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2014 Draft Preview Seventeen (You're Ready): Rising Tides and Falling Stars

Looking at the trends in the 2014 draft, and players who have improved or damaged their stocks in a meaningful way.

How do you ever bench a man who wears those socks so well?
How do you ever bench a man who wears those socks so well?
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, future folks. I'm writing this Monday morning, as I just happen to have some free time right now, so if something huge and crazy has happened to the Cardinals in the last couple days, please forgive me for failing to discuss it. I'm fresh off the skin of our collective teeth holding on for dear life win of Sunday night in Pittsburgh, and not feeling particularly good about where the Redbirds stand as of right now. Hopefully by the time you're reading this the Cards have put back-to-back poundings on the Cubbies and we're all a little less on edge.

I come to you with this pastified post to look at the movers and the shakers, the fallers and the risers, the...some third group of things I can't think of at the moment. The quick and the dead. No, that doesn't make any sense. The fat and the thin. That's not even a saying, Aaron. What the hell is wrong with you?

Anyway, the thing is, I've been working on draft posts this time around since way back in November of last year, and in that time, the landscape has changed. Some guys have seen their stocks rise. Others have taken a precipitous tumble for one reason or another. Usually, by this time of the year I'm scrambling like crazy to try and get as many players written up as possible, and hence some of the finer points of the process get thrown out the window. This particular year, though, I feel like I've got enough players in the bank I can take this opportunity to look at the bigger picture of who is moving up and who is moving down.

At The Top

First off, the biggest faller of the draft (well, sort of), comes right at the top, where a projected top five pick, Jeff Hoffman, has succumbed to the dreaded (again, sort of), Tommy John surgery. I hadn't covered Hoffman here, since I thought there was absolutely no chance he would ever be around when the Cardinals picked. At his best, Hoffman may have had the best stuff of any college pitcher in the draft this year overall (although he didn't have any one single pitch to match up against Carlos Rodon's slider), and was at least in consideration for that first overall slot for the Astros.

The reason I say he's only sort of a faller is because, while being out with an injury is certainly going to knock him down in the draft, it's kind of tough at this point to say just how much he's really going to drop. For me, I probably wouldn't go after him, only because I think he's going to have a very short career, but I honestly would have said that even before the injury, due to what I see as very risky mechanics. On the other hand, it doesn't seem as if pro teams are all that concerned with a player's injury history at this point -- at least on the pitching side -- as we've seen guys get drafted fairly high even with significant injury risks recently. Lucas Giolito was hurt coming out of high school, having spent his entire senior season on the shelf with an elbow issue and going under the knife for TJ in August after being drafted. The Nationals still took him in the first round, paid for the surgery, and are, by all accounts, happy as hell with their investment at the moment, as Giolito has turned into one of the most dynamic pitching prospects in the minors. I do wonder how the Nats are going to feel when Giolito breaks down again in a few years, but for now they've got a blue-chipper thanks to their willingness to ignore the obvious red flags associated with an 18 year old kid whose elbow is already busted.

What that means for Hoffman, of course, is unclear at the moment, but if a team feels confident he's going to come back from surgery as the same guy he was up to this point, then maybe someone pops him in the 10-20 range and just treats him as a first-rounder a year and a half from now, if that makes any sense.

Another big draft dropper (ugh, what was I thinking, typing that?), right at the very tippy-top of the board: Trea Turner, the NC State shortstop I put on my short list of favourite prospects coming in to this process. Sadly, Turner really hasn't looked like the same player this spring; his speed is nowhere near the dynamic force of his freshman season, the swing seems longer, and there is still a distinct lack of bulk and strength on Turner's frame. There have been concerns raised about the health of his legs; he missed time with an ankle injury last year, and there are questions as to whether or not he's fully regained the speed he did before he got hurt. His stolen base totals have dropped from 57 to 30 to 22 over his three years with the Wolfpack, and for a player whose best tool is his ability to create on the basepaths, that's worrisome.

