November 23, 2014

2014 MLB Draft Preview: Top 50 Prospects

The 2014 MLB Draft is coming up. The Astros are set to make the draft’s first pick in Sebaucus New Jersey this Thursday, at 7pm est.

After that the Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs and the Twins will make the next four picks (2-5) and teams will continue selecting players until the night ends with the final pick (number 74 overall) of Competitive Balance Round B. The remainder of the draft will be held over the following two days.

The 2013 draft saw two gifted college right-handed pitchers–Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray–go in the top three picks. Kohl Stewart, an immensely talented righty out of high school, followed the duo only minutes later when he was selected at the number-four slot. The year before that, it seemed like there were enough stud shortstops (Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Gavin Cecchini, Corey Seager) and centerfielders (Byron Buxton, Albert Almora, David Dahl, Courtney Hawkins) for every team that had a pick in the top 20.

This time around the draft class seems to be remarkably strong in left-handed pitching, from both the college and high school ranks. In fact, this class seems to deeper in high-upside pitching in general, compared to the past couple of years, and much lighter at premium defensive positions like catcher, shortstop and centerfield (at least in players that project to man those positions in the pro’s). There aren’t any Strasburgs or Harpers, but N.C. State southpaw Carlos Rodon has generated buzz on par with the amount that Mark Appel created during his own college career. The big flamethrower even hears comps to future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. So it’s a testament to this groups pitching depth that fellow blue-chip southpaw stars Kyle Freeland, Brady Aiken and Brandon Finnegan have the makings of even better professional pitchers. That’s if they pan out of course.

Despite the many flashy left-handed pitchers, the top draft selection might end up being a righthander out of high school. The Astros hold the first overall choice, and gunslinger Tyler Kolek matches up with their taste and needs perfectly. He’s arguably the top pitching talent, he doesn’t have a lot of mileage on his eighteen-year-old arm, he’s a native Texan that was born and raised on a ranch. He also might have the best fastball in the history of high school baseball. Needless to say, his profile and his Texas pedigree have earned him numerous comparisons to Hall of Fame pitcher and former Houston Astros ace Nolan Ryan. What makes the match even more perfect? Kolek’s favorite player is Nolan Ryan, who is now employed as a special advisor to ownership.

 

  1.  Tyler Kolek, RHP  Shepherd HS (TX)  26.  Luke Weaver, RHP  Florida State
  2.  Brady Aiken, LHP  Cathedral Catholic (CA)  27.  Alex Verdugo, OF/LHP  Sahuaro HS (AZ)
  3.  Carlos Rodon, LHP  NC State  28.  Foster Griffin, LHP  The First Academy (FL)
  4.  Kyle Freeland, LHP  University of Evansville  29.  Dylan Cease*, RHP  Milton HS (GA)
  5.  Michael Conforto, OF  Oregon State  30.  Nick Howard, RHP  Virginia
  6.  Alex Jackson, OF/C  Rancho Bernardo (CA)  31.  Erick Fedde**, RHP  UNLV
  7.  Brandon Finnegan*, LHP  Texas Christian  32.  Nick Burdi, RHRP  Louisville
  8.  Aaron Nola, RHP  LSU  33.  J.J. Schwarz, C  Palm Beach Gardens (FL)
  9.  Max Pentecost, C  Kennesaw State  34.  Spencer Adams, RHP  White County HS (GA)
 10.  Kyle Schwarber, C/1B  Indiana University  35.  Mike Papi, 1B  Virginia
 11.  Nick Gordon, SS  Olympia HS (WA)  36.  Jacob Gatewood, SS  Clovis HS (CA)
 12.  Sean Newcomb, LHP  University of Hartford  37.  Sean Reid-Foley, RHP  Sandalwood HS (FL)
 13.  Jeff Hoffman**, RHP  East Carolina  38.  Chase Vallot, C/1B  St. Thomas More HS (LA)
 14.  Michael Chavis, INF  Sprayberry HS (GA)  39.  Keaton McKinney, RHP  Ankeny HS (IA)
 15.  Casey Gillaspie, 1B  Wichita State  40.  Luis Ortiz, RHP  Sanger HS (CA)
 16.  Jakson Reetz, C  Norris HS (NE)  41.  Jeren Kendall, OF  Holmen HS (WI)
 17.  Monte Harrison, OF  Lee’s Summit HS (MO)  42.  Kodi Medeiros, LHP  Waiakea HS (HI)
 18.  Jacob Bukauskas, RHP  Stone Bridge HS (VA)  43.  Matt Imhof, LHP  Cal Poly
 19.  Grant Holmes, RHP  Conway HS (SC)  44.   J.D. Davis, OF  Cal State Fullerton
 20.  Brad Zimmer, OF  San Francisco  45.  Mike Cederoth, RHRP  SDSU
 21.  Braxton Davidson, OF  T.C. Roberson (NC)  46.  Mike Kopech, RHP  Mount Pleasant (TX)
 22.  A.J. Reed, 1B  Kentucky  47.  Trace Loehr, SS  Putnam HS (OR)
 23.  Touki Toussaint, RHP  Coral Springs Christ HS  48.  Adam Haseley, OF/P  The First Academy (FL)
 24.  Gareth Morgan, OF  North Toronto HS (ON)  49.  Garrett Fulencheck, RHP  Howe HS (TX)
 25.  Trea Turner, SS  N.C. State  50.  Michael Cantu, C  Moody HS (TX)

**Fedde and Hoffman both need reconstructive elbow surgery

* Finnegan and Cease have missed significant time this season with arm injuries

 

The Big Five

 

1. Tyler Kolek RHP, Shepherd High School (TX)

Kolek is this the most physically gifted right-handed pitcher in this draft glass, and is also the top overall prospect. He has the best pure stuff of any high school pitcher in the nation, possibly of any amateur in the world. He’s a big and athletic kid with an unflagging work ethic that has allowed him to polish his game to a highly advanced level.

Kolek absolutely blew away the competition during his senior season. He opened the spring by tossing consecutive no hitters and finished with with a a Gatorade Player of the Year award. He posted a microscopic 0.35 ERA and tallied 126 strikeouts (vs. only 8 walks) in 60.1 innings. Along the way, he showed the best fastball in the country and unhittable breaking stuff. He spins a big, downer curveball and a wipeout slider. He gets A grades from scouts across the board–for his stuff, his body, but also his make-up and work ethic.

Kolek is similar pitcher to the one Josh Beckett was when he was a blue chip prospect out of Texas a decade ago, except he’s a better athlete than Beckett ever was. He’s blessed with an ideal build for a power pitcher, standing at 6’5″ with tree-trunk legs and a muscular–but still highly athletic–230-pound frame. His delivery has some elements of Beckett’s and some of Jered Weaver’s. He has outstanding timing for a tall, long-legged pitcher especially, and a very quick arm. He uses his core to generate arm speed like a pro, and his mechanics are so consistent that he’s able to maintain his velocity and command pitch after pitch.

Kolek is a very polished pitcher for his age, but he’s made a name for himself on his pure stuff. True to his Texas routes, he’s a country-strong rancher and a gunslinger on the mound. His fastball lit up 97 mph at the 2013 Perfect Game National Showcase, and then clocked 99 and 100 mph when he pitched in the 2013 Area Code Games and then at the Rawlings All-American Classic. This spring, his fastball has consistently sat in the 94-96 mph range during his starts, and the power seems to come so easily out of his delivery. He has continued to routinely register in the high 90’s–even when he doesn’t show maximum effort–and opposing hitters have been unable to touch him. The natural spin he generates adds running and sinking movement to his 2-seamer and 4-seamer depending on his release–making him even more difficult to barrel.

Kolek’s fastball command is advanced despite the nasty velocity and movement he generates. He’s adept at getting on top of the ball, and keeping his heater in the lower half of the zone–and then elevating it to get a chasing swing. He works both sides of the plate effectively, and should have average command in the big leagues.

Kolek’s fastball rates at the top of the scouting scale, and his breaking stuff is potentially just as good. He throws two breaking balls, a hard slider in the mid 80’s that has shown better power this year, and a spike curveball at around 79/80 mph. His slider comes out of his hand like his fastball, and has late disappearing break into the dirt. Opposing hitters struggle to pick it up and swing over it consistently. His 12-6 curveball is similarly effective, and likes introduce it later in his starts to get called strikes or get hitters out in front. He has an easier time throwing his slower curve for strikes, but he shows decent command of his power slider as well–enough to keep it from hanging up. His body control should allow him to throw strikes consistently, but his off-speed command will likely never be better than average

Professional scouts can all pretty much recite his profile and background as if knowing Tyler Kolek were a prerequisite for them getting hired, and barring catastrophe, he’ll hear his name called within the top three picks on June 5th.

