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Favorites – Part I (ACC)

I’m an admitted draft junkie who loves tracking the NFL and NBA Drafts almost as much as I love keeping things current on this here MLB Draft site. Like any follower of any pro sport draft, I tend to obsess about certain players that I really, really, really would like to see my favorite team draft at some point. This is relatively easy when it comes to the NFL (Fletcher Cox, Brandon Boykin, Joe Adams, and Isaiah Pead would be a super first three rounds for the Eagles) and NBA (John Henson or Tony Mitchell, please) because I have no real dog, outside of said allegiance to “my” team, in those races. I watch the entire draft process unfold and enjoy it like the fan that I am. When it comes to baseball, things are a bit different. The idea of a draft favorite isn’t entirely consigned to “Boy, I hope my team drafts him.” There’s more separation between my feelings towards my team and the overarching respect I have for the entire year-round grind that is following the draft. I think I do a pretty good job of masking my Phillies fandom as much as I can, but I still have my moments, especially on draft day, when the raw emotion of “They took they guy I wanted them to take? They took the guy I wanted them to take! THEY TOOK THE GUY THEY WANTED THEM TO TAKE!!!” or, more likely, “Him? Why?????” takes over. That said, here’s my attempt to share a few names that I oh so cleverly denoted in my notes as personal favorites by marking each name with FAVORITE. There were 31 college guys and 12 high school guys that I marked as FAVORITE(s) before the season started. Apologies to anybody out there who finds this a tad self-indulgent — it is a bit more meta, than I personally like — but I’m short on time this week so this will have to do in a pinch. These favorites aren’t so much guys that I’d want my team to draft, but rather players who do certain things well and/or guys who have impressed me firsthand and/or prospects that I have that tricky to pin down “it” factor that just draws an evaluator towards them.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the order, other than the fact I organize my notes by conference starting with the AQ schools (ACC, Big East, SEC, etc.), then move to the “mid-majors,” and finish with junior colleges, NAIA, and Division II and III. Not every conference will be covered due to time constraints — the draft is less than six weeks away, you know — but we’ll get to as many was we can. Many, though not all, of the favorites are at least somewhat off the beaten track in terms of national attention, but I’m sure most readers will be familiar with the vast majority of names shared in this space. To kick things off, the ACC…

Virginia JR SS/3B Stephen Bruno (2012)

Why was he a favorite?

No weak tool – good speed, strong arm, plus or near plus defensive tools at short, more than enough pop for a middle infielder. I also have a soft spot for prospects who play out of position as amateurs, though I can’t really explain why. Plus, I wrote about him back in January 2010, so we’ve got a little history here.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.407/.458/.593 – 13 BB/16 K – 9/9 SB – 162 AB

Verdict

All scouting reports remain positive, and his performance in 2012 is getting him the notice he rightfully deserves. He’s been on the radar for years — once upon a time he was a New Jersey high school star and draft pick of the New York Yankees — but is finally breaking out in a big way on the college stage after missing the 2011 season due to injury. I haven’t stacked up the entire draft board yet, so I can’t really put a range on where he’ll be drafted, but his ceiling is considerable.

North Carolina SO 3B Colin Moran (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

I’m hardly alone in loving Moran’s upside, but his approach, picture perfect lefthanded stroke, and much improved defense at the hot corner are too much to ignore. I haven’t seen the experts lists for 2013 just yet, but I’m fairly certain that Moran will rank very, very highly (first overall?) on my own summer list.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.389/.463/.556 – 14 BB/11 K – 90 AB

Verdict

The numbers are eerily similar to Moran’s freshman season line of .351/.462/.577. The big difference has been Moran’s 2012 health – the UNC sophomore broke his right hand early about a third of the way through the current season. Before the injury there were some positive reports about Moran’s defense, as well as some less than positive things said about his overall tools package (e.g. only his hit tool is clearly above-average…the rest of his tools, not so much). There are tools beyond the standard big five that scouts look for, and Moran’s pitch recognition, plate coverage, ability to hit to all fields, and balanced swing mechanics all contribute to his plus-plus plate discipline. Every evaluator will weigh particular skills differently, but Moran’s plate discipline means a great deal more to me than the fact that he isn’t a great runner or not a burner on the base paths.