On the upside for Turner, he's been remarkably hot lately, taking home Player of the Week honours both in the ACC and nationally recently, so it looks as if he's going to regain some of the lustre he's lost this season. Even so, there have always been questions about his bat -- which remain -- and if the rest of his game isn't as dynamic as it has been in the past, he certainly isn't the slam dunk many thought he was last autumn.

Speaking of slam dunks from North Carolina State, Carlos Rodon has had a very up and down spring as well, though like his teammate Turner it appears he's turning things around lately. The presumptive number one pick coming into the college season, Rodon has seen his velocity come and go along with the overall sharpness of his repertoire, giving other players a chance at possibly unseating him from his top slot. Hoffman was a consideration for awhile, Tyler Kolek's name was thrown around a bit, and now it looks as if Brady Aiken, the lefty prep pitcher whose stuff has jumped up this spring, is the top dog on the block, at least for the moment. Rodon has been much better of late, though, with his stuff more closely resembling the guy he was last season, and he has the built-in advantage of being a college pick over Aiken. If he continues to pitch well, I think he still goes 1/1, though I certainly wouldn't bet on it at this point the way I would have back in February.

With all the fluidity at the top, there's been plenty of potential for players to jump up in the rankings. Tyler Kolek, the big, hard-throwing Texan required by law to be present in any MLB draft, hasn't necessarily shot up draft boards, seeing as how he was already projected to be a top ten pick based on the arm strength, but he's pitched very well this spring and really consolidated himself as a top five talent with so many of the other players projected in that range having had their own issues. As for other players who have moved up appreciably, well, let's make it into a separate section, shall we?

Five Up

Sure, I thought of going with Seven Up here for the soft drink reference, but seven players is a whole lot to write about. So let's do five, okay? Obviously, Brady Aiken has been the single biggest riser this season, as his stuff has improved a ton since last summer when he was appearing in so many of the showcase events. But, I already mentioned him. So here's five others.

Erick Fedde, RHP, UNLV -- There might not be another player who has benefited so much from Jeff Hoffman going down as has Fedde. It's a little weird, honestly; it kind of feels as if the loss of one hard-throwing right-hander has left a void of a specific shape and size at the top of the draft, and teams have looked around for the nearest analogue to Hoffman.

That's probably a little unfair on my part; Fedde has pitched very well for the Rebels this spring. His strikeout rate has jumped by almost two per nine innings, from 7.75 to 9.63, and his hits per nine has dropped by more than two, from 9.16 to 6.81. Those are both pretty remarkable improvements, and as the spring has gone on Fedde has moved from a late first round prospect to a top fifteen to now a top ten sort of profile.

Fedde throws hard, in the 93-96 range, and has a really nasty slider to boot. Not much of a change to speak of, but there's probably time for that. For my money, he's a relief prospect only, as I don't much believe in his long-term health. He's a very high back elbow guy in his delivery, and I just don't see him holding up as a full-time starter in pro ball. Unfortunately, some team is going to draft him as a starter, pay him as a starter, and he's probably going to get hurt. I would steer clear, but that's just me.

Touki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs High School (Florida) -- covered Toussaint back in late January, and concluded he was a extraordinarily talented young man with extraordinarily bad mechanics, and I stand by that analysis now. He's got a plus fastball and plus-plus curve, and the biggest change for Toussaint in this draft season is he seems to have begun to develop the ability to actually command those pitches, to a certain degree, anyway.

He's still very raw as a pitcher, but for a kid who's really only been playing baseball for a few years (he picked the game up at age fourteen, if I remember correctly), he's made big strides this spring. Sadly, the delivery is still what it has always been, and I don't feel any better about Toussaint's long-term durability than I did in January. He's moving up draft boards, though, as teams see him beginning to harness that repertoire that's so very exciting.

Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State -- The younger brother of Conor, currently toiling in the Giants' system (RB Edit: Conor Gillaspie plays for the White Sox now, at the MLB level. Lesson to the kids: don't just go on memory, check B-Ref before you hit post. That way you don't look dumb when you forget a player was traded. Also, in my mind Conor was drafted about three years ago, not six. Wow.), Gillaspie has made a huge move up draft boards this spring, as he's consolidated a solid Cape Cod League performance last summer with a big season for the Shockers.