 

2. Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic High School (CA)

After leading the US’s 18U National Team to a gold medal in the 2013 World Cup, posting a 1.26 ERA and a team-leading 19 strikeouts in 16 innings, Aiken finished his high school career with a similarly dominant spring. Though his high school career already made him 1st-round worthy heading into 2014, Aiken took improved velocity and a more mature build to the mound as a senior. He posted a 1.06 ERA over 59.2 innings, and struck-out 111 batters while leading his club to a birth in the 2014 CIF San Diego Section 2014 Baseball Championships.

Resembling a young Andy Pettitte on the mound, Aiken displays impressive command over three pitches that all have the opportunity to rate plus in the MLB one day. Though he throws across his body, Aiken’s delivery is balanced and he generates 90-93 mph fastball velocity without much effort. He can work both sides of the plate effectively at that speed. When he was loose and at his best this year, scouts saw him pitch in the mid 90’s during some of his starts. Overall though, Aiken’s ability to command a low 90’s heater from the left side makes him a supremely valuable commodity.

Aiken also throws some of the best off-speed stuff in the high school ranks. He snaps off a big curveball in the 76-82 mph range that already grades out as plus and could make him practically untouchable against left-handed hitters. He also shows nice feel for his changeup, getting it over the plate consistently with fastball arm speed.

This draft is remarkably deep in left-handed pitchers, and Aiken might be the best. He’s polished, athletic and intelligent, with outstanding command and off-speed stuff. His arm is fresher than the other top southpaws on this list, and that will make him difficult to pass up at the first three slots come draft day. And though he’s coming out of high school, his profile will allow him to move quickly through the minor leagues. Ultimately, he has the ceiling of a lefty like Andy Pettitte, and his profile will give him plenty of cushion if he doesn’t reach that level. He’s nearly a lock to go in the top five.

 

3. Carlos Rodon, LHP, North Carolina State University

Rodon has already made a big name for himself on the National stage. He took home honors as Louisville Slugger’s National Freshman Pitcher of the Year and was the first freshman to earn ACC Pitcher of the Year.  He won a College World Series title as a sophomore in 2013, and then topped his college career off by breaking multiple records this past season. In his three years pitching for the Wolfpack, Rodon totaled a 25-10 record with a 2.24 era and a record 436 strikeouts in 386 regular-season innings pitched.  He even posted a .353 career on-base percentage at the dish.

Rodon is the exceedingly rare left-handed pitching prospect that boasts mid 90’s velocity, filthy breaking stuff and the power and efficiency to start at the top of an MLB rotation one day. He’s big, square-shouldered and barrel-chested, with a thick trunk and powerful core. His fastball consistently clocks 92-94 mph and he can reach back for 97 mph heat when he wants to. His mid 80’s slider is arguably the best off-speed pitch in the draft class, dropping off the table with vicious two-place break.

Rodon has the talent to go number-one overall, and the stuff to be an ace in the big leagues one day. Not only does he have a pair of legitimate plus offerings already, but he pitches with solid-average command and is able to maintain his effectiveness deep into his pitch counts. What holds him back from number-one prospect status are recent reports of decreased fastball velocity, his thick/chunky body and a three-quarters arm-slot that flattened in some of his early-season starts. These issues will likely scare-off the Astros, and while his division-one pitching success is a plus in the eyes of many teams, the Astros still have time on their side and they can afford to gamble on a pitcher with a fresher arm (that may not pose as much of an injury risk).

 

4. Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville University

The Phillies took a late-round stab at signing Freeland in 2011, when he was coming out of high school. Seeing a tall, athletic lefty with a loose arm and promising stuff, they offered him a (hugely) over-slot $250K signing bonus all the way in the 35th round. Freeland turned the offer down, and after improving consistently during his two solid seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, he took a huge leap forward as a junior and absolutely dominated opposing hitters. He now appears poised to earn far more than the offer he turned down out of high school, and could go in the top five picks on June 5th.

Stepping on the mound with improved mechanics and pure stuff last summer, Freeland followed a dominant 2012 Alaska Baseball League stint with a 1.88 ERA in the star-studded Cape Cod League a year later. He then took his game a step further, and proceeded carved-up lineups to the tune of a 1.90 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 99.2 innings with the Evansville Purple Aces this past season. He didn’t allow a single home run all year, and his 128/12 K/BB ratio ranked him 3rd among DI pitchers.

