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2016 MLB Draft Reviews – St. Louis Cardinals

Top 500 Prospects Drafted by St. Louis in 2016

5 – Delvin Perez
19 – Dakota Hudson
70 – Connor Jones
79 – Jeremy Martinez
151 – Dylan Carlson
160 – Zac Gallen
165 – Walker Robbins
179 – John Kilichowski
245 – Tyler Lancaster
347 – Vincent Jackson
386 – Austin Sexton
419 – Spencer Trayner
467 – Andrew Knizner

Complete List of 2016 St. Louis Cardinals Draftees

This is the twelfth published draft review. Beyond that, I’ve more or less finished about half of the league’s draft reviews that should see the light of day sooner rather than later. In other words, while I don’t have a complete in-depth idea of what every team in baseball did this past draft, I think we’re now far enough along this process to start making some overarching observations about the 2016 MLB Draft as a whole. That in mind, it’s safe to now point out that the gap between what the Cardinals managed to do with their 2016 draft and what the rest of the league did is substantial. There are a lot of “it” teams in baseball these days — many of which are plenty deserving of the mantle, the most recent World Series champions being at or near the top of the list for most observers — but I still think that the Cards deserve the top spot as the best run team in the sport. All other candidates have enough advantages (terrible seasons that have led to high picks, crazy international spending and financial freedom to make personnel mistakes, big dollar free agents to supplement their core), but the Cardinals track record over the past decade plus is pristine. They just keep chugging along without little to no dip in overall output along the way.

This high praise got me thinking about how I’d go about justifying that claim to a neutral third party who loves baseball but doesn’t much care for the draft or long-term player development minutiae. To test how strongly I felt about the Cardinals’s recent track record of excellence, I fired off a quick email to a big baseball fan friend who literally knows nothing about the MLB Draft. My attempt to sum up what the Cardinals did as succinctly as possible…

Their first two picks were high school hitters who won’t turn 18-years-old until October and November respectively. Both hit really well in the GCL. Then they took a pair of college pitchers. I love one and like the other, but the important thing here is the plan they clearly had: combined the two got 56 ground balls, 9 line drives, and 6 fly balls in their debuts. That’s a 79% GB-rate on batted balls. They took up-the-middle college hitters in the fourth, sixth, and seventh rounds. Let me throw some lines at you. First, there’s a .325/.419/.433 with 32 BB/16 K in 235 PA. Then we have a .286/.400/.427 with 48 BB/29 K in 310 PA. Finally we get a .319/.423/.492 with 21 BB/21 K in 222 PA. Those ain’t college numbers, those are the pro debuts of those three picks. Their eighth round selection was a Tommy John recovery gamble that could pay off big.

They took a college hitter with this career line: .374/.446/.600 with 64 BB/32 K. They took a college player who did this in his draft year: .444/.502/.639 with 25 BB/15 K and 30/32 SB. Their tenth and eleventh round picks look like rock solid long-time big league contributors. They went with intriguing upside guys in the twelfth (HS), fourteenth (college), and sixteenth (JUCO) rounds, and did so by getting talent from everywhere.

And on and on and on I could have gone. This is a great draft. Don’t believe me? Read on…

1.23 – SS Delvin Perez

I love Delvin Perez (5). A few words from May 2016…

The MLB Draft: go big on upside or go home, especially early on day one. And if you’ve got the smarts/guts enough to do just that, then make it a shortstop when possible. And if you’re going to gamble on a high risk/high reward shortstop, make it as young a shortstop as you can find. And if that young shortstop also happens to have game-changing speed, an above-average to plus arm, plus raw power, and a frame to dream on, then…well, maybe Delvin Perez should be talked more about as the potential top overall prospect in this class then he is. I know there’s some chatter, but maybe it should be louder. What stands out most to me about Perez is how much better he’s gotten over the past few months. That, combined with his youth, has his arrow pointed up in a major way.

The Perez supporters – myself included, naturally – obviously believe in his bat, but also believe that he won’t necessarily have to hit a ton to be a damn fine player when you factor in his defensive gifts and plus to plus-plus speed. That’s part of what makes drafting a highly athletic shortstop prospect with tons of youth on his side so appealing. Even if the bat doesn’t fulfill all your hopes and dreams, the chances you walk away with at least something is high…or at least higher than at any other position. It gives players like Perez a deceptively high floor.

I like his scouting capsule quite a bit…

SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, Puerto Rico): plus bat speed; plus range; plus raw power; easy plus to plus-plus speed; above-average to plus arm; good athlete; good approach; lots of tools, lots of skills, lots of question marks developmentally and off-field; RHH; 6-3, 165 pounds

That’s a lot of pluses. A sampling of names I’ve personally heard when asking around about Perez over the past few months…

Jonathan Villar, Elvis Andrus, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Crawford

Comps are hardly the be-all-end-all, but, hey, not a bad outcome among the group. Probably my favorite comp — and one I’m kicking myself for not thinking of pre-draft — is Jose Reyes minus the switch-hitting. I think Perez is a superstar in the making. Writing about him is difficult at this point because he’s so talented and so young that coming up with any kind of concrete analysis would feel like little more than guesswork as of now, especially in light of his pre-draft PED issues. My short version — “superstar in the making” — is about all I can come up with based on what I’ve seen, heard, read, and intuitively feel. The rare bit of brevity here will be more than made up for with some longer reads below…

1.33 – OF Dylan Carlson

This may change by the time you read this, but if you Google Dylan Carlson (151) then you get the list of Dylan Carlson information one might expect when you Google Dylan Carlson along with a surprise Wikipedia link for Michael Ohlman on the sidebar. I guess technically if you click that link it isn’t really about Ohlman, but it’s still funny to me. One day Carlson will take back over his sidebar. That’s the kind of fearless prediction you can only get on this website. Cherish it.

That preemptive diversion was meant largely to distract from the fact that I don’t have a whole lot to say at this point about Dylan Carlson than you probably already know. Carlson is a really easy player to fall in love with and the Cardinals picking him earlier than many (like me!) expected — he signed an underslot bonus, to be fair — has many (like me!) falling into the “well, if a smart team like the Cardinals liked him then he must be better than we thought…” trap that can often infiltrate post-draft analysis. I can admit that I’m a little bit guilty of that here, but St. Louis putting a first round stamp of approval on the “second round version of Kirilloff” (my pre-draft note from a team official) was far from the only reason this pick looks like a winner as we sit back and reflect on November 7th.

Carlson is a hitter first and foremost, but his well-rounded skill set gives him a chance to be a major asset both offensively (average speed, solid athleticism) and defensively (average arm, impressive instincts and first-step quickness) beyond what he should hopefully do in the batter’s box. Carlson as a first base prospect is plenty interesting, but, like Alex Kirilloff, his value as an all-around ballplayer jumps way up if he can play an average or better left or right field. The fact that the Cardinals have aggressively pushed him as a center fielder at the onset of his pro career seems to be a good sign about his early defensive progress as an outfielder. All of this non-bat talk is just icing on the cake. It’s Carlson’s ability as a hitter that will make or break him in the pros. St. Louis clearly believes it’ll make him and I’m in no position to disagree. Carlson is one of those young guys that gives off the simultaneous vibe that, yes, he was put on this planet to hit and doing so comes natural to him in a way that teammates are secretly jealous of while ALSO being one of those clearly dedicated athletes that will work both hard and smart to accomplish seemingly any goal set before him. Carlson is both a natural and a grinder. That’s a heck of a combination. I didn’t poll enough people to make this a scientifically significant study, but the next person I talk to that doesn’t think Carlson will hit his way to a starting big league role will be the first. Kid can hit.

Of course, the kid isn’t really a kid; in fact, Carlson is the old man of the Cardinals first two high school picks. The Cardinals first first round pick Delvin Perez won’t be 18-years-old until the end of November; Grandpa Carlson just turned the big one-eight last week (10/23). Sometimes a team drafting super young for their class early round prospects means something and sometimes it’s a coincidence. I have a strong hunch that the former is true in the case of the St. Louis front office knowing what’s up, but can’t say that for sure just yet. A trend of two isn’t really a trend at all, especially when you look at last year’s Cardinals first round pick, Nick Plummer, and his slightly older than his peer group age. But then there’s Bryce Denton, another early round high school pick from last year, who becomes yet another point in favor of the young for his class trend being an actual trend. Inconclusive, is the only real conclusion I have right now. Makes me wonder why this paragraph is even seeing the light of day…

1.34 – RHP Dakota Hudson

Asked a fairly simple Dakota Hudson (19) question back in April 2016…

Are we sure he isn’t the best college pitching prospect in the country?

Ask a simple question, get a simple answer. College pitchers ranked ahead of Hudson come draft day: one. Only AJ Puk stood in the way of Hudson finishing his junior season as the best college pitching prospect in the country. That might not seem that interesting or impressive, but consider where Hudson started the year. From October 2015…

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.

The strapping righthander from Mississippi State came into his junior year coming off a sophomore season spent exclusively in the bullpen and with a grand total of 33.0 college innings under his belt. My point here isn’t to highlight the fact that Hudson was some out-of-nowhere unknown nobody (he wasn’t), but rather the kind of precocious talent who survived and then thrived the as he learned how to be a major college starting pitcher in the SEC on the fly. As such, I think we’ve only scratched the surface as to how good he can really be. Check out this man’s stuff: explosive fastball (90-96, 98 peak), breaking ball with legit plus upside, a hard 86-92 cut-slider that’s already a plus pitch, and a nascent mid-80s changeup with the chance to be a fine pitch in its own right. His current flaws (fastball command, occasionally wonky mechanics, some inconsistency with the breaking ball) are all likely fixable with some clever coaching, something he’s sure to get with the Cardinals. I don’t say this lightly, but it’s ace upside. How many pitchers in this class can you really say that about?

On top of that, Hudson’s batted ball profile is a thing of beauty to fans of democracy. MLB Farm has him giving up 21 ground balls, 3 fly balls, and 2 line drives in his first 13.1 innings of professional baseball. That’s incredible. I put him on the Jeff Samardzija/Taijuan Walker/Jake Arrieta spectrum before the draft (FWIW heard absolute worst case scenario Blake Treinen after the draft), and I don’t see why he can’t at least achieve the minimum outcome (competent big league starting pitcher like Walker, who I still very much believe in as something more than that) as of now. If that’s the “downside,” then what’s the upside? I’ll stand by the Cy Young kind of upside that Arrieta has shown as being a very real potential outcome for Hudson. If we look at that comparison more literally, that would put Hudson in High-A (like Arrieta in 2008) to start his first full pro season next year. Considering that’s the same level that Hudson finished his 2016 season, I think that’s a very safe bet. The bar at A+ is 113.0 innings worth of 9.56 K/9, 4.06 BB/9, and 2.87 ERA ball. I’d say that’s very doable as well. Arrieta’s career has taken its fair share of twists and turns — development is nonlinear, development is nonlinear, development is nonlinear — so the literal career path comparison thing we’re doing here isn’t ideal, but it’s baseball and prospects and it’s supposed to be fun. Imagine Hudson as the next Arrieta (minus the Baltimore drama) is a lot of fun. I think he reaches those peaks and becomes the biggest steal of the draft.

