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2016 Draft Preview No. 9: Youth In the Dirt

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Profiling three high schoolers, all of whom play the infield, and present intriguing combinations of tools and skills, along with overall very high ceilings in general.

Rob Foldy/Getty Images

There is a school of thought, parroted far and wide, regarding the optimal draft strategy. Said school of thought goes something like this: when drafting, you should always just pick middle infielders and center field types, i.e. premium defensive position guys, because they can always move down the defensive spectrum to a less demanding position, while a first baseman is basically never going to transition to shortstop. Ergo, the premium position player is always the better bet, having flexibility and a safety net built right in.

The problem with such a dogmatic approach, of course, is that there are plenty of players who play shortstop or center field or something, yet still have absolutely nowhere else to move on the defensive spectrum. We understand intuitively what prospect writers mean when they say 'if blank player has to move off of blank position, the demands on his bat will be much more serious.' A center fielder who can't hit only has value because he can play center field; if he falls short of his defensive ceiling, slows down, and has to move to left, there's a pretty decent chance he becomes unplayable. The issue is somewhat less shaky for a shortstop, as he has two other positions on the infield which are still relatively scarce and thus valuable (and that's not considering any possibility of a specific player moving to catcher, which is such a wild card of a position I feel strange even including it on the defensive spectrum in my head), before he begins to face real danger of losing all potential value.

Obviously, the most correct answer here is to just not be dogmatic, as it is with nearly every other thing in life, but there is a real grain of meaningful truth in the dogma. There are players who do not have the offensive ability necessary to move down the spectrum, certainly, but all the same, aiming for the premium position types has some real wisdom. Flexibility to move down to a non-premium position may be a somewhat overstated feature, given the need for offense from positions where you can find it, but the question of versatility is more easily quantified. A shortstop can move into a utility role in a way an outfielder or corner-only infield guy just can't. And if things do come together, well then, that premium position is going to be a big deal.

With all that in mind, I thought we might look today at a trio of young infielders, high schoolers all, who project to play those premium positions that give them such high ceilings and intriguing possibilities even if they fail to reach those ceilings. Over the past several years, I've been tempted to try and formulate sort of a unified theory of drafting, in terms of what kinds of players I want to see drafted, when risks should be taken, and in what proportions risks and safer bets and everything in between should be prioritised. However, that whole thing I said earlier, about the best approach being an avoidance of dogmatism and its limits, prevents me from doing so in good conscience.

I will say this, though: in a draft that looks like the one we will have this particular June, if a team had, oh, say, four picks in the top, say, 75ish selections, I would hope, pretty strongly, that at least one of those four picks would be spent on a player with this kind of profile. Just hypothetically speaking, of course.

Delvin Perez, SS, International Baseball Academy (Puerto Rico)

6'3", 165 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Of all the players I'm going to cover here today, the one most likely to maintain his premium position, at the very top of the defensive pyramid, is Delvin Perez. He is a shortstop now, he has always been a shortstop, and there is a very, very high likelihood that a shortstop is the thing he will always be.

The fact he might also be an elite-level shortstop is the reason you'll see Perez go quite early on draft day, unless things go completely off the rails for him this spring. Of course, it's possible things do go off the rails; one of my favourite comps for Perez is Oscar Mercado, a similarly built bundle of energy and flash at the same position, who just also happened to have similar offensive questions. A brutal senior season saw Mercado tumble completely out of the first round, in spite of elite defensive tools at short, and if the bat doesn't come around at all for Perez it wouldn't be out of the question to see him take a similar path downward.

However, it's tough to see Perez falling too very far in June, given the sheer explosiveness of the tools he brings on defense. Oscar Mercado, as I said, is a favourite comparison, and if anything, Perez might be even more dynamic with the glove. He has outstanding range to both sides, as well as coming in, thanks to a great first step and well-above average speed. His arm might be his best tool overall; I could conservatively slap a 65 on it, and maybe go a little higher if I wanted to be aggressive. His hands are the one thing that could actually use a little work in his defensive profile, and that isn't really because he has bad hands, rather, he seems to be one of those players who is occasionally moving a little too fast for his body to catch up with what certain parts of it are trying to do. We've all seen players who try to make the throw to first before they actually have the ball in the glove; Perez is sometimes prone to that sort of issue. Overall, though, the tools are just too, too loud to be ignored, and there's a decent chance this is a gold glove-calibre defender at the major league level sooner than later.

