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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – Houston Astros

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by Houston in 2016

26 – Forrest Whitley
82 – Ronnie Dawson
88 – Jake Rogers
200 – Carmen Benedetti
230 – Ryne Birk
265 – Stephen Wrenn
327 – Dustin Hunt
478 – Taylor Jones
488 – Brett Adcock
498 – Chad Donato

Complete List of 2016 Houston Draftees

1.17 – RHP Forrest Whitley

On Forrest Whitley (26) from April 2016…

You really shouldn’t have a first round mock draft that doesn’t include at least one big prep righthander from Texas. It just doesn’t feel right. Whitley, standing in at a strapping 6-7, 240 pounds, has the requisite fastball velocity (88-94, 96 peak) to pair with a cadre of power offspeed stuff. We’re talking a devastating when on upper-80s cut-slider and an average or better mid-80s split-change that has been clocked as high as 90 MPH. I’m not sure how power on power on power would work against pro hitters — this is NOT a comp, but I guess Jake Arrieta has found a way to do it — but I’m looking forward to finding out.

Honestly, not a whole lot has changed from the pre-draft evaluation on Whitley to now. There’s a ton to like with him: big fastball that went on to hit 97 MPH later in the spring (his weight was down to 225 by then, too), nasty hard cut-slider, power split-change that is lethal when on, and a truer breaker that lives somewhere between a curve and a slider at around 76-81 MPH. Whitley carries all the risk that big teenage pitchers bring to the table, but the upside here is immense. He has the kind of talent that makes you think putting a ceiling on what he can do is a waste of time. I’ll do it anyway and say that Whitley’s upside looks a lot like what we’ve seen so far out of Gerrit Cole.

2.61 – OF Ronnie Dawson

On Ronnie Dawson (82) from October 2015…

You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.

A final spring at Ohio State didn’t quite answer the question about Dawson’s approach, but the incremental improvements he’s made in that area of his game over the years gives hope that he’s a young hitter who gets it. I think Dawson is a long-term regular in an outfield corner with flashes of all-star season upside. His improved approach combined with the existing physical tool set (above-average power, speed, arm, and range in a corner) should get him where he wants to go. It’s not a direct one-to-one comparison, but there are a lot of similarities between Dawson and future Houston teammate George Springer when the latter was coming out of Connecticut.

3.97 – C Jake Rogers

Jake Rogers (88) to Houston makes so much sense. A team that values defense behind the plate, especially the previously “hidden” (i.e., not publicized) advantages of such things as pitch-framing, taking one of the amateur rank’s best defensive catchers to enter pro ball in years. It would be terrible for his own development, but I wonder what kind of defensive numbers Rogers could put up jumping straight to the big leagues in year one. Just tell him to hit .200 and play the kind of defense that impressed me so much that I compared his all-around game behind the plate to the Florida State version of Buster Posey. It’ll never happen (thankfully), but it would be kind of fun.

With Rogers being a stone cold mortal lock to provide tremendous defensive value going forward (top five defensive catcher in baseball by the end of his rookie year?), the question then moves to how much you’ll get out of him as a hitter. There are a few different ways we can approach Rogers as a hitter, but, for the sake of brevity, let’s hone in on his power upside. Rogers has more raw power (average to above-average) than he’s shown, which can be looked at either as a positive (it’s in there, we just have to find a way to unlock it!) or a negative (raw power is great, but if he hasn’t figured out how to tap into it by now then it doesn’t do us any good). I tend to side with the positive thinkers there if only because the day-to-day hands-on teaching that goes on in pro ball (especially in an organization like Houston that takes the long view with player development) is so different than what amateur prospects get in college, high school, or on the showcase circuit (LOL). Dedicated time, effort, and energy of pro instruction needs to at least be given a chance before writing off any particular amateur’s odds of improvement. Rogers getting into a little more power would hardly qualify as a shocker, and the overall bump of such a development would make him more of a complete prospect. I think 2016 Russell Martin (.231/.335/.398, 99 wRC+) is probably Rogers’s ceiling as a hitter, though I could be talked into bumping that up to Martin’s current career mark (.254/.350/.404, 106 wRC+) if we wanted to keep these optimistic vibes going. Approaching that kind of offensive output with his brand of defensive brilliance would make Rogers a very valuable player and a very rich man. Consider former Astros catcher and current Twin Jason Castro (.232/.309/.390, 94 wRC+) and his recent three-year contract worth $24.5 million. No reason that Rogers can’t have a similar career or better.

4.127 – LHP Brett Adcock

On Brett Adcock (488) from April 2016…

Brett Adcock doesn’t have the size as Vieaux, Sawyer, or his teammate Hill, but his stuff is no less impressive. Lefties that can throw four pitches for strikes with his kind of track record of success, both peripherally (10.29 K/9 in 2014, 9.50 K/9 in 2015) and traditionally (2.87 ERA in 2014, 3.10 ERA in 2015), have a tendency to get noticed even when coming in a 6-0, 215 package. I had somebody describe him to me as “Anthony Kay without the killer change,” an odd comparison that kind of works the less you think about it. Adcock has a good fastball (88-92, 94 peak) and two average or better breaking balls (77-81 SL is fine, but his 75-78 CB could be a big league put away pitch) in addition to an upper-70s changeup that is plenty usable yet hardly on par with Kay’s dominant offering. If Kay is a borderline first round talent (he is), then surely Adcock could find his way into the draft’s top five or so rounds. That might be too aggressive to some, so I’ll agree to knocking down expectations to single-digit rounds and calling it even.

From about the time of that writing on, Adock’s control went from iffy to downright scary. That leaves us with a short lefthander that can really only command two pitches (fastball and 75-82 spike-curve) who will need a lot of work in pro ball. I don’t love it. If his delivery can be tweaked enough to see a return to his freshman year control (3.38 BB/9), then we can get back to thinking about him as a potential fifth starter candidate. If not, then effectively wild lefthanded reliever it is.

5.157 – 3B Abraham Toro-Hernandez

The Astros must have been cussing out the Royals in their draft room when Kansas City stole Seminole State RHP Dillon Drabble away from them in the seventeenth round. The lousy Royals foiled Houston’s plan of drafting not one, not two, not three, but four prospects from one junior college in Oklahoma. I’ve discussed my distaste for loading up on players from one school too many times to count during these draft reviews, so we’ll instead focus on the actual player drafted by Houston here. That would be Abraham Toro-Hernandez, a third baseman coming off a season so good (.439/.545/.849 with 38 BB/18 K and 8/9 SB in 205 AB) that I literally had to check his state page multiple time to be sure I didn’t mess up somehow. Pro ball was slightly more challenging (.254/.301/.322 with 10 BB/31 K in 193 PA) for the 19-year-old, but I’m still liking Houston’s willingness to put real stock in players coming off of exceptional amateur careers. Toro-Hernandez is a solid athlete who has already shown elite plate discipline and power potential. That’s a great starting point to build from.

6.187 – OF Stephen Wrenn

I’ve been writing about the MLB Draft on the internet for long enough now to develop enough of a core audience that I feel comfortable sharing my inner-most secrets with you. Ready for this one? I’m not sure I’ve ever really realized that Stephen Wrenn (265) and Steven Duggar, former Clemson star and Giants draft pick from 2015, were actually different people. I mean, sure, I knew there were not the same literal person, but the two prospects were so similar to me that my brain just melded them into one player and I think that thought may have bled into some of the analysis for both guys. Making matters more confusing (and validating my apparent stupidity), Wrenn went off the board to Houston in the sixth round with the 187th overall pick. San Francisco took Duggar last year in the sixth round with the 186th overall pick. I swear I didn’t realize that before writing the first four sentences of this intro. Life is weird, man.

Whatever similarity the two players once shared went by the wayside in 2016, draft position oddity aside. Duggar really began to click as a hitter during his junior year at Clemson; Wrenn went backwards in his final season at Georgia. The fact that the latter still got picked in the same spot as the former should speak to Wrenn’s upside. Unfortunately, said upside has only ever manifested itself in flashes. His speed, glove, and baseball instincts should all help keep him employed a long time, but his approach at the plate keeps him from being the star (or at least slam dunk potential regular) that he should be. I’ve gotten comps on him that range from Leonys Martin to Kevin Pillar to Adam Jones. That’s a fairly broad spectrum, but certain traits (CF range, athleticism, evidence of more physical gifts than baseball skills at times) are fairly consistent throughout. Personally, I see him as a potential (more naturally gifted) Juan Lagares type at the next level: plus defender, intermittent power, positive on the base paths. Peak Lagares (2014) with the most recent version’s power (2016) would give you around a .280/.320/.420 hitter. That seems like a reasonable offensive ceiling for Wrenn. Even getting near that with his glove would make for a really useful player. If you’re picking up on some similarities between the questionable bat/standout defensive up-the-middle profiles of Wrenn and Jake Rogers, then we’re on the same wavelength.

8.247 – RHP Nick Hernandez

One outstanding year at Houston (11.75 K/9 and 1.93 BB/9 in 43.2 IP) was more than enough evidence to convince the Astros to pluck Nick Hernandez out of their own backyard. The power-armed righthander (88-92 FB, 94 peak; above-average low-80s SL) kept right on rolling in pro ball after signing (10.38 K/9 and 3.12 BB/9 in 26.0 IP). Curiously, Hernandez finished his (small sample) debut with one of the lowest GB rates (28.6%) out of any pitcher I’ve come across in organized ball. No idea if that’s an aberration or part of a larger trend, but it’s something to keep in mind going forward.

9.277 – LHP Ryan Hartman

NAIA competition or not, a 0.64 ERA in 98 innings pitched with standout peripherals (11.85 K/9 and 1.10 BB/9) is something special. Ryan Hartman put up those awesome senior year stats thanks to a solid heater (87-91, up to 93) and a really good changeup he’s not afraid to double up on when needed. An improving curve could give him a shot to remain in the rotation as a professional, but for now his clearest path to the big leagues looks to come as a fast-tracked reliever. I like it.

10.307 – RHP Dustin Hunt

Dustin Hunt (327) is a fine project to take on at this stage in the draft. His size (6-5, 200), fastball (87-93, 94-95 peak), and track record (the three-year rotation mainstay put up a 9.04 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9 in almost 250 total college innings) stack up against just about any college pitching prospect you’ll find past the first few rounds of the draft. I’m less enamored with his offspeed stuff than most, but the good outweighs the bad and time is still on his side anyway. Nice pick.

11.337 – RHP Chad Donato

Chad Donato’s (498) future remains somewhat cloudy after being red flagged by many teams after being diagnosed with a strained UCL just a few days before the draft. Donato wound up needing Tommy John surgery; he underwent the procedure on July 1, the same day as three other professional pitchers according to this wonderful resource that I can’t believe I’m only now seeing for the first time. If Donato can return to 100% health, then the Astros may have stolen a future quality big league reliever in the eleventh round. With a fastball up to 94 (88-92 typically), an above-average to plus curve, and standout control, Donato was able to dominate (10.37 K/9 and 1.87 BB/9) college competition in his junior year in Morgantown.

There are too many cool anecdotes in this story on Donato’s draft day experience that I couldn’t pick just one to share. Read it yourself and see. I’m such a sucker for these types of stories.