2.70 – RHP Connor Jones

If you liked Dakota Hudson’s batted ball profile, then you’ll probably also get a kick out of what Connor Jones (70) did in his debut. How does a mix of 35 ground balls, 7 line drives, and 3 fly balls sound? Think the Cardinals might have a type? As if Cardinals fans needed another reason to like the picks of Dakota Hudson and Jones, one could very easily imagine a Chicago Cubs draft room filled with front office types milling about anxiously hoping, wishing, and praying for either guy to fall to them with their first pick. Neither guy made it to the third round, so the ground ball loving Cubs had to settle for Thomas Hatch instead. Interestingly enough (to me at least), my quick math had the junior season version of Jones (68.90%) and Hudson (68.57%) as two of the three (along with TJ Zeuch) most ground ball-y (I wanted to say “groundballingest,” but it just doesn’t look right) pitching prospects in the 2016 college class. If I had expanded that list to include more top pitching prospects, I surely would have thrown Hatch’s name into the mix. As it happens, I did the math on Hatch’s college GB% after the draft when I did the Cubs draft review. Wouldn’t you know it was almost identical (68.3%) to Jones and Hudson? Not only are the Cubs and Cardinals heated rivals on the field, but they also seem to be in direct competition for the same type of pitchers on the amateur market. Pretty cool.

The above gets at Connor Jones as an idea. What about Connor Jones the actual real life living, breathing pitcher? Since the Virginia righthander has been a pretty big deal for a long time now, we’ve got a pretty long history with the Cavaliers star to draw from. Let’s start way back in high school with his quick scouting capsule. From June 2013…

RHP Connor Jones (Great Bridge HS, Virginia): 88-92 FB with true plus sink, 93-95 peak; average 77-82 SL flashes plus; above-average upside with 78-82 CU; everything sinks; ground ball machine; plus command; 2013: 90-94; FAVORITE; 6-3, 190 pounds

If we fast-forward all the way to the present day, we can compare the Jones of three years ago to the Jones the Cardinals selected this past June. Here is the decluttered version of his most recent scouting snapshot…

Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones: 87-94 FB with crazy movement and plus sink, 96 peak; above-average 82-86 cut-SL, flashes plus; average 76-82 CB, doesn’t throw it often; 83-88 split-CU, flashes plus; complete four-pitch mix; good athlete; holds velocity well; 6-3, 200 pounds

The evolution of Jones was impressive, even when accounting for his already physically and emotionally mature start. Fastball ticked up a bit, but retained the same insane movement. Slider firmed up some as well and added some cutter action. Change morphed into a truer splitter, but continued to serve the same purpose. Added a curve that he rarely used as much more than a show-me pitch. Command, pitchability, and athleticism remained strong points. What’s not to like about this guy? Let’s keep digging. Next step, March 2015…

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.

Very optimistic! And such generous comps, too. Things are rolling now. How were things in October 2015…

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.

Some acknowledgment that the college pitching class was crowded at the top with a lot of good but not great options, but still generally positive about Jones’s outlook. Who wants to bet I keep pounding that Masahiro Tanaka comp into the ground in February 2016…

I’m 100% buying what Connor Jones — the Virginia one, not Tyler’s lefthanded Georgia teammate — is selling. I’ve mentioned it before, but I get an unusually high number of comps on him from enthusiastic scouts. My hunch is that it has something to do with his exciting mix of ceiling (number two starter?) and certainty (very polished, very professional) that gets those guys going. I still love the cross-cultural Masahiro Tanaka comp for him.

I’m so predictable. More of the same in April 2016…

Connor Jones represents the best cross-section of upside and safety in this year’s college pitching class. Assuming non-catastrophic injury, I’d be stunned if he doesn’t wind up at least somewhere around a big league starter. That’s about where I’d put his reasonable upside as well: solid big league starting pitcher. There’s a chance for more, of course, due in large part to his dynamic one-two offspeed combo of an upper-80s splitter and a low- to mid-80s slider. I’ve comped him to Masahiro Tanaka at the highest of high ceiling projections, so, yeah, I like him. Future mid-rotation arms are tremendous real life assets, but fairly boring in fantasy land.

At least past-me gets more to the point about Jones’s value being tied heavily to his unique blend of upside and safety. It was hard at this point in the process to see Jones as anything but a useful big league starter down the line with the upside being a mid-rotation or better type. Some, however, were starting to get a little stuck on the first part there: “anything but a useful big league starter.” Everybody loves (or should love) a useful big league starter, but there’s plenty of room for those of us who want more than useful. Depending on your contextual expectations, useful can either be a compliment or an insult. It’s meant as a compliment here, but could very easily be spun as a negative by those who question Jones’s upside. In fact, later in the month we kind of went there…

I’ve gone back and forth on Jones a few times throughout the draft process. For as much as I like him, there’s something about his game doesn’t quite add up just yet. He checks every box you’d want in a near-ML ready starting pitching prospect, but it’s hard to get too excited about a pitcher who has never truly dominated at the college level. My big question about Jones is whether or not he has that second gear that will allow him to consistently put away big league hitters in times of trouble. His stuff is perfectly suited to killing worms; in fact, his sinker, slider, and splitter combination has resulted in an impressive 65.25 GB% in 2016. But he’ll have to miss more bats to be more than a back of the rotation starter at the highest level. His K/9 year-by-year at Virginia: 6.55, 8.77, and 6.79. Those aren’t the kinds of numbers you’d expect out of a guy being talked up in some circles as a potential top ten pick and first college pitcher selected in the draft. This evaluation of Jones is a little bit like the scattered thoughts on Corey Ray shared above in that it highlights how tough it can be when you’re one of the top prospects in the country. Potential top half of the first round prospects get nitpicked in a way that mid-round players never will. Jones, like Ray, is an excellent prospect, but because a) everybody already knows the top two dozen or so “name” draft prospects are excellent and continuously talking about how great they are is tired, and b) the greater investment in top prospects necessitates a more thorough examination of their total game, getting picked apart more than most comes with the territory.

There it is. The K/9 bomb was finally dropped. I’m way too lazy to do the work myself and far too unimportant to crowdsource the information otherwise, but I have a pretty strong hunch from doing this for years that not too many college starter pitchers who enter pro ball coming off a full (103.2 IP) junior season with a K/9 as low as 6.25 have had much sustained success in big league rotations. Strikeouts aren’t everything and Jones’s ability to generate ground ball outs by the bushel need not be ignored, but it’s hardly controversial to suggest that good big league starting pitchers universally share the ability to consistently get swings and misses in key situations. If Jones wants to be a “good” big league starting pitcher (i.e., more than an up-and-down four or five), then he’s almost certainly going to have to miss more bats. We’re admittedly setting a high bar to illustrate a point, but of the top twenty starting pitchers (by FIP) with at least 50 IP in 2016, only six did it without striking out a batter per inning. The lowest K/9 of any pitcher in the top thirty was Matt Harvey at 7.38. Second lowest? Masahiro Tanaka at 7.44. Hmm…

I don’t doubt that a guy with Jones’s stuff, smarts, and work ethic can keep improving as a professional and reach the modest version of his ceiling (back-end starter) sooner rather than later. I also wouldn’t dare shut the door on him fulfilling the higher end of those earliest projections (number two, maybe a three) with continued progress. Real upside with a very high floor. That’s a heck of a pick late in the second round.

3.106 – RHP Zac Gallen

Zac Gallen (160), sick of all the attention paid to Hudson and Jones by certain batted ball enthusiasts who shall remain nameless, went out in his pro debut and struck out 15 batters in 9.2 innings pitched. Who needs ground balls when you’re sitting people down at that clip, right? Gallen isn’t quite that kind of pitcher — to be fair, THAT kind of pitcher doesn’t really exist outside of Aroldis Chapman — but he did see his K/9 increase every season while in Chapel Hill. From 6.54 to 7.93 to 9.44, Gallen’s steady improvement as a strikeout pitcher was reflected by his improved out-pitch (cut-slider) and consistently awesome command. Gallen is pretty much the low-upside/high-floor college starting pitcher straight out of Central Casting. His fastball won’t wow anybody velocity-wise at 88-92 MPH (though I swear I’ve personally seen it up to 94 as a starter and even higher than that as a reliever…can’t confirm either peak and my exact notes have turned to dust), but he commands it exceptionally well. Between the fastball, cut-slider (a deadly offering that can hit any number on the radar beginning with 8), and a pair of average softer pitches (mid-70s curve, low-80s change), Gallen can roll through even the toughest lineups multiple times when he’s hitting his spots. A few older notes on Gallen, first from March 2016…

It’ll be really interesting to see how high Gallen will rise in the real draft come June. He’s the kind of relatively safe, high-floor starting pitching prospect who either sticks in the rotation for a decade or tops out as a sixth starter better served moving to the bullpen to see if his stuff plays up there. This aggressive (pretend) pick by Boston should point to what side of that debate I side with. Gallen doesn’t do any one thing particularly well — stellar fastball command and a willingness to keep pounding in cutters stand out — but he throws five (FB, cutter, truer SL, CB, CU) pitches for strikes and competes deep into just about every start. There’s serious value in that.

And then from April 2016…

Gallen’s profile seems like the type who gets overlooked during the draft, overlooked in the minors, and overlooked until he’s run through a few big league lineups before people begin to get wise. That’s all entirely anecdotal, but sometimes you’ve got to run with a hunch.

One thing that strikes me as potentially notable — though I suppose technically this is actually notable and not potentially notable since here I am noting it — is St. Louis’s tendency to gravitate to pitchers who have shown consistent depth of offspeed stuff in addition to their proclivity to target ground ball arms like Dakota Hudson and Connor Jones. “Legit four-pitch mix” is a phrase that comes up in both Jones’s and Gallen’s scouting profiles. Jones and Gallen — especially Gallen — are pitchers who get results based more on the sum of their stuff than any individual component. Stylistically, pitchers like Gallen bring me back to the age-old (probably) question that I’ve personally struggled with for years: do you like Pitcher A with his two knockout pitches and a fringey (or nonexistent) third pitch OR do you prefer Pitcher B with his four average-ish pitches? Neither Jones nor Gallen quite fit that Player B archetype as perfectly as I’d like to really hammer home this point — Gallen is the closer of the two, but I think his cutter is too good to call it simply “average-ish” — but you get the general idea of what the Cardinals like to target on draft day.

4.136 – C Jeremy Martinez

On Jeremy Martinez (79) from April 2016…

Jeremy Martinez is another catcher who has been described to me as “good enough” defensively, but that’s an opinion my admittedly non-scout eyes don’t see. I wrote about him briefly last month…

I’ve long thought that Jeremy Martinez has been underrated as a college player, so I’m happy to get a few sentences off about how much I like him here. Martinez was born to catch with a reliable glove and accurate arm. His offensive game is equally well-rounded with the chance for an average hit tool and average raw power to go along with his standout approach. His ceiling may not be high enough for all teams to fall in love, but he’s as good a bet as any of the college catchers in this class to have a long big league career in some capacity or another.

Then he went out and hit .325/.419/.433 with 32 BB/16 K in 235 PA for State College. Defensively, the man threw out 17 of 37 (46%) potential base stealers. That’s after hitting .376/.460/.563 with 19 BB/12 K in 213 AB at USC in his junior season. It might be time to accept the fact that Martinez can really play. I think it could be a 50 bat, 55 power, and 55/60 overall defender. That’s really enticing by itself, but when you add in his exceptional track record as a disciplined hitter (71 BB/43 K at USC) equally skilled with both getting ahead early in counts and hitting with two strikes, then you’ve really got something worth getting excited about. Between Carson Kelly, Martinez, and Andrew Knizner, the Cardinals don’t have to worry about life after Yadier Molina one iota going forward. Must be nice.

5.166 – OF Walker Robbins

On Walker Robbins (165) from May 2016…

If we’re going to pair Rizzo and Cantu together, then why not do the same for Christian Jones and Walker Robbins? The two lefthanded bats have very similar offensive ceilings. In a fun twist, Robbins, a legitimate pitching prospect with a fastball that ranges from 87-92 MPH, takes the place of Joey Wentz in this updated top five. Wentz, as many know, is a lefthanded pitching prospect all the way, but that wasn’t always the case. There were some fools (e.g., me) who thought his pro future would come as a slugging first baseman. Maybe there are some out there that think of Robbins more as a pitcher – I haven’t talked to any, but I’ve learned not to make assumptions with low-90s lefties – but at this point I’m pretty comfortable with him as a single-digit round hitting prospect. That’s some nice prospect symmetry right there.

Anyway, much like Jones, Robbins can hit. His power is real, he’s an excellent athlete, and he’s right around average with most of his run times. Also like Jones, the only real question I have with Robbins being where he is on this list is whether or not a pro team will challenge him with some outfield work after signing. I’d be fine with that, obviously – he can run, he can throw, and it’s not my money – but it would be kind of a shame to not have him play first base at the next level. I haven’t personally seen all of the players listed below, but of the ones I have, he’s easily the most impressive defender at first. It’s not the same as being a plus defender at catcher, center, or short, but it’s not nothing.

It’ll take time, but I believe in Walker Robbins as a power bat, defender at first, and athlete. Will he make enough contact to make all those good things matter? You got me, but that’s why he fell to the fifth round. That said, there’s not a 133 pick difference between his upside and Dylan Carlson’s. Getting both within the draft’s first five rounds (in addition to a potential star SS, two rock solid big league pitching prospects, and an advanced college catcher who is a clear potential successor to Yadier Molina behind the plate) is a major win for the Cards. Fans of twenty-nine other teams should be jealous.

6.196 – SS Tommy Edman

On Tommy Edman from April 2016…

Edman’s bat is more my speed thanks to his strong hit tool, good understanding of the strike zone, and ability to make consistent contact even when down in the count. I’ve given in to those who have long tried to convince me he’s more second baseman than shortstop, but there’s still a part of me who thinks he’s good enough to play short. For a guy with realistic ceiling of big league utility man, I can more than live with that kind of defensive future. If I really stuck to my guns here then you’d see Edman over Morrison, but for now I’ll defer to the overwhelming consensus of smarter people out there who let me know (nicely, mostly) that I was nuts for considering it. I guess the big takeaway here for me is that either player would be great value at any point after the first five rounds.

All’s I know is a sixth round pick hit .286/.400/.427 with 48 BB/29 K in 310 PA for State College, and that ain’t not bad.

The Stanford middle infielder turned Cardinals prospect’s strong debut was undeniably impressive, but not altogether unfamiliar. Drew Jackson had a similarly thrilling debut last year after being picked in the fifth round last year by Seattle (.358/.432/.447 with 30 BB/35 K and 47/51 SB) before coming back to Earth in 2016, so, you know, these things can happen when we’re dealing with relatively small samples. The pre-draft evaluation on Edman (“realistic ceiling of big league utility man”) shouldn’t be changed much just because of his hot professional start. Still, I’d rather see a fast start than a slow one, so if you’d like to feel a little extra enthusiastic about Edman as a ballplayer going forward based on those 310 stellar plate appearances, then far be it from me to rain on your parade. I will say that the pairing of Edman and the Cardinals feels like a perfect marriage. Envisioning him as a pesky hitting utility infielder (already annoying enough to the opposition in that role) who takes the opponent’s fan base frustration up a million notches when he inevitably gets called upon to start for stretches due to injuries elsewhere at various points over the next decade without missing a beat offensively for whatever star he’s replacing (Delvin Perez, maybe?) is just too easy. Easier than parsing the meaning of that monster of a sentence, I’ll bet.

7.226 – C Andrew Knizner

On Andrew Knizner (467) in December 2015…

JR C Andrew Knizner is a fascinating prospect who doesn’t quite fit the mold of what one might think of a potential top five round college catcher. Defensively, he’s still very much out of sorts as a relatively new catcher but his athleticism and willingness to make it work could be enough for teams willing to take the long view on his pro future. Offensively, he’s a high contact hitter with excellent plate coverage and power that has a chance to be average or better as he continues to add strength. I tend to give players new to a demanding defensive position the benefit of the doubt for as long as possible, so I’m fine with riding out another half-season or so of shaky defense behind the plate before beginning to ask the question whether or not Knizner has what it takes to be a catcher full-time in the pros. Almost no matter what transpires on the field this year, I can’t see a team drafting Knizner high enough that he’s signable with the intention of at least continuing to try him as a catcher for the foreseeable future. He’s good enough in other areas that it’s not quite a catcher or bust proposition for him, but that depends on how high one’s expectations are for him at this point.

Knizner split his time pretty evenly between first base and catcher at Johnson City in his debut. He also went out and hit .319/.423/.492 with 21 BB/21 K in 222 PA. I’ve had many people who have seen Knizner play in short looks come back completely unsold on his defense behind the plate. I appreciate firsthand accounts like that, but I find it telling that so many of these observations are the quick-hitter type. For whatever reason, Knizner’s defense is particularly difficult to judge when viewed only through the prism of a single game or series. The newness of playing the position is too often dismissed by those who are already convinced he can’t do the job, and the incremental progress he’s made defensively — the definition of slow and steady, emphasis on slow — is worth keeping in mind. I think Knizner has shown enough already to warrant serious consideration as a long-term catcher defensively, a personal view reinforced by his athleticism and arm strength. As an average or better defender behind the plate, Knizner has a chance to be an above-average all-around player. This is the type of college catcher (i.e., one with clear starter upside) worth taking a chance on here.

8.256 – RHP Sam Tewes

On Sam Tewes in mid-March 2016 before news of his announced TJ surgery was official…

Tewes’s arm (up to 95, good CB) and size (6-5, 200) is too good to pass up even with the rocky start. Even if his recent elbow discomfort ends in something unfortunate, he’s still the most talented player on this roster and best pro bet going forward.

And then later in March 2016 when we knew it was coming…

I always make a point to say that these are conceived as pre-season rankings that attempt to reflect the larger body of work rather than recent performances. There are, however, exceptions to that rule. Sam Tewes is a walking, talking exception as he was dropped a whopping one whole spot after news broke that he’ll be undergoing Tommy John surgery on Wednesday (March 31, 2016). His immediate draft future is obviously in doubt as he’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of rehabbing as a professional versus doing so as a redshirt-junior next season at Wichita State. I wouldn’t consider him signable as of now – guys with multiple years of eligible left are challenges from the start and the injury clouds up his future even more – but I’d sure as heck be on him this spring trying to figure out if there’s a reasonable number he’d agree to. His ability is undeniable. Tewes feels like the kind of guy the Red Sox pick late and convince to sign an overslot deal on while fans of all other teams slap their heads thinking “Why couldn’t we have thought of that?”

It says something both about Tewes and the rest of the Missouri Valley 2016 collection of pitching that I’d still take him second out of the group even with the bum elbow. Tommy John surgery should really drop you more than one spot, right? Maybe I’m overrating Tewes, underrating the rest of the Missouri Valley pitching crop, or making too many assumptions about the simplicity of Tommy John surgery; I’d accept any arguments against his placement, but will hold firm on his ranking just off the top spot for now.

Tewes went under the knife on March 31, 2016. That didn’t stop the Cardinals from taking a shot on the big (6-5, 200) righthander’s big (88-94, 96 peak) fastball and big bending curve. Add in a hard slider with promise and a nascent changeup, and you can see why St. Louis would be willing to get Tewes into their organization even with the injury. I love this pick. Tremendous upside — could see Tewes continuing to start in the pros, but the fallback as a dominant late-inning reliever isn’t so bad either — if it works out with minimal risk (an eighth round pick and only $100,000) if it doesn’t. Really can’t say enough about how much I like this one.

9.286 – OF Matt Fiedler

So much of post-draft analysis (in all sports) boils down to “well, they drafted a lot of the guys I ranked highly, so GREAT DRAFT!” or “they are clueless because their picks don’t correlate to my own board at all.” Neither of these responses are wrong per se (if you took the time to create a board you value, then you shouldn’t throw it out just because it didn’t line up with the reality of the actual draft), but, at best, I think we can call that kind of analysis incomplete. Judging a draft should be done in a more curious way. Approaching selections with the attitude of “I wonder why they did this” rather than viewing picks only through a singular (maybe right, maybe wrong) pre-draft valuation results in a far more interesting and useful overall thought exercise for writer and reader alike.

St. Louis took Minnesota RHP/OF Matt Fiedler in the ninth round. Fiedler was on my radar as a promising mid-round relief type (88-92 FB, good mid-70s CB, low-80s sinking CU), but, as an offensive prospect, I didn’t think the Gophers star was much more than a solid college bat. The Cardinals saw things differently. Without overreacting too much to his fantastic 220 PA pro debut, I can admit that I may have overlooked Fiedler’s power/speed upside (.166 ISO as a junior/31 for 36 SB his last two seasons in college) while also failing to give the two-way player enough of a break when it came to his solid but unspectacular (41 BB/48 K career) plate discipline (wholly anecdotal, but this is something that a lot of two-way guys see a positive bounce in the pros). Fiedler remains in a position where he’ll have to hit his way to the big leagues, but he’s off to a better start than most of his 2016 draft peers.

10.316 – 3B Danny Hudzina

On Danny Hudzina from March 2016…

Hudzina is a similarly talented hitter – more hit than power if we’re comparing him head-to-head with Lynch – who gets the edge because of his fascinating defensive versatility. I asked a few smart people about his long-term defensive home and each response gave me a new position to consider. Most preferred him at his present position of third base, a spot where he is really good already. Others thought he was athletic enough to handle short in a pinch, thus making his future position “utility infielder” more so than any one permanent spot. I also heard second base more than once, which made sense considering he has prior experience there. He also has experience behind the plate, so speculation that he’ll one day return to the catcher position will always be there. That was the most intriguing response, not only because of the idea itself (hardly a novel thought) but because of the conviction the friend who suggested it presented the thought (i.e., it wasn’t like he said that’s what should happen with him, he was saying that a switch to catcher will happen to him in the pros). Despite the certainty of that one friend, I’m still on the third base bandwagon with the idea of him being athletic enough to handle any infield spot (including third catcher duties) in play. All in all, offensively and defensively (wherever he may wind up), I think Hudzina has a big league skill set.

And then Hudzina went out and hit .408/.470/.564 with 26 BB/12 K. His combined junior and senior season walk to strikeout ratio: 40 BB/28 K. Hudzina is such a Cardinal it’s not even funny. Productive, patient hitter? Check. Multi-position defensive versatility? You know it. High marks in makeup, work ethic, and coachability? Like you really had to ask. As I said in March, Hudzina has a clear big league skill set. I think it’s more of a matter of “when” and not “if” he gets that far. For a $3,000 tenth round pick, that’s pretty awesome. Love this selection.

