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2018 MLB Draft Profile – Hartford

OF Ashton Bardzell is awesome and I won’t hear a word saying otherwise. He may get dinged by real scouts for the lack of a true carrying tool and underwhelming college competition, but that’s an evaluation that focuses on what he doesn’t do all that well as opposed to zeroing in on what he does really best. I’m not about that. When I look at Bardzell, I see an athletic outfielder who can play all three spots, hit for above-average power, post above-average to plus run times, and throw with the best of them. As importantly, I see a guy who has flat out raked over three years at Hartford. Was I a little aggressive calling him a potential top three round pick (and first round sleeper) back in October? Yes. It’s easy to get a little carried away in October. Maybe a more realistic expectation would be closer to where Erik Ostberg (round 13) went last year. That said, recalibrating my draft expectations for Bardzell in no way changes how I feel about him as a player and a prospect. All it really means is that some team is going to get a ridiculous value at whatever point they are willing to spend a pick on the massively underrated Bardzell.

Down final year or not, I’d still take a shot on 3B/SS TJ Ward based on his defensive acumen and overall body of work as a hitter. OF/1B Chris Sullivan makes more sense as a 2019 senior-sign (if that), though I can appreciate any prospect who can play multiple spots (Sullivan can also play third) while being a non-zero on offense. OF Nick Campana has been an offensive revelation as a senior. How much of that is him figuring something out versus simply getting older, stronger, and wiser enough to beat up on younger pitching is something the scouts on the ground get to determine. From the outside looking in, however, I’d say he’s well on his way to getting some draft late-round draft love from a team that heavily weighs performance. I’m only a man and not a team, but he’s certainly pushing for a spot late on my hypothetical big (500? 750? 1000?) board.

RHP Billy DeVito, RHP Seth Pinkerton, and RHP Justin Cashman all seemed like draftable talents coming into the year. Now I’m a little less sure. DeVito is a fairly straightforward prospect: size (6-4, 210), arm strength (88-92, 94 peak), breaking ball (78-82, flashes above-average), athleticism, and well below-average control. Do the many smaller positives outweigh that one massive negative? I’m inclined to say no for now, but have the feeling we’ll have the opportunity to revisit the discussion in a year. Pinkerton, the Hawks closer, has had a much better junior season than anything he’s shown before. His stuff (90-94 FB, above-average SL) is ready for a minor league bullpen. Cashman has a similar fastball (up to 93), but nowhere near the same track record. He’s 99.99% certain to need another year in college before getting his name into the draft conversation. All in all, one out of three ain’t bad.

I’m excited to see (or at least hear about) RHP/OF Sebastian DiMauro when he gets himself healthy and back on the mound. The word I wrote about him as my placeholder in my notes was “curious.” For now, DiMauro is a curiosity. We know he’s crazy athletic, sits 89-92 MPH with his fastball, and capable of throwing an impressive at times breaking ball. That’s about it. I don’t think there’s enough there to get him drafted as of this second, but a return to the mound — whether it’s this year or next year or whatever — could send his prospect stock flying. A more accomplished version of the same prospect genus, sophomore RHP Nathan Florence, figures to be a high priority follow next season.

JR RHP Billy DeVito (2018)
JR RHP Seth Pinkerton (2018)
rJR RHP Jake Regula (2018)
SR RHP Collin Ferguson (2018)
JR RHP Justin Cashman (2018)
rSO RHP Connor Lewis (2018)
rJR RHP/OF Sebastian DiMauro (2018)
JR OF Ashton Bardzell (2018)
SR 3B/SS TJ Ward (2018)
SR OF Nick Campana (2018)
rJR 2B Cam Belliveau (2018)
JR OF/1B Chris Sullivan (2018)
SO RHP Nathan Florence (2019)
SO RHP Jason Johndrow (2019)
SO RHP Alex Moconyi (2019)
SO LHP Drew Farkas (2019)
SO 2B Bryce Walker (2019)
SO 3B Zachary Ardito (2019)
SO SS Jackson Olson (2019)
SO C Bryce Ramsay (2019)
SO C Robert Carmody (2019)
FR LHP Nick Dombkowski (2020)
FR RHP Jarod Norcross Plourde (2020)
FR OF John Thrasher (2020)

2017 America East All-Draft Team (Hitters)

C – Erik Ostberg
1B – Casey Baker
2B – Ben Prada
SS – Ben Bengtson
3B – TJ Ward
OF – Toby Handley, CJ Krowiak, Andrew Casali

The only tier one player in the conference this year is Erik Ostberg, a hitting machine with a strong arm behind the plate and solid speed on the basepaths. The man is currently hitting an even .500, so any questions about his bat can be referred right back to that nice round figure. I feel a little bit about Ostberg as I do Drew Ellis of Louisville. In both cases, the bat is so appealing that I’m willing to overlook some of the defensive questions. If Ostberg can catch — I think he can, for what it’s worth — then he’s a slam dunk top hundred prospect for me (probably…I shouldn’t say things like that without actually beginning to set up a board). If he can’t, then he’s strong enough with the stick to remain a viable prospect somewhere lower (first base, presumably) on the defensive spectrum. I’m all-in on Ostberg.