And for the millionth time this draft review season, THIS is what the eleventh round is all about. Well, kind of. Even though Donato’s $100,000 bonus wasn’t technically an overslot deal that counted against Houston’s allotted bonus pool, the eleventh round was still the perfect time to give a talented but risky guy like Donato six-figures. Use the last few single-digit rounds for cheaper senior-signs — like Houston did with Ryan Hartman in round nine — to give yourself flexibility elsewhere.

12.367 – LHP Carmen Benedetti

Though announced as a pitcher on draft day, Carmen Benedetti (200) played almost every inning of his rookie pro season in right field. This decision pleases me greatly. If you’re a regular reader, you know why. If not, you’ll learn. On Benedetti from April 2016…

Carmen Benedetti is such a favorite of mine that I didn’t even bother with dropping the FAVORITE designation in my notes on him; it’s just assumed. He’s not the best prospect in this class, but he has a case for being one of the best players. I’ve compared him to Florida’s Brian Johnson (now with the Boston Red Sox) in the past and I think he’s legitimately good enough both as a pitcher and a hitter to have a pro future no matter what his drafting team prefers. As with Johnson, I prefer Benedetti getting his shot as a position player first. I’m a sucker for smooth fielding first basemen with bat speed, above-average raw power, and the kind of disciplined approach one might expect from a part-time pitcher who can fill up the strike zone with the best of them. If he does wind up on the mound, I won’t object. He’s good enough to transition to the rotation professionally thanks to a fine fastball (90-94), above-average 77-80 change, a usable curve, and heaps of athleticism. I get that I like Benedetti and this draft class more than most, but the fact that a prospect of his caliber isn’t likely to even approach Johnson’s draft position (31st overall) says something about the quality and depth of the 2016 MLB Draft.

And again later that same month…

Search for “Carmen Benedetti” on this site. I’ve written a lot about him lately. Assuming you don’t — and good for you not being bossed around by some baseball nerd on the internet — the quick version is he’s really good at baseball, both the hitting/fielding part and the pitching part. I’ve likened him to Brian Johnson more than once, and I think he’s shown enough as a position player to get a shot in the field first. The raw power might not scream slam dunk future big league regular at first base, but the overall offensive and defensive profile could make him an above-average regular for a long time.

I really like Benedetti. I think I’ve made that clear. Now let me pump the breaks a little bit. Here’s a topical comparison to consider…

.323/.410/.485 (56 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR) with 83 BB/76 K in 549 AB
.327/.444/.446 (45 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR) with 127 BB/100 K in 626 AB

Top was Benedetti in his three years at Michigan, bottom was what Houston prospect Conrad Gregor did in his three years at Vanderbilt. Gregor was a FAVORITE who I thought would up his offensive game to another level in the pros. Hasn’t happened. So many of the notes I have on Benedetti match up with what I once had on Gregor. Here’s a sampling of some older Gregor notes: “plus defender at first, pretty good in outfield; average speed once he gets a full head of steam; good arm, but slow release; very strong hit tool; great approach; physically strong; smart hitter, but still chases too many bad balls; plus bat speed; can get pull happy; pretty swing; that raw power is still there, but has been slow to manifest.” Every player is different and should be assessed independent of whatever his peer has done, but there’s no harm in attempting to find patterns in player archetypes that work or don’t work within your own organization. Gregor hasn’t worked out to date; that can be attributed to him, the Astros, or (most likely) the nature of the challenge that is professional ball. Hopefully Benedetti can avoid the pitfalls that have ensnared Gregor to this point. If not, hey, there’s always the option of moving back to the mound.

I should close with that rare snappy line, but I can’t help myself; I’m pulling a reverse Costanza here. The college stat comparison game is one I enjoy even though I freely admit that stats can sometimes be used to create false equivalencies and lead to faulty conclusions. I mean, I don’t do that — or at least I try not to — but it can be done. For example, maybe you really like Benedetti and you take exception to the Gregor comparison above. You might pull this guy’s numbers to use as a basis of comparison instead…

.323/.410/.485 (56 2B, 4 3B, 10 HR) with 83 BB/76 K in 549 AB
.341/.410/.466 (42 2B, 4 3B, 12 HR) with 62 BB/68 K in 689 AB

Top is still Benedetti at Michigan, but the bottom is now Cardinals standout Stephen Piscotty’s career numbers at Stanford. Pretty damn similar, right? So maybe Benedetti is Gregor or maybe he’s Piscotty. Or maybe he’s just Benedetti. I keep looking up at his college numbers and thinking that some slightly scaling back — about 50 points of everything, give or take — could represent a reasonable pro ceiling for him. So that would be something like .280/.360/.430 at his peak. Those numbers would make him almost an exact duplicate of 2016 Odubel Herrera. That’s…unexpected but great. Other 2016 outfielders with a similar line include Adam Eaton, Kole Calhoun, and Stephen Piscotty (!). The closest 2016 first base facsimiles are Adrian Gonzalez and Eric Hosmer. You’d take the 2016 version of any of those hitters out of a plus defender at first or a strong-armed right fielder. Maybe Benedetti won’t have to hop back on the mound after all…

13.397 – 2B Ryne Birk

Ryne Birk (230) has always hit, so it wasn’t a huge shock to many long-time observers of his game that he kept right on hitting in pro ball after signing. Even better than the hitting (for me) was the apparent commitment by Houston to give Birk an honest shot to stick in the dirt going forward. From March 2016…

Birk has worked his tail off to become a competent defender at the keystone, so selecting him this early is a vote of confidence in his glove passing the professional barrier of quality in the eyes of his first wave of pro coaches. I think he’s more than good enough at second with an intriguing enough upside as a hitter to make a top five round pick worth it. Offensively he’s shown average power, above-average speed, and good feel for contact. Sorting out his approach will be the difference between fun utility option or solid starter once he hits pro ball. He reminds me a good bit of Trever Morrison as a prospect, right down to the slightly off spellings of their respective first names.

And then again in April 2016…

A lot of what was written about Shelby could apply to Ryne Birk, at least in a poor man’s version kind of way. Birk might be a little ahead in terms of power and approach, but Shelby beats him everywhere else. I’ve gotten positive reviews on his glove at second this year, but there are still a few who maintain that his speed (good not great) and arm (neither good nor great) will force him to left field in the pros. For those reasons and more, I’ve gotten a fun and somewhat obscure Andrew Pullin comp for him this spring.

As much as I like Birk’s bat independent of where he plays, even I have to admit that the offensive bar in left field would be tough for him to clear enough to be considered a legitimate prospect at the position. At second, a position where I’ll go down believing he can play until he’s long retired, he’s instantly one of the most interesting prospects of his kind in baseball. I mentioned comps to both Trever Morrison and Andrew Pullin in the months leading up to the draft, but it now occurs to me that Birk could be a little bit like this draft’s version of Max Schrock. Coincidentally (I swear!), both Birk and Schrock fell to the thirteenth round in their respective drafts. Hmm.

14.427 – RHP Carson LaRue

A 11.28 K/9 and 2.79 BB/9 for Carson LaRue at Cowley County CC looks pretty good from where I’m sitting. The former Oklahoma State pitcher has the low-90s fastball/weaponized slider one-two punch to get a potential look in relief down the line.

15.457 – SS Alex DeGoti

Alex DeGoti could be another one of Houston’s patented non-D1 college finds. The middle infielder hit .404/.492/.694 with 27 BB/22 K in 193 AB at Barry after three lackluster years at Long Beach State. He then followed it up with a .228/.320/.329 (99 wRC+) pro debut. Not too shabby.

16.487 – OF Spencer Johnson

Spencer Johnson has been a consistently impressive power/speed threat going back to his high school days. I’ve always been surprised at the lack of hype the 6-4, 215 pound physical specimen has received over the years. Of course, I’m guilty of this as well if you want to check the archives. There’s no time like the present to talk a guy up, so that’s what we’ll do with Johnson now. Houston got themselves a really interesting player in the draft’s sixteenth round. From a strictly physical standpoint, Johnson is one of the draft’s best looking prospects. He has huge raw power, decent speed (admittedly not quite as much as he had in his younger days), and is unafraid to grip it and rip it in any count. That aggressive style works for him more often than not, but an avalanche of strikeouts is never that far away. If he can limit the empty swings in pro ball, he’s got a chance to do some damage in a bench role.

18.547 – RHP Colin McKee

Colin McKee dominated at Mercyhurst in his redshirt-junior season to the tune of a 13.50 K/9 and 1.82 ERA in 94.0 IP. His first 8.1 IP as a pro weren’t quite as magical unless you consider 7 BB, 2 HBP, 7 WP, and an ERA of 11.88 a good time. At least his FIP was just 8.58. Those 8.1 innings were obviously a less than ideal way to make a first impression, but McKee still has plenty going for him. He’s got the track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good 76-81 SL), and build (6-3, 225) to pitch his way back into the future middle relief mix for Houston.

19.577 – 1B Taylor Jones

I like this one. On Taylor Jones (478) from March 2016…

Taylor Jones is a risky pick behind Brigman as guys with long levers bring that boom/bust aspect to hitting. The boom of Jones’s power currently outweighs any bust I feel about his long-term ability to make consistent contact as a pro. The fact that he’s more than just a slugger helps give some wiggle room. Jones is an average runner who fields his position really well. He’s also capable of moonlighting on the mound thanks to an upper-80s fastball and up-and-down curve. Broken record alert, but he’s one of my favorite senior-sign hitters in this class. That makes about four dozen favorite senior-sign hitters; thankfully, nobody keeps track.

One day I’ll stop getting sucked into believing that the next giant hitter — Jones is 6-7, 225 pounds — will find a way to make enough contact to be a star in the pros. One day…

(Jones hit really well in his pro debut, BTW. Still a huge fan of him as a potential big league contributor. Super pick. Just when I think I’m out…)

20.607 – 2B LP Pelletier

The LP in LP Pelletier’s name stands for Louis-Phillippe. That seems like good information to have in the back pocket going forward for some reason. Also good information: Pelletier hit .445/.504/.873 with 18 BB/18 K and 16/19 SB in 229 AB for Seminole State JC this past spring. The team hit .380/.469/.684, so this is similar to the Raymond Henderson deal you’ll read about two rounds below. As with Henderson, Pelletier still gets credit from me for going out and hitting. The advantages are all well known, but you still have to do your job. Pelletier did that and then some this past spring. It didn’t quite work as well for him in a small sample over the summer, but time is on his side.

21.637 – C Chuckie Robinson

You’re getting power, a big arm, and sheer physical strength with Chuckie Robinson. He can get a little too aggressive at the plate for his own good at times and not everybody you talk to is convinced he’s a catcher long-term, but the righthanded power should be enough to keep him employed for the foreseeable future.

22.667 – C Raymond Henderson

In his two years at Grayson County CC, Raymond Henderson did this…

.374/.451/.663 – 30 BB/26 K – 190 AB
.452/.541/.782 – 40 BB/17 K – 188 AB

Damn. Some of those offensive numbers should be taken with a grain of salt — the team as a whole hit .354/.445/.551 in 2016, so, yeah, but there are still many positives to be gleaned from his time as a Viking. Even with an inflated scoring environment, questionable competition, and juggernaut lineup accounted for you still have to go out there and actually do the hitting. Henderson certainly did that, and he did it while also showing off a stellar approach at the plate. Pro ball was a bit more challenging (.223/.292/.394 with 9 BB/24 K in 106 PA), but I’d be willing to give a guy who has shown that kind of college production a bit more time to make his adjustments to pro ball. I’ll be watching Henderson closely. There’s some sneaky forward-thinking (catcher/second base/third base) utility guy upside here.