Freeland is sort of a cross between Rodon and Finnegan. He’s older and has pitched at a higher level than Finnegan, and while his stuff grades  behind Rodon’s, he has superior command, mechanics and body control. Out of the three, his arm action and timing is probably the best. His frame is comparatively thin and slight, but he uses his legs to generate velocity better than Finnegan, and is much more flexible than Rodon.

Freeland’s fastball generally sits in the 90-93 mph range, and he commands it with Major-League precision. His four seamer is his best pitch because of his feel for it, and he can dial it up to 95 mph when he maxes out up in the zone. His two-seam fastball is also effective, with nice arm-side run and sink. He pitches aggressively with his heater, attacking right-handed hitters on their hands with heat, and then stretching the outside edge of the plate when he’s ahead in the count. His ability to use the corners of the strike zone, and miss bats with all of his pitches make him very hard to beat. He’s also very quick to the plate. He pitches well out of the stretch and holds runners effectively.

Both of Freeland’s breaking pitches–a low/mid 80’s slider and a high 70’s curveball–project to be solid-average in the pro’s. He’s very consistent with both pitches, which will help him continue to limit line drives and home runs in pro ball. He also throws a lukewarm changeup a few times a game, and it looks good enough to stick in his pro repertoire.

Freeland’s slider might even end up being a legitimate plus/strikeout pitch if he focuses on throwing it with more power. It has sharp two-plane break coming out of his high arm slot, diving away from left-handed swings, and he can back-door it off the outside of the plate against right-handed hitters. Freeland’s advanced command allows him to keep opposing hitters guessing. He can drop his breaking pitches in for called strikes when he needs to, and then can add more on it and drop it off the table for a swing-and-miss. His overall command is ready for The Show and should be plus one day.

Freeland doesn’t have the sexy repertoire, velocity, or trophy case that some of his golden-armed draft classmates have, but he might be the safest best for a long and useful career in the Majors. His mixture of solid stuff, above-average command and a superb pitching acumen make him a contender for one of the top five picks on draft day. If not for Aiken’s fresh arm, he probably would be the first lefty drafted.

 

5. Michael Conforto, OF, Oregon State University

Michael Conforto is a really good baseball player and the most complete hitter in this year’s draft class. He isn’t a five-tool athlete, his body won’t get him a job selling designer jeans (at least to baseball scouts), and he doesn’t play up the middle. What he does do is get on base, hit with power, and play the game hard. The skills he has are also the skills that win baseball games at every level. Oh, and he steps up to the plate in pressure situations too.

Conforto hit a monster .349/.437/.601 with 76 RBI, third-most in the country for the 2011-12 season. He was named Freshman Hitter of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association for his stellar campaign. He followed with an impressive stint with the Collegiate National Team, walloping a pair of homers and driving in 10 runs, which tied him for second-most on a team of experienced, top college athletes.

As a sophomore, Conforto showed a more disciplined approach at the plate as Pac-12 pitchers began to shy away from his thunderous swing, posting the nation’s fifth best on-base percentage. He led the Beavers to the College World Series, batting .438 and making an outstanding catch in Omaha before earning a spot on the All-Tournament team. His second stint with Team USA was much more productive than his first (which was still solid), as he led the team in home runs (3), slugging (.524) and extra-base hits (8) while playing flawless outfield defense.

Heading into the 2014 season, Conforto was considered a strong candidate for the top overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, and was named the Preseason College Player of the Year by TSN. While his production probably wasn’t headline-grabbing enough to entice the Astros to take him at the top slot, he didn’t shy away from the increased pressure, and put together another excellent performance for a team that finished the season ranked second in the country on multiple polls.

As a junior, Conforto hit .347 and drew a career-high 55 walks while striking out 38 times, giving him a superb 1.45 BB/K which was also the best mark of his career. Apparently because pitchers continued to avoid his dangerous swing, he hit just 7 homers after totaling 24 combined over his previous two seasons–though he hit more doubles and triples than he had previously. The lack of round-trippers led to him finishing four short of the Beavers program record for career home runs.

Conforto is a complete hitter. He is technically sound in the box, blessed with all of the physical gifts for MLB-success and he shows an instinctive feel for the craft. A square-bodied, barrel-chested 6’2″ slugger,  he takes a sweet left-handed swing and uses his legs to generate power. He’s very balanced, and he generates plus bat speed quietly. He’s also extremely strong, and his swing generates all-fields power with both bat speed and backspin, and he lofts the ball consistently with wood bats. A selective hitter, Conforto has the approach to get on base at a high clip in the pro’s and the consistent power that his swing generates should keep his BABIP high. Mechanically, the only bad habit he may have to shake is the bat lift he uses as he loads his hands, a method for slowing the barrel down a tick so a hitter can stay inside the ball.- This habit likely stems from his need to take the ball to left field as he saw more soft pitches on the outer half of the plate, later in his college career when pitchers gae up on challenging him fastballs.

