average to above-average slider and an emerging change, and you’ve got yourself a nice looking relief prospect. SR Sam Smith and JR RHP Sean Johnson could both be called the same. The upside could be a little higher for the trio of Ole Miss pitchers at the top. rJR LHP Christian Trent is the safest of the bunch. He possesses strong “now” stuff in a solid 88-92 fastball (93 peak), above-average low-80s slider that flashes plus, and an above-average low-80s changeup that he’ll use in any count. He gets the safe designation because a) his performance last year showed what he can do in a nice sample of innings (7.04 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 2.05 ERA, 110 IP), and b) the other two names listed with him have far more obvious questions that need to be addressed. rSO RHP Brady Bramlett is a big man with quality stuff — I especially appreciate his oddly effective sloooow curve — but a torn labrum in 2013 and the subsequent lost 2014 season make him a bit of a mystery as things currently sit. JR RHP Jacob Waguespack has had his own troubles staying on the mound (elbow) and hasn’t been nearly as effective as Bramlett when healthy. His stuff, however, is right there with him (upper-80s fastball, three offspeed pitches of varying effectiveness), so it could be that his frame (6-6, 215) could make him the preferred Rebel pitching option for some teams.
SO SS/2B Errol Robinson could wind up as a plus glove, average bat guy at shortstop. That adds up to an incredibly valuable potential player, obviously, and could vault him onto the short lists of top college shortstop prospects for 2016. SO OF JB Woodman and rFR OF Peyton Attaway are also high on any list of top 2015 season/2016 draft “curiosities,” as both guys are really athletic, fast, and loaded with offensive upside, yet largely unproven at the college level. Woodman showed enough in late flashes last year (.298/.346/.429 in 168 AB) that it might be a stretch to call him “largely unproven,” but let me just have this narrative and save me the trouble of rewording the previous sentence. Large human SO 3B/1B Colby Bortles (power, athleticism, aforementioned largeness) also held his own in a more limited sample (68 AB). SO LHPs Evan Anderson and Wyatt Short both did more than hold their own, and even more is expected of them going forward. I’m particularly looking forward to talking more about the aptly named Short, as any discussion about a 5-8, 160 pound lefthander capable of hitting the low- to mid-90s is all right in my book.