Georgia Tech SO 1B/OF Daniel Palka (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

Short and sweet: plus-plus raw power

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.295/.378/.564 – 13 BB/31 K – 149 AB

Verdict

More or less about what we expected from Palka in his sophomore campaign. Like Moran before him, his 2012 numbers very closely mirror his freshman year stats (.310/.389/.586). The power will remain less of a question than his eventual defensive home. If he can handle an outfield corner from an athletic standpoint — with his arm, he’d look good in right — then he’s a potential first round pick in 2013. If he’s limited to first base, well, he could still wind up as a first day pick, but it will take the requisite amount of hitting (i.e. even more than he’s currently doing) to build the confidence that he can play everyday at first in the big leagues.

Georgia Tech SO OF Kyle Wren (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

I’m a sucker for speed, professional CF range, and the ideal leadoff hitter approach. He reminds me of Alabama’s Taylor Dugas, another FAVORITE you’ll see later on, but with louder tools.

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.261/.355/.360 – 21 BB/19 K – 12/16 SB – 161 AB)

Verdict

As happy as I am to see he’s maintained many of his strengths — still fast, still a good defender, still taking pitches — there’s no denying that his 2012 has been a disappointment. The “good” news for college baseball fans is that they are likely to get another year out of Wren, as I’d be fairly surprised to see the draft-eligible sophomore get drafted high enough to keep him from returning to Georgia Tech for a junior season. I remain a fan, but concede the point that many have made all along – Wren will have to put on some muscle if he hopes to continue to make progress as a hitter.

Clemson SO 2B/SS Steve Wilkerson (2013)

Why was he a favorite?

Speed, athleticism, defensive tools, and a strong high school pedigree all put him on the map, but really strong word of mouth from scouts who saw him firsthand sold me on his potential big league starting infielder upside

Update (park/schedule adjusted stats)

.329/.374/.412 – 13 BB/26 K – 170 AB

Verdict

As much as any player listed above, the jury is still out on Wilkerson’s future. His bat has been even better than advertised and there is continued positivity about his speed and defense, but he’s reputation as a free swinger makes me a little nervous going forward. He’s one to watch all the same, and could emerge as an even better prospect than I currently give him credit for assuming he gets the chance to play some shortstop (he should once Jason Stolz graduates, right?) down the line.

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2012 MLB Draft: All-ACC Prospect Team (Position Players)

Somebody just asked me who my favorite 2012 MLB Draft prospects at each position across the ACC were last night. Alright, that’s a total lie…but here they are anyway:

Virginia Tech SO C Chad Morgan | .237/.333/.360 – 16 BB/34 K – 139 AB

Morgan was a favorite heading into 2011 because of his big power upside, plus arm strength, and well above-average defensive skills. His sophomore year numbers don’t exactly scream early round candidate heading into 2012, but the big tools remain.

Florida State SO 1B Jayce Boyd | .339/.423/.519 – 36 BB/30 K – 233 AB

Despite the change in bats, Boyd put up a nearly identical stat line in 2011 (2010 numbers: .341/.413/.528 – 28 BB/36 K – 214 AB) with the biggest exception being his improved plate discipline. The most difficult players to project – for me, anyway – are the prospects who are destined for bat-first positions (i.e. first base and corner outfield) because the margin for error is so slight. Boyd has a bat I believe in. Watching him hit reminds you of the difference between a good power hitter and a good hitter who hits for power. Boyd is squarely in the latter category; his plus raw power and outstanding collegiate production are byproducts of his special hit tool. I’d caution against thinking that his likely inability to stick at third base at the next level equates to below-average athleticism and negative defensive value. Yeah, it’s true that he may be too stiff to man the hot corner professionally, but his solid athleticism, soft hands, and great baseball instincts make him a plus defender at first base.

Florida State SO 2B Devon Travis | .336/.462/.523 – 43 BB/28 K – 5/9 SB – 220 AB

Travis will head into the 2012 season duking it out with North Carolina’s Tommy Coyle for the honor of first second baseman picked out of the ACC. I like the rising Florida State junior to be the first off the board because of his exciting mix of future tools and current skills. As his 2011 hitting line shows, his bat fits well as a potential pro leadoff hitter, offering that almost ideal blend of patience and little man (5-9, 180 pounds) pop. He has also shown above-average speed along with plus defensive tools at second, though his on-field output in both areas (only 10 steals in two years and up and down performances in the field) has been inconsistent to date.

