2014 Draft Preview XIX: Persons of Interest Three -- Deep Cuts

Andy Lyons

The final group of scouting reports for 2014, if not the final draft preview entirely.

This is the last regular draft preview of the year for me, folks. Next week I'll be bringing you a mock draft on Wednesday and my final wrapup post on Thursday morning, getting everybody ready for the draft itself. I've written up more players this year than ever before, and as I sit here on Memorial Day (I'm writing this Monday afternoon), I feel pretty happy with what I've gotten done this year. I definitely think, going forward, this is more the format I'll try to stick with, doing nearly entirely draft posts from the beginning of the year on, just in order to try and get a good volume of these put up.

Two things before I dive into the scouting reports:

One of my personal cheeseball players from the draft last year, Zack Collins, was named ACC Freshman of the Year last week. He was drafted in the later rounds by Cincinnati last year but decided to (thankfully), honour his commitment to Miami, and so far it's looking like he's going to go much, much higher by the time the 2016 draft rolls around. Congratulation to Mr. Collins, and I really wish the Cardinals had snatched him up somewhere in the first five rounds or so and paid him to forego college. I'm still doubtful on his ability to catch long-term, but there have been some reports suggesting he's improved behind the plate quite a bit this year. I've only seen I think one Miami game this year, so I can't really say much one way or the other on that score. Either way, I think he's going to be a monster.

The other night, I was watching Game 7 of the 1982 World Series on Youtube, just because. And I had a couple thoughts. You should watch at least the first five minutes of that game, just to see the awesome intro graphics (which I really think they should go back to, rather than the way games are presented now), and a very, very young Bob Costas doing pregame work. Also, contained Costas's pregame rundown of the first six games of the series is something really fascinating: we've heard so much about defensive shifts over the past couple years, both on the positive and negative sides, with plenty of old-school types (broadcasters, in particular), sort of poo-pooing the idea, and plenty of new-schoolers trumpeting the brilliance of our newfangled statistical analysis that can let us do something so creative as shifting. Well, there just so happens to be video evidence in that game, in the form of a highlight from Game 2 of the series, that the Milwaukee Brewers were playing three infielders on the right side of second base. I don't really have much of a point here, other than thinking it's kind of cool to actually see video evidence that over 30 years ago teams had already figured out this thing that seems so controversial (or at least discussable), today. (And yes, I know teams were shifting all the way back in Ted Williams' day, since he refused to go to the other field, but I've never actually seen it. So I find this interesting.)

One other thing: watching that game, it jumped out at me that umpires used to call checked swings much, much more leniently than they do now. There are several times in that game when hitters got the call on checked swings and, on video review, I couldn't believe how far they had gone and not been rung up. Kind of weird.

One other, other thing: has anyone else ever noticed how much Robin Yount looked like Jeff Spicoli in those days?

Okay, anyway, enough about that. First, I have one full scouting report, on a player I've missed doing up until now just by chance and feel I should really write up.

Kyle Freeland, LHP, University of Evansville

DOB: 14th May, 1993

6'4", 185 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

Kyle Freeland is left-handed, and he throws really hard. Is that enough?

Okay, so a slightly more detailed scouting report is probably called for. Freeland has been one of the biggest risers in this year's draft class, the collegiate equivalent of Brady Aiken's jump up to the top, and for similar reasons. Both Aiken and Freeland have seen their velocities take marked steps forward this season without -- so far -- seeing any kind of degradation in the command of their respective repertoires. Guys with already-good repertoires who suddenly gain a tick or two tend to see their draft stocks jump. Not the most controversial statement, I know.