11.346 – LHP John Kilichowski

John Kilichowski (179) has a long history here on the site. Let’s dive in beginning in April 2015…

Ferguson’s stumble this season has opened the door for draft-eligible sophomore (he’ll be 21 in May) LHP John Kilichowski to slide in as Vanderbilt’s third best 2015 pro pitching prospect. He was great as a freshman last year (8.61 K/9 and 1.57 ERA in 23 IP) and has continued to do good things in 2015 (44 K/11 BB in 37.2 IP). His fastball isn’t an overpowering pitch (86-92), so he wisely leans on a pair of average or better offspeed offerings (mid-70s CB, upper-70s CU) to help him miss bats. Good stuff, solid track record, relatively fresh arm, and plenty of size (6-5, 210) all coming in from the left side? Nice. Statistically he’s had a very similar season to teammate rJR LHP Philip Pfeifer, yet another potential early pick off the Commodores staff. Pfeifer can’t match Kilichowski’s size or track record as a starter, but his fastball is a tick faster (94 peak) and his curve a bit sharper. How much of that can be attributed to his fastball/curveball combo playing up in shorter outings – in fairness, though he’s pitched out of the bullpen exclusively this season he almost always goes multiple innings at a time – or just having flat better stuff is up for the smarter area guys to decide. I give Kilichowski the edge for now based on what I know, but I can see it being a coin flip for many.

We actually could have started even further back in time. Here was Kilichowski’s HS scouting notes…

LHP John Kilichowski (Tampa Jesuit HS, Florida): 86-88 FB, 90 peak; solid CU; 73-76 CB with plus upside; 6-5, 185 pounds

He added thirty pounds, a few ticks to his fastball (86-92, 94 peak), and continued to refine his offspeed stuff in his three years as a Commodore. Not too shabby. Let’s check in on what we said about him in October 2015…

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.

And then again in May 2016…

Kilichowski excelled last season with nearly a strikeout per inning thanks to a legit four-pitch mix, above-average command, and impressive size on the mound. He’s only pitched 11.0 innings so far in 2016, so evaluating him will necessitate taking the long view of his development over the past few seasons.

It would be easy to look at Kilichowski’s injured-marred junior season as the reason why St. Louis could land a potential mid-rotation big league starting pitcher in the eleventh round for a reasonable ($200,000) price. It would also be correct. This is a heck of a pick by the Cardinals. Is ending each pick’s section with a variation on that theme getting tiresome yet? Too bad!

12.376 – SS Brady Whalen

All else equal, I root for just about every player to sign a pro contract. I say that because a) money is good, b) playing pro ball can open up lots of doors later in life even if actually playing the game doesn’t work out, and c) both the NCAA and the American college system in general are scammy at best and criminal at worst. This robs me of three years worth of evaluation time, so the pro leaning comes from a rare unselfish place. Still, there are certain players in every draft class that you can’t help but wonder “what if” about. Between the increased scouting exposure, risk mitigation, and personal growth one could expect a prospect to make over three calendar years, Brady Whalen could have come out of Oregon as a first day pick in 2019. Instead, the Cardinals took a chance on the toolsy 6-4, 185 pound prep shortstop from Washington in the twelfth round and managed to get him signed for about the same bonus they paid their fifth rounder. Whalen wound up playing a lot of second, a little bit of third, and a teeny tiny bit of shortstop in his debut. My notes on him before the draft were pretty straightforward: “steady glove, accurate arm, plus frame.” It’s pretty to envision a best case scenario of Whalen continuing to fill out and becoming a true power threat (the swing is there) while maintaining enough athleticism to play regularly at either second (a terrifying sight for incoming base runners), third (if his arm can handle it), or an outfield corner.

13.406 – OF Shane Billings

Shane Billings was a pre-draft FAVORITE for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, let’s go to his 2016 numbers at Wingate: .444/.502/.639 with 25 BB/15 K and 30/32 SB. That’ll play. Beyond that, he’s a plus runner with enough instincts to stick in center, decent pop (maybe a double-digit homer guy at his peak), and an average arm. It’s a rock solid fourth outfielder package with a slim shot at more if he keeps hitting.

14.436 – OF Vincent Jackson

Vincent Jackson’s (347) pro debut strikes me as pretty much the perfect kind of Vincent Jackson line: .233/.318/.357 (19.0 K% and 8.5 BB%) with 16/23 SB. You get a little bit of everything that makes Jackson such a fun prospect (power, walks, speed) and some of what caused him to slip to the fourteenth round (hit tool, strikeouts, general unrefined skill set). I’ve been bullish on the Tennessee senior for quite some time as you can see from these January 2015 notes…

The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.

Of course, if that’s not far back enough for you we can always go way back to his Luella HS days when I called him a “big personal favorite as hitter” with “average speed,” a “strong arm,” and the chance to “hit velocity.” Those were the days. Jackson is a funky player to project because, while still plenty athletic and a fine runner, he’s a bit too big at 6-4, 200 pounds to fit the classic center field mold. If he’s a corner guy (he is), then the pressure on the bat goes up substantially. In what may be a cop-out, Jackson seems like one of those players who will either have the light bulb go off in a big way in the pros (potential regular in left or right) or top out as a AAAA player.

15.466 – 2B JR Davis

On JR Davis from way way way back in February 2014

Zach Alvord, formerly of Auburn and Tampa, is still well-regarded by many, but don’t sleep on JR Davis, a redshirt freshman ready to make his mark.

I guess I’m guilty of sleeping on him some as the steady hitting of Davis over the years (including junior season marks of .347/.422/.438 with 24 BB/24 K) got lost in the shuffle in the two and a half years since that initial mention. There’s clearly enough with Davis offensively to work with, so my mental line of questioning of him now moves to the defensive side of the game. As a second base prospect, Davis will have to keep on hitting as he did in his debut (.333/.362/.457 in 196 PA) to remain a realistic future big league option. If he can slide around the infield some, then his path to a long career as a utility player gets that much clearer. For what it’s worth, I’ve been told that his arm and present actions might limit it to second base as an infielder, but center field remains an intriguing viable option down the line. The name Cesar Hernandez has come up as a potential comp to his overall skill set. Now let’s go full circle in what I promise is 100% a coincidence. Turns out I’ve thrown out Hernandez as a comp on my site once before. Wouldn’t you know it was in the exact same post AND the exact same paragraph that I pulled that opening quote from? Keith Curcio got the comp then — still kind of like that one, to be honest — and Davis gets it now. Full circle.

16.496 – C Tyler Lancaster

You have to have some really impressive secondary offensive skills to hit .148 in 64 PA in your debut and still wind up with a non-disastrous 84 wRC+. That’s what a 12.5 BB% and a .185 ISO did for Tyler Lancaster (245) in his first taste of pro ball in 2016. Lancaster’s success as a hitter in pro ball will be contingent on him continuing to pile up walks and extra base hits. Insight like that is why I get paid the big bucks, folks. There was about a 50/50 split on his long-term defense prospects behind the plate based on those I’ve checked with; needless to say, if he can stick behind the plate AND hit as hoped, he’s a potential monster. Have to love that kind of upside in the sixteenth round. Even if it doesn’t work out — or if it works out to a lesser degree: maybe Lancaster catches but the bat isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or maybe he shows up as a hitter but has to move to first — it’s a great gamble. For what it’s worth, while I don’t know which of those three positive outcomes Lancaster will take, I’m bullish on him following one of those paths to the big leagues. I think he’s a regular at either first or behind the plate eventually.

18.556 – RHP Austin Sexton

There are tons of pitching prospects on the fifth starter/middle relief bubble drafted every June — see the very next pick if you don’t believe me — so an interesting study that I’ll never personally get to would be to find a way to isolate what variables keep a guy starting and what pushes a pitcher to relief. We all know there are certain barriers of entry that some teams look for in future starters — the requisite three-pitch-mix, ability to command said mix, specific height/weight benchmarks and the supposed stamina associated with them — but there are still certain x-factors beyond those that separate starters from relievers. I only have theories to offer at this point, but one that I often come back to is weighing more heavily the importance of a difference-making pitch. This is hardly a revolutionary thought, but I needed a way to introduce Austin Sexton’s (386) outstanding changeup as a potential difference-making pitch. Sexton’s change is a consistent above-average offering. It’s the biggest reason why I think he could stick in the rotation for a long time to come. The fastball is fine (88-92, 93 peak) and his breaking ball (78-80) flashes, but it’s the changeup that could carry him to a long-term role pitching every fifth day in the big leagues.

19.586 – LHP Daniel Castano

Daniel Castano did enough over his three years at Baylor to warrant this comment along the way (or, more specifically, from April 2016)…

Daniel Castano is a lefthander with size, some present velocity (87-92), and a pair of offspeed pitches (78-83 CU and 72-76 CB) that could be average or better pitches at the pro level.

Add some encouraging GB% tendencies to that profile and it’s a decent looking fifth starter, um, starter kit. Like any pitcher with that profile, the bullpen looms as a potential better (and more likely) option. I think that’s probably where Castano winds up unless he starts missing more bats as a starter. Still solid value in the nineteenth round.

20.616 – 1B Stefan Trosclair

Stefan Trosclair is an interesting potential utility player depending on how viable an option St. Louis sees him at infield spots other than first base. He spent the vast majority of his debut for the Cardinals organization at first, but also saw a few innings at both second and third. I think he’s probably a good enough athlete to pull it off, but that’s admittedly a far easier position to take as an outsider with no skin in the game. Any prospect can theoretically play anywhere until you see the ugliness that is, from personal experience, Cody Asche at second base or Ryan Howard in left field up close and personal. If Trosclair can make it work at any spot other than first base in a part-time role, he could hit himself into a big league bench job. If not, well, we all know how high the offensive bar is at first base.

22.676 – OF Mick Fennell

Mike O’Neill 2.0 was the description I got when asking around about Mick Fennell. That’s a lot of fun right off the top. Further elaboration led to a “Mike O’Neill with actual power” upside comp. That’s even better! O’Neill, long a favorite of the analytics crowd (guilty!), has never been able to turn the corner from minor league fascination to useful big league player due largely to a lack of consistent in-game power. I’m not in a position to speculate on whether or not Fennell has the power to break that big league glass ceiling — not that a lack of insight has ever stopped me before! — but, hey, I’ve heard good things. That has to count for something, right? And that .374/.446/.600 college career line (with 64 BB/32 K in 597 AB) certainly doesn’t hurt. For entertainment purposes only, here are the respective pro debuts of O’Neill and Fennell…

.283/.387/.380 with 15.2 BB% and 11.6 K% and 112 PA
.256/.366/.331 with 12.2 BB% and 8.8 K% and 147 PA

O’Neill had a .098 ISO, Fennell had a .074 ISO. Hmm. We’re talking minuscule samples in the grand scheme of things, but a (flawed) data point is still a (flawed) data point. Fennell is such an easy prospect to root for. The man’s K% in his college career is 4.6%. That’s just incredible. I’ve done no studies linking low college K-rates and professional success, but I’d have to think that overall numbers like Fennell’s AND the low K-rate have to mean something, level of competition be damned. I’d draft a guy out of any level but Little League who has hit .374/.446/.600 with 64 BB/32 K in his career in the twenty-second round every single time. Even though this was Randy Flores first draft as the man in charge, this is such a classic Cardinals pick.

This has nothing to do with anything, but, despite living almost all my life in the great state of Pennsylvania, I never knew that the California University of Pennsylvania’s nickname was the Vulcans. That’s awesome. I’m getting a t-shirt.

Oh yeah, we can’t forget the back flips.

24.736 – LHP Anthony Ciavarella

Anthony Ciavarella is an undersized lefty with a solid fastball (87-92) and a quality curve. He’s been decent when it comes to missing bats in his career (7.99 K/9 in his senior year at Monmouth) and his control has always been a strength, so maybe you get a matchup lefty down the line here.

25.766 – RHP Spencer Trayner

I think Spencer Trayner (419) has a future in a big league bullpen. He’s got a low-90s fastball (95 peak), average or better breaking ball, and a split-change that can get him loads of swings and misses when he’s feeling it. Toss in three solid years pitching out of the Tar Heels bullpen and the athleticism you’d expect from a former middle infielder, and you’ve got yourself a good looking relief prospect.

26.796 – RHP Eric Carter

Eric Carter is too old. Eric Carter is undersized. Eric Carter is too reliant on his fastball. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Eric Carter keeps sitting people down. As a senior at Louisiana, he had a 12.07 K/9 and 1.84 BB/9 in 44.0 IP. In his pro debut, Carter did this: 10.32 K/9 and 1.59 BB/9 in 22.2 IP. There are reasons to temper that enthusiasm some — add on his fly ball tendencies to that list of red flags — but I’ve always been bullish on guys who can just plain miss bats. It doesn’t hurt that Carter has a low-90s fastball (up to 94) and an inconsistent, underutilized curve that is nasty when on. Those positives outweighs the negatives, especially in the twenty-sixth round.

27.826 – RHP Mike O’Reilly

Mike O’Reilly pitched really well (9.83 K/9 and 1.99 BB/9) in his draft year at Flagler. Mike O’Reilly pitched really well (8.55 K/9 and 1.13 BB/9) in his first year as a professional. Can’t ask for much more than that.

29.866 – RHP Noel Gonzalez

One could probably ascertain that the Cardinals have been on Noel Gonzalez for a while now. That’s a safe assumption with just about any draft pick, but Gonzalez’s path from Bellevue (same school as Leland Tilley, thirty-second round pick) to Lewis-Clark (NAIA school that is always loaded) surely kept many Cardinal eyes on him over the past few seasons. That’s all I’ve got.

31.946 – 2B JD Murders

I don’t have much on JD Murders that isn’t already out there. He’s a fairly sure-handed defensive middle infielder with above-average wheels, sneaky pop, and some feel for contact. Any high school prospect signed after the tenth round is a good get in my book.

32.976 – RHP Leland Tilley

Leland Tilley went 10-1 with 9 saves in just 25 appearances for the Bellevue Bruins in 2016. That’s crazy, right? A closer with ten wins? Definitely not something you see everyday. That fits a pitcher like Tilley, a funky righthander with a delivery unlike anything most opposing hitters have ever seen. He used that delivery, a low-90s fastball, and a pair of usable breaking balls to put up the kind of numbers (9.53 K/9 and 2.00 BB/9) to get noticed by the pros. I like taking shots on relievers with unorthodox windups at this point in the draft.

33.1006 – 2B Caleb Lopes

When a guy hits .427/.521/.641 with 30 BB/10 K and 9/10 SB in 206 AB, you pay attention. In fact, Caleb Lopes inspired me to shoot off a quick email to a pal about how great his debut. It may or may not have sounded a little something like this…

You want an absurdly deep sleeper? No? TOO BAD. Get to know Caleb Lopes. Cardinals took him with the last pick in the 33rd round. That was pick 1006 overall. College shortstop who split his time in the pros at second (where the Cards announced him on draft day) and third. He hit .427/.521/.641 with 30 BB/10 K and 9/10 SB in 206 AB at West Georgia. Young for his class, too. Only turned 21-years-old this past July. Then he hit .336/.488/.420 with 30 BB/24 K and 2/2 SB in 175 PA in his debut at Johnson City.

This is what I email friends about. Unrelated, I don’t have many friends. Also unrelated, want to be friends?

34.1036 – RHP Jonathan Mulford

Adelphi University has had a player drafted in five of the eight drafts that I’ve covered since starting the site in 2009. That’s pretty impressive and something I never would have guessed in a million years. Jonathan Mulford is the latest Panther to get his shot in the pros. He had a solid senior year (8.47 K/9 and 1.72 BB/9), a fastball up to 93 MPH, and a nice curve. All in all, he’s worth a follow.

36.1096 – RHP Robbie Gordon

Pretty good year for Robbie Gordon. First no-hitter in Maryville history. First perfect game in Maryville history. First ever draft pick to come out of Maryville. First ever player from Maryville to play affiliated professional ball. And, if all that wasn’t enough, Gordon was actually pretty damn good in his debut. I mean, he was a 23-year-old with a solid low-90s heater and advanced changeup doing his thing against teenagers in the GCL, but it still counts for something. I can’t say I expect a whole lot out of a Division II pick with fine but hardly overwhelming career numbers (8.37 K/9 and 3.11 BB/9), but they can never take away 2016 from him.

37.1126 – 3B Andy Young

Andy Young made a mockery of the GCL in his admittedly short stay there: .323/.500/.452 with 7 BB/3 K in 43 PA. He then went to State College and hit comfortably above-average (.261/.322/.398 and 115 wRC+ in 182 PA) the rest of the way. Not a bad debut at all for the potential utility guy, especially when you factor in positive notes on his glove at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, and RF. I’m comfortable with putting a big league ceiling on Young based on that defensive versatility and a rapidly improving bat. The latter began in his senior season at Indiana State. His overall numbers stayed similar on the surface, but Young managed to almost completely flip his BB/K ratio into something far more palatable (30 BB/27 K) as a senior. The small sample pro debut stats quoted above give some credence that Young’s offensive bump is real and can be sustained. If that’s the case, then maybe the Cardinals really did turn a thirty-seventh round pick into a future useful big league player. Not bad.

38.1156 – RHP Robert Calvano

Robert Calvano didn’t pitch enough (6.2 innings in 2016, 5.2 innings in 2015) to get on my radar, but obviously the Cardinals saw enough in him over the years to take a late-round shot.

Unsigned Prospects and Where You Can Find Them in 2017

Jeremy Ydens (UCLA), Aaron Bond (San Jacinto JC), Jackson Lamb (Michigan), Josh Burgmann (Washington), Pat Krall (Clemson), JC Crowe (?), Cade Cabbiness (Seminole State), Matthew Ellis (UC Riverside)

SEC 2015 MLB Draft All-Prospect Team – HITTERS

First Team

Louisiana State JR C Chris Chinea
South Carolina SR 1B Kyle Martin
Louisiana State JR 2B Alex Bregman
Vanderbilt JR SS Dansby Swanson
Florida SR 3B Josh Tobias
Florida JR OF Harrison Bader
Louisiana State JR OF Andrew Stevenson
Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart

Second Team

Georgia JR C Zack Bowers
Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel
South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock
Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom
Florida SR 3B Josh Tobias
Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson
Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman
Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi

There are so many prospects here that I’m going to do my best to touch on as many as possible as we whip around the diamond. There are some quoted bits from previous entries when applicable so this isn’t entirely original content, but it’s over 6,000 words…and that’s before we get to the pitching. Buckle up.

LSU JR C Chris Chinea is a good athlete with a big raw power and a solid defensive reputation. His teammate SR C Kade Scivicque joins him in what has to be one of college ball’s top catching tandems. It would hardly be a surprise to see the talented Scivicque get selected before Chinea with the former’s senior sign status giving him the edge for teams that view them as comparable talents. I look at Texas A&M SR C Mitchell Nau in a similar way to Scivicque: both are solid senior signs that should come relatively cheaply, provide a steadying presence for young arms, and give you a chance at a big league backup catcher down the line.

Alabama SO C Will Haynie has obvious upside in his 6-5, 230 pound frame. Catchers built like that with plus raw power and plus arm strength get chances even when the overall package – Haynie struggled badly last season and has only made modest improvements in 2015 — doesn’t amount to what you’d expect. A team might bet on his tools higher than expected, but I think the most realistic outcome would be a return to Tuscaloosa in 2016. No need to rush Haynie just because he’s a draft-eligible sophomore, though I suppose the question as to whether or not his development would be better served in college or in the pros going forward is one worth asking. I typically side with the pro side on matters like these, but Haynie needs the kind of at bats that playing every day in the SEC would give him. He’s almost too raw a player to take on the pros right now; I’d worry that he’d get lost in the shuffle of pro ball as even the best player development staffs can only take on so many projects at any one time.

Georgia JR C Zack Bowers can’t match Haynie in terms of sheer mass (Bowers is listed at 6-1, 200), but offers a similarly appealing plus raw power/plus arm strength package. His glove remains a work in progress, but the strides he has made as a hitter this year have been encouraging. He’s still going to swing and miss more than you’d like, but there’s a chance with continued work he can get that aspect under enough control to put his big raw power to use. I’ve personally moved away from the arm/power catcher archetype in recent years (I know lean towards athleticism and plate discipline), but the upside of a player like Bowers is undeniable. To an extent, how much you like Bowers (and Haynie, for that matter) comes down to how much confidence you have in your player development staff working with these kinds of players. If you believe that you can coach up defense and approach, then the raw talent of the arm/power catchers supersedes any concerns. I can buy that defense can always be improved – the Cubs sure seem to think so – but changing a guy’s approach at the plate is a gigantic challenge.

If he can convince teams that he can work defensively as a four-corners (1B/3B/LF/RF) prospect, then South Carolina JR 1B Kyle Martin could wind up drafted higher than most other straight college first basemen in his class. He has the athleticism and arm strength to pull off such a move, though it remains to be seen if the primary first baseman can make the transition in pro ball. As a hitter he’s improved every season – especially in the power department – enough to make a case that he could just keep mashing enough to get a shot down the line even if he’s locked into first base only. Of course, we say it every year and it bears repeating yet again: the tremendous offensive demands of the position makes projecting any amateur first basemen as a regular a long shot. Guys who can play multiple spots – like Martin potentially, as well as LSU SR 1B Conner Hale (who has also seen time at 2B and 3B), Georgia JR 1B Morgan Bunting (3B/OF…when he plays), and Auburn JR 1B Dylan Smith (OF…when he plays) – tend to wind up the most interesting prospects on draft day.

I liked Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel last season as a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore, so it should be no shock that I like him again as a draft-eligible redshirt junior. Power, strength, and enough patience make him one of college ball’s better first base prospects. When I wonder here about why certain guys don’t get talked about more, I sometimes stop and think, “Well, how much have I publicly praised the player?” Almost always, I haven’t. I’ve thought about him a lot and maybe fired off some behind-the-scenes type things about the guy, but never given him the public recognition he deserves. That’s one of the reasons I’m glad I did this conference previews even if they did monopolize much of my free time over the past few months. There are so many more players that aren’t projected to be top ten picks that baseball fans should know about, and a quality first base prospect at one of the best programs in the country is one of them.

And now for something totally different. Mississippi SR 1B Sikes Orvis is one of college ball’s most famous names. His colorful personality, noteworthy facial hair (since lopped off, sadly), egg-like bod, and near weekly appearances on ESPN’s coverage of the SEC make him a worthy ambassador for the game and one of the most well-known players to casual college baseball/draft fans (if you’re an athlete who my wife recognizes on TV as she flicks by, then you’re famous). On top of all that, he’s also a pretty good college baseball player. He’s a better athlete and defender than his body suggests, and his power bat is nothing to mess with. The profile is a long shot to ever top out as anything but a 4A slugger, but it’ll be a fun ride. Equally entertaining plus-sized Mississippi State rSR 1B Wes Rea is in the same boat. I don’t know how high he’ll climb in the minors, but all eyes will be on the 6-5, 275 pound ATHLETE at every minor league park he sets foot in. That’s more than most mid-round prospects can say, so I’d argue he’s already ahead of the game.

LSU JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman and South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock have been covered already, so I’ll be brief with each here. On Bregman…DID YOU KNOW that as of 4/3/15, he has more home runs (7) than strikeouts (5)? That’s good, right? His defense has also universally lauded this spring, enough so that some smart people are starting to lead the Bregman as pro shortstop charge once again. Two things about that: 1) I think whatever team drafts him does so with playing him at shortstop for at least the remainder of 2015 and possibly even 2016. I’m not sure what happens after that, but my hunch is that he’ll be given every shot to stay at shortstop despite what haters like me write. I mean, if Corey Seager is still technically a shortstop, then why won’t a team stick with Bregman at the six-spot as long as possible? 2) As a “hater,” I’m encouraged about the positive reports about his defense, but more so because now I’m more sure than ever that he could be a plus glove at second rather than a future pro shortstop. Any way you look at it his improved defense is a good thing even if it does muddle the Bregman narrative up a bit.

That wasn’t particularly brief, so I’ll try again with Schrock. I’ve read in multiple places how Schrock has been a disappointment this year for South Carolina. We’re not talking from a draft perspective, but from a 2015 college production point of view. His batting average is over fifty points lower so far this year, so I guess that has to be why I keep hearing about his struggles this year. It’s certainly not about his OBP because, lower average or not, he’s getting on base at a higher clip this year (.379) than he did last year (.366). You could fairly point to his decrease in power so far this year, but it’s not so far off – especially with the added OBP value – to say he’s having a down year relative to what he’s done in the past. From a draft prospect perspective I was hoping for last year’s numbers plus improvements across the board (I’m selfish like that), but he’s hardly been disappointing through 105 at bats. I know this doesn’t have much to do with anything, but I feel better for getting that off my chest.

Alabama JR 2B/SS Mikey White’s power breakout has had many talking him up as a possible third baseman as a professional. I don’t think the power spike is real – he’s a really good hitter, but not somebody I would have had down for much more than average power going forward – but it’s the scouts he has to convince, not me. I had somebody smart (and, because I know he wouldn’t mind me saying this, also super old) recently compare him to a righthanded Graig Nettles. That feels a little rich for me – Nettles’ raw numbers don’t blow you away, but he’s a borderline HOF third baseman if going off of JAWS – but it’s an interesting comparison to a historically underrated player who once made the transition from second base to third. Lost in this whole conversation is White’s potential to remain at shortstop. Like those who will fight you to the death on Alex Bregman’s future position, there are some college baseball loyalists who will get very mad if you suggest White will have to move out of the six-spot as a pro. Believe it or not, I understand where those fans of White’s game are coming from: he’s as hard working as any prospect you’ll find, a tremendous team leader, and his baseball instincts are off the charts. Do those intangibles make up for average at best foot speed and suboptimal range? Despite the leading question, White has more of a shot to stick a shortstop for a few years than I had thought coming into the year. I still think either second or third makes more sense, and I’m not entirely sold on the bat being good enough to make him an everyday player, but the comparisons to former Alabama star Josh Rutledge…wait, this felt familiar so I searched my site for my last Rutledge reference and turns out I’ve written almost all this before. Turns out writing 10,000 words a week about college baseball for two months on end leaves you with mush for brains. Here’s my section on White from January…

It goes against a lot of what I’ve written previously, most notably in the LSU preview when discussing Alex Bregman, so don’t read too much into my listing of JR 2B/SS Mikey White’s two most likely pro positions in that precise (2B/SS) order. White could very well wind up sticking at short as a professional; in fact, I reserve the right to switch that up a half-dozen times in my mind (and in print!) over the next few months. Working very much for him are his tremendous instincts, which rank among the best I’ve seen at the amateur level. Though impossible for the amateur eye to quantify, he’s one of those players who always seems to be in the middle of the action on the field, almost always doing something positive after finding himself in the right place at the right time. Watch him for a game or even a series and you might chalk it up as a coincidence, but we’ve now got two years of college, plenty of high-level summer ball, and, depending on who you are lucky enough to talk to, a year or more of tracking him in high school to go off of at this point. If his preternatural ability to be at the right place at the right time is just a coincidence, then I no longer understand the meaning of the word.

There’s a perfectly reasonable and logical Josh Rutledge comp out there (can’t recall the origin) for White that I don’t hate, though I think White is a truer traditional middle infielder (better glove, less power) than Rutledge ever was. There’s also been a Nolan Fontana comparison floating around with Baseball America as the source. I think the Fontana comp is a little bit stronger (both players relying as much on smarts and positioning than raw athleticism as defenders), but, like all comps, it’s still imperfect: Fontana always had an elite approach as a hitter as well as, in my personal view, a surer path to remain at shortstop professionally. The best comparison that comes to mind for me is current Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer. Both guys have good size, strong arms, and have been universally praised over the years for having high baseball IQs. All that, and their sophomore year numbers aren’t all that far off…

JM: .299/.359/.481 – 15 BB/28 K – 5/7 SB
MW: .300/.399/.443 – 27 BB/44 K – 3/5 SB

Mercer followed that up with another quality season highlighted by a power spike significant enough to get him popped with the 79th overall pick in 2008. He then experienced a slow and steady climb through the Pirates minor league system before breaking through as a legitimate regular at short for Pittsburgh in 2013. If Mikey White follows the same path then we can pencil him as a third round pick this June with the chance to hit the big leagues by 2020. Doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me, though I think you could at least argue that he’ll be a faster riser but with more of a utility upside. The latter was often said about Mercer throughout the earliest portion of his career, so you never know.

White has blown past what Mercer did his junior season, especially from a power standpoint. I’ve touched on the veracity of the realness of that power before, but without much evidence against it I’m inclined to believe something good is going on with either his swing, strength, or some combination thereof. A third round selection might be a little light based on what White has done so far this year, though I remain skeptical of a heretofore non-power bat hitting for this kind of pop with the kind of plate discipline red flags evident in White’s game.

I’m about as confused on White as I’ve been on a college player so far this season. I’m no scout, but, as a baseball fan, he is exactly the kind of player I feel like I legitimately need to see more of with my own two eyes in order to better understand his strengths and weaknesses. I want to keep putting him into certain restrictive places in my mind – he’s a scrappy utility player with a “true middle infield” glove, he’s an underappreciated (by me!) power hitter who will be best at third, he’s an overrated mirage, he’s an underrated grinder – but he doesn’t seem to fit nicely in any one player archetype. Mikey White has broken me, and I think that’s a good thing. I lean towards him turning into a potential quality utility player with a chance to play regularly at second with continued progress, but will likely go back and forth a few more times between now and June.

I haven’t heard a player get the “he’ll be a better pro than college player” treatment in a long time quite like Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox. I’m not sure how to take that exactly. It almost sounds like a dig on the Tennessee coaching staff, but I find that hard to believe knowing what I do about the people they have in place there. I think it’s more likely explained by the differences in the pro grind – all baseball, all the time – versus the multitude of various interested parties pulling one’s attention away from the day in college. I don’t know anything specific to Simcox here, for the record. He could be as focused as can be and simply in need of an all-encompassing baseball environment because of personal preference.

It’s just now occurred to me that the SEC shortstops have a pretty clear tier system. It gets even more clearly defined if we include maybe shortstops like Bregman and White. The top tier includes Vanderbilt JR SS/2B Dansby Swanson and Bregman, then there’s Florida JR SS/OF Richie Martin and White, then a big step down to Simcox, Auburn JR SS Cody Nulph, and Mississippi State SR SS Seth Heck, and a final tier of South Carolina JR SS Marcus Mooney, Arkansas rJR SS Brett McAfee, and whomever else I missed.

I’m still holding out on JR 3B Xavier Turner (formerly of Vanderbilt, though technically he’s still enrolled at school there and just not playing ball this year) as the conference’s best third base prospect. That’s as much as because of Turner’s talent (ample athleticism, bat speed in spades, and average or better raw power, speed, and arm strength) as it is the relative void at the position without him. I had Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom as the next in line, but his transition to the SEC hasn’t been all that it could be so far. He still gives you intriguing power, defensive upside, and size. Since it was a close battle for second pre-season anyway, I don’t’ feel too bad about editing my list a bit and flipping Florida SR 3B/2B Josh Tobias to the two spot for now. Tobias has always flashed talent (above-average speed, more pop than his size suggests, and a steady, versatile glove), so it’s been nice to see him put together a strong senior season. As a senior sign with a possible utility future (the approach keeps him from being a starter for me), he could find his way into the late single-digit rounds. Similar things apply to Texas A&M JR 3B/SS Logan Taylor, another versatile defender (potentially plus at third, average at both short and second) with some pop who could find a role off a big league bench one day.

I want to say that Florida JR OF Harrison Bader can do a little bit of everything, but that would be a lie. Harrison Bader can do a lot of everything. He’s a legitimate five-tool player and I’ll fight anybody who says otherwise. I’d take him over any bat in the conference not named Bregman or Swanson without a second thought. Above-average raw power, above-average to plus speed, and the ability to play center make him a lot like Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman to me, but with a markedly better approach at the plate. If he’s there in the second, it’s an easy call. Also, I’m not a scout and smarter people have disagreed with me, but I love his swing. It’s not conventionally pretty, but his lower half and upper half are coordinated really well and there’s just enough of an uppercut (but not too much) to suggest his power surge is real.

LSU JR OF Andrew Stevenson could step into a AA lineup tomorrow (just in time for opening day!) because his defense in center (plus-plus), speed (plus), and hit tool (above-average) are all professional quality right now. He’s one of those players that it would be very hard to imagine not someday carving out a big league role for himself on the basis of his defensive prowess and game-changing speed on the base paths alone. When you add in that hit tool, his emerging pop, and an improved approach at the plate, it’s easy to envision him maturing into a table-setting leadoff hitter guaranteed to give you years of positive defensive and base running value in the bigs. I was high on Stevenson before writing this paragraph, but now I’m more pumped about him than ever.

Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart just keeps getting better and better and better as a hitter. With an above-average hit tool and honest plus raw power, his breakout season (happening right now!) was only a matter of time. I’ve been hard on him in the past because of my perceived disconnect between his consistently praised approach at the plate and below-average BB/K ratios (1/2 for most of his first two seasons), but I’m starting to buy in. When I hear this is a below-average draft, I think of players like Stewart who have emerged as worthwhile top three round picks – not just in this draft, but in any draft – and smile. If a down draft means a few pitching prospect have gotten injured and no stone cold mortal lock for 1-1 exists, then I guess this draft isn’t very good. If it means that there will be future big league regulars selected out of college as late as the fifth round, then I feel like we’re not on the same page. I try not to cheerlead, but the bad draft stuff is just laziness from paid professionals who really ought to try digging a little deeper.

I’ve written a lot about many SEC prospects already (links to the teams that had rosters in early are found below), but there are a few players I’d like to quickly revisit based on updated information and performance. I didn’t realize it until after the fact that almost every blurb has a BUT in it, so I did my best to sneak one into each.

  • Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson – still love the tools, but where’s the power?
  • Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman – status unchanged (solid tools across the board), but approach still holds him back
  • Auburn JR 2B/OF Jordan Ebert – hoping his early season struggles are more attributable to bad BABIP luck, but his BB/K is still strong enough to give me hope that he’ll hit
  • LSU JR OF Mark Laird – now view him as Stevenson without the ceiling, but still a ML player
  • Tennessee SR OF Jonathan Youngblood – tools remain elite, but hasn’t played at all; could see a fan raging about his IDIOT team drafting somebody with such “bad” college numbers without knowing how damn toolsy Youngblood actually is just as easily as he could go undrafted
  • Alabama JR OF Georgie Salem – had a hunch that he was in line for a breakout season, but I’ve been told (haven’t seen him in person this year) he’s actually regressed at the plate and looks lost at times

I didn’t get to a few SEC schools that were late to post rosters, so special mention should be made about outfielders from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Alabama. Here are their quick blurbs, all decidedly BUT free…

  • Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi – well-rounded with above-average speed, solid pop, CF range, and a live bat; somehow leading the nation in homers as of this writing at only 5-10, 175 pounds, which says about his strength and swing
  • Alabama SO OF Casey Hughston – swings and misses too much for my taste, though he’s still one of the draft’s best athletes and power hitters who is having a giant second season
  • Kentucky JR OF Kyle Barrett – reminds me a little bit of Laird as a speedy center fielder with fourth outfielder upside, might be a better all-around player
  • Kentucky JR OF Ka’aI Tom – size and tools don’t blow you away, yet he’s found a way to produce at every stop

LSU

Wherever he lands defensively, Bregman is going to hit. The ability to play one of the middle infield spots and hit while doing it is what makes him as close to a first round lock as there is in this college class. If that sounds like exceedingly simple analysis, well, that’s because it is. He has an easy to identify above-average or better hit tool, average to above-average speed that plays up due to his impressive feel for the game, average raw power with an emphasis on splitting the gaps, plenty of bat speed, and a consistently smart approach at the plate. There aren’t a lot of holes you can poke in his game from an offensive standpoint. One thing I’ve found particularly fascinating about Bregman as a prospect is the response you get when his name comes up within the game. I think I’ve heard more comps on Bregman than literally any player I can remember. Something about his game just evokes that “every man” feeling deep inside talent evaluators, I guess. Take a look at the list I currently have of comps I’ve personally heard for Bregman: Mike Lansing, Mark Ellis (BA has used this), Robby Thompson, Orlando Hudson, Tony Renda, Randy Velarde, Bill Mueller, Jose Vidro, Edgardo Alfonzo, Carlos Baerga, Ray Durham, Jhonny Peralta, and Mark DeRosa. There’s also the increasingly popular Dustin Pedroia comp, which makes sense on the surface but is a scary comparison for anybody due to the unique set of circumstances (or, more plainly, an obsessive/borderline maniacal drive to be great) that has led to Pedroia’s rise in the game. I’ve also heard the cautionary comp of Bobby Crosby, though I’m not sure I buy the two being all the similar at similar points in their respective development. A statistical look comparing Bregman and Crosby makes for an interesting conversation starter (if, you know, you’re friends with other obsessive college baseball/draft fans)…

AB: .344/.408/.504 – 51 BB/46 K – 28/35 SB – 526 AB
BC: .340/.417/.496 – 70 BB/103 K – 40/51 SB – 635 AB

Top is Bregman so far, bottom is Crosby’s career college numbers. It would have worked better if I had left out the BB/K ratios, but that would have been intellectually dishonest and I’m far too morally upstanding to stoop to statistical manipulation to make a point. I’d never dream of doing such a thing. Hey, look at this comparison…

AB: .369/.419/.546 – 25 BB/24 K – 17/18 SB – 282 AB
AH: .329/.391/.550 – 20 BB/20 K – 10/11 SB – 222 AB

The top is Bregman’s first year at LSU, the bottom is Aaron Hill’s first year at LSU. Notice how I didn’t say freshman year: Hill transferred from Southern Illinois to LSU after his freshman season. Since we’ve already gone down this dark and twisted road of statistical manipulation, let’s go even deeper…

AB: .316/.397/.455 – 27 BB/21 K – 12/18 SB – 244 AB
AH: .299/.375/.463 – 15 BB/27 K – 6/7 SB – 134 AB

Those would be Bregman and Hill’s “other” college season; more specifically, you’re looking at Hill’s freshman year at Southern Illinois and Bregman’s more recent season. I’m not sure what could be gained from comparing these two seasons, but, hey, look how similar! Jokes aside — though, seriously, those are some freaky similar numbers — I think the comparison between Alex Bregman and Aaron Hill is probably the most apt comp out there at this point. If the numbers don’t sway you, just check Hill’s playing card from his draft year at Baseball America…

In a draft thin on shortstops, Hill is one of the few with legitimate offensive potential. There are questions as to whether he can handle that position all the way up to the majors, but he’ll get the shot to prove he can’t. His instincts and gritty makeup get the most out of his tools–which aren’t lacking. He has enough arm to make plays from the hole, along with range and quickness. He’s not flashy but gets the job done. At worst, the Southeastern Conference player of the year will be an all-around second baseman. Offensively, he has a beautiful swing, above-average speed and control of the strike zone. He doesn’t have plus home-run power, but he can hit the occasional longball and line balls into the gaps.

I don’t normally post full sections like that, but come on! Replace Hill for Bregman and that’s pretty much spot-on! Well, the bit about this being a draft thin on shortstops might not work that well — if the 2015 draft is strong at any one position player group in the college game, it’s shortstop — but still. Interesting to me that this quick scouting report glossed over Hill’s offensive promise much in the same way I coincidentally (I swear!) did with Bregman above. It’s almost as if it was a foregone conclusion that Hill would hit enough to play somewhere, just like how many, myself included, view Bregman today. I like Bregman to hit a little bit more than Hill, run a little bit better than Hill, and field a little bit better than Hill. Otherwise, I think the comparison is pretty damn good.

Tennessee

Of all the teams profiled so far, none have a 1-2 outfield punch of 2015 draft prospects quite like Tennessee’s duo of JR OFs Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson. Neither are likely first round prospects, so there are imperfections in their respective games that will be watched closely this spring. Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.

The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.

Alabama
Georgia
Mississippi
Arkansas
Vanderbilt

Swanson broke out last season in a big, big way. His first real test at the college level was hardly a test at all as he hit .333/.411/.475 with 37 BB and 39 K in 282 AB. He also added 22 steals in 27 attempts for good measure. The numbers obviously speak for themselves, but it’s still nice when the scouting reports back it up. Swanson can really play. I’ll indirectly piggyback a bit on Baseball America’s Trea Turner (with less speed) comp and reuse one of my comps for Turner last year for Swanson. It actually fits a lot better now, so I don’t feel too bad going to the Brett Gardner well in back-to-back drafts. The package of athleticism, speed, defensive upside at a critical up-the-middle spot with an above-average hit tool and average-ish power (little less, probably) works out to a consistently above-average regular with the chance for stardom — certainly flashes of it — within reach.

There’s a bit of a gap between Vanderbilt’s (draft) class of 2015 and Wiseman, but that speaks to the strength of having four likely first round picks more so than any major deficits in Wiseman’s game. I’ve run into two interesting schools of thought about Wiseman while putting this together. The first, and I’ll admit that this was my initial view from the start, is that he’s still more tools than skills right now. The tools are quite strong, but the fact that they haven’t turned into the skills many expected by now gives some pause. Still, those tools that were clear to almost all going back to his high school days are still real and still worth getting excited about. The breakout could come any day now for him and when it does we’ll be looking at a potential first-division regular in the outfield. The opposing view believes that Wiseman’s development has gone as scripted and what we’re seeing right now is more or less what we’re going to get with him. He’s a great athlete and a far more cerebral hitter than given credit, but the tools were overstated across the board at the onset of his amateur career and now we’re seeing expectations for him correcting themselves based on what he really is. There really are no pluses in his game and no carrying tool that will help him rise above his future fourth outfielder station. I’m a believer that it’s always wise to bet on athletes having the light bulb turn on before too long, so count me in as still leaning closer to the former (and my original) position. I do understand the concerns about Wiseman potentially topping out as a “tweener” outfield prospect — he hasn’t shown the power yet to work in a corner, but that’s where he’s clearly best defensively — so going on the first day might be off the table. He’s still an intriguing blend of production (good, not mind-blowing) and tools (same) who could wind up a relative bargain if he slips much later than that. I could see him both being ranked and drafted in the same area that I had him listed (110th overall) out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols.

In any event, I don’t think Wiseman’s viewed by many as quite the prospect he was back in high school and a good part of that was the way many — me included — viewed his rawness, age, and relative inexperience as a New England high school product as positives. We all are guilty of assuming there are concretely meaningful patterns we can expect from prospect development and that all young players will continue to get better with age and experience. Development is not linear and can be wildly unpredictable. Some guys are as good as they are going to get at 17 while others don’t figure it out (unfortunately) until way after their physical peak. This speaks to the heart of what makes assessing and drafting amateurs so much fun. We’re all just trying to gather as much information on as many players as possible and then making the best possible guesses as to what we’ll wind up with.

Auburn

The surest bet in the Auburn lineup is JR OF/2B Jordan Ebert. Ebert doesn’t get enough love as one of the college game’s best pure hitters. That above-average or better hit tool combined with enough pop and speed allow him to potentially profile as an above-average regular offensively. I think his glove will play at any of the spots he’s tried — 2B, 3B, OF — but think his value will likely lie in his ability to play multiple spots — especially those where he can show off his plus arm — well. If you only knew what I just wrote about Ebert, you’d surely think he’s a big-time 2015 draft prospect, but, at least for now, an overly aggressive approach at the plate (31 BB/54 K) holds back his appeal to a degree. I still like him quite a bit; quite simply, guys with hit tools like his are not to be dismissed. If Ebert can settle in to a spot defensively (likely a corner OF spot), flash a touch more power, and clean up his approach a bit, he’ll become a prime candidate to become one of college ball’s fastest risers in 2015. I still think a pro team will try to keep him in the dirt for as long as humanly possible after signing. As an outfielder, he profiles as a high-level backup, especially if he can hang in center a bit. As an infielder, however, he’s a potential everyday contributor.

Missouri

2015 MLB Draft Talent – Hitting

(This was my pre-season list with a few minor tweaks where I could remember to update certain position rankings. Outside of the first five picks or so, it doesn’t really reflect where I’m at roughly three months after putting it together initially. I considered not publishing it at all and waiting until I have time to do a full revision to get it up, but so long as everybody understands it is already a bit dated I figured there’s no harm sharing. Consider it a glorified follow list, if nothing else.)

  1. Vanderbilt JR SS/2B Dansby Swanson
  2. Louisiana State JR 2B/SS Alex Bregman
  3. Florida JR OF Harrison Bader
  4. Louisiana State JR OF Andrew Stevenson
  5. Florida JR SS/OF Richie Martin
  6. Tennessee JR OF Christin Stewart
  7. South Carolina JR 2B Max Schrock
  8. Tennessee JR OF/LHP Vincent Jackson
  9. Alabama JR 2B/SS Mikey White
  10. Vanderbilt JR OF Rhett Wiseman
  11. Arkansas SO OF Andrew Benintendi
  12. Auburn JR OF/2B Jordan Ebert
  13. Louisiana State JR OF Mark Laird
  14. Alabama SO OF Casey Hughston
  15. Tennessee SR OF Jonathan Youngblood
  16. Kentucky JR OF Kyle Barrett
  17. Tennessee JR SS AJ Simcox
  18. South Carolina SR 1B Kyle Martin
  19. Vanderbilt rJR 1B Zander Wiel
  20. Florida SR 3B/2B Josh Tobias
  21. Auburn JR SS Cody Nulph
  22. Alabama JR OF Georgie Salem
  23. Alabama JR 2B/RHP Kyle Overstreet
  24. Louisiana State JR C Chris Chinea
  25. Alabama SO C Will Haynie
  26. Mississippi SR 1B/C Sikes Orvis
  27. Georgia rSO 3B Trevor Kieboom
  28. Kentucky JR OF Ka’ai Tom
  29. Texas A&M JR OF/1B Jonathan Moroney
  30. Arkansas rJR OF Tyler Spoon
  31. South Carolina JR SS Marcus Mooney
  32. South Carolina JR 2B/SS DC Arendas
  33. Georgia JR C Zack Bowers
  34. Louisiana State SR C Kade Scivicque
  35. Arkansas SR OF Joe Serrano
  36. Louisiana State SR 1B/3B Conner Hale
  37. Texas A&M SR 2B/SS Blake Allemand
  38. Texas A&M SR 3B/RHP Logan Nottebrok
  39. Arkansas rJR SS Brett McAfee
  40. Vanderbilt JR OF/RHP Kyle Smith
  41. Auburn JR OF Sam Gillikin
  42. Mississippi State rSR 1B Wes Rea
  43. Texas A&M JR C/OF Boomer White
  44. Georgia JR 1B Morgan Bunting
  45. Kentucky rSO OF Storm Wilson
  46. Auburn JR 1B/OF Dylan Smith
  47. Tennessee JR OF Chris Hall
  48. Mississippi State rSO OF Cody Brown
  49. Alabama JR 3B Daniel Cucjen
  50. Mississippi State SR SS Seth Heck
  51. Texas A&M JR 3B/SS Logan Taylor
  52. Texas A&M JR 1B/RHP Hunter Melton
  53. Texas A&M SR C Mitchell Nau
  54. Kentucky JR C Zach Arnold
  55. Texas A&M JR OF JB Moss
  56. Georgia SR OF/RHP Heath Holder

2015 MLB Draft Prospects: Tennessee

JR OF Christin Stewart (2015)
JR OF Vincent Jackson (2015)
SR OF Jonathan Youngblood (2015)
JR OF Derek Lance (2015)
JR SS AJ Simcox (2015)
SR C Tyler Schultz (2015)
JR C David Houser (2015)
SR 1B/OF Parker Wormsley (2015)
JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee (2015)
JR LHP Drake Owenby (2015)
JR RHP Steven Kane (2015)
SR RHP Bret Marks (2015)
SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm (2015)
SR RHP Eric Martin (2015)
JR LHP Andy Cox (2015)
SO RHP Kyle Serrano (2016)
SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio (2016)
SO RHP Hunter Martin (2016)
SO 3B Jordan Rodgers (2016)
SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel (2016)
FR C Benito Santiago (2016)
FR LHP Zach Warren (2017)
FR SS/2B Brett Langhorne (2017)

Of all the teams profiled so far, none have a 1-2 outfield punch of 2015 draft prospects quite like Tennessee’s duo of JR OFs Christin Stewart and Vincent Jackson. Neither are likely first round prospects, so there are imperfections in their respective games that will be watched closely this spring. Stewart betrayed his patient, pro-ready approach last season in an effort to produce gaudier power numbers. It’s hard to blame him what with power being the most coveted singular tool in baseball these days, but the cost might prove to be greater than what it winds up being worth. On one hand, the change in approach worked as Stewart’s slugging percentage jumped about one hundred points from his freshman season. Unfortunately, the major dip in plate discipline — Stewart’s K/BB almost doubled from his first season to his sophomore year (1.48 to 2.80) — now creates a new question in his game that will need to be answered on the field before June. If all of that sounds overly negative, well, it’s not supposed to. Consider it more of a reality check for a really strong prospect than anything else. I’m still very much a believer in Stewart’s raw power (legitimately plus), hit tool (solidly above-average), and overall approach to hitting, past year production be damned.

South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M haven’t posted 2015 rosters as of this writing, so I can’t say the following with absolute certainty but I’m 99% sure Stewart will finish as the SEC’s top outfield prospect heading into the season. An interesting head-to-head comparison based solely from a scouting standpoint (i.e. ignoring collegiate production to date) in the larger college baseball world would be with Florida State’s DJ Stewart. DJ is ahead, but that’s not a knock on Christin. Another slightly less positive comparison would be to former Volunteer outfielder Kentrail Davis, who has flopped as a pro but still showed enough as a college prospect to go 39th overall in 2009. His wood bat experience has me excited about his upside with the stick, so, at the moment, I’m a believer. He’s pretty good.

The current number two to the top ranked Stewart is Vincent Jackson. Jackson is an outstanding athlete with considerable tools — in particular, his power stacks up quite well with Stewart’s and his plus speed blows him away — who has yet to blow scouts away at Tennessee. Inconsistent performance or not, his size and skill set evoke comparisons to two-time All-Star Alex Rios, a lofty comp at first blush but a little more palatable when you remember Rios’ earliest scouting reports and slow to manifest power as a young professional. Jackson’s blend of size, speed, raw power, athleticism, and defensive upside (above-average arm and range at present) combine to make a pretty enticing prospect. In other words, he’s also pretty good.

Stewart and Jackson are joined in an all-prospect outfield by SR OF Jonathan Youngblood. Youngblood checks off all my boxes in what has become on my favorite draft prospect archetypes, the shockingly raw yet scarily toolsy college outfielder. These are the guys that might as well be high school prospects when it come to the risk/reward calculus that comes into scouting them, to say nothing of the lack of track record that makes no sense from a player that has spent three to four years playing ball after the age of 18. Youngblood is fast (check) and athletic (check) with a strong arm (check) and the natural ability to roam center field (check…in fact, “patrols CF like a veteran” is written explicitly about Youngblood in my notes). He’s also very raw as a hitter with interesting raw power that is still likely a few years and some added muscle (he’s currently listed at 6-3, 185 pounds) away from showing up, if it does so at all (check and check). On top of all, his name is Youngblood. If that’s not the perfect name for our raw yet toolsy college outfield archetype, I’m not sure what is. I guess Jonathan Rawtool would be tough to beat, but Youngblood is a close second.

JR SS AJ Simcox isn’t part of that stacked outfield, but, like Stewart and Jackson before him, he’s pretty good. Though he hasn’t shown the kind of hitting acumen expected of him to date, all those I talked to can’t stop raving about his breakout potential for 2015 and professional upside. His defense is legit — range, hands, and arm are all average or better — and his as yet untapped offensive upside (above-average hit tool, average raw power, above-average speed, decent approach) is enough to give him a real chance to emerge as one of this class’ many shortstops that profile as regular players at the big league level. I write it often, but it bears repeating: I have no allegiance when it comes to college athletics, so I have no reason to prop up any particular program or prospect. Still, I find myself unusually bullish on all of these Volunteers and even I am curious if there’s some unknown reason why. Might as well keep the love-fest going with my appreciation of a pitcher I consider to be one of college baseball’s under-the-radar gems. JR LHP Drake Owenby, the owner of one of the sport’s most difficult to scout fastballs, will need to reign in his serious control issues if he wants to get himself selected in a draft range commiserate with his considerable raw stuff. At his best, he’s got a big league fastball (more on that in a second), a well above-average mid-70s curve that flashes plus, and an underdeveloped but plenty intriguing changeup. His walks have been out of hand to date, but he’s missed bats along the way (8.53 K/9 in 25.1 IP last year) and he’s the kind of athlete you believe will figure out some of his mechanical issues (and corresponding control woes) along the way. As for that aforementioned confounding fastball: at least in my looks, Owenby has added and subtracted from his heater to a degree that I can’t recall an honest to goodness amateur prospect doing so before. My notes have his fastball at literally anywhere between 85-95 (most often 88-92ish, like about 95% of the pitchers I see), and there doesn’t appear to be any external cause (e.g. injury, game situation, weather conditions) for the fluctuations. Owenby is a weird, fun prospect who also just so happens to be, you guessed it, pretty good. JR RHP/1B Andrew Lee has a good arm, lots of size (6-5, 220), and two-way talent. JR RHP Steven Kane, SR RHP Bret Marks, and SR RHP Peter Lenstrohm all feature above-average or better changeups and solid heat (88-92ish range). I don’t know much about JR LHP Andy Cox, but I like what I do know and his 2014 season (8.15 K/9, 3.84 BB/9, and 2.44 ERA in 77.1 IP) portends good things to come.

For as impressive as the Volunteers’ 2015 talent appears, literally all of the conversations I’ve had with those in the know about Tennessee baseball — seriously, every single one — can be summed up with the following phrase: “just you wait.” There is a ton of excitement around the game from otherwise impartial observers about the kind of program that is being built in Knoxville. There are plenty of solid underclassmen to watch like the big (6-5, 250 pound) athletic SO 1B/C Nathaniel Maggio, SO RHP Hunter Martin (nice changeup), FR LHP Zach Warren, and personal favorite SO 2B/3B Nick Senzel. The crown jewel, however, is unquestionably SO RHP Kyle Serrano. I’m fairly certain that this site was the highest on Serrano out there coming out of high school — I should check before making such claims, even when I try to cover myself with the lame “fairly certain” caveat: well, turns out he was 20th here, which was only one spot ahead of where Keith Law him him (so, maybe I wasn’t that much higher on him than everybody…) and a good bit ahead of where he landed at Baseball America (35th) — and nothing he did his freshman season has changed any minds about his long-term upside. His changeup stood out as a potential plus pitch in high school and the pitch remains a high upside offering that flashes plus at present. His velocity has ticked up just a bit (96 peak) and remains more consistently in the low- to mid-90s deeper into starts. The curve, like his changeup, flashes plus at times, and his control, while scary from the outside looking in (more walks than strikeouts this past year), isn’t a major concern going forward. All told, the profile reminds me quite a bit of a young version of Jarrod Parker, the ninth overall pick back in 2007. Sounds like a decent draft/upside parallel to me, but Serrano has two more years to make it a reality. Pretty good chance he does exactly that.