Virginia SO SS Stephen Bruno | .240/.269/.320 – 0 BB/7 K – 0/1 SB – 25 AB

I wrote about Bruno a bit back in the day…

FR SS Stephen Bruno (2012) was one of the rarest of the rare coming out of high school – a prep player actually expected to stay at shortstop as a pro. We always hear about how pretty much every worthwhile big leaguer was the star shortstop/pitcher of his high school team, but it never registered how often these players were forced to move off the position after signing that first pro deal. I mean, Jim Thome was a shortstop in high school* because, let’s be honest, that’s just where you put the best athlete at that level. I remember watching Billy Rowell play shortstop in high school. He positioned himself about 3 steps out on the outfield grass, basically admitting to all in attendance he had no range and instead relying exclusively on his rocket arm to gun people down at first. Rowell wasn’t a pro prospect as a shortstop, but he played shortstop on his high school team because, quite simply, if he didn’t, then who would? Bruno was a top ten round talent in 2009 who fell to the Yankees in the 26th round due to a very strong commitment to Virginia. He’ll stick at shortstop throughout his career due to his plus range, slightly above-average speed, and Speedy Gonzalez quick hands. He has flashed present power, launching a couple of 450 bombs his senior year of school, but lacks the overall strength to do it on a consistent basis. That last point may not seem like a huge deal for a middle infield prospect, but it does speak to the general concerns about Bruno’s future. Some players are projects based on the development of their tools, an area that Bruno grades out fairly well across the board (in addition to the aforementioned defensive skills, he has a 55 arm), but other players are projects based on their physical development. That’s where Bruno is at right now. He has worked his tail off to improve in each of the five tools (most notably speed and arm strength), but it’ll be the way is body fills out (keeping in mind he is 5-9, 165) that will make him into either a first round caliber guy or not.

It really is a shame that an injured hamstring has held back Bruno in 2011 because, when healthy, he can really, really play. He should get his chance next season, though it remains to be seen if he’ll get the opportunity to unseat the incumbent Chris Taylor or have to put his strong arm and good athleticism to use elsewhere on the diamond. As good as Taylor has been at short for the Cavaliers, I think Bruno’s defensive upside is even higher.

North Carolina State SO 3B Danny Canela | .267/.349/.443 – 17 BB/26 K – 131 AB

This may be a little bit of a cheat seeing how Canela’s likeliest defensive home at the next level is probably behind the plate, but a little bit of creative licensing gets him the job at the hot corner on our list. He is probably talented enough to play at least average defense at either position, but his, shall we say, “compact” 5-10, 230 pound frame gives him the look of a future pro backstop. Canela’s signature tool is probably his raw arm strength – no surprise considering his two defensive positions – but his quick bat and power upside are nearly as appealing positives.

Georgia Tech SO OF Brandon Thomas | .322/.434/.449 – 38 BB/40 K – 20/23 SB – 205 AB

It’s easy to see why Thomas has drawn favorably comparisons (by me) to former Georgia Tech outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Danny Payne. A quick rundown of his biggest positives: above-average range in a corner spot, an arm strong enough for right field, good speed that he knows how to use, gap power with a chance for more, excellent athleticism, and a pro ready body (6-3, 205 pounds). It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint a good prospect a year ahead of the draft, but tools like that combined with really strong production at an outstanding college program make this whole prognostication thing a lot easier.

North Carolina State SO OF Tarran Senay | .271/.401/.388 – 26 BB/38 K – 0/1 SB – 129 AB

Senay is probably the least toolsy of the outfielders listed, so the “bat or bust” risk factor typified by future first basemen/left fielders is magnified. Injuries knocked his numbers down in 2011 (check his freshman season line: .304/.456/.571 – 28 BB/29 K – 112 AB), but the plus raw power keeps him squarely on the 2012 draft map.