23.697 – RHP Tyler Britton

A 13.83 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9 in 41.0 IP puts Tyler Britton near the top of the hill when it comes to 2016 MLB Draft pro pitching debuts. The undersized (5-11, 190) righthander from High Point (9.60 K/9 and 1.63 BB/9 in 55.1 IP as a senior) isn’t flashy, but there’s little doubt he’ll keep getting chances as long as he can keep missing bats.

24.727 – 1B Troy Sieber

Even though plenty of quality articles on the subject have been written, I’m still baffled how the Astros identified Tyler White, the fifty-first best college first base prospect in 2013 according to some internet hack, as a potential big league player after a really good but not mind-blowing (.361/.420/.630 with 17 BB/25 K) final season at Western Carolina. That’s why I’m absolutely taking notice of Troy Sieber, Houston’s twenty-fourth round pick out of St. Leo College down in Florida. Sieber entered pro ball sporting a .381/.489/.738 (64 BB/60 K) career college line that included a .457/.553/.873 (31 BB/26 K) junior season. That’ll work. He kept right on mashing in the GCL (.289/.449/.474 in 49 PA) before running into his first challenge at Greeneville (.242/.356/.339 in 146 PA, down across the board but still good for a 102 wRC+). Like White, Sieber will have to keep hitting at every level to get his shot. Like White, he’s got a chance to do just that.

25.757 – RHP Kevin Hill

On Kevin Hill from March 2016…

Hill is the consummate college senior tearing up younger hitters with pinpoint command and stellar sequencing. He’s capable of tossing one of his three offspeed pitches in any count, and there’s now enough fastball (up to 88-92 this year, peaking at 93) to keep hitters from sitting on it. Smarts, plus command, and solid stuff make Hill a really good senior-sign, but it’s his fantastic athleticism that helps set him apart. The entire package makes him arguably one of the best potential senior-signs in the country. One scout referred to him as “store brand Aaron Nola.” I’m in.

I’m sure it’s just because I finished writing their draft review recently, but it’s shocking to me that Hill wasn’t drafted by Cleveland this year. He’s the embodiment of the command/athleticism aesthetic they seem to be going for of late. Houston snapped him up in the twenty-fifth round and could get a big league pitcher for their trouble. Working strongly against Hill is his age (already 24!) and lack of projection, but his present ability could be enough to challenge him with an aggressive AA assignment to start his first full season. Whether he starts there or elsewhere (High-A, most likely), the goal for all involved should be to get Hill to AAA by the end of the season. If he can do that, then he’s got a shot to fulfill his fifth starter/middle relief destiny.

27.817 – LHP Nathan Thompson

I’m not sure if this is noteworthy or not, but eight pitchers handled 454 innings in 56 games for the Bison in 2016. Seems like they kept that staff busy. I like it. One of those eight pitchers was Nathan Thompson. The lefthander leaned on an upper-80s fastball (90 peak) to strike out 11.81 batters per nine in his final season at Oklahoma Baptist. There’s some matchup relief upside here if it works.

30.907 – 3B Brody Westmoreland

It’s impossible for me to mention Brody Westmoreland without also mentioning his awesome high school. Before a quick stop at San Diego State and a year at the College of Southern Nevada, Westmoreland played ball for the ThunderRidge HS Grizzles. ThunderRidge! Anyway, Westmoreland is a reasonably interesting four-corners (1B/3B/LF/RF) utility prospect with a strong arm, solid athleticism, and legit power. There’s probably too much swing-and-miss in his game to do a whole lot, but it’s a reasonable gamble here all the same.

31.937 – LHP Howie Brey

As a semi-local prospect (Rutgers!) to me, I’ve seen a fair amount of Howie Brey over the past four college seasons. I can’t lie and say that I ever came away from watching him thinking he had a future in pro ball, but I’ve been wrong plenty before. Rooting for him.

34.1027 – SS Stijn van der Meer

Pre-draft take on Stijn van der Meer…

SS Stijn van derMeer can field his position and do enough with the bat to rank as one of my favorite senior shortstops in this class. Fair or not, I can’t help but think of him as a potential Die Hard villain whenever I read his name.

I’ve seen his name spelled just about every way imaginable, so we’ll go with the Baseball-Reference approved Stijn van der Meer for now. Speaking of B-R, this is well worth a read. I would have loved to sum it up, but I didn’t know where to begin. Stijn van der Meer has already had a damn fascinating baseball existence and he’s only a few months into minor league career. At least this pre-draft report on him sums up his skills on the diamond nicely…

Lamar SR SS Stijn van derMeer: really strong glove; very little power; patient, pesky hitter; adept at working long counts, hitting with two strikes, and fouling tough pitches off; fun comp from his college coach: Ozzie Guillen; 6-3, 170 pounds

Pretty simple package here: defense, patience, and no power. The defensive aspect won’t take a hit in pro ball, so it’ll be worth watching to see if he can still play his style of offensive game against pro pitching more adept at exploiting punchless hitters’ weaknesses. Early pro returns were encouraging (.301/.386/.370 with 8.2 BB% and 14.1 K%), but he has a long way to go. Best case scenario could see him following a fairly similar career arc as a player I haven’t yet given up on. Look at these draft year numbers…

.376/.471/.441 – 38 BB/15 K – 7/12 SB – 213 AB
.309/.429/.512 – 43 BB/21 K – 12/12 SB – 207 AB

Top is what van der Meer did his last year at Lamar, bottom is what Nolan Fontana did his final season at Florida. Not exactly the same — note the significantly higher ISO for Fontana — but not completely out of line. Even with that difference in mind, I think you’d take your chance on van der Meer looking even a little bit like Fontana considering the former prospect was selected 966 picks after the latter.

36.1087 – RHP Ian Hardman

I knew I hadn’t written about Ian Hardman without even checking because I’m 100% certain his is a name I would have remembered. He’s definitely my favorite Mega Man villain ever drafted. I typically shy away from name-related “humor,” but it’s actually relevant in the case of Hardman. Or Harman, as the official National Junior College Athletic Association page would have you believe. Whoops. Hardman had a very eventful year for Seminole State: 15.12 K/9 and 6.33 BB/9 in 25.2 IP. Knowing nothing of his stuff, I’m intrigued. Previously unknown (to me) junior college guys with cool names, tons of strikeouts, and lots of walks always rank among my favorites.

38.1147 – OF Chaz Pal

Chaz Paul hit .363/.438/.583 with 49 BB/65 K in 424 AB over two seasons as a USC-Aiken Pacer. That’s all I’ve got. It does occur to me that Houston drafted both a Chuckie (Robinson) and a Chaz (Pal).

39.1177 – INF Tyler Wolfe

Tyler Wolfe, long a reliable defender at multiple infield spots, hit just enough as a senior to hear his name called on draft day. He then went on to split his time in the pros between second, third, and short with the vast majority of his work during his debut coming at the hot corner. He also managed to get two innings in on the mound. Considering they were good innings — two hits, one walk, and three whiffs — maybe the Astros ought to think about letting him give it a shot full-time.

40.1207 – RHP Lucas Williams

This is such a good story. Since I know about one in a hundred people actually click these links, here’s my favorite part…

“I was umping a 9-year-old game on the day of the draft, when my friend Brad Wilson (a former University of Central Missouri All-American baseball player) got my attention,” said Williams, a 2012 graduate of Grain Valley High School who starred on the mound for the Mules Division II World Series team this past season.

“He said my phone was buzzing and going crazy and I looked at it and found out I’d been drafted by the Houston Astros.”

So, what did Williams do?

“I had four more innings to ump in that game and another game after that – so I didn’t get to do a lot of celebrating.”

Don’t know much about Williams (8.40 K/9 and 2.80 BB/9 in 45.0 IP at Central Missouri) otherwise, but I’m rooting for him now. As a one-time terrible work-study intramural referee in college, we’ve got to stick together.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Tyler Buffett (Oklahoma State), Brian Howard (TCU), Avery Tuck (San Diego State), Johnny Ruiz (Miami), Elliott Barzilli (TCU), Darius Vines (?), Toby Handley (Stony Brook), Nick Slaughter (Houston)

2016 MLB Draft – College Update

We’re now one month’s worth of games into the college season, so it feels like as good a time as any to take the temperature of the top college prospects in this class. All stats are updated as of games played on March 12 or March 13 depending on when the games ended yesterday. I used this post to frame the discussion.

Many, many, many players I like were not included in this update. I say this knowing full well how obnoxious it sounds, but trust that I know about your favorite player’s hot start. Neither malice nor ignorance is the cause of their exclusion. It’s simply a time and space thing. That said, feel free to bring up said favorite players’s hot starts in the comments. The more the merrier there, I say.

C Zack Collins – Miami – .400/.576/.733 – 19 BB/9 K – 0/1 SB – 45 AB
1B Will Craig – Wake Forest – .458/.581/1.021 – 10 BB/7 K – 48 AB
2B Nick Senzel – Tennessee – .393/.500/.589 – 14 BB/6 K – 7/8 SB – 56 AB
SS Michael Paez – Coastal Carolina – .328/.418/.483 – 6 BB/11 K – 0/2 SB – 58 AB
3B Bobby Dalbec – Arizona – .191/.350/.319 – 10 BB/17 K – 0/1 SB – 47 AB
OF Kyle Lewis – Mercer – .466/.581/.879 – 15 BB/8 K – 1/2 SB – 58 AB
OF Buddy Reed – Florida – .306/.411/.468 – 10 BB/12 K – 7/7 SB – 62 AB
OF Corey Ray – Louisville – .377/.452/.738 – 9 BB/6 K – 20/22 SB – 61 AB

We knew Collins could hit, so his great start is hardly a surprise. Still, those numbers are insane, very much under-the-radar nationally (source: my Twitter feed), and more than good enough to play at first base if you don’t think he’s worth trying behind the plate as a pro. It took Kyle Schwarber a long time to gain national acceptance as a potential top ten pick; I could see Collins following a similar path between now and June. He’s already very much in that mix for me.

Craig is a monster. The only note I’d pass along with his scorching start is that Wake Forest has played 12 of their first 17 games in the very friendly offensive confines of their home park. I still love the bat.

Senzel is yet another of the top prospect bats off to a wild start at the plate. Got an Anthony Rendon-lite comp on him recently that I think fits fairly well.

Much has been made about Ray’s start — rightfully so as he’s been awesome — that what Lewis has done so far has been overlooked some. I’m not blind to the fact that Ray’s functional speed and higher level of competition faced make him the preferred college outfielder for many, but no reason to sleep on Lewis.

RHP Alec Hansen – Oklahoma – 13.20 K/9 – 7.20 BB/9 – 6.00 ERA – 15.0 IP
LHP Matt Krook – Oregon – 14.32 K/9 – 7.67 BB/9 – 4.08 ERA – 17.2 IP
RHP Connor Jones – Virginia – 7.91 K/9 – 1.98 BB/9 – 1.98 ERA – 27.1 IP
LHP AJ Puk – Florida – 9.53 K/9 – 4.76 BB/9 – 2.65 ERA – 17.0 IP
RHP Dakota Hudson – Mississippi State – 12.20 K/9 – 5.72 BB/9 – 1.90 ERA – 23.2 IP

Funny how three of the top five have lines that line up similarly so far. I think Jones has shown the best mix of stuff and results out of this top tier this spring. I also think that right now there really isn’t a realistic college arm that can lay claim to being in the 1-1 mix. Early returns on the top of the 2016 college class: bats > arms.