Offensively, the picture is much less rosy, though there are certainly things to like. For starters, Perez has a real lack of functional strength currently, and it shows up as much in his contact ability as in a lack of power. He simply doesn't drive the ball with authority all that often, and looking at his frame it's easy to see that lack of strength. Oscar Mercado, as I said, is a decent comp physically; Brendan Ryan would be another. And while those kinds of players can be stronger than you might think looking at them, there's also a real risk a wiry, lanky athlete with little functional strength will remain just that. After all, Brendan Ryan never really added much weight or got much stronger, and I've been told from within the organisation (several years ago now), that it definitely wasn't for lack of trying.

Perez is very aggressive at the plate currently, perhaps unsurprising for a player who doesn't force pitchers to approach him carefully. He seems to have a fairly good idea of the strike zone, but isn't great at working counts. Again, though, that could be as much about pitchers being willing to challenge him as anything else. He has good bat to ball contact skills, and so doesn't look like a strikeout problem waiting to happen, but there is a lot of development that will need to happen with the bat if Perez is going to approach anything like his ceiling.

How much of that development actually occurs will determine what kind of player Perez becomes down the road. If things click for him, he could be an absolutely elite defender with an average bat; the kind of profile that could make him a star even without a huge offensive ceiling. Andrelton Simmons is an unfair comparison for any young player, but that's the kind of profile we're talking about here. Not quite that level of elite with the glove, but elite all the same, and with enough bat to hit at the bottom of a big league lineup without embarrassing himself. That's an extremely valuable player.

via Baseball Factory:

Grant Bodison, SS, Mauldin HS (SC)

6'3", 195 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

There might not be another player in the draft this year whose raw athleticism is as unmistakable, as flat-out loud, as that of Grant Bodison. He lacks the flash in the field of Delvin Perez, at least in terms of consistent flash, but as you'll see at the end of this section, the pure athletic ability Bodison possesses can lead to some rather remarkable, near-unbelievable, plays when everything comes together.

It's an easy plus arm, excellent hands, and above-average range for Bodison in the field right now, and at shortstop. As I said, he might be a step below Delvin Perez when it comes to making somewhat regular highlight-reel plays, but it isn't a big step down. There is, however, much more question when it comes to Bodison's future position than for the young Puerto Rican.

The reason, plain and simple, is Bodison's frame. He and Perez are both listed at 6'3", and judging as best I can, they're roughly the same height in reality. Probably neither one is actually 6'3", but as long as they're both fudging the same amount the number remains more or less valid. The difference is that Perez has that long, extremely lean build one sees in the rangiest of shorstops; I mentioned Brendan Ryan above, and that's a good mental image. Bodison, on the other hand, has a much bigger, broader frame. He weights 20-30 lbs more than Perez already, and there's room for further growth. He has broad shoulders and is already cut in a way that belies his extreme youth. That extra 30 lbs of strength and size shows up in the hitting profile, as Bodison has power potential right now well beyond Perez, but looking at him it's also not hard to envision a guy who ends up closer to 225 and built like Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper than a typical middle infielder. It's not impossible to play middle infield with a build like that, of course; Troy Tulowitzki goes 6'3" 215 and has been a plus defender in his career, but it's not an easy thing to do.

The nice thing about Bodison, in comparison to Perez above, is that where Perez shows an offensive profile that virtually requires him to remain an elite defender to be a valuable asset, there's enough promise with the bat for Bodison that he could sustain himself even moving down the defensive spectrum some. He runs well enough center field could certainly be an option, and he has the arm strength to play anywhere on the baseball field.

