Last week, I kicked off the 2016 draft previews proper with a rundown of my favourite pitchers in the draft at this extremely early junction. This week, we'll continue on by moving over to the position player side of things, which has proven to be a much more difficult list to come up with. Not because I can't come up with players I really like, but rather because there are so many exciting, intriguing hitting propsects this year that cutting it all the way down to just three players was brutally difficult.
Helpfully, two players who would have received hard consideration for this particular list, Nick Shumpert and Zack Collins, have both been covered already as part of earlier posts, specifically those dedicated to returning draft-eligible players. Shumpert was covered in the very first iteration of the draft previews this year, since he was initially drafted just last year, while Collins showed up as a college junior coming back for his second shot at the draft. Just mentally lump those two players specifically in with this group.
In the interest of keeping this post relatively brief, let's dispense with the extended preamble and just get to the players, shall we?
Herbert Iser, C, Osceola HS (Florida)
6'3", 215 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
First great thing about Herbert Iser: he's a catcher.
Second great thing about Herbert Iser: he's almost certainly going to remain a catcher.
Third great thing about Herbert Iser: he doesn't hit like a catcher.
The 2016 class is an odd one in several different ways, but one of the more notable anomalies seems to be a real bumper crop of high school catching talent relatively near the top of the draft (top ~250 type picks), with Ben Rortvedt of Wisconsin and Iser, from Florida, representing the very top of the heap. Honestly, it's an extremely close call between the two for me (with Andrew Yerzy of Ontario, a much less well known name, just a hair's breadth lower), but Iser wins out at this point because of a slightly stronger arm, an overall more polished presence behind the plate, and better balance in the swing.
It's that arm strength and the overall quality of his defense that will likely keep Iser in the first round conversation, if not a lock to go that early. He's been clocked in the mid-80s from behind the plate, which is absolutely elite, and his pop times are consistently among the best of any catcher measured at various showcases. He moves around beautifully in the crouch as well, blocks better than the majority of his contemporaries, and just generally does all the things you want to see a young catcher do. He appears to receive the ball well, also, with quiet hands and a good setup, but judging how a catcher's defense, in terms of framing and pitch-calling and the like, is going to play in pro ball is beyond my abilities as a scout, and one of the more nebulous, ephemeral qualities teams have to try and identify overall. It's one of the big reasons high school catchers so rarely ascend to elite draft status, as so much of a catcher's job is virtually invisible, and thus incredibly hard to project.
If the defensive tools are what will probably get Iser drafted early, it's the offensive talent that could potentially make him a truly special prospect. He hits from a widespread stance at the plate, and generates well above-average bat speed from the left side. He usually shows excellent balance, as well, but I've seen him sell out to the pull side for power, trying to put on a show at scouting events, and the swing tends to deteriorate when he does. The good news is he shouldn't have to change anything about his approach to hit for power, particularly as he matures and gets stronger; kids trying too hard to impress scouts and other kids with power displays at showcases is just one of those things that's going to happen.
Predicting what a high school catching prospect will do seems to be one of the toughest jobs any MLB team will undertake, and even over the next six months between now and the draft things could change plenty for Iser. He could jump up in a big way if the bat continues to develop and his catch and throw skills remain strong, or he could fall if he isn't diligent about maintaining his conditioning and slows down, or just gets off to a cold start in the spring. He's a big guy already, both tall and broad, and is probably pushing the upper end, size-wise, of what most consider palatable in a catcher. He will very much have to watch his conditioning to maintain his physical tools. For now, though, the athleticism plays, and his actions remain nimble enough the size is not a concern yet.
With his package of arm strength, defensive chops, and plus bat speed and power potential, Iser could end up one of the most impactful prospects in the 2016 draft. The demographic to which he belongs makes him riskier than many others, and that alone could keep him lower on draft boards than you might think. Then again, we saw Tyler Stephenson jump up virtually out of nowhere last year and push his way into the top half of the first round, so catchers certainly can get drafted very early. It's just not the most likely outcome.
via The Prospect Pipeline:
Ben Baird, SS, Agoura HS (California)
6'2", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Much like Herbert Iser above, the thing that stands out about Baird is an all-around excellence as an athlete, as well as big-time power potential from a position that rarely boasts such a lofty offensive ceiling.
The first thing that jumps out in scouting Baird is the raw hand speed he shows at the plate, and the resulting bat whip coming through the zone. It's the same kind of remarkable speed that got Bryce Denton drafted last year, and perhaps even slightly more impressive.
The downside of Baird's offensive game is a swing that needs substantial work in pro ball. He keeps his hands very high in the load phase, tends to swing down into the ball, and thus hits far more grounders than you want to see from a player with his power potential. He also gets out on his front foot far too often, exacerbating the problem. In other words, as tremendous as the offensive tools are, the skills are going to take some time to develop. A mechanical overhaul of the swing would be my first priority after getting him into my system, if I were a farm director, which maybe doesn't sound like a player one would place in a post devoted entirely to favourite prospects. However, the ceiling for Baird is so, so high, and the floor pulled up by plus defensive tools at short, that I feel comfortable putting him here even believing he'll need a lot of work offensively to get where he needs to be.
The potential shows up on high pitches and anything inside, when Baird can turn on the ball and the pitch better matches where he's starting his swing from, and at those moments it's easy to see what kind of pop he possesses, and what it could mean down the road. Where a player like Bryce Denton showed an ability to cover the whole plate, though, even if it was only at a high school level, Baird has holes in his swing, particularly on anything down. Like I said, as much as I love Baird's offensive potential, considering both the raw power and above-average contact ability for his age, I also believe he's going to need to make some serious adjustments once he gets into pro ball.
Defensively, however, there are no such concerns, as Baird shows absolutely elite arm strength and an extremely quick first step in the field. He has plus speed, as well, though it's possible he could slow down as he fills out, which could limit his range slightly. For now, though, he possesses some of the better defensive tools of any shortstop prospect in this year's draft, and I have no qualms projecting him to stay at the position long term. If he did have to move, third base would probably be best, as he could still take advantage of his arm strength, but I don't see that happening anytime soon. This is a shortstop, potentially a great one, and one whose offensive tools could make him a superstar down the road.
If everything comes together for Baird, he could push into that Carlos Correa territory of an all-around star in the middle infield with plus power that belies his position. Baird isn't quite as big as Correa, which actually perhaps bodes well for his ability to stay at short long-term, and for now at least is considerably less polished. Still, the tools are not all that different, and the ceiling, I believe, isn't all that much lower either.
via Baseball America:
Carter Kieboom, 3B, Walton HS (Georgia)
6'3", 185 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
This...was a hard choice. I knew I wanted to highlight the all-around star potential of Ben Baird, and the power/defense combination of Iser behind the plate, but choosing just one more player to make it into this post was incredibly tough. Several high school outfielders were in consideration, including Wil Benson, Blake Rutherford, and Mickey Moniak, who is the most direct competition in my mind for label of best pure hitter among the high school crowd with the player I ultimately chose to go with here. There were plenty of others, as well, whom I will cover in future posts, and gush over embarrassingly at the appropriate time.
In the end, though, I went with what I consider to be one of the two best pure hitters in the high school class this year, and the one who plays the infield, giving him a bit more positional flexibility than Moniak, as well as probably having a little more power potential. Carter Kieboom from Marietta, Georgia, also has an 80-grade name, as opposed to the 70+ of Mickey Moniak, helping me make my decision a little easier still.
Kieboom's best quality, aside from that name, of course, is a loose, balanced swing that generates surprising pop with very little effort, and bat speed that allows him to wait on pitches, rather than cheating to get out in front of good velocity to try and catch up to it. The setup is a bit unorthodox, as he hits from somewhat of a crouch and employs a leg kick for timing, but the results are difficult to argue with. He hits to all fields, shows power to the opposite field already, and rarely swings and misses, even facing high-level stuff on the showcase circuit. Carter Kieboom is a hitter, and Carter Kieboom is going to hit. Bank on it.
Defensively, he moves well at the hot corner, and has plenty of arm to handle the position. It isn't an off the charts elite arm to the level Ben Baird shows, but it's still above-average even for third base, and plenty to fit anywhere on the diamond. He's an above-average runner as well for now, but the frame is big enough I think he'll add another 25-30 pounds over his current 185, if not even more, and probably ends up just average in terms of foot speed. That 185 pound figure belies how skinny he appears, and how much room he has to grow. That could, of course, have a positive impact on his power down the road, but it could also have a negative impact on his mobility. In all likelihood, though, Kieboom is a third baseman long term, and has the tools to be at least average and probably better at the position.
Kieboom plays a premium position, appears destined to stay there over the long haul, and has one of the best bats of any high school hitter in the draft this year. He's smart and mature, as well, and takes outstanding at-bats, never appearing overmatched or impatient. The bat is far more advanced than is typical for a hitter of this age, and could allow him to move much faster through the minors than most prep position players. That maturity, plate approach, and the fact he's a little old for the class (he'll turn 19 at the beginning of September this year), all put me in mind of the Cards' first round pick last year, Nick Plummer. The fact Kieboom is a solid third baseman, rather than a questionable center fielder, makes me like him even a bit better than I did Plummer. In a year filled with high school hitting prospects, when a team with several top 40-50 picks could move the needle on a system in a big way, in a big hurry, he said with crossed fingers, Kieboom is among the most intriguing talents likely to be on the board in the back half of the first round.
via Skillshow Videos:
Seriously, the more I look at this draft class, the more I hope, completely selfishly, that the Cardinals don't lose their draft picks this year. At least make it 2017, when the talent pool is less impressive.