In almost any other year, a player like Hunter Dolshun would get the honors as top catcher in the conference. Again, it may be a bit too early to make such broad proclamations, but I feel good about the claim that Dolshun is one of the physically strongest players in his class. You know you’re getting that tremendous strength, plus raw power, and a patient hitter when taking a shot on Dolshun. You may or may not know what you’re getting defensively; some I’ve chatted up are sold that he can make it work behind the plate while others think he’s a little too stiff. I think he’s good enough back there, but, really, it may not matter all that much depending on how far he drops. At some point in the draft you know you’re getting imperfect prospects and I think that’s the range when Dolshun will likely go off the board. Can he catch? Don’t know for sure, but I’ll sure as heck not stress about it either way once he slips past the first few rounds (or later if a team doesn’t buy him as a high-value senior-sign in rounds eight/nine/ten).

I know little about both Christopher Bec and Zack Bright, but both had the kind of draft year production that gets you on the radar. Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, and David Real are all quality mid- to late-round options as well. Harasta has more power than he’s shown, Agresti is a good albeit too aggressive hitter, and Real, a transfer from Arizona, shows strong control of the strike zone.

Casey Baker gets the nod over some stiff competition in an unusually deep year of America East first base prospects. Justin Yurchak is the clear 1b to Baker’s 1a, but the latter narrowly edges out the former on the basis of slightly more interesting raw power. You really can’t go wrong with either pick, though. I’ve long been a fan of David MacKinnon for similar reasons (hit tool, approach, athleticism, defense) while also being a little wary of him going forward for the same potential fatal flaw (lack of pop for the position). I’m more excited to take natural hitters with some power upside rather than huge power guys without much of a clue how to consistently make contact, so keep that potential bias in mind as you peruse my rankings.

Ben Bengtson (1-1 potential if draft standing was based on likelihood I spell your name wrong between now and June) has a long history of big offense with more than enough athleticism and bat speed (plus a fine approach) to give confidence he’s more than beating up on inferior pitching. The high level of certainty he sticks at shortstop — as close to a lock as it gets in this college class for me — is icing on the cake. Ben Prada takes second base based on the two sweetest words in the English language; I couldn’t find any other noteworthy 2017 America East middle infielders outside of Prada, Bengtson, and Paul Rufo, but I’m open to suggestions if you know of anybody I’m missing. TJ Ward could belong with that group if a team believes he can play shortstop in the pros. I like him best at third, clearly.

I know I’ve referenced this before, but I can’t help but do it again.

Toby Handley has always been known as a quality runner who could catch and throw in center field. His senior year power spike is something smart teams should be looking into as much as feasible this spring. Change in approach? Change in swing? Change in body? Or just a combination of a smaller sample and advanced age working in concert to inflate his output? I don’t have the answers yet. In the past I’ve been incredulous about big senior season jumps like this (.089 ISO to .235 ISO), but I randomly happened to look back at what I wrote about Garrett Stubbs, a huge pro favorite at the moment, when he was a senior at USC. I had the same questions about his senior year power boost; no two players follow identical developmental paths so maybe this isn’t as instructive a flashback as I’d like to think, but so far so good with the “realness” of Stubbs’s growth. Handley isn’t Stubbs 2.0, of course; I’m just saying that dismissing a senior year bump, something I’ve done too readily in the past, can cause you to miss out on some pretty good players. Don’t sleep on Handley just because he’s a senior is the overarching message, I suppose.

Andrew Casali hasn’t made quite the same senior season power gains — if anything he’s showing less this year — but he offers a similar package of speed and defense in center field. Casali also makes a ton of contact and has a keen awareness of what constitutes a ball vs a strike. Everything good about Casali applies just as easily to CJ Krowiak. A pre-season FAVORITE, Krowiak is an easy plus runner and defender in center who is both a sensational athlete and a true student of the game. I think the best is yet to come for him.

Other prospects that received consideration…

C – Hunter Dolshun, Christopher Bec, Evan Harasta, Jason Agresti, David Real, Zack Bright
1B – Justin Yurchak, Jamie Switalski, David MacKinnon, Andrew Gazzola, Brendan Skidmore
2B – N/A
SS – Paul Rufo
3B – N/A
OF – Connor Powers, Tyler Schwanz, Colby Maiola, Nick Campana, Collin Stack