As for Freeland himself, last summer when he dominated the Cape Cod League, really putting himself on the map as a potential first round talent, he was throwing in the 90-92 range with his fastball and showing plus movement that overwhelmed college hitters trying to swing wood. (Not a euphemism, no matter how purposeful it sounds.) He has since bumped that velocity into the 94-96 range, and still shows the same kind of life on the heater which made him so tough to hit on the Cape. He backs up the fastball with a plus slider in the mid-80s and a changeup best described as workable. The change is a luxury pitch for Freeland right now, as he's able to dominate even right-handed hitters with the fastball/slider combination, often throwing the slider at the hitter's back foot and generating plenty of empty swings.

It's easy to slap a David Price comp on Freeland, at least in terms of stuff and approach, though he hasn't consistently dominated the competition for nearly as long as Price did in his college career. The larger problem with that sort of comparison, though, is that while both Price and Freeland are power-armed lefties with dominant sliders (at the time of being drafted, that is; Price has significantly changed his repertoire since then), who throw from a lower arm slot, the way they get there mechanically is much different. Freeland's delivery is closer to someone like Matt Purke, the bespectacled Washington Nationals former first-rounder who has dealt with myrid arm issues since being drafted back in 2011. Similarly, I don't believe Freeland will have much chance of staying healthy long-term, which is a shame because the talent is remarkable.

Freeland's much-improved stuff has put him in consideration for the top ten to fifteen picks, which likely puts him out of range of the Cardinals anyhow, but given how much he's risen just this spring, there's at least a decent chance teams see him as now overrated and he falls in the draft down to the back half of the first. As much as I like what he brings to the table, if he did happen to fall that far, I'm not sure how comfortable I would be drafting him. In the short-ish term, he could be a huge bargain there, his value far exceeding his draft slot. Longer term, though, I have serious concerns about his durability, meaning whatever value a club was going to extract from him would probably need to be extracted relatively soon.

Okay, moving on to the actual persons of interest part of the post today. I have not one, not two, not -- well, you know how that whole thing goes, right? I'm not going to actually type out all the numbers I don't have. What I do have is a group of eight players cued up (or queued up, I suppose), including a couple local kids and an athletic marvel or two, who represent some very deep cuts in this draft class, some of the more unknown names I have in my repertoire this year. I'm going to do the reports very concisely in order to get all eight done in anything resembling a reasonable amount of space.

So, without further ado, here we go.

James Norwood, RHP, St. Louis University

6'2", 200 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

A hard-thrower who has seen his stuff increase each season he's pitched in college, Norwood has a power arm that should get him drafted fairly early on. His fastball works in the 92-96 range, and it has heavy downward action that hitters struggle to lift, particularly right-handers.

I only made it to one of Norwood's games this year, unfortunately, but on the day I saw him in March he was working hard in on righties, breaking bats sawing off hitters or some other expression that indicates working effectively inside to same-handed hitters and rolling up grounders, and his changeup looked like a solid secondary offering. He also threw a handful of curveballs, but most were loopy and too soft and likely to get pummeled by next-level hitters. The reports all say he throws a slider or cutter as well, but I don't honestly think I saw one that day. There was one odd pitch that might have been a cutter (or a misthrown change), that was taken for a called strike, but that was mostly just because it surprised the hitter.

For now, I feel comfortable calling Norwood a two-pitch pitcher, and saying I see late-inning relief as his best role long-term. His deliver and limited repertoire seem a better fit for the bullpen to me, although if he could continue to refine his breaking ball it could certainly change that calculus. Still, if I'm forecasting what I see as his best possible future, I see a bulldog reliever who should avoid heavy platoon split issues thanks to his changeup.

Greg Allen, OF, San Diego State

6'0", 170 lbs

Bats: Switch

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

It probably sounds kind of shitty, but we've all seen under these new draft rules how valuable college senior picks can be, if for no other reason than they typically allow a team to save some cash in the earlier rounds of the draft if they have players with tough signability numbers elsewhere. Greg Allen could be one of those guys this year, as the fourth-year player for the Aztecs should be a bargain pick for some team.

Which isn't to say all he brings to the table is a lower price tag, mind you. Allen is a plus athlete, and has excellent speed that plays both in center field and on the basepaths. He hits equally well from both sides of the plate, and does a very good job of controlling the strike zone. He's patient, drawing a nice number of walks, and he rarely strikes out. Depending on a team's needs and assets, I could see him playing center field on a more-or-less everyday basis and hitting either first or eighth in a good team's lineup.

The downside for Allen is a complete and utter lack of power. It's partially an issue of him lacking a ton of physical strength, but more than that his approach at the plate is just much more geared to contact and running than it is driving the ball consistently. If I needed a comp, I would probably reach for someone like Ben Revere, though with hopefully a slightly better walk rate. Then again, players with no power often don't scare pitchers enough to induce a ton of walks; call it the Mike O'Neill Problem.

Allen isn't my favourite player; his limited upside keeps me from being super excited about his future. But he has real value in the draft, and in the new run-scoring environment in baseball right now (which I have yet to adjust to mentally), he might end up much better than one would think.

p.s. -- watch the triple he hits @ ~3:40 to get an idea of his speed.

Brett Graves, RHP, Mizzou

6'1", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Brett Graves has already been drafted once by the Cardinals, back in 2011 when they made him a 26th round pick, only to watch him forego signing a professional contract to head off for Columbia. I liked him a lot at the time, and I like him well enough now, if only because the current list of major league pitchers from Chesterfield leads me to believe he'll win a Cy Young award at some point.

Graves has two things going for him: athleticism and arm strength. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and if I've said it once, I've said it...um, more than once, I love an athlete who pitches. He has a remarkably quick arm, as well, generating velocity in the mid-90s, not to mention solid sink and run on the pitch. His best secondary offering is a short slider that could easily be considered a cutter much of the time. He has a changeup, but it's definitely a third pitch at this point.

To date, Graves has yet to really achieve the kind of success his arm would hint is possible. He generates plenty of groundballs, but the strikeouts haven't really been there. Part of it is he leans on a sinking fastball to fill the strikezone, but there's also a real lack of swing and miss secondary stuff as well. There's something about Graves that puts me a bit in mind of Kip Wells, at least in terms of the stuff. I don't necessarily think he's a great fit for relief work, as I want to see a guy who can pile up the Ks out of the 'pen, but the limited repertoire points to a fair amount of development still being needed if he's going to stick as a starter. I wonder if he could learn to throw a splitter...

Grayson Greiner, C, South Carolina

6'5", 215 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

The Cardinals love their defensive catchers, and Greiner fits that description to a 'T'. He has elite hands behind the plate, and feet that are much quicker than you would expect from a guy standing 6'5". His arm is a little above-average for a catcher, though not a Yadi-esque cannon by any means, and he has a knack for putting the throw right on the money. If you're looking for a defensively sound backstop, there's no better choice in this year's draft.

Where the questions come in for Greiner is standing at the plate. He's never been a great hitter, and a sub-.800 OPS each of his first two seasons in college pointed to him being a one-dimensional defensive specialist in pro ball. This season, though, he seems to have finally begun tapping into his plus raw power, largely due to his doing a much better job of avoiding strikeouts. His batting line this season is .333/.406/.521, which even when accounting for him playing in a hitter friendly park is elite for the position.

Where Greiner goes in the draft will hinge almost entirely on whether teams think this year's model is the real Grayson Greiner, or just a draft-year fluke designed to make some poor scouting director look foolish a few years down the road.

Forrest Wall, 2B/SS(?), Orangewood Christian High School (Florida)

6'1", 180 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Forrest Wall plays in the middle of the infield, he has speed to burn, and he can really hit. So what's not to like?

Well, I'll tell you what's not to like: injuries. Injuries that, in the case of Wall, are the reason he isn't a slam dunk to go in the first 15-20 picks in the draft this year. He has suffered injuries to both shoulders already, and the one to his throwing arm is especially worrisome. He had labrum surgery two years ago on his throwing shoulder, and his arm strength has never really recovered. It's why he plays second base, despite having more than enough range to handle shortstop; it's tough to convert that range into outs when you're lollipopping the ball over to first from the hole. He doesn't seem to have shown any real negative effects from a separated left shoulder so far, as it hasn't sapped his power or anything yet, but let's face it: shoulder injuries are scary, period, and when a high school player has already hurt both of his, you have to be at least a little concerned about his long-term viability.

On the plus side of the ledger...well, everything else, pretty much. Wall is a superlative athlete, an easy 70 runner, and he has a plus hit tool to boot. He sprays line drives to all fields, rarely strikes out, and can actually hit for some real power in batting practice. How well that BP power translates to in-game pop is yet to be seen, but even if he never shows much more power than he has now, his ability to play a middle infield position at a high level, get on base, and make things happen with his legs is more than enough to make him a very valuable commodity down the road. If he goes to college, he's basically going to be Trea Turner in 2017.

If his throwing ever comes back, he could easily slide back over to short. At this point, though, a couple years removed from surgery, it's probably not a good idea to bet on that. Chances are, Wall is a second baseman, and only a second baseman. And the injury history is just something teams are going to have to figure out for themselves.

Oh, one last good thing about Wall: as seen in the video below, he's already a Cardinal at heart. And he looks pretty good as a Cardinal, too, I have to say.

Bryce Montes de Oca, RHP, Lawrence High School (Kansas)

6'7", 265 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

If you like huge velocity -- or just huge dudes -- then Montes de Oca is probably right up your alley. (I try so hard to keep my posts clean, but then a sentence like that one just pops right out of me. It's so frustrating.)*

The Kansas high schooler and Mizzou recruit has one of the biggest fastballs in the draft, falling just behind Tyler Kolek for the best pure velocity of any heater. He's been clocked up to 98, and since returning from Tommy John surgery, he's consistently sat in the 95-97 range.

Oh, yeah. That's the problem. Tommy John surgery. Montes de Oca has already been through elbow reconstruction, at the tender age of sixteen. That's not good. The biggest reason for the injury issues, in my eyes, is a delivery that's borderline disastrous. In order to really, properly evaluate pitcher's mechanics, one generally has to find high-speed video. Otherwise, the timing is really, really difficult to spot. In the case of Montes de Oca, though, his arm is actually late enough you can see the problem with the naked eye. It's kind of amazing, actually.

Now, I will say one thing about this: usually, if I'm looking for video of a given kid, I can dig some up, even aside form the publicly available stuff, by contacting coaches and things like that. If a kid is going to get drafted, some parent has almost surely taken video of him at some point, even if the coaching staff hasn't. In this particular case, though, I've had no luck at all finding any footage of him throwing since surgery, nor really anything other than a brief Youtube clip. So, it's possible his delivery is different since he came back from surgery, so I freely admit I'm going on somewhat out of date information on him. He's just been tough to dig up much on.

Beyond the fastball, Montes de Oca features a slurvy breaking ball that will likely morph into a true slider in pro ball. He's got a high school changeup, which is to say he doesn't really throw a changeup. His fastball isn't a straight, power-only pitch; it actually shows nice movement down and to the third base side, which contributes to the pitch being an overwhelming weapon against his level of competition.

The imposing physical presence, limited but powerful repertoire, high-risk delivery, and a prior injury history that includes TJ at such a ridiculously young age all point me toward believing he's ultimately a relief-only prospect. That being said, he could be one of the most dynamic relief-only prospects to be had this year, but I also think there's very little chance a team would be willing to spend a pick on a player with his profile and then limit him right off the bat to the bullpen.

* Not actually frustrating, as no effort is ever put in to keeping posts clean.

And now, we finish up the draft previews proper for 2014 with two athletic marvels, both of whom I absolutely adore as prospects.

Slade Heggen, C, Loyola Sacred Heart High School (Montana!)

6'0", 185 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

It's really hard to be a baseball prospect in Montana, I would have to imagine. Nonetheless, Slade Heggen is talented enough to get noticed -- at least by draft wonks -- even being from an area of the country widely considered bereft of baseball talent.

Heggen is, quite simply, the most athletically gifted player at his position in the draft this year, and honestly, he's the most athletic catcher I've scouted since Bryce Harper was playing behind the plate in high school. Yes, that's hyperbolic, but at the same time, I'm serious. He's an above-average runner, has big-time raw power, has an elite arm behind the plate, and complements that arm with incredible quickness and agility. If Slade Heggen had been born in California, he would be a first-rounder. Instead, he was born in Montana and is going to make some organisation very, very happy when they spend a mid-round pick on him.

He was a switch-hitter earlier in his high school career, but has dropped it for now and hits solely from the right side, which is a good thing. His swing from the left was tentative and weak, while he has a much more powerful, athletic stroke from the right. There certainly has to some concern about his ability to adjust to pro ball, given the level of competition he has likely faced playing in a non-baseball-hotbed area of the county, but the raw talent is there in spades.

Doing a little digging on the kid, he's a very serious student and an even more serious ballplayer, the kind of kid who is going to do whatever he can to get his shot. He has his own Youtube channel, which I love, where he posts video from every showcase event he's attended. Maybe it's a small thing, maybe even a dumb thing, but I have to admit I admire the kid a little for his dedication to getting noticed.

My favourite catcher in this year's draft is Max Pentecost, the Kennesaw State backstop with the Matt Carpenter-level hit tool. After him, though -- and it's close, to be honest -- Slade Heggen is the guy I feel most strongly about behind the plate. He's a bit of a project, yes, but the raw tools and the aptitude he's shown already makes him exactly the kind of player I'm going to bet on every single time.

Keith Grieshaber, SS, Marquette High School (Missouri)

6'2", 180 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Grieshaber is actually less known as a top baseball prospect than he is one of the all-time great strikers in St. Louis youth soccer history. He finished up his high school career with 114 goals and 26 assists, winning the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year award. In fact, he gave up baseball his sophomore year to focus on soccer full-time, only to find his way back to the diamond later, deciding ultimately it was the sport he wanted to make his future. Not the most surprising decision, of course; aside from the obvious possible economic benefits of baseball over soccer, the kid is, after all, a St. Louisan born and bred, so there's baseball in his blood.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying Keith Grieshaber is an athletic freak who is going to play baseball.

There's plenty of raw power in his wiry frame, and as he fills out down the road that power will show up more and more in games. He's an easy plus runner, and his range at shortstop is another plus. He also features a big arm, more than enough to make all the throws the position demands. He has the talent to be an impact player on both offense and defense down the road, with a power/speed combo that is exceedingly difficult to find.

The downside for Grieshaber is that, as impressive as all the tools are, the skills are going to need time to develop. As a multi-sport athlete, and one who actually walked away from the game for awhile, his hands need work in the field, and his bat is going to take some time to come around. He's the position player version of Tyrell Jenkins, essentially, and a player like that simply can't be rushed.

I can't lie; I would be super into the story of Grieshaber getting drafted by the hometown team, not to mention incredibly excited to see an athlete with this kind of ceiling entering the farm system. He won't go in the first round, or the third, or even the fifth, most likely. But wherever he does end up going, he'll have the potential to be an enormous bargain.

And that's the draft previews for 2014, folks. Next week I won't be writing up any more new players, but rather narrowing things down and focusing in on the players I believe in most, as well as throwing darts at the board by way of a mock draft. I hope you've enjoyed this series as much as I've enjoyed putting it together, and I hope you feel as if it's been worth your time. At the very least, I hope you've read about a player or two who really peaks you interest, and feel like you know something more about the potential draftees this year than you might have otherwise.

I'll see you all next week, when the draft will be but a day away. Happy Wednesday, everyone.

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