Virginia SO OF Reed Gragnani | .293/.410/.361 – 19 BB/13 K – 1/3 SB – 133 AB

A little bit of Gragnani appreciation written by me (though with too much information lifted from here…I feel bad about that, so sorry Mr. Kolenich…I’ve gotten better at attributing sources since then) prior to his freshman year…

FR SS Reed Gragnani (2012) is yet another talented young prospect expected to see significant time in a loaded Virginia infield. His game right now revolves largely around his well above-average speed, excellent athleticism, and impressive range up the middle, but he is no slouch with the bat either. Early comps include Brian Roberts (if he develops as is) and Ryan Zimmerman (if he bulks up and gains power). Gragnani’s brother, Robbie, grew four inches during his college tenure at Virginia Commonwealth, so that Ryan Zimmerman developmental path isn’t totally out of the question. That’s not to say that the only thing standing in the way between Gragnani and future big league All-Star status is a couple of inches and some muscle, but he’s a good player with high round talent all the same.

I still believe in Gragnani as a middle infielder, but also think he has the tools to play a mean center field if given the chance. I also still believe in his bat. While it is true that his power hasn’t come on like many (myself included) had hoped, he still has the chance to hit for a high average and gap power at the next level.

College Team Profiles: Virginia Cavaliers

One of the most popular (fine, the only) question I’ve been emailed since starting this site up goes a little something like this: I’m going to see ____ University/College/State play this weekend and I was wondering if there was anybody with a professional future that would be worth watching. The College Team Profiles are designed to preemptively answer any and all questions about the prospects from a particular college team…or maybe just open up a whole new debate full of new, even more confusing questions. We’ll see. The next three draft classes for one particular school are featured, with the players ranked in order (from greatest to least greatest) within each class. As always, whether you agree, disagree, or think I’m a dope who should leave this sort of stuff to the experts (thanks, Mom)…let’s hear it via email (you can use either robozga at gmail dot com or thebaseballdraftreport at gmail dot com) or in the comments section.

2010

JR OF Jarrett Parker (2010) is one of the best of the many 2010 toolsy lottery ticket kind of players. I haven’t been doing this draft thing for that long, so it is hard for me to compare talent levels from class to class, but it seems that this year has a high number of mid-round high upside, high flameout potential players. I also haven’t been doing this writing thing long, as you can see from the mess that was that last sentence. Anyway, as mentioned, Parker is one of the very best of the so-called (by me) “lottery ticket” group, so he isn’t necessarily included in the mid-round subsection. In fact, many see him as a candidate to go in the first round. It’s easy to see why.  His mix of tools and big-time sophomore numbers would make him a top-three round guy right now. Continued incremental improvements in his game his junior year will push his draft stock even higher. I’ll make a scary cross-race comparison here and claim Parker has a similar skill set as Lastings Milledge. He has plus power potential, an above-average arm, good speed, and the defensive chops to be a well above-average corner outfielder or a steady stopgap in center. Like Milledge, he struggles against breaking balls to the point that it’s hard not to see him as a 100+ strikeout big league hitter at this point. However, and I try my best to sandwich the bad news in between good news when I can, two big assets in Parker’s favor are his big league ready frame (6-4, 210 after packing on serious muscle), and the seemingly ever-increasing athleticism and agility (honed by practicing yoga) that should help him withstand the rigors of the professional grind.  Additionally, Parker improved his walk rate from his freshman year to his sophomore year, and continued the positive trend during his otherwise disappointing campaign on the Cape this summer. I like that.

JR OF Dan Grovatt (2010) has a very patient approach at the plate, power to the gaps, average speed, and a good enough arm to play right field professionally. Sounds good, right? It should because Grovatt is a top five round caliber talent. My only worry is that his more good than great toolset makes him too similar a prospect to former Florida State standout Jack Rye. Rye was one of my all-time favorite college players and a guy I touted as a draft sleeper, but his pro numbers, especially his power indicators, haven’t exactly set the world on fire so far. The comparison is probably unfair – one player’s struggles don’t really have anything to do with another’s future – but, having seen both play, the similarity between the two seemed worth pointing out. However, the two aren’t clones of one another, either. Grovatt is the better athlete and defensive player, and he has more upside with the bat, especially in the power department. Those are all pretty important points in Grovatt’s favor. It’ll take more time and research to see where exactly Grovatt stacks up when compared to fellow 2010 college outfielders, but I have the feeling that he’ll grade out higher here than in most spots. His well-rounded game and extensive big-time college experience make him a good bet to hit the ground running professionally. I’d peg his upside as that of a solid everyday corner outfielder (defense included) with a still valuable floor as a good fourth outfielder.