As for that offense, there's plenty to like about Bodison, even if he's still pretty raw, even for a high-schooler. He shows flashes of occasional plus power potential, though it comes and goes. He's short to the ball, and tends to make contact at a high clip, so there's hope he can maintain a high batting average in the future. He hits with a leg kick and shows solid balance in the swing, which is a big deal for me personally, and I think there really is some ceiling to be had there. All that said, he's too aggressive at the plate, swinging at pitches he'll probably need to let go if he's going to improve as a hitter, and just generally has a younger approach than you might expect. He has played multiple sports up until this point, I believe, which could very well explain him being a bit extra raw, but heading into his draft spring I'm hoping to see some real improvement.

If that improvement does come, and Bodison takes a step forward, he could push himself into supplemental round or even late first round consideration. If not, the athletic ability always on display when he takes the field, and the plethora of options it presents for his future, will likely still ensure he's called in the first few rounds in June no matter what. He's also the kind of player I could easily see bypassing a pro contract and heading off to South Carolina, only to return as a top ten pick in 2019, with three years of baseball-only focus under his belt.

Now for a pair of videos, one showing him at the plate, via Jon Tarr:

and one showing off the play I mentioned earlier, which might be one of the top ten or so plays I think I've ever seen on this particular kind of ball, via MLB.com:

Nolan Jones, SS/3B, Holy Ghost Prep (PA)

6'4", 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

If you came up to me and said, "Hey, Aaron, Nolan Jones has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft this year," I might not necessarily agree with you. Actually, first I would ask how you knew my name, and whether I should be looking into a restraining order, given that you and I don't have a close relationship. Then I would probably dissemble on the subject of Jones having the highest ceiling of any player in the draft this year, simply because the longer I do this scouting players thing the more equivocation I find myself wanting to do much of the time, an impulse I try my hardest to fight off.

However, if upon hearing my wishy-washy equivocations, you were to press me on what player I think has a definitively higher ceiling than Jones this year, I would likely be forced to admit that I can't really think of one off the top of my head, and you just might be right.

And that's the story with Jones, who shows one of the most impressive overall combination of tools of any prospect due for selection this June. The ceiling is just out of sight, and the floor is likely fairly high as well, given there's a good chance he can stay at a premium position long term, even if it almost certainly won't be shortstop, where he's played most of his high school ball.

Jones shows some of the best pure bat speed of any hitter in this year's draft class, even if he does so from a batting stance I would like to see refined and reshaped a bit. That bat speed translates to big-time raw power, and even more impressively, to opposite-field raw power, which I tend to think of as one of the best predictors of future success in a young hitter. He can go gap-to-gap as well as any hitter in his age group, which is perhaps doubly impressive when one considers he is both a cold-weather player (Pennsylvania), and a multi-sport athlete. One would expect a more raw approach than one sees in practice, but this is a player with a precocious feel for the game and remarkable talent overall.

In the field, Jones has the range and arm to play an above-average shorstop at the moment (relative to other high-schoolers, you understand), but he's big enough that it's almost a fait accompli he ends up moving off the position long term. Considering he's been up to 92 off the mound in high school, I think it's safe to say the arm profiles just fine at third base. And as a third baseman, I think there's a chance he ends up being elite defensively. He isn't as polished as Manny Machado was at a similar age, certainly, but there are similar third-base tools present. Of course, there's still some thought Machado could move back to short, albeit perhaps as a less dominant defender than he is at third, and I think Jones just ends up too big for that.

At the moment, Jones is an above-average runner as well, but again, that's the sort of thing that can change in a hurry as a young kid with a six-foot-four frame matures and fills out. Down the road, I see average to maybe a tick above speed for Jones, but probably no better than that. Definitely not a liability, though, by any means.

Overall, the tools for Jones essentially represent what could be an elite producer on both sides of the ball. I think he ends up at third down the line, but I think he also ends up an elite defender there. He has the raw power to develop into a consistent 20+ home run threat, and shows a remarkable amount of savvy and patience at the plate already. This is a player who could be truly special if everything comes together, and seeing his name called by the Cardinals with their first pick, if he lasts that long, could be one of my dream scenarios come June.

via Baseball America: