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Hudson, Sheffield, Tyler, Jackson, Shore, Webb…and Puk

Look at the first seven names on this list. That’s an incredible amount of talent. Weird stuff can happen to pitchers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to claim that all seven will be big league arms within a few seasons after getting drafted. We’ll hit on the pitchers ranked second through seven and a few more after that. Number one was already taken care of here. Let’s see what else we’ve got…

Dakota Hudson

No comp is perfect, but I still like the Taijuan Walker ceiling on Hudson. I don’t know if he hits the same peaks as Walker – the Seattle star is the better athlete, plus took full advantage of the strength training, pro coaching, and King Felix good vibes osmosis available to him after signing as a teenager – but the two share a lot of stuff similarities.

Jordan Sheffield

For as much as we as fans, writers, and/or internet scouts want to believe otherwise, prospects don’t really have anything to prove to anybody. Control what you can control on the field and let the chips fall where they may beyond that. Having said that, the young Vanderbilt righthander has done just about everything I had hoped to see out of him in 2016. Others may still have questions about how his command and smaller stature will hold up pitching every fifth day professionally – perfectly valid concerns, for what it’s worth – but I’m personally all-in on Sheffield as a starting pitching prospect. He knows how to pitch off the fastball (if anything you can make the case he falls in love with it at times), his curve and/or his change can serve as an above-average to plus pitch on any given day, and his junior year leap can’t be ignored. Let’s look at the pre-season take…

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

…so that we can revisit that lazy comp. By the numbers, here’s what we’ve got…

11.09 K/9 – 3.31 BB/9 – 2.29 ERA – 70.2 IP
9.67 K/9 – 2.44 BB/9 – 2.26 ERA – 103.1 IP

Top is Sheffield so far, bottom is Tate’s draft year. I asked around and nobody particularly liked the Tate comparison, but more because of the belief that Sheffield is a fairly unique pitcher than that it’s a bad comp. The only alternate name I heard was a tepid Edinson Volquez 2.0 endorsement. I actually kind of dig that one. At the same age, Volquez was listed at a mere 6-1, 160 pounds, a far cry from his current listed 6-0, 220 pounds. He was known back then for his electric fastball (check), plus changeup (check), and above-average slider, a pitch that eventually morphed into his present above-average curve (check). I can definitely some young Volquez in Sheffield’s game.

Robert Tyler

I didn’t intend for this to be an all comp all the time post, but I can’t get the Ryan Madson comparison (first noted by Keith Law) out of my head whenever I think about Tyler. I really want to believe in his breaking ball being good enough to let him be the starting pitcher that Madson never could be, but nobody I’ve spoken to seems to think he can stay in the rotation as a big leaguer. That won’t stop me from stubbornly continuing to believe Tyler, one of the youngest players in his class, won’t find a way to harness his spike-curve more effectively more often. He has the size, command, ability to hold his velocity, and smarts to make it as a starter. I’d be willing to spend a second round pick – maybe a late first depending on how the board breaks – to get him signed, sealed, delivered, and working with my pro staff (coaching and medical) to see firsthand whether or not a more consistent breaker is in that electric right arm of his.

Zach Jackson

We’ll go with the pre-season evaluation on Jackson to hammer an old point home…

One of my favorite snippets of my notes comes in the Jackson section: “if he fixes delivery and command, watch out.” Well, duh. I could have said that about just about any upper-echelon arm in this age demographic. With Jackson, however, it reinforces just how special his stuff is when he’s right. I don’t think this college class has a pitch better than his curveball at its best.

I think Jackson’s delivery has made strides in 2016 – if not smoother, then certainly more repeatable – but questions about his command can now be partnered with similar concerns about his control. First round stuff + fifth round command/control = ultimate third round landing spot? I don’t know if the math checks out there, but I think the conclusion might wind up being correct. I also think that the scouting on Jackson can more or less be wrapped up for the season – we know what he is by now – so the attention of anybody assigned to watch him between now and June should be on determining if whatever is getting in the way of his stalled command progress and backwards trending control can be fixed through pro instruction and repetition. Jackson is the kind of maddening talent that can get an area scout promoted or canned, but his success or failure from this point forward is all about how he adapts to the pro development staffers tasked with guiding him along.

Logan Shore

I have a friend who leans very heavy on statistics when it comes to his personal brand of minor league prospect evaluation. I consider myself a little more balanced between scouting reports and certain performance indicators (with a slight statistical lean if anything), but his approach works for him and I let him do his thing. If nothing else, our shared view on what stats matter for young players means we rarely disagree on general prospect valuation. One recent spat, however, highlights the danger of immersing oneself too deep in one side of the stats vs scouts “debate.” This friend was a very vocal critic of Phillies minor league pitcher Zach Eflin and his long history of underwhelming strikeout numbers. I’ve liked Eflin for over four years now – you can check the archives – and have obviously stayed with him despite the lack of standout peripherals as a young pro. Be patient, I told him. He’s working on things, I told him. Don’t count him out just yet, I told him. Now despite being in AAA, Eflin still has plenty to work on once he lands in the big leagues. But only the most stubborn critic would deny that he’s finally on the final stage of development – refinement – and well past the “will he or won’t he?” bit of prospect purgatory. His more consistent premium velocity combined with his newfound curve has helped him go from 5.14 K/9 to 6.52 K/9 to 6.54 K/9 to 4.65 K/9 (first year with the Phillies with a heavy emphasis on working through some stuff) to his current 7.52 K/9 through four starts in 2016. He’s slowly but surely gotten stronger, smarter, and better, and the results have finally begun to caught up. It’s a beautiful thing.

Logan Shore has made similar progress over the last few seasons: 6.37 K/9 to 6.75 K/9 to 9.05 K/9. He’s always had solid fastball velocity and a devastating changeup. This year he’s found a few more ticks with the heater (more so in how he maintains it rather than a peak velocity jump), gained a little more consistency with his breaking ball, and arguably improved that already potent circle-change into something even scarier to opposing hitters. He’s gotten stronger, smarter, and better. I mentally wrote him off as one of the draft’s most overrated arms coming into the spring – thankfully I never wrote that on the site, but I’m man enough to admit I’ve had those thoughts on more than one occasion – but now I see the error in my ways. When a young arm has big-time stuff and command beyond his years, be patient with his development and don’t rely on one metric to make an ultimate judgment on his future. Shore is good and quite possibly still getting better.

Braden Webb

Braden Webb doesn’t have the track record of many of his SEC peers, but the man does not lack for arm talent. Explosive heat (90-94, up to 96-97), an easy above-average to plus 73-79 curve, and a rapidly improving 80-85 change. All of the ingredients of a big league starting pitcher are here. Grabbing Webb at any point past round one would be a major coup for whatever team is lucky/smart enough to do so.

AJ Puk

I’m cheating and tacking Puk back on at the end here even after he got his own post last week. Like many draft-obsessed individuals, I watched his most recent start against South Carolina with great interest. I’ve seen Puk a few times in person and tons of times on the tube, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that the comparison between him and Andrew Miller really hit me. I saw about a dozen Miller starts in person back in his Tar Heel days (in a very different time in my life) and watching Puk throw brings back all kinds of memories, good and bad. The frustrating thing about this comp is that it doesn’t really tell us much. Maybe we can use it as a baseline floor for what Puk could become – though Miller’s dominance out of the pen is a tough expectation to put on anybody as a realistic worst case scenario – but pointing out the similarities between the two (size, length, extension, delivery, mound demeanor, fastball, slider, underdeveloped change…even similar facially minus Miller’s draft year mustache) hardly means that Puk is destined to the same failed starter fate. I mean, sure, maybe it does, but there’s so much more that goes into being a successful big league starter than what gets put down on a scouting card. I love comps, but they are meant to serve as a starting point to the conversation, not to be the parting shot. Every player is unique and whatever extra reasons are out there for Miller not making it in the rotation should not be held against Puk. Maybe that’s obvious, but it doesn’t hurt to say it again. I do think that Puk, barring injury, has a pretty clear big league skill set in some capacity (maybe not -0.15 FIP out of the bullpen good, but still good) even if he doesn’t reach his ultimate ceiling. In that way he is similar to Miller, so at least there’s that to fall back on. The odds that you get nothing out of Puk, again barring injury, are slim to none. For the risk-averse out there, that’s a comforting thought.

2016 MLB Draft – College Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1-1

I really like Zack Collins, Will Craig, Pete Alonso, Nick Senzel, Bryan Reynolds, and Jake Fraley. Garrett Williams, Eric Lauer, Mike Shawaryn, Daulton Jefferies, Bailey Clark, and the Kyle’s (Funkhouser, Serrano, and Cody) are all pretty great, too. Delvin Perez, Josh Lowe, Nolan Jones, Mickey Moniak, and Blake Rutherford all could be high school hitters that realistically enter the 1-1 conversation. Ian Anderson, Kevin Gowdy, Alex Speas, and Forrest Whitley, among others, could join the race as well. All, however, are a tier below the group of players I feel currently have the best shot to go 1-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies this June. With apologies to all the aforementioned names — one of those guys is going to fall to the second round or later, by the way…that’s crazy! — the focus here is on the early front-runners to go 1-1 . Let’s see what they’ve been up to lately…

Jay Groome has been my stated preference since last summer. Performance-wise, I’m not sure if Groome can lose the top spot between now and June. He looked great during his workout at Maplezone in beautiful Garnet Valley — located a very convenient 21 miles from my apartment — and figures to show the premium stuff (mid-90s FB, plus mid-70s kCB, rapidly improving CU) and “extras” (beautiful delivery/command/frame) all spring. That leaves major injury (Brady Aiken 2.0) or the ascent of one of the players listed on this very page (or somebody unlisted, but if that’s the case then I really haven’t done my job here) being the realistic avenues to knock Groome off the 1-1 perch.

Groome’s co-headliner in the high school class is Riley Pint for me. I know there are questions about a prep righthander going first overall (silliness, I think) and questions about his delivery and command making an eventual move to the bullpen a necessity (fair, but up for debate yet), but there’s still so much to like about him that I can’t see him leaving the potential 1-1 tier any time soon.

I have a hard time separating the three top college outfielders, so spring performances will weigh heavy on on evaluators minds as they decide on nailing down a proper order of Kyle Lewis, Buddy Reed, and Corey Ray. My semi-fearless prediction: for as much hype — deservedly — as those three outfielders have gotten to date, they won’t wind up as the first three outfielders drafted this June. Maybe that’s not particularly bold considering we’re talking three high variance outcome prospects, but I can see a future where one blows up this spring (Lewis or Reed), one struggles relative to expectations (Reed?), and one remains more or less where he was in the eyes of most teams when the season started.

Kyle Lewis had a very good weekend. Buddy Reed had a less good weekend. Corey Ray was on an different planet altogether. In a whopping three-game sample, Ray hit .667/.714/1.444. I keep mistyping his SLG for the weekend because I’m not used to typing anything with a digit in front of the decimal. If his performance with the bat wasn’t enough, Ray chipped in with six (six!) stolen bases in six tries. We won’t get carried away with one weekend’s worth of games, but that’s not a bad way to get things started, especially for the guy with the most to prove on-field out of the three. That last bit is obviously debatable, but there’s a school of thought that says Ray should be the best present performer out of the three considering he has the most limited physical projection of the trio. I’m not sure that’s entirely fair — punishing Ray by expecting more now seems a bit counterproductive if the aim is projecting his future — but maybe there’s something to it. Either way, I think the jumble of guys in contention for 1-1 leaves things wide open enough for any of these three to rise up to that level; for now, Ray’s loud opening weekend helps him takes the lead.

If Ray’s opening weekend was loud, then what does that make Alec Hansen‘s? The less said about Hansen’s hushed debut, the better. His 22 ball/14 strike performance included four walks, one wild pitch, and one poor plunked hitter. One bad start wouldn’t be too concerning in the big picture (still isn’t, really), but on the heels of a fall season marred by a sore forearm…I don’t know. Maybe we laugh about this come June when a healthy Hansen is the top ten pick his talent warrants…or maybe he’s this year’s Michael Matuella.

Matt Krook and AJ Puk are the top two lefties in this college class, so it works out quite nicely that the two of them had such similar 2016 debuts. My non-scout view on Puk hasn’t changed much since he’s debuted as a Gator: he’s an excellent prospect who has always left me wanting after seeing him pitch up close. I wasn’t up close this past weekend, but I did check out his start against Florida Gulf Coast via the magic of the internet. Again, for all of Puk’s strengths he’s still not the kind of college prospect that gives off that 1-1 vibe when watching him. Even when he was cruising — 11 pitch first inning, 19 total pitches through two (15 strikes), and a 1-2-3 swinging strikeout to end the second that went slider, fastball, change — it was still on a very fastball-heavy approach with little evident feel for his offspeed stuff. His slider picked up from there and he mixed in a few nice changeups, but neither offering looked like a potential big league out-pitch.