Conforto has the bat electricity to hit 30 home runs and plenty of doubles annually in the big leagues when he’s in his peak years. He also displays a complete hitting package, and should get on base at an above-average clip against quality professional pitchers. The rest of his tools aren’t quite as exciting, as he’ll be a relatively ordinary athlete at the pro level. But, his defense and baserunning skills are good enough to be average in the MLB, and his game is nicely polished. He’s fits the prototype for a quality corner outfielder in the pro’s, and his arm is strong enough to man right field effectively, while he has the body control and foot-speed to cover all the ground he’ll need to at those positions. He probably won’t be a Gold Glover, but he’s a good bet to be an average fielder–making his possibly special bat that much more valuable.

 

Plenty of Thunder to Go Around

This draft doesn’t only have a ton of power arms, but it has a surplus of polished sluggers. Right behind Michael Conforto are college bats Kyle SchwarberCasey Gillaspie and AJ Reed. Each of these guys boasts plus to plus-plus raw power to go with polished hit tools and plenty of plate discipline.

Gillaspie, the younger brother of White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, is probably the most MLB-ready offensive threat in the draft after Conforto. He mashes wherever he goes, railing bombs during his Wichita State career and even leading the Cape Code League in homers last summer while using wooden bats. He’s for real. He will likely be relegated to first base in the pro’s, but the nation’s league leader in walks (55 BB and his .520 OBP was second-best in the US) and its fifth ranked home-run hitter (15 HR) has the sweet swing and offensive profile to be an All-Star at the position in the pros some day.

Kentucky’s A.J. Reed is an outstanding athlete for his size and has long been a favorite among pro scouts. He got in much better shape heading into 2014 and the hard work paid off. He ended up leading the nation in home runs and slugging percentage while playing for a top-ranked team this season, and his plus-plus left-handed arm strength made him a dominant starting pitcher on the mound as well. If Reed has the opportunity to focus on hitting full-time, the sky is the limit. He has the power to hit 30+ homers a season in his prime, and he could be a plus hitter. Because he’s a lefty that can pitch in the low 90’s as a starter, he’ll always have a  bullpen job as a fallback option.

Schwarber is a powerful, stout college catcher with enough arm and receiving ability to stick there as a bat-first pro. However, his best fit will be first or left field as a pro, because his bat has the chance to be special and the franchise that takes him won’t want to take away from his development as a hitter. Schwarber finished his Hoosiers career with 40 total home runs, a .341 average and a .607 slugging percentage in 697 at bats over 3 seasons. He walked 25 more times than he struck out during that span and he’s made a name for himself as left-handed swinging slugger that can hit for average and get on base at a high clip.

Schwarber’s lack of athleticism might make it hard for some rebuilding clubs to justify taking him with a top-ten slot, but his offensive profile makes him as close to a cant-miss MLB run producer as a you can find.

There’s also local product Mike Papi out of UVA, and southern high school bomb hitters Braxton Davidson and Michael Chavis. Papi is the oldest and most polished of the three, hitting for power, getting on base and limiting strikeouts, while Davidson’s plus raw power gives him the highest ceiling in terms of future hitting production. Chavis however, who has the hands, body control and feet to play a very strong third base, is one of the best mixes of glove, bat and instincts of any high school player in the draft. However, he has a long way to go in terms of taking all of that on the field with him every day.

 

High Risk, High Reward

Gareth Morgan, a star outfield out of North Toronto Collegiate high school, is poised to be the first Canadian player taken in this year’s draft. He has plus-plus raw power, maybe the most of any high school prospect in this class, and his hulking build is equipped with a strong arm and impressive athleticism that allows him to move smoothly in the outfield despite his size. He’s been a member of the Canadian Junior National team since age 14, and he has been named a first-team All-American by PG USA for three straight years. To say he is well known by scouts is a massive understatement.

Morgan’s Canadian baseball upbringing might draw some skepticism–as he doesn’t face a whole lot of 90 mph velocity with his North Toronto team. That’s actually misguided thought. Morgan has hit against professional pitching for the past three years playing with the Ontario BlueJays. He’s worked hard to hone his approach against advanced pitching, and after striking out far too much as an underclassmen, he looked like a much better hitter this year. Multiple scouts have compared him to fellow Canadians Jason Bay and Michael Saunders in pre-draft interviews, but I think he has the opportunity to play more like Jermaine Dye. His wood bat power is already premium for his age and his strength, swing and body suggest he has plenty more to come. He launched some balls over the wall while taking BP at the PG All-American Classic last August.

Morgan does come with significant risk though. He’s committed to play for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, and there’s some talk that he’s interested in keeping his word and playing a few years in college–to reassure teams he can hang with better competition if nothing else. He’s also shown a tendency to whiff at even decent off-speed stuff, and while his approach looks improved this season, he still appears to have trouble picking up breaking balls. It’s easy to get mesmerized by the batting practice shows he puts on–when he barrels balls like a machine and sends 400-foot shots to center field almost effortlessly. The problem is, Morgan still swings and misses far too much during games, and makes a lot of weak contact flailing at soft stuff. His body is also the type that could fill out, stiffen up and slow down, which would put a lot of pressure on his power to develop.

Grant Holmes is a power pitcher and slugger out of the South Carolina high school ranks. Holmes is built like a bulldog and plays the game with a fittingly aggressive mentality. He’s pure power. On the mound he lights up 96 mph, and sits 91-93 mph comfortably with his heater while mixing in a nasty downer breaking ball coming in anywhere from 77 to 84 mph. His four-seamer rates right behind Tyler Kolek’s, putting it in second place among this class’s high school arms. He also shows plus power from the left side in the batters box, barreling premium pitches on the showcase circuit and sending screaming line drives out of the park throughout the regular season. In 40 innings on the mound during his senior campaign, he struck out 82 batters while allowing just 17 hits, 16 walks and he totaled a 0.52 ERA. In multiple starts this season, he shut out his opponent while hitting a home run in the same game.

Holmes is often listed at 6’2″ and under 200 pounds. In reality, he’s six feet even and closer to 220 lbs. Similar to Craig Kimbrel, the lack of length plays to his advantage though, as he’s very good at generating and directing power with outstanding balance and trunk strength. He’s stocked with muscle and is one of the strongest players in the draft. He isn’t stiff however, and his delivery shows outstanding timing and a quick arm when he’s right, and his balance suggests he could develop average command over his pitches if coaches can help him clean up his mechanics. The violence and recoil he shows on his follow through is a major red flag however–especially because he maxes out so often. His fastball velocity disappears and his breaking stuff dulls early in his starts, suggesting a bullpen job may be the best fit ultimately.

Holmes is a potential ace, but he also comes with a lot of risk. Aside from the fact that the South Carolina high school circuit isn’t typically associated with pro-grade arm talent (though the GameCocks have plenty of pro alumni), Holmes’ tendency to overthrow and not finish his follow-through won’t help his shoulder last under a heavy workload. Furthermore, his profile is eerily similar to Stetson Allie’s scouting report when he was drafted by the Pirates out of his Ohio high school a few years ago. Like Allie, Holmes is a short, muscular two-way talent that plays with a raw, aggressive style. He’s also a power pitcher that entices scouts with his excellent pure velocity–enough to make them forget about his less-than-stellar control and the red flags in his delivery. Allie also had unbelievable stuff, but his all-tools and zero-finesse style took him off the mound early in his professional career and he’s now doing his best to make his name as a bat-only prospect.

Monte Harrison could be this year’s tease and follow in the footsteps of Jameis Winston, honoring his college commitment to star on the gridiron for the Huskers. Or, he could be this draft’s Bubba Starling–a multi-sport athlete that commands big money. Either way, drafting him is a Vegas gamble.

Harrison is a three-sport start at his Missouri high school. On the diamond, he’s a five-tool center fielder and a right-handed pitcher armed with a 95 mph fastball. He’s one of the fastest prospects in this year’s crop, running with plus speed right now. He has clocked 6.6-second sixty-yard dash times and can get from home plate to first in 4 seconds flat. He plays the outfield like a free safety, and with more development, he could be a premium defensive asset there. In the box, he’s not the most polished hitter due to his focusing so much time on other sports, but he does have bat speed, feel for the barrel and the strength to be solid-average across the board.

It’s going to take some extra financial risk to get Harrison to sign, and with new slotting rules, that extra risk means having to pass on other top talents later to free up cash. Harrison plays the game like Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, and has a very similar skill set at the same age. Jackson was also a multi-sport star with a strong college commitment, and he ended up passing on his Georgia Tech commitment to sign with the Yankees for a big over-slot deal. 

 

Just Missed the Top 50

Cal Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman was in Michael Cantu’s no. 50 spot on this list until the very last draft. He is a superb defensive player with the strongest infield arm in the draft class and one of the more major-league ready, albeit unexciting, bats. His entire profile makes him a pretty good comp to former Yankees and Athletics third baseman Scott Brosius.

At the plate, Chapman never developed into an elite slugger with Cal, despite showing raw power and being flanked by bombers like J.D. Davis and Michael Lorenzen in the batting order. In batting practice, he displays plus bat speed and rips the ball to his pull side with loud home run contact, yet he’s totaled a lukewarm 13 home runs in 580 regular season at bats. Part of the problem is that he can be too focused on working the count, which gets himself into too many two-strike counts–resulting in too many situations where he’s forced to use a line-drive swing. He tends to crowd the plate and swipe at outside pitches with his hands rather than staying back and driving. To be fair, the Big West Conference is home to a lot of premium pitchers, so his stats will be more modest to begin with.

Chapman’s defensive ability is top-tier, and he’s probably the best infielder in the draft class. He has soft hands, quick feet, superb body control and his arm is an 8 in terms of strength and his accuracy has the opportunity to match. With a few years working on his game everyday as a pro, he should be a Gold Glove caliber fielder at the hot corner, with enough skills to be a solid shortstop as well.

Chapman generated some buzz when his fastball hit 98 mph off the mound with the Collegiate National Team last summer, pitching two innings without allowing a run and K’ing three batters. That’s the kind of talent he has. What’s frustrating though, was that he was there to play third base for the team, and he made 5 errors in 22 starts, didn’t account for any of the club’s 9 homers despite logging more at bats than anyone else, and his .278 batting average was just 7th-best among regulars. On the bright side, he did post a .396 on-base percentage and drive in a team-leading 20 RBI.

If he can hone his approach, get stronger and add more loft to his swing, Chapman could still develop 20-homer power in the pro’s. And even if he’s more in the 10-15 range, that’s just fine because the rest of his game is so good. He has the makings of a solid-average hitter that consistently posts plus on-base percentages, and his defensive value will be good enough to start him even if he falls a little bit short of that production. What helps is his excellent hand-eye coordination. Annually over the past three years, he’s improved his walk rate, lowered his strikeout rate and his power numbers have climbed substantially. This season he hit an impressive .312 with a career-high .498 slugging percentage while walking more (27 BB) than striking out (26 strikeouts).

Mississippi State relief pitchers Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder would be numbers 52 and 53 on this list respectively. If it weren’t for the fact that relievers are the least valuable type of prospect, both pitchers would be well within the top 30 (if they were graded on performance and current talent alone).

In 135.2 innings over the past 3 seasons as MSU’s closer, Holder has tallied 191 strikeouts and 37 saves while totaling a 1.59 ERA and a superb 6.2 K/BB ratio. His stuff doesn’t project to be closer-worthy in the pro’s, but he has outstanding control of his four-seamer, which sits 90-92 mph with some hop on it at the top of the zone. He also throws a nasty downer curveball and his quick-armed delivery is very difficult for opposing hitters to pick up–making his pitches seem to have extra life. His curveball, despite being on the softer side, comes out of his over-hand release like his fastball, and then drops to 7 o’clock like a hammer. He spots both pitches to all four quadrants of the zone with precision, and does an outstanding job limiting his strikes to the corners–despite pitching very quick to the plate. Similar to David Robertson when he pitched for the Crimson Tide, in terms of stuff and profile, Holder looks like a very good future middle reliever with the upside to be a closer like Robertson or Keith Foulke.

Jacob Lindgren was a very solid Friday night starter for a very good Mississippi State squad in 2013, posting a 4.18 ERA, a 3.61 K/BB (3.32 FIP) ratio and striking out 65 in 56 innings during his sophomore season. He would’ve been a day-one draft prospect regardless, but a move to the bullpen has led him to flourish an inning or two at a time this season, generating far more buzz about his ability.

In 55.1 bullpen innings this spring, Lindgren managed to strike out an unbelievable 100 batters (leading all DI relievers) while yielding only 23 hits and 5 earned runs (good for a 0.81 ERA). He’ll leave Mississippi State with a 2.64 career ERA in 139.2 innings over 16 starts and 54 appearances, and he put together a nice 12.2 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB.

A short lefty, Lindgren has used his lack of length to his benefit. His outstanding balance and body control not only allows him to repeat his delivery and employ his core to generate power, but it has helped him develop an extremely deceptive delivery. He hides the ball and generates sharp horizontal angles by showing left-handed hitters his number during his leg kick, and then spins open with an explosive pull from his leading side as his legs drives forward–sending his body weight toward the right-handed batter’s box.  Even the most advanced college hitters, both righties and lefties, have serious problems picking up his pitches, and the ball is virtually always running to either his arm or glove side.

Lindgren throws his fastball generally at 90-91 mph, but his deception and his healthy stride make it get on top of hitters as if it were 94-95 mph. His heater runs and tumbles in the zone and his 2-seamer has heavy sink. Following suit, his 84 mph changeup doesn’t just fade, it dies to his arm side. Despite not having the biggest fingers, or optimal mechanics, Lindgren gets plus movement on everything he throws–missing bats and generating ground-ball contact. Even when he gets behind the ball and throws a straight four-seamer, batters struggle to barrel it as he attacks their hands. He’s no soft tosser either, and he’s pitched at 93-94 mph in short stints this year.

Lindgren’s off-speed stuff is superb. To complement his low 90’s four-seamer and sinker, he also throws a plus downer breaking ball in the low 80’s that he does a great job of getting on top of and throwing it out of a fastball tunnel–leading to disappearing late break. He doesn’t quite have Holder’s touch, but his fastball command is MLB average currently, and his superb body control indicates it should be at least solid-average after a couple of seasons of pro experience. Despite the ability to spot his pitches, relief definitely suits him, as he doesn’t have the power to be the same pitcher when stretching out, nor can he maintain his stuff deep into pitch counts (his arm action has some ugliness to it too).

Lindgren can spot his fastball to both sides of the plate with a fair amount of confidence and consistency, and he can drop his breaking ball in for called strikes–even back dooring it to his arm side when he chooses. He’s adept at starting the pitch knee-high and having it roll off the table into the dirt after the batter commits to a fastball (what he thinks is a fastball until it’s too late). He also tosses an occasional changeup out of the bullpen which was actually his best off-speed pitch as starter. It’s fringe-average already, coming out with fastball arm-speed and no obvious over-pronation. In terms of command, it now lags behind his other two offerings, however, and he doesn’t appear to have the feel to ever use it in fastball counts .

Lindgren doesn’t make old-school scouts giddy by any means, but he’s the type of kid that the new school will go after every time. He’s best suited getting developed as a setup man  or a low workload/fourth or fifth starter, but his floor makes him one of the best bets to be outstanding at a less-than-sexy job in the MLB. His stuff is above-average, his command projects to be solid-average or better, he’s smart and athletic and he makes it extremely difficult for hitters to get on top of his pitches. Even in the pro’s, one thing is for absolutely sure, left-handed hitters will struggle to hit him as long as he healthy.

  

About Ryan Kelley

Ryan Kelley is a Contributor to District Sports Page. He’s an economist by day and an aspiring journalist living in the D.C. area. Native to Connecticut, he has lived in Washington since graduating from The George Washington University and has covered Minor League Baseball and Team USA. He is founder of BaseballNewsHound.com, and specializes in prospects playing in leagues on the East Coast and in the Mid-Atlantic region. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @BBNewsHound.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Sports Weekly. DRAFT: Who are the best prep prospects? ***. 1. Houston Astros. HP Brady …2014 MLB Draft Preview: Top 50 ProspectsDistrict Sports PageMLB Draft 2014: Top Prospects, 1st-Round Mock Projections, Storylines to […]

  2. […] Sports Weekly. DRAFT: Who are the best prep prospects? ***. 1. Houston Astros. HP Brady …2014 MLB Draft Preview: Top 50 ProspectsDistrict Sports PageMLB Draft 2014: Top Prospects, 1st-Round Mock Projections, Storylines to […]

  3. […] Sports Weekly. DRAFT: Who are the best prep prospects? ***. 1. Houston Astros. HP Brady …2014 MLB Draft Preview: Top 50 ProspectsDistrict Sports PageMLB Draft 2014: Top Prospects, 1st-Round Mock Projections, Storylines to […]

  4. […] Kelley runs down the Top 50 Draft Prospects over at District Sports […]

  5. […] commitment. While he didn’t break the top-50 in most pre-draft rankings, I ranked him as the 16th-best prospect overall in this draft […]

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