C Sean Murphy – Wright State – .259/.429/.778 – 5 BB/5 K – 0/0 SB – 27 AB
1B Pete Alonso – Florida – .424/.493/.661 – 8 BB/4 K – 1/1 SB – 59 AB
2B JaVon Shelby – Kentucky – .341/.481/.756 – 8 BB/7 K – 2/2 SB – 41 AB
SS Logan Gray – Austin Peay State – .327/.450/.755 – 11 BB/16 K – 2/2 SB – 49 AB
3B Sheldon Neuse – Oklahoma – .340/.493/.698 – 16 BB/14 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
OF Bryan Reynolds – Vanderbilt – .345/.486/.618 – 14 BB/18 K – 2/5 SB – 55 AB
OF Jake Fraley – Louisiana State – .400/.500/.583 – 12 BB/7 K – 11/15 SB – 60 AB
OF Nick Banks – Texas A&M – .263/.317/.421 – 2 BB/6 K – 0/0 SB – 38 AB

While the First Team has had a few slow starters (Dalbec for sure, Paez if you’re picking nits about his BB/K), the Second Team is rolling from top to bottom. Murphy and Banks have been slowed some by injuries, but otherwise these guys are mashing.

It speaks to how great Lewis and Ray (and even Reed to an extent) have been this year that neither Reynolds nor Fraley have gained much traction as top outfield prospects in the national consciousness. Both are really good players who will make their drafting teams very happy in June.

It’s taken me a few years, but I finally realized who Banks reminds me of as a prospect: Hunter Renfroe. I’m not yet sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s a thing.

RHP Cal Quantrill – Stanford
LHP Matt Crohan – Winthrop – 9.95 K/9 – 0.47 BB/9 – 2.37 ERA – 19.0 IP
RHP Zach Jackson – Arkansas – 11.71 K/9 – 5.12 BB/9 – 2.19 ERA – 12.1 IP
RHP Robert Tyler – Georgia – 13.94 K/9 – 1.69 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 21.1 IP
LHP Garrett Williams – Oklahoma State

I really liked Keith Law’s Ryan Madson comp for Tyler. I’m high enough on Tyler to modify that and use it as a potential MLB floor because I think Tyler has a better chance to continue developing a good enough breaking ball to go through a lineup multiple times.

The relative struggles of some of the top college pitchers in this class leave the door wide open for a guy like Quantrill coming back from injury to seriously enter the 1-1 conversation.

C Matt Thaiss – Virginia – .361/.473/.541 – 12 BB/1 K – 0/1 SB – 61 AB
1B Carmen Beneditti – Michigan – .298/.452/.426 – 10 BB/4 K – 3/4 SB – 47 AB
2B Cavan Biggio – Notre Dame – .229/.448/.313 – 17 BB/10 K – 4/4 SB – 48 AB
SS Colby Woodmansee – Arizona State – .370/.486/.630 – 14 BB/9 K – 1/1 SB – 54 AB
3B Lucas Erceg – Menlo (CA) – .342/.378/.685 – 5 BB/6 K – 0 SB – 111 AB
OF Ryan Boldt – Nebraska – .318/.382/.424 – 6 BB/8 K – 7/12 SB – 66 AB
OF Stephen Wrenn – Georgia – .353/.424/.471 – 5 BB/9 K – 4/7 SB – 51 AB
OF Ronnie Dawson – Ohio State – .263/.354/.509 – 8 BB/9 K – 3/4 SB – 57 AB

Love Thaiss. Loved Biggio, but starting to re-calibrate my expectations a little. Same for Boldt. Never loved Woodmansee, but I’m beginning to get it. Erceg’s start confuses me. It’s excellent, obviously, but the numbers reflect a high-contact approach that doesn’t show up in any of the scouting notes on him. Consider my curiosity piqued.

LHP Eric Lauer – Kent State – 8.05 K/9 – 4.02 BB/9 – 1.82 ERA – 24.2 IP
RHP Michael Shawaryn – Maryland – 7.04 K/9 – 3.33 BB/9 – 3.33 ERA – 24.1 IP
RHP Daulton Jefferies – California – 11.42 K/9 – 1.73 BB/9 – 1.04 ERA – 26.0 IP
RHP Kyle Serrano – Tennessee – 3.2 IP
RHP Kyle Funkhouser – Louisville – 8.77 K/9 – 5.34 BB/9 – 4.18 ERA – 23.2 IP

When I re-do the college rankings (coming soon!), I think this is where we’ll see some serious movers and shakers. Things are wide open after the top eight or so pitchers as the conversation shifts move towards high-floor fourth/fifth starters rather than top half of the rotation possibilities. I’ve read and heard some of the Jefferies top half of the first round buzz, and I’ve been slow to buy in so far. I like him a lot, but that feels rich. Then I remember that Mike Leake climbed as high as eighth overall back in my first draft doing this, so anything is possible.

Now for some prospects that weren’t on the preseason teams that has caught my eye so far…

Logan Shore – Florida – 9.33 K/9 – 0.67 BB/9 – 2.00 ERA – 27.0 IP
Jordan Sheffield – Vanderbilt – 13.17 K/9 – 2.56 BB/9 – 1.09 ERA – 24.2 IP
Corbin Burnes – St. Mary’s – 11.20 K/9 – 2.32 BB/9 – 3.09 ERA – 23.1 IP
Bailey Clark – Duke – 10.50 K/9 – 2.63 BB/9 – 3.38 ERA – 24.0 IP

I’ve been slow to appreciate Sheffield, but I’m on board now. My lazy but potentially prescient comp to Dillon Tate is something I can’t shake. Clark vs Zach Jackson is a fun head-to-head prospect battle that pits two of my favorite raw arms with questions about long-term role holding them back.

Nick Solak – Louisville – .434/.563/.585 – 15 BB/5 K – 6/6 SB – 53 AB
Bryson Brigman – San Diego – .424/.472/.515 – 3 BB/4 K – 5/7 SB – 33 AB
Stephen Alemais – Tulane – .462/.477/.641 – 3 BB/6 K – 4/5 SB – 39 AB
Jake Rogers – Tulane – .302/.471/.547 – 13 BB/11 K – 5/5 SB – 53 AB
Errol Robinson – Mississippi – .226/.317/.358 – 7 BB/8 K – 2/2 SB – 53 AB
Logan Ice – Oregon State – .463/.520/1.024 – 5 BB/1 K – 0/0 SB – 41 AB
Trever Morrison – Oregon State – .400/.456/.600 – 5 BB/12 K – 0/1 SB – 50 AB

Solak’s start is a thing of beauty. Rogers and Ice add to the impressive depth at the top of the catching class. It’ll be interesting to see which C/SS combo gets drafted higher between Oregon State and Tulane.

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

I don’t typically get into rankings this early in the process because doing it the right way as a research/writing staff of one takes me literally hundreds of hours. Realistically putting together what I feel is representative of my better stuff just hasn’t been possible in the past unless I pushed other micro baseball projects — for the site and elsewhere — aside and instead looked took the time to cover a nation’s worth of prospects on the macro level. Having a draft site that spends more time on players on the fringes who may or may not wind up drafted at all while failing to address the prospects at the top of the food chain seems a bit silly, so I’m trying to balance things out a little bit better this year. There will still be lots of the usual draft minutiae I enjoy so much, but a rededicated focus on the draft’s first day just makes sense. With all of this in mind I put other baseball duties on hold for the last ten or so days to put this list together. It’s imperfect, but I like it as a starting point. Some notes on what you’ll see below…

*** I didn’t include any non-D1 players at this point because I haven’t yet had the time to go as deep into other levels of competition and junior college ball just yet. Nick Shumpert would have made the top fifty for sure. Lucas Erceg likely would have been considered.  After a quick skim of my notes, I’d say Kep Brown, Tekwaan Whyte, Ryan January, Ethan Skender, Liam Scafariello, Jesus Gamez, Curtis Taylor, Willie Rios, Shane Billings, Brett Morales, Hunter Tackett, Devin Smeltzer, and Tyson Miller would be just a few of the names also in the mix for me right now. I said it a lot last year, but it bears repeating: I’d love to find the time/energy to go deeper with non-D1 baseball this year. The finite number of hours I have to devote to this site might get in the way, but I’m going to try.

*** This is going to sound bad and I apologize in advance, but I don’t believe I left anybody off that I intended to include. It’s possible, of course, but I don’t think that’s the case here. A ton of really, really good prospects, many of whom will be future big league players, didn’t make the cut as of yet. It’s not personal, obviously. I would have loved to include any player that even remotely interested me, but I had to have a cut-off point somewhere. If you think I whiffed on somebody, I’m happy to listen. Reasonable minds can disagree.

*** There is no consensus top player in this college class. The hitter at the top could wind up out of the first round by June. The top pitcher listed has medical red flags reminiscent of Michael Matuella last season. And — SPOILER ALERT — the top overall player in this class isn’t included on the list below. There are players ranked in the twenties that may be in your top five and there are players in the thirties that may not crack somebody else’s top seventy-five. It’s a fun year that way.

*** If I had to predict what player will actually go number one this June, I’d piggy-back on what others have already said and put my vote in for AJ Puk. The Phillies are my hometown team and while I’m not as well-connected to their thinking as I am with a few other teams, based on the snippets of behind the scenes things I’ve heard (not much considering it’s October, but it’s not like they aren’t thinking about it yet) and the common sense reporting elsewhere (they lean towards a quick-moving college player, preferably a pitcher) all point to Puk. He’s healthy, a good kid (harmless crane climbing incident aside), and a starting pitcher all the way. Puk joining Alfaro, Knapp, Crawford, Franco, Williams, Quinn, Herrera, Altherr, Nola, Thompson, Eickhoff, Eflin, and Giles by September 2017 makes for a pretty intriguing cost-controlled core.

*** The words that go along with the rankings are a bit more positive than what long-time readers might be used to. My early take is that this appears to be an above-average draft, but a friend who saw an early draft (no pun intended) of this told me that 2016 must be an incredibly talented group of amateurs. He said that reading through led him to believe that every pitcher is a future big league starter and every hitter is a future above-average regular. Guilty. I admit that I generally skew positive at this site (elsewhere…not so much) because I like baseball, enjoy focusing on what young players do well, and believe highlighting the good can help grow the college game, but being fair is always the ultimate goal. That said, there will be plenty of time to get deeper into each prospect’s individual strengths and weaknesses over the next seven or so months. In October a little extra dose of positivity is nice.

With no further ado, here are the 2016 MLB Draft’s top fifty prospects (with a whole lot more names to know beyond that)…

(Fine, just a bit more ado: A very rough HS list and maybe a combined overall ranking will come after Jupiter…)

  1. Mercer JR OF Kyle Lewis

The popular comp for Lewis has been Alfonso Soriano (originated at D1 Baseball, I believe), but I see more of Yasiel Puig in his game. He’s an honest five-tool player with a rapidly improving approach at the plate. There’s still some roughness around the edges there, but if it clicks then he’s a monster. There’s obvious risk in the profile, but it’s easy to be excited by somebody who legitimately gets better with every watch.