JR RHP Robert Morey (2010) will, if nothing else, always have a big win over Stephen Strasburg in the opener of the 2009 Irvine Regional. Fortunately for him, however, he won’t have to limit himself to that one particular game when someday regaling his grandkids about his playing days. A low-90s fastball, above-average slider, and an emerging straight changeup, plus his status as the Saturday starter for a championship caliber college team, should get him into the top ten rounds this June as a future back of the rotation starter.

JR RHP Tyler Wilson (2010) will probably be the Cavalier most directly impacted by Cody Winiarski’s arrival on campus. The opportunity to slide into the vacant weekend starting spot would have done wonders for Wilson’s 2010 draft stock. Even without the starting gig, he’ll get noticed as Virginia’s primary reliever, the bullpen ace relied upon to pitch multiple innings at a time whenever called upon. His plus command, good athleticism, and easy, repeatable arm action help him thrive in the role. Additionally, Wilson’s solid three-pitch mix (fastball sitting 90-92 and topping out at 94, good sinking high-70s change, average slider) gives credence to the idea he has value either in the bullpen or as a starter. I like him a lot, and believe he’ll be a top-ten round guy in June.

JR RHP Kevin Arico (2010) had himself a breakout season as Virginia’s closer in 2009. His bread and butter is a plus low-80s slider that he has no problem throwing over and over and over again. The first time I saw Arico pitch I walked away pretty impressed with myself for finally finding a player that I could compare to Kiko Calero. After seeing him throw a few more times since then, I think I’m now ready to upgrade the comp a smidge to now qualify Arico for a Chad Qualls type of ceiling. There is little to no chance his final draft standing rivals Qualls’s (you’d think last names ending with the letter s would annoy me, but, brother let me tell you, nothing is worse than a name ending in z), but he could still find himself as a top 12-15 round pick who could be a quick mover for the team that takes the plunge. There should be some concern about a player so reliant on one specific skill, but Arico’s results against high level competition should help assuage most clubs’ worry.

JR INF/OF Phil Gosselin (2010) heads into the 2010 season as the man without a position. The 2009 First-Team All-ACC second baseman has been working out in leftfield almost exclusively this fall, but has also apparently been told to be ready to fill in just about anywhere (3B, 2B, maybe SS, in that order) as needed this spring. It’s rare that a college supersub would be a legit draft prospect, but Gosselin is just that. He is a slightly below-average infielder with an average arm (2B being his most likely pro landing spot if a team prefers him in the infield), who will almost certainly be first tried in the outfield as a pro. I’m not sure if that is the best way to maximize Gosselin’s pro value. He doesn’t have the glove/range for center, and doesn’t have the bat for a corner. If he isn’t a starting caliber outfielder, why not at least give him a shot in the infield? If he can bump his defense up to at least average in the infield, then you’ve got yourself a player who can help you stretch the limits of your 25-man roster, especially in the NL.

JR C/1B/OF Kenny Swab (2010) and his Cavalier teammate John Hicks (2011) – separated at birth? Swab figures to have the inside track on the primary backup catching job, but should also see time at first base, right field (to take advantage of his plus arm), and designated hitter. He’s got a live bat with above-average power potential, but it’ll take some serious lineup juggling from Brian O’Connor to get him the at bats he’ll need to boost his draft stock. As is, Swab is a potential 10-20th round player based on upside alone.

SR LHP Neal Davis (2010) goes into his senior season as Virginia’s top lefthanded relief pitcher, a player able to skillfully mix and match fastballs, sliders, and changeups to get hitters out. His most recent season was arguably his least successful – certainly his least dominating – so he heads into 2010 with plenty to prove. His big league frame (6-6, 210) and past success in a highly competitive conference (he struck out nearly a batter an inning [39 in 40] while only allowing 7 earned runs in 40 relief innings [1.58 ERA] in 2008) combined with intriguing stuff (sits in the high-80s to low-90s with the fastball and has an above-average mid-70s slider) make him another second half of the draft option for a team looking for a warm A-ball body on the cheap. I know I do this a lot, but I’d be remiss to write this much about Davis without mentioning the possibility that his stuff and frame would actually play well as a starting pitcher professionally.

