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The success of Adam Haseley this year has me kicking myself. I enjoyed writing those 2016 MLB Draft Reviews this past fall/winter a ton, so, you know, no regrets but…fine, there are always going to be some regrets. Opportunity cost is a very real thing. Spending all that time, effort, and energy on those reviews meant a later start than usual on writing about the upcoming draft. Being first in this line of “work” shouldn’t be as big a badge of honor as some make it out to be, but, why lie, there is something undeniably satisfying about being ahead of the curve on a prospect. If I would have ranked Haseley as high as I was going to back in October when I first decided he’d be a definite first rounder, I’d be sitting pretty right about now. I mean, maybe instead of being the nineteenth most influential internet baseball draft writer, I’d be eighteenth. Dare to dream, right? As it is, I’m just one of the many internet draft bros following the obvious trend that puts Haseley at or near the top of his position group. Kidding aside, at the end of the day as long as a great player like Haseley gets his due, I’m happy. All of the praise he’s gotten this spring is very well deserved. My ego will live to fight another day.
As for Haseley the actual draft prospect, my only question now is how high he can rise. I know I’m going to have him really, really high on my personal college draft rankings, but the decision on how high is still, pardon the pun, up in the air. I’m not 100% sure just yet, but it would seem awfully hard to justify any other college outfielder ahead of him at this point. Few players in the college game can match Haseley’s combination of hit tool (legit plus, a rarity at this level), raw power (above-average to all fields), and defensive future (sure-fire center fielder at the next level). There are some that can rival his upside in each individual area, but it’s the overall package in one player that makes Haseley stand out. To be as good as he is in the three most critical areas of the game is rare, and his speed and arm (both at least above-average for me) are pretty impressive in their own right. I get that he’s taken his game to another level in 2017, but acting like he’s come out of nowhere couldn’t be further from the truth. Dude hit .304/.377/.502 last year with 28 BB/28 K. So you’re not only getting the tools but also a lengthy track record to back it up. Or vice-versa (i.e., he’s more than just a college star but also a super projectable pro athlete) depending on where your scouting vs stats allegiances lie. It’s not a direct comparison per se, but watching Haseley in 2017 makes me think about what Mickey Moniak might have looked like after a couple of years at UCLA. Superstar upside.
Virginia being Virginia means that they not only have arguably the top outfielder in this class but also the top first baseman. That’s where I currently have Pavin Smith, the Cavaliers sweet-swinging junior slugger. Much like Haseley, the first thing to stand out about Smith is the hit tool. Smith has everything it takes to hit .300 or better in the big leagues. With above-average to plus raw power and a fantastic approach at the plate, he’s one of my favorite bats in this class. More on him from a few days ago…
As for Smith, I’m still not really sure what he doesn’t do well. It’s a true plus hit tool with a picture perfect swing, outstanding plate coverage, and standout pitch recognition. His raw power is above-average to plus and already showing up in games. He’s a well above-average glove at first with enough athleticism and arm strength (88-93 FB pre-TJ surgery) to at least give some teams pause when considering his long-term defensive position. Seriously, what’s not to like about him as an offensive player?
If we wanted to nitpick — and we DO — then it’s worth pointing out that there have been some whispers about less than ideal bat speed. Fine, I guess. I struggle with identifying bat speed outside of the extremes, so I’m happy to tip my cap to anybody who can tag a guy with an above- or below-average swing of the bat using only the naked eye. I can’t, so I try not to judge. Can’t say I’ve noticed anything all that remarkable — good or bad — about Smith’s bat speed, and at some point his outstanding three years of hitting high-level amateur pitching should win out anyway. It’s the current Rowdy Tellez argument manifesting itself in college ball. I like Tellez. I like Smith.
I’ve also heard some BASEBALL MEN chatter about Virginia hitters struggling to adjust to pro ball. Can’t say I really buy that one, though I suppose the murderer’s row of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, John Hicks, and Chris Taylor haven’t exactly lit the world on fire in the pros. Brandon Guyer, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds give the Cavaliers a little more clout, but that’s going way back. I remember liking guys like Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Steve Proscia, Stephen Bruno, and Reed Gragnani with little to nothing to show for it in terms of pro success. Mike Papi, Derek Fisher, and Daniel Pinero seem primed to turn the reputation around…if you think the reputation needed turning around in the first place. And then there’s this guy…
.338/.427/.518 with 74 BB/55 K and 4/5 SB in 554 AB
.323/.394/.515 with 78 BB/68 K and 5/12 SB in 637 AB
Top is Matt Thaiss’s career numbers at Virginia. Those were good enough to get him selected sixteenth overall last year. Bottom is what Smith has done so far. Feels like there’s a comparison to be made between the two hitters in there somewhere. Like Thaiss last year, mid-first round feels like a fair landing spot for Smith as of now.
No player was harder for me to rank on the position lists than Ernie Clement. The guy is just a weird prospect. That’s of course meant in the most flattering way possible. Clement excels at things that don’t typically get much scouting buzz except from the super old-school types. He’s among the best in the country at spoiling pitchers’s pitches, bunting both for hits and to move teammates over, and, above all else, making insane amounts of contact. Defensively, he’s great just about anywhere you put him. Response was split as to his best long-term position with half preferring him at second and the rest thinking he’d be best in center. Most agreed that he could even play a good shortstop if asked. Such defensive versatility opens up a whole world of fun comps for the weird and wonderful Clement.
I had to look it up to see if I have ever used David Eckstein as a comp before — for the curious, yes, once, Tyler Hanover — because I think it really fits Clement well. Eckstein with better speed feels about right. I’ve also heard Fernando Vina and Eric Young. Baseball America has offered Chris Taylor in the past. Interesting group on the whole. I’ll stick with speedier Eckstein for now. Just yesterday I got a Jose Peraza for him. I don’t hate that at all. Something on that spectrum would be a fine outcome for Clement, a high-floor prospect as a future utility guy with a ceiling limited much beyond that due to his serious lack of pop. Figuring out where to properly rate such a weird player like this is above my current pay grade.
(My goal was to use the word weird five times when describing Clement. Three will have to do. Until next time…)
Somebody shut me up before I write an extra thousand words about the rest of Virginia’s 2017 draft-eligible hitters. The short version: Robbie Coman, Charlie Cody, and even Caleb Knight all have flashed enough ability to warrant pro consideration this June. Coman is easy to like as a steady glove with a veteran’s approach to hitting. His arm strength, not particularly special to begin with, was sapped by last year’s Tommy John surgery, so he’ll have to prove to teams he has enough mustard on his throws to keep catching as a pro. Cody is a huge personal favorite who has his best ball ahead of him. DID YOU KNOW that Perfect Game once compared him to David Wright as a prep prospect? Pretty heady praise. He’s played intermittently through two and half years at Virginia, but a really strong start to 2017 has me all-in on the Charlie Cody bandwagon once again. Hope on that bandwagon while there’s still space left. I’m by no means an expert on Knight, but all the quiet buzz I’ve heard on him has been positive. Catchers who can stay catchers and can hit a bit will always get love from me, and Knight is no exception.
I like Justin Novak as a potential low-minors chess piece that can be moved all over the infield. I talk often about the utility of such players and Novak seems like a potentially useful one. Guys who can multiple spots like Novak can help protect other prospects by filling in defensively as needed. It also doesn’t hurt to show teams you have a diversified defensive skill set when it comes to making you more marketable, especially in the age of tiny benches.
I’m not sure why Tommy Doyle doesn’t get more love as one of the draft’s top college pitchers. Maybe it’s his usage out of the bullpen at Virginia that obscures the fact he’s got everything you’d want in an innings-eating big league starting pitcher. It’s not wise to chase the reliever to starter waterfall — former Cavaliers Nick Howard, Josh Sborz, and Branden Kline being three such recent flops — but Doyle has the stuff (88-94 FB with sink, 95-96 sink; 77-81 CB, flashes average; above-average 82-87 cut-SL; above-average split-CU) and frame (6-6, 225) to make the move. Whether or not he has the delivery or command remain open questions, but I think an early round pick on finding out firsthand is worth the investment. I’m of the opinion that just about any Virginia pitcher needs some mechanical tweaking anyway (hate the crouch), so knowing you’ve got a little work to do with his windup shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bet on the stuff, body, and results, and figure out the delivery later, I say.
(I did the UVA prospects in the pros thing for the hitters when I wrote about Pavin Smith a few days ago, so I won’t go into too much detail with the pitchers…but the recent track record of Virginia arms does not inspire much confidence. There have been 22 Cavalier pitchers drafted since 2009. Only three players [Tyler Wilson, Kyle Crockett, Kline] out of 22 [13.6%] have reached the big leagues. Not great.)
Pitchers besides Doyle looking to buck that parenthetical trend include Alec Bettinger, Jack Roberts, Derek Casey, and Bennett Sousa. Count me as a big fan of all of them. Bettinger is a personal favorite senior-sign with a potent sinker/slider mix and experience as a multi-inning reliever. His peripherals have always outstripped his run prevention ability, but smart teams will focus on all the positives he brings to the mound rather than the negatives (many of which are out of his control). From my notes on Roberts: “getting wild ways under control…but still pretty wild.” Seems fair for a guy with BB/9’s of 7.50, 8.86, and 6.29 over the last three seasons. When he throws strikes, his stuff (87-92 heat, 94 peak; average breaking ball, flashes better; average change) impresses. Casey flashes similar stuff along with far better control made all the more significant considering he’s on the road back from Tommy John surgery. Sousa is a lefty with above-average velocity (90-94) and a low-80s slider with serious promise. Can’t hate that.
JR RHP Tommy Doyle (2017)
SR RHP Alec Bettinger (2017)
rSO LHP Riley Wilson (2017)
SR RHP Tyler Shambora (2017)
rJR RHP Jack Roberts (2017)
rSO RHP Derek Casey (2017)
JR LHP Bennett Sousa (2017)
JR OF/LHP Adam Haseley (2017)
JR 1B/OF Pavin Smith (2017)
JR 2B/OF Ernie Clement (2017)
JR SS/2B Justin Novak (2017)
rSR C Robbie Coman (2017)
JR 3B/OF Charlie Cody (2017)
JR C Caleb Knight (2017)
SO LHP Daniel Lynch (2018)
rFR RHP Evan Sperling (2018)
SO RHP Grant Donahue (2018)
SO LHP Connor Eason (2018)
SO RHP Chesdin Harrington (2018)
SO OF/RHP Cameron Simmons (2018)
SO 3B/1B Nate Eikhoff (2018)
SO C Cameron Comer (2018)
rFR OF Jake McCarthy (2018)
SO 2B/SS Andy Weber (2018)
FR RHP Noah Murdock (2019)
FR RHP Bobby Nicholson (2019)
FR SS Cayman Richardson (2019)
FR OF Jalen Harrison (2019)
FR C Drew Blakely (2019)