  1. Oklahoma JR RHP Alec Hansen

Hansen would rank first overall (college, not overall) if not for some recent reports of forearm troubles. His injury history probably should have been enough to temper enthusiasm for his nasty stuff (huge FB and chance for two plus offspeed pitches), but the upside is just that exciting. The popular Gerrit Cole makes sense as Hansen is a big guy (6-7, 235) with outstanding athleticism who holds his plus velocity late into games.

  1. Florida JR OF Buddy Reed

Reed’s relative newness to playing the game full-time makes his already considerable upside all the more intriguing. More reps against quality pitching could turn the dynamic center fielder (plus range, plus speed, plus arm) into the top overall pick.

  1. Oregon rSO LHP Matt Krook

This may be a touch more speculative that some of the other names on the list since Krook missed the 2015 season after Tommy John surgery, but I’m buying all the Krook shares I can right now. He came back and impressed on the Cape enough to warrant consideration as a potential 1-1 riser. There’s no squaring up his fastball and there’s more than enough offspeed (CB and CU) to miss bats (12 K/9 in 45 freshman innings). He’s not as physical as AJ Puk, but the more advanced secondaries give him the edge for now.

  1. Florida JR LHP/1B AJ Puk

Extension, deception, and power would be three words that come immediately to mind when describing Puk. He’s every bit of 6-7, 225 with a delivery that hides the ball damn well. His power comes both with his left arm (92-96, 98 peak) and at the plate (he’d quickly be among the better hitting pitchers in the game), so it’s no big shock that some guy on the internet (that’s me) sees some similarities between him and the prospect version of Madison Bumgarner.

  1. Wake Forest JR 1B/RHP Will Craig

Do you like power? How about patience? What about a guy with power, patience, and the athleticism to pull off collegiate two-way duty? For everybody who missed on AJ Reed the first time around, Will Craig is here to give you a second chance. I won’t say he’ll be the first base prospect that finally tests how high a first base prospect can go in a post-PED draft landscape, but if he has a big enough junior season…

  1. Louisville JR OF Corey Ray

If you prefer Ray to Lewis and Reed, you’re not wrong. They are all different flavors of a similar overall quality. Like those guys, Ray can do enough of everything well on the diamond to earn the much coveted label of “five-tool player.” The most enthusiastic comp I got from him was a “more compact Kirk Gibson.” That’s a thinker.

  1. Arkansas JR RHP Zach Jackson

We’ll know a lot more about Buddy Reed (and other SEC hitters) by June after he runs the gauntlet of SEC pitching. In addition to teammate AJ Puk, I’ve got three other SEC arms with realistic top ten draft hopes. Jackson’s chance for rising up to the 1-1 discussion depends almost entirely on his delivery and command. If those two things can be smoothed out this spring — they often go hand-in-hand — then his fastball (90-94, 96 peak), curve (deadly), and change (inconsistent but very promising) make him a potential top of the rotation starting pitcher.

  1. Georgia JR RHP Robert Tyler

Just about everything said about Jackson can be said about Tyler. The Georgia righthander has the bigger fastball (90-96, 100 peak) and his two offspeed pitches are flip-flopped (love the change, still tinkering with his spike curve), so getting his delivery worked out enough to convince onlookers that he can hold up over 30 plus starts a year could make him the first college arm off the board.

  1. Mississippi State JR RHP Dakota Hudson

Hudson is the biggest mystery man out of the SEC Four Horsemen (TM pending…with apologies to all the Vandy guys and Kyle Serrano) because buying on him is buying a largely untested college reliever (so far) with control red flags and a limited overall track record. Those are all fair reasons to doubt him right now, but when Hudson has it working there are few pitchers who look more dominant. His easy plus 86-92 cut-slider is right up there with Jackson’s curve as one of the best breaking balls in the entire class.

  1. Tennessee JR 2B/3B Nick Senzel

Arguably the safest of this year’s potential first round college bats, Senzel has electric bat speed, a patient approach, and as good a hit tool as any player listed. His defensive gifts are almost on that same level and his power upside separates him from the rest of what looks like a pretty intriguing overall college group of second basemen.

  1. Notre Dame JR 2B/3B Cavan Biggio

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

  1. Nebraska JR OF Ryan Boldt

World Wide Wes said it best: “You can’t chase the night.” Of course that doesn’t stop me from trying to chase missed players from previous draft classes. Nobody was talking about Andrew Benintendi last year at this time — in part because of the confusion that comes with draft-eligible true sophomores, but still — so attempting to get a head-start on the “next Benintendi” seems like a thing to do. As a well-rounded center fielder with a sweet swing and impressive plate coverage, Boldt could be that guy.

  1. Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Bryan Reynolds

CTRL C “Ryan Boldt paragraph”, CTRL V “Ryan Boldt paragraph.” Reynolds also reminds me somewhat of Kyle Lewis in the way that both guys have rapidly improved their plate discipline in ways that haven’t yet shown up consistently on the stat sheet. If or when it does, Reynolds could join Lewis as a potential future impact big league outfielder.

  1. Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones

Jones, the number one guy on a list designed to serve the same purpose as the one created over seven months ago, hasn’t actually done anything to slip this far down the board; competition at the top this year is just that fierce. I like guys with fastballs that move every which way but straight, so Jones’s future looks bright from here. His mid-80s splitter has looked so good at times that he’s gotten one of my all-time favorite cross-culture comps: Masahiro Tanaka.

  1. Stanford JR RHP Cal Quantrill

A case could be made that Quantrill is the most complete, pro-ready college arm in this year’s class. The fact that one could make that claim even after losing almost an entire season of development speaks to the kind of mature talent we’re talking about. Pitchability is a nebulous thing that isn’t easy to pin down, but you know it when you see it. Quantrill has it. He also has a plus changeup and a fastball with serious giddy-up.

  1. Virginia JR C Matt Thaiss

Comps aren’t everybody’s cup of tea, but I’ve always defended them because they provide the needed frame of reference for prospects to gain some modicum of public recognition and leap past the indignity of being known only as soulless, nameless abstract ideas on a page until they have the good fortune of reaching the big leagues. Matt Thaiss played HS ball not too far off from where I live, so I saw him a few times before he packed things up and headed south to Virginia. I never could find the words to describe him just right to friends who were curious as to why I’d drive over an hour after work to see a random high school hitter. It wasn’t until Baseball America dropped a Brian McCann comp on him that they began to understand. You can talk about his power upside, mature approach, and playable defense all you want, but there’s something extra that crystallizes in your mind when a player everybody knows enters the conversation. Nobody with any sense expects Thaiss to have a carbon copy of McCann’s excellent professional career, but the comp gives you some general idea of what style of player is being discussed.

  1. Clemson JR C Chris Okey

Okey doesn’t have quite the same thunder in his bat as Thaiss, but his strong hands, agile movements behind the plate, and average or better arm give him enough ammo to be in the mix for first college catching off the board. The days of the big, strong-armed, plus power, and questionable contact catcher seem to be dwindling as more and more teams appear willing to go back to placing athleticism atop their list of desired attributes for young catching prospects. Hard to say that’s wrong based on where today’s speed and defense style of game looks like it’s heading.

  1. California JR RHP Daulton Jefferies

To have Jefferies, maybe my favorite draft-eligible college pitcher to watch, this low says way more about the quality at the top of this year’s class then his long-term pro ability. Jefferies brings three potential above-average to plus pitches to the mound on any given night. I like the D1 Baseball comparison to Walker Buehler, last year’s 24th overall pick. Getting Jefferies in a similar spot this year would be something to be excited about.

  1. LSU JR OF Jake Fraley

In a class with potential superstars like Lewis, Reed, and Ray roaming outfields at the top, it would be easy to overlook Fraley, a tooled-up center fielder with lightning in his wrists, an unusually balanced swing, and the patient approach of a future leadoff hitter. Do so at your own discretion. Since I started the site in 2009 there’s been at least one LSU outfielder drafted every year. That includes five top-three round picks (Mitchell, Landry, Mahtook, Jones, and Stevenson) in seven classes. Outfielder U seems poised to keep the overall streak alive and make the top three round run a cool six out of eight in 2016.

  1. Vanderbilt rSO RHP Jordan Sheffield

It’s a lazy comp, sure, but the possibility that Sheffield could wind up as this year’s Dillon Tate has stuck with me for almost a full calendar year. He’s undersized yet athletic and well-built enough to handle a starter’s workload, plus he has the three pitches (FB, CU, CB) to get past lineups multiple times. If his two average-ish offspeed that flash above-average to plus can more consistently get there, he’s a potential top ten guy no matter his height.

  1. Wright State JR C Sean Murphy

Watching Murphy do his thing behind the plate is worth the price of admission alone. We’re talking “Queen Bee” level arm strength, ample lateral quicks on balls in the dirt, and dependable hands with an ever-improving ability to frame borderline pitches. He’s second in the class behind Jake Rogers defensively — not just as a catcher, but arguably at any position — but with enough bat (unlike Rogers) to project as a potential above-average all-around regular in time. I expect the battle for top college catching prospect to be closely contested all year with Thaiss, Okey, and Murphy all taking turns atop team-specific draft boards all spring long.

  1. Texas A&M JR OF Nick Banks

If you’ve ever wondered what the right field prototype looked liked, take a gander at the star outfielder in College Station. The combination of speed, strength, power, and one of the country’s most accurate and formidable outfield arms make taking the chance on him continuing to figure things out as a hitter well worth a potential first round pick.

  1. Tennessee JR RHP Kyle Serrano

Serrano is the second guy on this list that reminds me of Walker Buehler from last year, though I still like my own Jarrod Parker comp best. He’s transitioned into more of a sinker/slider pitcher as he’s refined his breaking ball and lost some feel for his change over the years, but as a firm believer in the idea that once you have a skill you own it forever I remain intrigued as to how good he could be once he learns to effectively harness his changeup once again.

  1. Kentucky JR 2B/OF JaVon Shelby

In yet another weird example of an odd comp that I haven’t been able to shake all year, there’s something about JaVon Shelby’s game that takes me back to watching Ian Happ at Cincinnati. Maybe the offensive game isn’t as far along at similar developmental points, but Shelby’s odds at sticking in the dirt have always been higher.

  1. Miami JR 1B/C Zack Collins

If I had more confidence that Collins could play regularly behind the plate at the highest level, he’s shoot up the board ten spots (minimum) in a hurry. He’s a fastball-hunting power-hitting force of nature at the plate with the potential for the kind of prodigious home run blasts that make Twitter lose control of its collective mind. I stand by the Travis Hafner ceiling comp from last December.

  1. Arizona JR 3B Bobby Dalbec

The good popular comp here is Troy Glaus. The less good comp that I’ve heard is Chris Dominguez. The truth, as it so often does, will likely fall in the middle somewhere.

  1. Georgia JR OF Stephen Wrenn

Wrenn is a burner who has looked good enough in center field at times that you wonder if he could handle all three outfield spots by himself at the same time. He’s an athletic outfielder who remains raw at the plate despite two years of regular playing time — making him seemingly one of forty-five of the type in this year’s top fifty — so you’re gambling on skills catching up to the tools. The fact that his glove alone will get him to the big leagues mitigates some of the risk with his bat.