JR RHP Cody Winiarski (2010) comes to Virginia via noted talent factory Madison Area Technical College. After doing a little bit of homework on him, I’ve found that he is a player with a whole lot of adamant supporters. Someone who saw him pitch on multiple occasions while at MATC raved about his potential plus changeup. Another admitted that while he had never actually seen Winiarski throw himself, he had heard very positive things from others about his command and general pitchability. Winiarski doesn’t have as much room for error as some pitchers with bigger fastballs, but the praise he has gotten from those who have seen him firsthand makes me a believer in his pro prospects. Assuming he holds down the last weekend starting job as expected, watch out for Winiarksi as a potential top-15 round arm this June.

SR INF Tyler Cannon (2010) reminds me of a better version of Missouri’s Greg Folgia, a player picked a round higher in 2009. Cannon is solid in all phases of the game, but lacks fluidity on defense at any position. Between his lack of a true defensive home and his steady, but unspectacular bat, Cannon has many believing his professional role will be that of a super-sub capable of playing literally every position on the diamond, including catcher. His college counting stats (through his first two seasons) match up with Eric Bruntlett’s in almost an eerie way, but the comparison falls apart when you look at each player’s rate stats. Anyway, I’d say that the Bruntlett comp may actually be a tad optimistic at this point. Cannon’s collegiate track record isn’t quite as strong as Bruntlett’s (though another big season like Cannon had last year would close the gap) and he lacks Bruntlett’s tremendous Civil War reenactor (that may be the single ugliest looking word in the English language) style beard, but I’d bet on enough marginal improvements as he progresses into his mid-20s to see him getting a chance as a AAAA utility guy good enough to position himself as a potential callup when injuries to the more talented players occur. His big junior year gives him something to build on heading into 2010, and the continued increase of talented infielders to the Cavalier program ought to give him more of an opportunity to show off the defensive versatility that will be his best shot at someday playing big league baseball.

SR C Franco Valdes (2010) plays exceptional defense behind the plate. He’s adept at blocking balls in the dirt, athletic enough to get out of his crouch to pounce on anything in front of him, and has a strong enough arm to keep potential base stealers honest. He also has one heck of a reputation when it comes to handling a pitching staff. However, and this is a biggie, his offense (career OBP = .301) leaves much to be desired. However, and this is may or may not be a biggie depending on how you feel about this sort of thing, he does have the benefit of draft pedigree (15th round pick of Detroit back in 2006) on his side. I never know how much stock to put into previous draft standing, especially when we’re talking about a college junior or senior who was drafted in a late round three or four years prior. So much can change in the span of three or four seasons, you know? Valdes certainly isn’t a 15th round caliber player anymore, mainly due to the stalled development of his offensive game, but the fact he was previously drafted makes me hesitant to claim he has no shot at all this time around. At best, he’s worth nothing more than a late late late round flier at this point.

JR OF John Barr (2010) is as nondescript a prospect as you’ll find. It’s nothing personal – in fact, I saw Barr play in high school, and I tend to form weird (non-creepy!) attachments to players I’ve seen early on – but nothing about his game stands out as being an average or better big league tool. His numbers dipped from his freshman year to his sophomore season, but he deserves the benefit of the doubt as he was recovering from shoulder surgery for much of 2009.

INF JR Corey Hunt (2010) has to be a big believer in the idea that timing is everything, if for not other reason than to help him ease his troubled head at night. In a different era of Virginia baseball it’s possible Hunt could have come in, gotten playing time early, established himself as a useful defense-first middle infielder with above-average on-base skills, and pushed his draft stock up enough by his senior season to be a worthwhile 20ish round or so pick. Instead, he has been behind some pretty good veteran infielders to start off his Cavalier career and he’ll be behind some really impressive youngsters to end his career. Without regular playing time he’ll be a very difficult player for scouts to assess come June. The lack of track record and standout tools make him a non-prospect at this point.

JR INF/OF Tyler Biddix (2010) has one of the most underrated names in all of college baseball. K’Nex, Lego, Megatendo, Fischertechnik, Biddix, Uberstix, Blockos…which ones are real building block toys and which ones are fake? Pretty sure the end table I bought from Ikea a few months ago was a Biddix. Damn, the Ikea joke was a better one than the K’Nex/Uberstix one, wasn’t it? Wish I would have thought of it first. Anyway, I have no doubt that the real Biddix (the person) is a better prospect than the flimsy table, but not by enough to make him a draftable prospect.