I'm going to cover Gillaspie in one of my last preview posts before the draft, so I won't do a full write-up here. The short version, though, is this: Casey Gillaspie can really hit. And bats tend to play on draft day.

Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly -- Imhof has been one of the best pitchers in college baseball this season, and looks like a potential late-blooming star at this point. He's been Poly's Friday starter all year, and has been virtually unhittable, posting some ridiculous numbers. Cases in point: a 12.33 K/9, 5.85 H/9, and 0.21 HR/9. He still walks a few too many hitters, but when it comes to missing bats, he's been as good as anyone in 2014.

Imhof has added some weight this year, filling out a big 6'4" frame that could probably handle even a little more, and his stuff has taken a step forward as well. His fastball tops out at 95, and he complements it with a big overhand curve that rates an easy plus. He's added a cut fastball this year that has helped him get inside on right-handers, as well. He throws a change, but it needs work.

Mechanically, Imhof is a bit of a mixed bag. He's got an unorthodox arm action but pretty good timing, so I don't see any huge red flags. It isn't my favourite delivery, but I also don't think it's big problem, so I would probably just let him be, seeing as how it all seems to be working for him right now.

Prior to the season, Imhof was strictly a mid-round pick as a college performer who was a little light on stuff. Now, it looks as if he could sneak in to the back of the first round, or, at worst, go sometime in the early second. I like him, for whatever that's worth.

Michael Chavis, 3B/SS, Sprayberry High School (Georgia) -- covered Chavis not too long ago, saying he's become one of my very favourite players in the draft this year, and I was hoping I might hear the Cardinals call his name on draft day.

Someone in the comments pointed out Chavis has moved up considerably this spring, breaking the top 20 in both Keith Law and Matt Garrioch's rankings. I didn't realise he had moved up that much, and now I have to just hope maybe he happens to slide a little. Sigh.

Other of note:

  • Taylor Sparks, 3B, UC Irvine -- I'll be covering him with Gillaspie next week.
  • Sean Reid Foley, RHP, High School -- Covered in March. Crazy slider, solid FB, risky delivery. He's been good this spring, and is probably a top-20 pick now.
  • Jacob Lindgren, LHP, Mississippi State -- College lefty whose stuff has taken off after a move to the bullpen, Lindgren could profile at the back of a big-league bullpen with an outstanding slider and a low- to mid-90s fastball.
  • Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia High School -- Brother of Dee and son of Flash, Gordon has added weight this spring and shown more at the plate. He can pick it at short, no question, but the body still needs more weight and I'm still not sold on the bat. He'll probably go in the top ten or so picks.
  • Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU -- Covered in mid-March, he remains what he was; a guy whose stuff is underappreciated but gets outstanding results as the rest of the players around him suffer through their growing pains. He's been real, real good this spring.

...And Five Down

I already talked about the struggles of the players at the very top of this draft; here are five others who haven't helped themselves out with their 2014 performances so far.

Michael Gettys, OF, Gainesville HS (Georgia) -- I covered the athletic marvel that is Michael Gettys way back in late January, in a weirdly italicized post that's really frustrating to look at. At the time, he was viewed as the top outfield prospect in the draft, with tools galore, and I don't mean he was dating a Bond girl. I liked him then, a lot, but I worried about his hit tool.

Since that time, Gettys hasn't hit much, and it's started to become a thing. He's still got speed and power and arm strength and pretty much everything else to burn, but he hasn't shown an ability to consistently put the bat on the ball, and that's a real problem. He's a borderline first-rounder now, though some team could still easily pop him earlier than that if they love the tools and think they can coach up the bat.

Jacob Gatewood, SS, Clovis HS (California) -- Another athletic wunderkind, I covered Gatewood in verse form. I like the power, and I like he plays short, but it was unclear how long he would stay there at his size. (He's listed at 6'6", though that's almost surely baseball math, which puts Tim Lincecum close to six foot and my penis close to one foot.)

