Good morning, all. As you can see by the title of this post, it's that time again already, when I start up my yearly draft coverage, both informing and alienating a huge portion of our readership through my near-obsessive fascination with the major league baseball amateur draft.
Actually, it isn't exactly the beginning of draft coverage season; not yet, anyway. I won't begin in earnest until this autumn, during the doldrums of the offseason, when it's nice to have a readymade topic to trot out, probably sometime around Thanksgiving, since that seems to be the Cardinals' deadline to have all their offseason business finished up here lately. So don't worry; you won't have to yet avoid Wednesday posts because you simply don't care about the draft. Sooner than you might like, perhaps, but not just yet.
However, one of the biggest events of the scouting calendar took place just this past weekend; namely, the Perfect Game All-American Classic. Put on by Perfect Game and held every year (at least for quite a few years running now), in San Diego, at Petco Park, the PG All-American is an invitational game, pitting some of the best of the best, prospect-wise, against each other, East vs West. The best part of the game, of course, is the fact you get to see top prospects taking on their peers directly, rather than watching a real prospect dominate high school competition and trying to tease out the tools and the potential from the simple lack of competitive talent. It's an important thing, to see prospects take on their actual peers, in order to get a somewhat meaningful measure of the player.
The PG game is high schoolers only, so don't think I'm simply ignoring college players with my post today. Just wanted to make that clear.
I'm not doing a full write-up on any of the players just yet; I'll wait and do my full scouting reports on guys whenever I start the draft previews in earnest later this year. However, I wanted to give a couple impressions on the talent pool in general, both what I saw at the All-American and earlier in the summer from the other PG events that were streamed online, as well as offer you a couple quick hit blurbs on players I found particularly intriguing from the All-American itself, who will undoubtedly be featured in full scouting reports when the time comes.
First, the generalities:
- Whereas this year's draft class was seen as extremely thin at the top, particularly on the position side of things, next year is absolutely loaded with high-end offensive prospects. There are high school bats of all stripes, and if you can't find a prep hitter to be excited about then you just aren't looking.
- On the other hand, I actually feel like the pitching, at least so far, is a little weaker than the 2015 class. Then again, I'm also on record as saying I think this past year's draft is going to go down as being hugely underrated overall, simply because the distribution of talent was so odd, with a real lack of definite star-upside players sitting at the top. The pitching of 2015 was extraordinarily deep, though, I felt, and 2016 really doesn't feel as good to me right now.
- It's a real shame Chris Correa isn't going to be running next year's draft, since I feel like he showed a willingness to take big risks at the top of the draft on high-upside hitting talent, and there should be plenty of that available. Alas, he fucked up, and now we have to wait to see who the next guy up is going to be. (Or the next girl up, I suppose; how cool would it be if the Cards' next scouting director was a woman? Somehow I doubt that's going to happen, sadly.)
- If ever there was a year you might want to consider taking a high school catcher sometime in the first couple rounds, 2016 could very well be it. The prep catching class looks utterly ridiculous to me at the moment, with tons of intriguing names. Herbert Iser, Ryan January, Ben Rortvedt (who I'll get back to in a moment), Marc Coffers, Mario Feliciano, and T.J. Collett are all possibilities for the first 3-5 rounds as high school catchers. Some will end up at other positions -- Collett in particular is more of a bat-first prospect you hope can catch, although not without some skills that suggest he might stay behind the plate -- but most look like they should stick. There's even a much less well-known catching prospect named Andrew Miller I quite like; his arm isn't exactly the cannon you think of having watching Yadier Molina for a decade, but his receiving skills are advanced, with very quiet, soft hands, he's nimble behind the plate, and he has a loose, balanced swing that I'm rather taken with. He's a definite follow for me as a sleeper with virtually no buzz whatsoever as of yet.
- There is tons of left-handed power to be had. And not nearly as much from the right side. Which seems to be a continuing trend in the game, I suppose.
Okay, now for a few individual players. These are guys who grabbed my attention in the All-American specifically; there are players I like a lot who weren't in this game, and I'm not covering any of them here. Also, these are just quick impressions; as I said, I'm not ready to do my full write-ups yet. However, I did say I wanted to do more to communicate with all of you some of what I'm thinking of and looking at throughout the process of putting together all my reports, and this is the first payment on that promise.
Six players I'm going to be following closely and writing up before next June, with short blurbs to give you an idea of the type of tools and skills each brings to the table.
Ben Rortvedt, C, Verona Area High School (Wisconsin)
A member of that ridiculously deep crop of prep catchers I mentioned earlier, Rortvedt might be offer the best balance of offensive and defensive upside. He and Herbert Iser are, at the moment, the top two guys in this demographic, with Iser maybe a tick or two better on pure catch and throw, but Rortvedt I feel offers the better overall package. He's a lefty swinger, and possesses tremendous raw bat speed, which he generates with extremely aggressive rotation, in a similar fashion to Bryce Denton, who the Cards just took this year. That bat speed should translate into plus power down the road, and there's no reason to see him moving out from behind the plate.
Avery Tuck, OF, Steele Canyon HS (California)
If you're looking for a Daryl Strawberry starter kit, Avery Tuck might be your guy. He's big, at 6'5" and 200 lbs, and checks all the boxes in terms of huge raw tools. Most notable is an effortless, graceful swing that nonetheless generates big time raw power. Tremendous ceiling.
Mickey Moniak, OF, Encinitas HS (California)
At this crazily early juncture, Mickey Moniak might be my very favourite player going in to the 2016 draft cycle. If I were to throw out Dustin Ackley as a potential comp, you would probably find that very underwhelming, and deservedly so. However, remember that Ackley, at the time he was drafted second overall, appeared to represent the height of non-slugging offensive dynamism, combined with an ability to man multiple premium positions with aplomb. Moniak appears to be more of a pure center fielder than Ackley (though the latter's dalliances at second base were at least initially the result of necessity, as he had arm troubles in his college career if I remember correctly), but the dynamic, wide base of offensive tools isn't entirely dissimilar. Amazing pure hitter.
Joe Rizzo, 3B, Oakton HS (Virginia)
Rizzo doesn't have the prototypical baseball body, being rather short at 5'11" and quite broad, but there's an innate ability to barrel up baseballs that I can't help but fall in love with. He's a hitter, as I've said of a few other players over the years, and what do hitters do? Hitters hit. Joe Rizzo is going to hit. The rest of his game is solid, but it's the bat that's swoon-worthy.
Nolan Jones, INF, Holy Ghost Prep (Pennsylvania)
One of the more raw talents in the draft, the result of pursuing multiple sports throughout most of his high school career, Jones nonetheless has enormous tools, including big-time raw power and an arm that should guarantee him a spot on the left side of someone's infield. He plays shortstop for now, but at 6'4" and close to 200 lbs, he has the kind of frame that just begs for a prospect writer to say he'll move to another position down the road. I love this guy, and I'll have a whole lot more on him later on.
Kevin Gowdy, RHP, Santa Barbara HS (California)
An extremely polished high school arm who is just beginning to grow into big velocity. He's 6'4" and lanky, so it's no surprise to see him starting to throw harder as he fills out, but the 94 mph fastball he's flashed a few times is less impressive to me than the hard sink on said fastball, not to mention the really beautiful power curve he broke out for swings and misses in this game. There's even a pretty good changeup already, and an arm action I like a lot better than the majority of the arms I saw here. (This could be a banner year for really ugly arm actions.) Gowdy isn't unlike Jack Flaherty, who the Cardinals drafted in 2014, in that he shows remarkable feel for a much wider variety of offspeed pitches than the typical high schooler already as well as plus velocity, but Gowdy has shown even a little bigger fastball to date. There are bigger arms with more hype in this draft class than Gowdy, certainly, but he's one of the guys who really jumped out most to me on the combination of feel for his craft and present stuff that should get even better down the road.
The 2016 draft could be a monster, folks. I will, of course, have tons of coverage from November or December on through next June, but I wanted to throw a few names of note I'll be following heavily out there for all of you early on. I'm sure some don't care to know how the sausage is made, but I promised even more info than last year, and I'm trying to carry through with that promise-slash-threat, beginning right now.