2011

SO INF/C Keith Werman (2011) did his best Pat Venditte impression while in high school, pitching a seven-inning complete game both lefthanded (3.1 innings) and righthanded (3.2 innings). That fun fact from the Virginia baseball website may have absolutely no bearing on Werman’s prospect stock, but it’s undeniably cool. What is relevant about his prospect stock is the fact he is a plus defender at second base who also has experience at shortstop and catcher dating back to his prep career. He can also handle the bat (.400/.481/.457 line in 70 at bats) enough to keep himself in the mix for a starting spot in 2010. Werman’s draft upside may be limited by his size (5-7, 150 – not saying judging him on size is fair, but it’s the reality), but the universal praise he earned last year as a sparkplug second leadoff hitter (the nice way of saying 9-hole hitter) for Virginia down the stretch should continue to get him noticed on the college level. The gap between Werman and Stephen Bruno is more perception than reality.

2012

FR SS Reed Gragnani (2012) is yet another talented young prospect expected to see significant time in a loaded Virginia infield. His game right now revolves largely around his well above-average speed, excellent athleticism, and impressive range up the middle, but he is no slouch with the bat either. Early comps include Brian Roberts (if he develops as is) and Ryan Zimmerman (if he bulks up and gains power). Gragnani’s brother, Robbie, grew four inches during his college tenure at Virginia Commonwealth, so that Ryan Zimmerman developmental path isn’t totally out of the question. That’s not to say that the only thing standing in the way between Gragnani and future big league All-Star status is a couple of inches and some muscle, but he’s a good player with high round talent all the same.

FR SS Stephen Bruno (2012) was one of the rarest of the rare coming out of high school – a prep player actually expected to stay at shortstop as a pro. We always hear about how pretty much every worthwhile big leaguer was the star shortstop/pitcher of his high school team, but it never registered how often these players were forced to move off the position after signing that first pro deal. I mean, Frank Thomas was a shortstop in high school* because, let’s be honest, that’s just where you put the best athlete at that level. I remember watching Billy Rowell play shortstop in high school. He positioned himself about 3 steps out on the outfield grass, basically admitting to all in attendance he had no range and instead relying exclusively on his rocket arm to gun people down at first. Rowell wasn’t a pro prospect as a shortstop, but he played shortstop on his high school team because, quite simply, if he didn’t, then who would? Bruno was a top ten round talent in 2009 who fell to the Yankees in the 26th round due to a very strong commitment to Virginia. He’ll stick at shortstop throughout his career due to his plus range, slightly above-average speed, and Speedy Gonzalez quick hands. He has flashed present power, launching a couple of 450 bombs his senior year of school, but lacks the overall strength to do it on a consistent basis. That last point may not seem like a huge deal for a middle infield prospect, but it does speak to the general concerns about Bruno’s future. Some players are projects based on the development of their tools, an area that Bruno grades out fairly well across the board (in addition to the aforementioned defensive skills, he has a 55 arm), but other players are projects based on their physical development. That’s where Bruno is at right now. He has worked his tail off to improve in each of the five tools (most notably speed and arm strength), but it’ll be the way is body fills out (keeping in mind he is 5-9, 165) that will make him into either a first round caliber guy or not.

***Frank Thomas may or may not have been a shortstop in high school. I actually have no idea. I just thought he was a good example for the point I was trying to make. Now I realize that making stuff up doesn’t help my argument at all, but it’s my site and I get to be as bad a writer and as big a liar as I want to be. Maybe Jim Thome would have been a better example; I bet he played shortstop in high school…

UPDATE: Found something! Go here, or just trust this excerpt: “In baseball, he was a 6-2, 175-pound shortstop. The Cincinnati Reds were interested but never drafted him. So Thome enrolled at Illinois Central College, where he played baseball and basketball. The Indians drafted him in the 13th round in 1989, one of the smartest selections they ever made.”

FR SS Chris Taylor (2012) might have hit himself into regular playing time after mashing the ball throughout the fall. One rumored starting infield for Virginia has Steven Proscia at first, Keith Werman at second, Tyler Cannon sliding back over to third, and Taylor getting regular time at short. Taylor has plus raw power and intriguing defensive tools, but comes to school with a bit less fanfare as fellow freshman infielders Gragnani and Bruno.