In the third inning his defense let him down — literally and figuratively, as he made one of the two errors in the inning — but what really hurt him was his command falling apart. These are all players learning on the job so I don’t want to sound too negative, but he failed to locate an 0-2 pitch and that was what really led to his undoing. On the plus side, his velocity was good for a first start (90-94, 96 peak), his delivery looks better, the aforementioned handful of nice changeups were encouraging, and he responded really well in the fourth inning after losing his way in the third. I still struggle with his underdeveloped offspeed stuff, inconsistent command, and puzzling lack of athleticism (where did it go from HS?), but 6-7, 225 pound lefthanders who can hit 96 (98 at times last year) are worth being patient with.

With Pat Gillick, Johnny Almaraz, and two other scouts in attendance, the Phillies, owners of the first pick in this year’s draft, were well-represented in Gainesville over the weekend. Much has been made of this and rightly so as the Gators are stacked, obviously, though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they only had to ride 2.5 hours north from Clearwater. They obviously have heavy interest in Puk and will have plenty of opportunities to get to know him inside and out as the spring progresses.

Meanwhile, Krook matched Puk in innings (4), hits (4), and strikeouts (6). While shaky glovework and command did Puk in, Krook’s issue was iffy control. Three walks, two wild pitches, and one hit batter ended his day early, but some rust was to be expected as he continues the comeback path from Tommy John surgery. No worries here.

Speaking of returning from Tommy John surgery, Cal Quantrill is still on the way back from his procedure. I really think he could pitch his way into the 1-1 conversation once healthy.

The two best 1-1 candidate performances came from Connor Jones and Robert Tyler. Both young righthanders faced only one batter over the minimum in their respective seven and five inning debuts. Tyler stole most of the headlines with his dominant performance on Friday. His win came against a weak Georgia Southern lineup — I like Ryan Cleveland, but there’s not a ton there otherwise — but striking out the last ten batters you face in a given outing is something. 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.

Dakota Hudson quietly pitched well in his debut. Matt Crohan did the same, but with an interesting fly ball tendency that could be worth tracking. Both are longer shots to crash the 1-1 party, but I have them on the board for a reason. One guy who might need to move off the board is Zach Jackson. His slip has nothing to do with talent — I’ve said it before, but his curve might be the best singular pitch in this class — but more about the logistics of trying to scout him this spring. As the only present college reliever on this list, it’s a guessing game as to whether or not you’ll see him in any given outing. That’s a damn shame because developmentally Jackson could really use innings to improve both his delivery and command, but Arkansas has to do what Arkansas has to do, I suppose. It could wind up costing Jackson a pretty penny, unfortunately. For now, I think he’s not a realistic 1-1 candidate due to the (rightful) fear of the unknown.

Everything written above is based largely on what my board would look like if I was holding the first pick in June. Below is my best guess — remember, I know nothing — as to what the Phillies could be thinking about that first pick as of now. Players are separated into four potential tiers…

Groome
Pint – Puk – Hansen – Ray
Jones – Quantrill – Lewis
Tyler – Reed

I think Groome is the lean as of today with Pint, Puk, and Ray all close behind. Hansen is right there, but it’ll take a clean bill of health to solidify that spot. Jones is an interesting case as a prospect who has been on the radar nationally for years, but still entered his college draft year underrated by many. The Phillies have only drafted one player from the University of Virginia since 2010 (Neal Davis), but they have leaned on their area guys in that part of the country more recently, especially when picking out of Virginia Tech. I certainly wouldn’t rule him out right now, especially if you buy the talk — I don’t — that the Phillies want a quick-mover to help accelerate their rebuild timeline. If Puk doesn’t dominate and Hansen remains injured/ineffective, then somebody will have to rise up as a potential college threat to the Groome’s and Pint’s of the world, right? If not Jones, maybe it’ll be Quantrill, son of former Phillie Paul, once he gets right. Should be fun.

2016 MLB Draft Preview – College Prospects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Mercer JR OF Kyle Lewis

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

  1. Oklahoma JR RHP Alec Hansen

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

  1. Florida JR OF Buddy Reed

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

  1. Oregon rSO LHP Matt Krook

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

  1. Florida JR LHP/1B AJ Puk

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

  1. Wake Forest JR 1B/RHP Will Craig

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

  1. Louisville JR OF Corey Ray

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

  1. Arkansas JR RHP Zach Jackson

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

  1. Georgia JR RHP Robert Tyler

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

  1. Mississippi State JR RHP Dakota Hudson

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

  1. Tennessee JR 2B/3B Nick Senzel

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

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

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

  1. Nebraska JR OF Ryan Boldt

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

  1. Vanderbilt JR OF/1B Bryan Reynolds

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

  1. Virginia JR RHP Connor Jones

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

  1. Stanford JR RHP Cal Quantrill

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

  1. Virginia JR C Matt Thaiss

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

  1. Clemson JR C Chris Okey

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

  1. California JR RHP Daulton Jefferies

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

  1. LSU JR OF Jake Fraley

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

  1. Vanderbilt rSO RHP Jordan Sheffield

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

  1. Wright State JR C Sean Murphy

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

  1. Texas A&M JR OF Nick Banks

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

  1. Tennessee JR RHP Kyle Serrano

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

  1. Kentucky JR 2B/OF JaVon Shelby

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

  1. Miami JR 1B/C Zack Collins

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

  1. Arizona JR 3B Bobby Dalbec

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

  1. Georgia JR OF Stephen Wrenn

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

  1. Winthrop JR LHP Matt Crohan

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

  1. Louisville SR RHP Kyle Funkhouser

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

  1. Louisville JR RHP Zack Burdi

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

  1. Samford JR OF Heath Quinn

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

  1. Miami JR OF Willie Abreu

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

  1. TCU rJR RHP Mitchell Traver

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

  1. Maryland JR RHP Mike Shawaryn

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

  1. Louisiana JR RHP Reagan Bazar

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

  1. Rice rSO RHP Jon Duplantier

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

  1. San Diego SO 2B/SS Bryson Brigman

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

  1. Vanderbilt JR LHP John Kilichowski

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

  1. Oklahoma State JR LHP Garrett Williams

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

  1. Nevada JR OF/LHP Trenton Brooks

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

  1. Coastal Carolina JR SS/2B Michael Paez

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

  1. Oklahoma JR 3B/RHP Sheldon Neuse

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

  1. Wake Forest JR 2B/OF Nate Mondou

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

  1. Kent State JR LHP Eric Lauer

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

  1. Florida JR 1B Pete Alonso

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

  1. Duke JR RHP Bailey Clark

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

  1. Louisville JR 2B/OF Nick Solak

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

  1. Ohio State JR OF Ronnie Dawson

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

  1. Kentucky SR RHP Kyle Cody

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

*****

Best of the rest position players…

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

*****

Best of the rest pitchers…

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

2015 MLB Draft Prospects – Arkansas

JR RHP Trey Killian (2015)
rSR RHP Jackson Lowery (2015)
SR RHP Jacob Stone (2015)
rJR OF Tyler Spoon (2015)
JR 2B Max Hogan (2015)
rJR SS Brett McAfee (2015)
SR OF Joe Serrano (2015)
rJR 3B Mike Bernal (2015)
SR OF/C Krisjon Wilkerson (2015)
JR 3B Bobby Wernes (2015)
JR C Tucker Pennell (2015)
JR SS Matt Campbell (2015)
JR 2B/SS Rick Nomura (2015)
rFR C Carson Shaddy (2016)
SO INF Clark Eagan (2016)
SO LHP/INF Trent Hill (2016)
SO RHP Zach Jackson (2016)
SO RHP Dominic Taccolini (2016)
SO RHP Cannon Chadwick (2016)
SO RHP James Teague (2016)
SO OF Andrew Benintendi (2015)
FR OF Luke Bonfield (2016)
FR C Nathan Rodriguez (2017)
FR RHP Keaton McKinney (2017)
FR RHP Jonah Patten (2017)
FR 3B Blake Wiggins (2017)
FR C/1B Chad Spanberger (2017)
FR LHP Kyle Pate (2017)
FR OF Keith Grieshaber (2017)
FR LHP Ryan Fant (2017)