  1. Winthrop JR LHP Matt Crohan

Premium fastball velocity from the left side is always a welcomed sight. Crohan can get it up to the upper-90s (sits 90-94) with a pair of worthwhile offspeed pitches (mid-80s cut-slider and a slowly improving change). He’s got the size, command, and smarts to pitch in a big league rotation for a long time.

  1. Louisville SR RHP Kyle Funkhouser

Much electronic ink was spilled on Funkhouser last season, so I’ll be brief: he’s good. It’s unclear how good — I’d say more mid-rotation than ace, but reasonable minds may disagree — but he’s good. Of the many comps I threw out for him last year my favorite remains Jordan Zimmermann. If he can up his command and control game like Zimmermann, then he could hit that mid-rotation ceiling and keep pushing upwards.

  1. Louisville JR RHP Zack Burdi

Of all the rankings outside of the top ten, this is the one that could make me look dumbest by June. Burdi is a really tough evaluation for him right now because even after multiple years of being on the prospect stage it’s unclear (to me, at least) what role will eventually lead to him maximizing his ability. I’m reticent to throw him in the bullpen right away — many do this because of his last name, I think — because he’s shown the kind of diversity of stuff to stay in a rotation. Whether or not he has the command or consistency remain to be seen. Still, those concerns aren’t all that concerning when your fallback plan means getting to go full-tilt in the bullpen as you unleash a triple-digit fastball on hitters also guarding against two impressive offspeed pitches (CU, SL). It’s almost a win-win for scouting directors at this point. If he has a great spring, then you can believe him in as a starter long-term and grade him accordingly. If there’s still doubt, then you can drop him some but keep a close eye on his slip while being ready to pounce if he falls outside of those first few “don’t screw up or you’re fired” picks. You don’t want to spend a premium pick on a potential reliever, clearly, but if he falls outside of the top twenty picks or so then all of a sudden that backup bullpen plan is good enough to return value on your investment.

  1. Samford JR OF Heath Quinn

Just what this class needed: another outfielder loaded with tools that comes with some question marks about the utility of his big-time power because he’s still learning how to hit against serious pitching.

  1. Miami JR OF Willie Abreu

Nick Banks gets a lot of deserved attention for being a potential early first round pick — somebody even once called him the “right field prototype,” if you can believe it — but Willie Abreu’s tool set is on the same shelf. There’s power, mobility, arm strength, and athleticism to profile as a damn fine regular if it all clicks.

  1. TCU rJR RHP Mitchell Traver

Traver was featured plenty on this site last year as a redshirt-sophomore, so that gives me the chance to rehash the three fun comps I’ve gotten for him over the years: Gil Meche, Nick Masset, and Dustin McGowan. Based on years of doing this — so, entirely anecdotal evidence and not hard data — I’ve found that bigger pitchers (say, 6-6 or taller) have an equal (if not higher) bust rate when compared to the smaller guys (6-0ish) that are typically associated with being higher risk. There are always exceptions and years of scouting biases has created a flawed sample to choose from, but pitching seems like a chore best done for smaller bodies that are easier to consistently contort into the kind of unnatural throwing motions needed to withstand chucking balls 90+ MPH over and over and over again. Maintaining body control, tempo, and command at a certain size can be done, but it sure as heck isn’t easy. Like almost everybody, I see a big pitcher and get excited because with size also often comes velocity, extension, and the intangible intimidation factor. Maybe it’s time to start balancing that excitement with some of the known risks that come with oversized pitchers.

  1. Maryland JR RHP Mike Shawaryn

A long draft season could change this, but Shawaryn looks all the world to be a rock solid bet to wind up a mid-rotation big league starting pitcher. Never a star, but consistently useful for years going forward.

  1. Louisiana JR RHP Reagan Bazar

Bazar is one of the bigger gambles to grace this list. He hasn’t done enough yet at Louisiana to warrant such a placement, but when he’s feeling it his stuff (mid- to upper-90s FB, promising low-80s SL) can suffocate even good hitting. Yes, I realize ranking the 6-7, 250+ pound righthander this high undermines a lot of what I said directly above. I’ll always be a sucker for big velocity and Bazar hitting 100+ certainly qualifies.

  1. Rice rSO RHP Jon Duplantier

Athleticism, projection, and wildness currently define Duplantier as a prospect. Key elements or not, those facets of his game shouldn’t obfuscate how strong his big league starter stuff is. That’s a mixed bag of qualities, but there’s clearly more good than bad when it comes to his future.

  1. San Diego SO 2B/SS Bryson Brigman

Middle infielders are always a need for big league clubs, so it only makes sense that the better ones at the amateur level get pushed up ahead of where you might want to first slot them in when simply breaking down tools. The extra credit for Brigman’s smooth fielding action is deserved, as is the acclaim he gets for his mature approach and sneaky pop.

  1. Vanderbilt JR LHP John Kilichowski

Vanderbilt pumps out so much quality pitching that it’s almost boring to discuss their latest and greatest. Kilichowski (and Sheffield and Bowden and Stone) find themselves sandwiched between last year’s special group of arms and a freshman class that includes Donny Everett and Chandler Day. The big lefty has impeccable control, easy velocity (86-92, 94 peak), and the exact assortment of offspeed pitches (CB, SL, and CU, all average or better) needed to keep hitters off-balance in any count. It’s not ace-type stuff, but it’s the kind of overall package that can do damage in the middle of a rotation for a long time.

  1. Oklahoma State JR LHP Garrett Williams

The scene on Friday night for the Hansen/Williams matchup is going to be something special for college ball. Scouts in attendance will likewise be pretty pleased that they can do some one-stop shopping for not only a potential 1-1 guy in Hansen but also a real threat to wind up in the first round in Williams. Continued maturation of Williams’s curve (a weapon already), change (getting there), and control (work in progress) could get him there.

  1. Nevada JR OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

Brooks is a two-way athlete good enough to play center field or keep progressing as a lefthanded reliever with a plus approach and an all-out style of play. How can you not like a guy like that?

  1. Coastal Carolina JR SS/2B Michael Paez

Our first college shortstop, finally. Paez hasn’t yet gotten a lot of national prospect love that I know of, but he’s deserving. He can hit, run, and sneak the occasional ball over the fence all while being steady enough in the field that I don’t know why you’d have to move him off of shortstop. I wouldn’t quite call it a comp, but my appreciate for Paez resembles what I felt about Blake Trahan in last year’s draft.

  1. Oklahoma JR 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse

Neuse could still fulfill the promise many (myself included) saw in him during his excellent freshman season back when he looked like a potential Gold Glove defender at third with the kind of bat you’d happily stick in the middle of the order. He could also get more of a look this spring on the mound where he can properly put his mid-90s heat and promising pair of secondary offerings (SL, CU) to use. Or he could have something of a repeat of his 2015 season leaving us unsure how good he really is and thinking of him more of a second to fifth round project (a super talented one, mind you) than a first round prospect.

  1. Wake Forest JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou

Second basemen with power, feel for hitting, and an idea at the plate are damn useful players. The comp I got a few weeks ago on Mondou is about as topical as it gets: Daniel Murphy.

  1. Kent State JR LHP Eric Lauer

I loved Andrew Chafin as a prospect. Everybody who has been around the Kent State program for a while that I’ve talked to agree that Lauer is better. I can see it: he’s more athletic, has better fastball command, and comes with a cleaner medical history.

  1. Florida JR 1B Pete Alonso

The Gators have so much talent that it’s inevitable that even a top guy or three can lay claim to getting overlooked by the national media. Alonso, with plus bat speed and power to match, is that guy for me. The burgeoning plate discipline is the cherry on top. I’m not in the national media, but maybe I’ll look back and see how I overlooked him as he rises up boards next spring.

  1. Duke JR RHP Bailey Clark

Poised for a big potential rise in 2016, Clark has the kind of stuff that blows you away on his best days and leaves you wanting more on his not so best days. I think he puts it all together this year and makes this ranking look foolish by June.

  1. Louisville JR 2B/OF Nick Solak

The day you find me unwilling to champion a natural born hitter with a preternatural sense of the strike zone is the day I hang up the keyboard. Solak is a tough guy to project because so much of his value is tied up in his bat, but if he build on an already impressive first two seasons at Louisville in 2016 then he might just hit his way into the draft’s top two rounds.

  1. Ohio State JR OF Ronnie Dawson

You could say this about almost any of this year’s upper-echelon of college outfielders, but I saved it specifically for Ronnie Dawson: he’s a big-time prospect from the minute you spot him getting off the bus. He looks more like a baseball destroying cyborg sent from the past to right the wrongs of his fallen brothers who fell victim to offspeed pitches and high fastballs on the regular. Few of his peers can quite match him when it comes to his athleticism, hand-eye coordination, and sheer physical strength. As a member of this year’s college outfield class, however, he’s not immune from having to deal with the open question as to whether or not he can curb his overly aggressive approach at the plate enough to best utilize his raw talents.

  1. Kentucky SR RHP Kyle Cody

As an outsider with no knowledge of how Cody’s negotiations with Minnesota actually went down, I’m still surprised that a fair deal for both sides couldn’t be reached last summer. The big righthander (here we go again…) is what we thought he was: big, righthanded, erratic with his command, and an absolute handful for the opposition when his three pitches (mid-90s FB, average 76-82 kCB that flashes plus, hard CU with average upside) are working. There are no real surprises left in his amateur development, so the leap to the pro game seemed inevitable. Maybe he’s got a trick or two up his sleeve yet…

*****

Best of the rest position players…

  • Austin Peay JR SS/3B Logan Gray
  • College of Charleston JR OF/SS Bradley Jones
  • Oklahoma State JR OF Ryan Sluder
  • Ohio State JR OF Troy Montgomery
  • Virginia JR SS/3B Daniel Pinero
  • Vanderbilt SO 3B/SS Will Toffey
  • Auburn JR OF Anfernee Grier
  • Tulane JR SS Stephen Alemais
  • NC State JR C/3B Andrew Knizner
  • Pacific SR OF Giovanni Brusa
  • Hawaii JR 2B Josh Rojas
  • Wisconsin-Milwaukee rJR SS/3B Eric Solberg
  • Murray State JR C Tyler Lawrence
  • Miami JR OF Jacob Heyward
  • Louisville rSO 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
  • Florida State JR OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
  • Illinois SR C Jason Goldstein
  • Texas JR C Tres Barrera
  • Oregon State JR SS Trevor Morrison
  • Missouri JR SS/3B Ryan Howard
  • Mississippi State rSO OF Brent Rooker
  • Stony Brook JR OF Toby Handley
  • Virginia Commonwealth JR OF/2B Logan Farrar
  • Belmont JR SS Tyler Walsh
  • Southern Mississippi SR 1B Tim Lynch
  • Old Dominion JR SS/OF Nick Walker
  • Maryland JR C/1B Nick Cieri
  • Coastal Carolina SO OF Dalton Ewing
  • St. John’s JR OF Michael Donadio
  • Stanford JR SS/2B Tommy Edman
  • Arizona State JR SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
  • Tulane JR C Jake Rogers
  • Texas A&M JR 2B/OF Ryne Birk
  • Mercer JR C Charlie Madden
  • Saint Louis SR 3B Braxton Martinez
  • UC Santa Barbara rJR OF Andrew Calica
  • South Alabama rJR OF/LHP Cole Billingsley
  • USC JR C/1B Jeremy Martinez
  • Texas State JR OF/1B Granger Studdard
  • Bradley JR 3B Spencer Gaa
  • Long Beach State JR SS/2B Garrett Hampson
  • Gonzaga SR 1B/RHP Taylor Jones
  • NC State JR 1B Preston Palmeiro
  • Mississippi State rJR OF Jacob Robson
  • Jacksonville JR OF Austin Hays
  • Louisiana Tech rSR SS/2B Taylor Love
  • Oral Roberts JR C Brent Williams
  • Southeast Missouri State JR OF Dan Holst
  • Dallas Baptist SR OF Daniel Sweet
  • St. John’s SR OF Alex Caruso