Since that time, it's become much clearer Gatewood is just going to end up too big and slow for shortstop, despite his athleticism. Him moving over to third base isn't the worst thing in the world; he has more than enough arm and reflexes to play there, and we've seen what an elite defender can contribute at the hot corner watching Manny Machado the past two seasons. Still, you take a hit going from shortstop to third base. That's just the way it is.

The other concern for Gatewood is the bat. He's got crazy raw power, but he swings and misses an awful lot. I don't know if the swing (which has a lot of moving parts), forces him to start early and hampers his pitch recognition, or if he just isn't good at recognising offspeed stuff. Either way, he could hit 30 home runs in a season some day, but only if he figures out how to cut down the strikeouts to a reasonable level.

Dylan Cease, RHP, Milton HS (Georgia) -- Another player I both covered (in early April), and coveted, I loved Cease's pure arm speed and his ability to crank his fastball up near the triple digit range at times. Extremely raw -- like, sushi raw -- Cease was almost purely an arm strength lottery ticket.

Unfortunately, Cease has been out most of the spring with an elbow issue, and while he hasn't had Tommy John surgery yet, let's face it: it's going to happen. It sucks, too; I thought he had a relatively decent delivery, though there was plenty of stuff I thought he could improve on. As it stands now, maybe he goes the Giolito route and some team takes a flyer on him, pays for the surgery, and tries to mold him as he's coming back. I don't know what Tommy John costs, nor do I know anything about this kid's family and financial situation, but you'd have to think that could be an attractive option if a team was willing to foot the bill.

Derek Fisher, OF, Virginia -- A guy I liked a lot coming out of high school, Fisher was seen as a potential top ten selection coming into the season. He didn't put up great numbers his first two season at Virginia, but the numbers weren't bad, either. They were just...pretty good. He was expected to take a big step forward in his junior season.

The big step forward didn't happen for Fisher, as he missed a big chunk of the season with a broken hamate bone, and he's been inconsistent since coming back. It probably isn't a long-term concern, but there are questions about his power ceiling anyway, and a wrist injury might put a little extra doubt in team's minds.

If Fisher can finish the season healthy and show the wrist is sound, I think he'll make up most of his lost stock. He's too polished a hitter to fall too very far, but for now he is down from where he started the year.

Dylan Davis, OF/RHP, Oregon State -- Davis nearly made it into my college bats preview post, but I ended up dropping him in favour of his teammate Michael Conforto, largely because I thought Davis could fit into a potential preview on two-way players. (Which I then didn't do.) He's shown a high-90s fastball, which could make him an intriguing convert to the mound if he doesn't hit.

And, at the moment, there is definitely some concern he won't hit. Davis has taken a big step backward this year, posting just a .795 OPS, which isn't awful, necessarily, but doesn't get it done when the player in question is a below-average defender and really offers little value beyond what he can produce with the bat. That's not meant to be insulting to the player, mind you; it's just the reality of the situation. Dylan Davis has to produce offensively, because outside of the arm, he's a fairly one-dimensional player. It's a little surprising he's struggled so badly, too; he hit very well last summer on the Cape, and that generally seems to be a good indicator of future success. So far, that success has not shown up for Davis.

Whew. That's a lot of words. If you're still with me, hats off to you, sir or madam.

Anyhow, I'll stop here. We've got just three weeks left until the draft, everybody. I'm going to have a batch of scouting reports on college position players next week. The week after that, I'm not entirely sure yet. Maybe another persons of interest post, or maybe a clean-up of a few guys I haven't gotten to writing up yet. We'll see.

The week of the draft I'll be doing a mock, and probably a post covering my own personal board. Fourstick has been in touch with me, and he's got some things planned for the upcoming weeks with the rest of the Future Redbirds crew, so keep an eye out for all that stuff. I'm really excited about the draft this year, as I think this is one of the deepest and most insanely talented classes I can think of in quite a while.

Also, here's hoping again we're all more optimistic Wednesday morning than we are right now. This whole losing thing (or barely eking out victories), needs to stop. Like right now.

I'll be back next week with more drafty goodness, everybody. Take care.