JR RHP Trey Killian’s performances through two year are confusing. His first year was quite strong (8.59 K/9 and 2.95 BB/9), but he did it in limited innings (36.2). Last year he proved to be more of a workhorse (94 IP) and he did a great job of keeping runs off the board (2.30 ERA), but he missed way less bats (5.94 K/9) yet wound up improving his control (1.72 BB/9). Good, less good, good, good, less good, good…you see how he can confuse even the most brilliant internet baseball writers, right? His track record, stuff (88-92 FB, 94 peak; good cutter; really good yet underused low-80s CU; above-average slider; usable curve), command, and athleticism all add up to strong back of the rotation starter material, so maybe I’m overthinking it with him anyway. Or maybe I’m still waiting on a year when he combines really good peripherals with really good run prevention and we all point to him as a guy who figured it out enough to get the bump to middle of the rotation material. That’s my hope — I want to say expectation, but I’m not quite there — for Killian in 2015. He’s the best returning arm on the Arkansas staff either way, though SR RHP Jacob Stone (capable of hitting the mid-90s and throws an occasional plus breaking ball) and rSR RHP Jackson Lowery both could get drafted afterwards. Stone (0.94 ERA in 38.1 IP) and Lowery (almost a strikeout per inning) boast strong numbers that help bolster their cause.

rJR OF Tyler Spoon and SR OF Joe Serrano, “eighth-year seniors” both, are talented guys who have yet to quite live up to the lofty expectations foisted upon them by no-nothing know-it-alls like myself. Spoon has a lot of 5’s on his scouting card, so it’s still possible he could get a look going forward as a backup outfielder type professionally. Neither Spoon nor Serrano has a strong arm, but they are solid all-around college players otherwise. The two were twins last year, by the way. They were so similar that I actually had to double-check the numbers because I assumed I had made a mistake…

Spoon: .256/.350/.363 – 29 BB/37 K – 5/7 SB – 234 AB
Serrano: .289/.366/.351 – 29 BB/37 K – 5/7 SB – 228 AB

Are we sure that Spoon and Serrano aren’t really just one outfielder somehow duping us into thinking it’s two guys? Joeler Spoonano? No? Stick to baseball and not awful, embarrassing attempts at humor? Fair enough. Moving on. Still kind of think Spoonano is funny, but whatever. I’m very interested to see what the double-play combination of JR 2B Max Hogan and rJR SS Brett McAfee can do in a full season together. Both could have utility futures in the big leagues with big junior seasons. There’s a lot of depth up the middle for Arkansas, as both JR SS Matt Campbell and JR 2B/SS Rick Nomura have gotten some positive buzz this fall. Much of the rest of the buzz coming out of Arkansas lately has been about the highly talented underclassmen coming up behind this year’s draft class. Big names like SO RHP Zach Jackson, SO RHP Dominic Taccolini, SO OF Andrew Benintendi lead the way while a loaded freshman class that includes OF Luke Bonfield, RHP Keaton McKinney, RHP Jonah Patten, 3B Blake Wiggins tops it off. I’m personally excited to see what less heralded prospects like SO INF Clark Eagan and FR C/1B Chad Spanberger have in store as well.

I’m still stunned that SO LHP Colin Poche left the program for Dallas Baptist over the summer. It’s great that he’s closer to home and I’m sure he has all kinds of reasons for doing what he’s doing — he’s set to miss the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery anyway, so not a bad time to transfer and miss a year — but it’s rare to see a player as talented as he is and as close to the draft finish line make such a big change. Really, really like that Dallas Baptist team this year, for what it’s worth. This is about Arkansas, however, so…they’re good, too! Really should have closed with me praising the underclass talent instead of whatever this was. At least I didn’t end with another Spoonano reference…

4/20/15 EDIT

I never went back and mentioned Andrew Benintendi as being draft-eligible in 2015, but he is. That’s good news for me because Benintendi is awesome and getting him one step closer to pro ball makes me happy. He’s more ballplayer than tools freak, so teams that value big amateur production will have him higher than others. That said, he’s plenty talented: above-average or better hit tool, above-average or better speed, solid pop, enough range for center, and a disciplined approach at the plate. He’s really damn good. Baseball America has compared him to Austin Cousino in the past, but Benintendi’s huge sophomore season (.370/.475/.733 with 30 BB/24 K in 146 AB as of this edit) should vault him past Cousino’s 2014 draft spot (80th overall). I’ve heard from some that think I’m too rich on Benintendi’s tools and that’s fine, but I’m buying him as a prospect all the way.