*****

Best of the rest pitchers…

  • Vanderbilt JR LHP Ben Bowden
  • Central Michigan JR LHP/1B Nick Deeg
  • Auburn JR RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
  • Georgia JR LHP Connor Jones
  • Illinois JR RHP Cody Sedlock
  • Florida JR RHP Logan Shore
  • Florida JR RHP Dane Dunning
  • Florida JR RHP Shaun Anderson
  • Sacred Heart JR RHP Jason Foley
  • Michigan JR LHP/1B Carmen Beneditti
  • Air Force JR LHP Jacob DeVries
  • St. Mary’s JR RHP Corbin Burnes
  • Albany JR RHP Stephen Woods
  • Indiana rJR RHP Jake Kelzer
  • Oregon JR RHP Stephen Nogosek
  • Connecticut JR LHP Anthony Kay
  • Oregon rJR LHP Cole Irvin
  • Mississippi State JR LHP Daniel Brown
  • Liberty JR RHP/OF Parker Bean
  • Pacific JR RHP Vince Arobio
  • Pittsburgh JR RHP TJ Zeuch
  • Loyola Marymount JR RHP JD Busfield
  • Washington State JR RHP Ian Hamilton
  • Michigan State rJR LHP Cameron Vieaux
  • Michigan JR LHP Brett Adcock
  • Gonzaga JR RHP Brandon Bailey
  • South Carolina JR RHP Wil Crowe

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

Click here for an UPDATED LIST (October 23, 2015) if you’re into that sort of thing…

The 2013 HS class was a really good one, so it’s no shock that the 2016 college group has a chance to be so exciting. One mostly clueless guy ranked the following unsigned 2013 HS prospects in his top 100 overall prospects that year: Kyle Serrano (20), Matt Krook (35), Chris Okey (39), Ryan Boldt (41), Cavan Biggio (42), Andy McGuire (52), Connor Jones (53), Brett Morales (58), Robert Tyler (68), Keegan Thompson (69), Cal Quantrill (70), Garrett Williams (73), Zack Collins (80), JB Woodman (89), Sheldon Neuse (92), Jordan Sheffield (93), and Connor Heady (96). Phil Bickford (34) and Francis Christy (100), both eligible for this year’s draft due to their decision to attend junior colleges in 2015, were also included within the top 100 prospects of 2013. Of that group listed above I’d say only McGuire (injured) and Heady (bat hasn’t come around) have hurt their draft stock. In fact, almost all of those names listed above can make realistic claims as first round picks next June. That’s awesome. A really quick top ten before I slip and say that it’s way way way too early to be ranking players…

  1. Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones
  2. Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano
  3. Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio
  4. Oklahoma SO 3B Sheldon Neuse
  5. Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler
  6. Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt
  7. Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks
  8. Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen
  9. Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill
  10. Clemson SO C Chris Okey

ACC has the bats, SEC has the pitching

First, it’s way way way too early to be ranking players in the most honest sense of the word. I think grouping players and prioritizing the potentially great prospects over the good is appropriate, but even a crazy person like myself won’t yet attempt a strict ranking. If I were to do so, ranking the pitchers would be a much easier task at this point. There’s a much clearer line between the best and the rest for me there right now.

I do believe, per the subheading above, that the ACC has a chance to become the spot for crosscheckers on the hunt for above-average position players in next year’s draft. It might be a stretch, but I can see an argument for the ACC possessing three of next year’s draft top four college infielders. Clemson SO C Chris Okey, Miami SO 1B/C Zach Collins, and Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio all have a chance to go very, very high in 2016’s first round. A snappier prediction would have been about the ACC having THE top three infield bats, but Oklahoma SO 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse had to ruin those plans by being too darn good at baseball.

Still, Okey, Collins, and Biggio all have the chance to be long-term above-average regulars at demanding defensive positions; Okey and Biggio in particular could be major assets when you factor in their defensive value. I’m not sweating the relatively slow starts of Collins or Okey so far (Biggio has been great, which isn’t a shocker since he’s the most complete hitter of the trio), so you shouldn’t either. Collins has enough of the Kyle Schwarber/Travis Hafner power bat thing going on with a three-true outcomes approach to hitting that I think the bat plays at first if/when catching doesn’t work out. On the flip side, Okey moves so well behind the plate that Perfect Game compared him to a young Craig Biggio defensively back in 2013. His glove alone is almost reason enough to warrant a first day draft grade, and the fact that he could/should be a league average or better bat is what makes him a potential top ten pick in my eyes. Is it really any wonder why I like Biggio as much as I do? My old notes on him include the following: “born to hit,” “carries himself like a pro,” and “great pitch recognition.” Even better than that was the phrase “patient and aggressive all at once.” That’s my kind of hitter. It’s way too early to call it, but let’s do it anyway: Okey, Collins, and Biggio will all be first round picks in 2016.

The Hitters (including a return to gloves at short and catcher)

Keeping up with the ACC theme, Virginia SO C Matt Thaiss jumps out as another potential high round pick from looks like 2016’s best conference for bats. Thaiss is a rock solid defender who is starting to tap into his above-average raw power in a big enough way do his old Baseball America comps to Brian McCann justice. After Okey, Thaiss, and Texas SO C Tres Barrera, there’s still some quality depth. Some of the catchers from a bit off the beaten path (Santa Clara SO C Steve Berman, Grand Canyon SO C Josh Meyer) haven’t quite had the breakout second seasons I was hoping to see. Still, the overall depth at the position looks promising. Catchers are always in high demand in June, and I think this class will make many teams happy.

After Collins, first base looks grim. Two of my pre-season sleepers, Stony Brook SO 1B/OF Casey Baker and Texas State SO 1B Granger Studdard, have fallen flat so far this year. Thankfully East Carolina SO 1B/LHP Bryce Harman has come out of the gate mashing and Florida SO 1B Pete Alonso is coming off an impressive summer.

Once I figured out they weren’t the same guy, it was easy to like both Louisville SO 2B Nick Solak and Tennessee SO 2B Nick Senzel. Despite not yet making his college debut, I’m still sticking with the extremely promising LSU FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann as the 1b to Biggio’s 1a at the position. The shortstops aren’t nearly on the level of what we have this year, but both Long Beach State SO SS Garrett Hampson and Tulane SO SS Stephen Alemais stand out as old-school defense-first prospects who could hit enough to still play every day. The aforementioned Neuse is the man at third base. Trailing him are names that include Vanderbilt FR 3B/SS Will Toffey, Clemson SO 3B/SS Weston Wilson, and Arizona SO 3B/RHP Bobby Dalbec, the closest current competitor to Neuse’s throne.

The real draw right now for fans of bad teams in search of offensive help will come in the outfield. Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks and Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt appear set to battle back and forth throughout this season and next as the fight to see how high they can rise as first round picks. I’d have Boldt (who I comped to David Dahl back in HS) a tick above for the time being (better approach), but could see Banks closing the gap in short order thanks to a more impressive overall tool set (most notably raw power). Both look like safe first round picks as of now, good health pending.

The battle for the third spot is what interests me most right now. Many of the names expected to rise up (most notably Florida State OF/SS Ben DeLuzio) have taken a step back in the early going of 2015, but a lot of the athletic upside types like Florida OF Buddy Reed, Georgia SO OF Stephen Wrenn, LSU SO OF Jake Fraley, and Mississippi SO OF JB Woodman (hmm…SEC, SEC, SEC, and SEC) have stepped up in an even bigger way than hoped. Hey, did you catch that parenthetical note there? Might be time to amend one of the subheadings above…

ACC has the (infield) bats, SEC has the pitching (and outfielders)

That’s better. I’ll admit to not checking in on every single 2016 draft-eligible outfielder’s start to the 2015 season so far – I’m not even done previewing the current college season and we’re already over a month into things – but one favorite that I have noticed off to a hot start is St. John’s SO OF Michael Donadio, a really well-rounded player with an more advanced bat than most of his peers.

Power Pitchers from Power Conferences 

In what I’d consider my top tier of 2016 college pitchers, the SEC has three out of the top seven prospects. If I get a bit more inclusive and check in with the larger second tier (18 pitchers), then you’d see that an even two-thirds (12) come from the SEC. By complete luck that comes out to 25 total pitchers in the top two tiers with 15 able to call the SEC home. I’m pretty pleased with how this turned out, what with Carson Cistulli recently finding that the SEC has produced 23% of baseball’s “good pitchers” since 2010. For what it’s worth, the ACC is second (barely) only to the Pac-12 in terms of producing “good batters” since 2010. Since I amended my previous conclusion that’s no longer as relevant; not sure what the metrics say about infield prospects only. Anyway!

Power Pitchers with Changeups = $$$

One of the big early trends that pleases me to no end in college baseball in recent years is the rise of the changeup, arguably the finest offspeed pitch known to man. Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones – above-average, flashes plus. Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano – inconsistent, but flashes plus when on. Florida SO RHP Brett Morales – above-average, flashes plus to plus-plus. Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill (RIP right elbow ligament) – plus. Those are just the righthanders from the top tier. Arkansas SO RHP Dominic Taccolini, Auburn SO RHP Keegan Thompson, Florida SO RHP Logan Shore, Mississippi State SO RHP Austin Sexton, Oklahoma State SO RHP Thomas Hatch, Maryland SO RHP Michael Shawaryn, and Alabama SO RHP Geoffrey Bramblett all throw consistently average or better changeups at present.

I think any number of the pitchers in my current top tier could make a run at 1-1 next June. Cal Quantrill’s shot is probably gone now that there’s word he’ll go under the knife for Tommy John surgery in the coming days. Connor Jones might now be the front-runner for me. Jones can get it up to the mid-90s with some of the craziest movement you’ll see, plus he can mix in three offspeed pitches (slider flashes plus, solid curve, and a hard splitter that acts as a potential plus changeup) with the know-how and ability to command everything effectively. Comps I’ve heard run the gamut from Jeff Samardzija to Dan Haren to Homer Bailey, but I’m partial to one that hit me when viewing his second start this season: Masahiro Tanaka. I’ve comped another pitcher in this class I love Kyle Serrano (ranked 20th overall in 2013) to Jarrod Parker, who once went 9th overall in the draft, in the past. Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler throws really hard (mid-90s, 98-99 peak) with pair of secondary pitches with major upside. Brett Morales might not be on everybody’s list so close to the top, but his changeup is such a dominating pitch when on that he’s hard to leave off. Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen and Oklahoma State SO LHP Garrett Williams have some fantastic Friday night showdowns ahead; Hansen’s the hard-thrower with the size scouts love while Williams is the more polished athlete with advanced offspeed stuff.

Quick, unfortunate aside not worthy of a subheading of it’s own: due to the unnatural nature of throwing a baseball at high speeds with crazy movement every year the topic of injuries has to be brought up. The 2016 MLB Draft college class is no different. Texas SO RHP Morgan Cooper, College of Charleston SO RHP Bailey Ober, and Cal Quantrill will all be closely monitored as they come back from injury that knocked out all or most of their 2015 seasons. Cooper and Ober should both be good to go relatively close to the start of the season while Quantrill will be lucky to be back by mid-season at the earliest. The upside of a healthy Quantrill and the timing of his injury put him on any short list of most fascinating draft prospects for 2016 right now. He was a top ten slam dunk for me pre-injury…and I wouldn’t rule him out from getting back there if he can avoid any immediate post-rehab setbacks.

Power Pitchers with Changeups from Power Conferences >>> Everybody Else 

A lot will happen between now and June of 2016 – I’ll no longer be in my twenties, for instance – so it’s foolhardy to suggest anything I say now should be written in ink. My one bummer of a prediction is that college baseball’s non-power conferences appear primed to take a backseat to the traditional powers in 2016. I say that as a long-time advocate for players who don’t get written about every single Thursday by every single national college baseball publication. The monster recruits of 2013 that went unsigned and went to big-time schools have almost all panned out, effectively crowding out the little guys in next year’s draft class. There is hope, however. Pitchers from Air Force, Central Michigan, and Kent State should rise way up boards. There are even guys from Northwestern State, Albany, High Point, and Sacred Heart that have top five round upside or better.

Way, way, way too early college follow lists that are unranked and as inclusive as possible. I left a lot of players on even though they are off to verrrrrry slow starts this year because at this point scouting reports trump performance by a silly margin. If I left off anybody (particularly if it’s a son/nephew/BFF/player on your favorite team), assume it’s a mistake and gently remind me in the comments or via email.

C

Clemson SO C Chris Okey
NC State SO C/3B Andrew Knizner
Virginia SO C Matt Thaiss
Tulane SO C Jake Rogers
Mississippi State SO C Gavin Collins
Texas SO C Tres Barrera
Furman SO C Cameron Whitehead
Murray State SO C Tyler Lawrence
USC SO C/1B Jeremy Martinez
Maryland SO C/1B Nick Cieri
Pepperdine SO C Aaron Barnett
Santa Clara SO C Steve Berman
Grand Canyon SO C Josh Meyer
Ball State SO C Jarett Rindfleisch

1B

Miami SO 1B/C Zack Collins
East Carolina SO 1B/LHP Bryce Harman
Florida SO 1B Pete Alonso
Stony Brook SO 1B/OF Casey Baker
Texas State SO 1B Granger Studdard

2B

Notre Dame SO 2B/3B Cavan Biggio
Louisville SO 2B Nick Solak
Notre Dame SO 2B/SS Kyle Fiala
Wake Forest SO 2B/OF Nate Mondou
LSU FR 2B/SS Greg Deichmann
Tennessee SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel
Texas A&M SO 2B/OF Ryne Birk
Columbia SO 2B Will Savage
Florida Atlantic SO 2B/SS Stephen Kerr

SS

Long Beach State SO SS Garrett Hampson
Virginia Tech SO SS Ricky Surum
Tulane SO SS Stephen Alemais
Mississippi FR SS/2B Tate Blackman
Mississippi SO SS/2B Errol Robinson
Arizona State SO SS/2B Colby Woodmansee
Sacred Heart SO SS Zack Short
Austin Peay State SO SS/3B Logan Gray
Stanford SO SS Tommy Edman
San Diego FR SS/2B Bryson Brigman
Central Michigan SO SS Alex Borglin
Coastal Carolina SO SS/2B Michael Paez

3B

Oklahoma SO 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse
Clemson SO 3B/SS Weston Wilson
Louisville rFR 3B/SS Blake Tiberi
Vanderbilt FR 3B/SS Will Toffey
Texas A&M SO 3B/C Ronnie Gideon
Oklahoma State SO 3B Andrew Rosa
Texas SO 3B Andy McGuire
Arizona SO 3B/RHP Bobby Dalbec
Bradley SO 3B Spencer Gaa

OF

Texas A&M SO OF Nick Banks
Nebraska SO OF Ryan Boldt
Florida State SO OF/SS Ben DeLuzio
Louisville SO OF Corey Ray
Miami SO OF Willie Abreu
LSU SO OF Jake Fraley
Georgia SO OF Stephen Wrenn
Mississippi SO OF JB Woodman
Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi
Arkansas FR OF Luke Bonfield
Vanderbilt SO OF/1B Bryan Reynolds
Florida SO OF Buddy Reed
Oklahoma SO OF Cody Thomas
Oklahoma State SO OF Ryan Sluder
St. John’s SO OF Michael Donadio
Mercer SO OF Kyle Lewis
Samford SO OF Heath Quinn
UCLA SO OF/2B Luke Persico
UCLA SO OF Brett Stephens
Washington State SO OF Cameron Frost
Ohio State SO OF Ronnie Dawson
Ohio State SO OF Troy Montgomery
Hawaii SO OF/2B Marcus Doi
UC Riverside SO OF Vince Fernandez
BYU SO OF Brennon Lund
Loyola Marymount SO OF Austin Miller
Ball State SO OF Alex Call
Jacksonville SO OF Austin Hays
Nevada SO OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

P

Virginia SO RHP Connor Jones
Tennessee SO RHP Kyle Serrano
Georgia SO RHP Robert Tyler
Florida SO RHP Brett Morales
Oklahoma SO RHP Alec Hansen
Oklahoma State SO LHP Garrett Williams
Stanford SO RHP Cal Quantrill
Arkansas SO RHP Dominic Taccolini
Auburn SO RHP/1B Keegan Thompson
South Carolina SO RHP Wil Crowe
Florida SO LHP/1B AJ Puk
Florida SO RHP Logan Shore
Mississippi State SO RHP Austin Sexton
Oklahoma State SO RHP Thomas Hatch
Texas SO RHP Morgan Cooper
Oregon SO LHP Matt Krook
Oregon State FR RHP Drew Rasmussen
Arkansas SO RHP Zach Jackson
Vanderbilt rFR RHP Jordan Sheffield
Maryland SO RHP Mike Shawaryn
College of Charleston SO RHP Bailey Ober
Louisiana SO RHP Reagan Bazar
Alabama SO RHP Geoffrey Bramblett
Connecticut SO LHP Anthony Kay
California SO RHP Daulton Jefferies
Boston College SO RHP Justin Dunn
Louisville SO RHP Zack Burdi
Louisville SO LHP Drew Harrington
Miami SO RHP/1B Derik Beauprez
Miami SO RHP Bryan Garcia
North Carolina SO RHP/SS Spencer Trayner
Pittsburgh SO RHP TJ Zeuch
Houston SO RHP Andrew Lantrip
Houston SO RHP Marshall Kasowski
Tulane SO RHP JP France
LSU SO LHP Jared Poche
South Carolina SO RHP Matt Vogel
Alabama SO RHP Nick Eicholtz
Georgia SO LHP Connor Jones
Vanderbilt SO RHP Hayden Stone
Florida SO RHP Dane Dunning
Mississippi State SO RHP Dakota Hudson
Texas A&M SO RHP Ryan Hendrix
Oklahoma SO RHP Jake Elliott
TCU SO RHP Brian Howard
Texas Tech SO LHP Ty Damron
Arizona SO RHP Austin Schnabel
Arizona State SO RHP Hever Bueno
Washington State SO RHP Ian Hamilton
Michigan SO LHP Brett Adcock
Nebraska SO RHP Derek Burkamper
Pacific SO RHP Vince Arobio
Wichita State SO LHP/1B Sam Hilliard
Air Force SO RHP/1B Griffin Jax
Central Michigan SO LHP/1B Nick Deeg
Kent State SO RHP Andy Ravel
Northwestern State SO RHP Adam Oller
Albany SO RHP Stephen Woods
Elon SO RHP/C Chris Hall
Stetson SO RHP Mitchell Jordan
High Point SO RHP Cas Silber
Longwood SO RHP Mitchell Kuebbing
Sacred Heart SO RHP Jason Foley

2015 MLB Draft Prospects – Georgia

JR 1B Morgan Bunting (2015)
JR C Zack Bowers (2015)
JR 1B David Nichols (2015)
JR OF/RHP Sean McLaughlin (2015)
SR OF/RHP Heath Holder (2015)
rSR C/RHP Brandon Stephens (2015)
SR 1B/LHP Jared Walsh (2015)
SR RHP Jared Cheek (2015)
rJR RHP Mike Mancuso (2015)
rJR RHP David Sosebee (2015)
JR LHP Ryan Lawlor (2015)
JR RHP David Gonzalez (2015)
rSO RHP Austin Wallace (2015)
SO RHP Robert Tyler (2016)
SO LHP Connor Jones (2016)
SO OF Stephen Wrenn (2016)
SO SS/2B Mike Bell (2016)
SO C/OF Skyler Webb (2016)
FR LHP Ryan Avidano (2017)
FR LHP Bo Tucker (2017)
FR OF Keegan McGovern (2017)
FR OF/3B Mitchell Webb (2017)

Georgia is a program on the rise, but it’s not going to happen overnight. The up-and-comers are, well, up and coming (and quickly, too) but we won’t have to worry about them crashing the 2015 Draft party just yet. SOs RHP Robert Tyler and LHP Connor Jones will play a big part in leading the team back to glory. They’ll get help both at the plate and in the field from outstanding defensive center fielder SO Stephen Wrenn. But those guys will have to wait their turn another year as this year’s 2015 class will take center stage this spring. That’s all well and good in theory, but in reality it’s very difficult to peg a clear front-running lock to be drafted among Georgia’s current crop of draft eligible players. I guess I’d go JR C Zack Bowers, but I don’t feel particularly great hitching my wagon a player who hit .189/.299/.302 with 18 BB and 43 K (24 BB/79 K career) in 159 AB last season. Bowers can at least boast of having the tools to be a premium draft pick. He fits the old plus raw power/plus arm strength young catcher archetype like a glove. Unfortunately for him, the pro game seems to be on a current kick of valuing catcher defense — amazing how these things run in cycles — so a premium has been placed on pitch-framing, receiving, and athleticism and mobility behind the dish. The big, strong power/arm guys still have a place in the game, but it’s not what it once was. More simply put, if Bowers doesn’t clean things up on the defensive end (to say nothing of the need for improvement in approach), then all the plus power and arm strength in the world won’t get him drafted where those tools would otherwise suggest. He’s still my favorite Georgia 2015 prospect because, you know, tools.

If not for Bowers, I’d say JR 1B Morgan Bunting, especially if he proves playable at third base and the corner outfield spots, as some have suggested. He might hit enough to wind up as the first Bulldog off the board. JR OF/RHP Sean McLaughlin should probably be listed as a RHP/OF. Same should be said for all the two-way guys listed above, come to think of it. SR OF/RHP Heath Holder’s best bet as a pro would be as a potential reliever, rSR C/RHP Brandon Stephens could be interesting on the mound if healthy, and SR 1B/LHP Jared Walsh’s performance at the plate last season (.188/.345/.217) is enough to make me think pitching might be in his best interest going forward. As for the full-time pitchers, SR RHP Jared Cheek, JR LHP Ryan Lawlor, and rJR RHP David Sosebee all could get late looks as professional relief prospects. JR RHP David Gonzalez has the kind of hard stuff you’d think would miss bats, but he’s yet to do so as a Bulldog.