You know, it's funny (not in a ha ha sort of way, of course), but every single year, the same thing happens to me. I get a good, early start on my draft previews, I power through a whole bunch super early in the spring, before I even can get much new info on players, leaning instead on what I saw from them going back to the year before, and the fact I feel like I'm not entirely up to date on some of the earliest guys I'm covering is made up for by the fact I'm getting so many players covered overall, and early enough that anyone who cares about the draft can, potentially, pick out players to follow and grow attached to during the lead-up process.
And then, what happens is I sit down some morning to write up a draft preview, and I glance at the date. And I realise, suddenly, that it's getting late, somehow, and I have barely a month to go, and not enough posts left behind me and draft day to get as many players written up as I had hoped.
This year, the revelation actually came earlier than usual, as I looked at the date when I sat down to write this column this morning and realised I only have something like six full weeks left until the draft. Which isn't terrible; I'll probably be taking a few Sundays to write about the draft as well as my usual Wednesdays, but six weeks is a pretty good amount of time left to cover players. Still shocking how early it gets late, though. Every year.
So anyhow, what we have here today is a group of three high school hitters, which I said once upon a time was maybe my stealth favourite segment of this particular draft class. The draft as a whole looks even deeper, and just plain better, now even than it did when I wrote that, but my affection for the high school bats on display this year is still quite strong. It's not at all a bad year to have a couple extra picks early on and a mandate to refill a farm system in a hurry.
Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B, Plum High School (PA)
6'2", 195 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Some players are unique, and challenge us to look at them and properly tease out what it is that makes them attractive and special. Perfect little snowflakes, each and every one of them, bless their hearts, worthy of our complete, undivided attention.
And then there are players who are not, in fact, unique, and are probably better bets because of it.
Obviously, I don't mean that second category of player is somehow less unique on an individual basis; I'm sure they're all still lovely little snowflakes as people. What I mean is there are players who fit into templates, who do things we've seen before, who give us points of reference for why they might be good, and more importantly, how they'll be good, if in fact they are in the long run. And these players probably represent better, safer bets in the long run, simply because having a point of reference for a given type of player probably indicates something about the profile that is more likely to translate.
The left/left first baseman/corner outfield type is one of these templates, particularly when the player in question has a smooth swing with loft and raw power to burn. Christian Yelich of the Marlins right now comes to mind, particularly if you want to comp a player who can run some. Go back further, and don't worry about the running, and Will Clark always the absolute prototype name I pull, probably because he happened to be one of my favourite players in the game when I was growing up, in spite of the handicap of playing for the not-Cardinals. Oh, you thought of Mark Grace? Well, fuck you, buddy. It's my column, and so Will the Thrill is the guy here. (Also, Grace is a little light on power to be the exact sort of hitter who comes to mind for me.)
Alex Kirilloff falls very much into that Will Clark mold, with maybe a sprinkling of that Christian Yelich profile as well, seeing as how, at least for now, Kirilloff can run quite well. Not well enough to profile as a center fielder, but well enough he could patrol left or right and not look at all bad doing so. For my money, though, he's a first baseman long term, and the type who could win you multiple Gold Gloves. Again, think Clark or maybe a Keith Hernandez type, with outstandingly soft hands, sound judgment on balls in play, and nimble feet around the bag. Side note: I really wish there was some sort of code phrase for 'good defender' that doesn't rely on a dumb award that is routinely held up as proof positive of how little awards have to do with actual excellence sometimes, but as yet there's no DRS or plus/minus-related term for a top of the line gloveman.
Kirilloff runs well for now, as I said, and he just generally moves well, also, but his frame makes me think there's a much thicker man waiting to grow out of him, one who may not have nearly as much straight-line speed but who should be able to maintain those nimble feet and grow into an outstanding defender at first. It's very easy to ignore defense down at the bad end of the defensive spectrum, and of course there are reasons for that, but I wonder if there isn't a real advantage teams are missing out on by having butchers at certain positions.
For whatever focus I may want to put on the defensive potential of Kirilloff, though, it's the bat that is really going to get him drafted, and make him plenty of hypothetical money in both signing bonus and future earnings. He offers a smooth, balanced left-handed stroke with a leg kick that generates easy power, at least of the doubles variety, and some over-the-fence as well already. He uses the big part of the field especially well, going gap to gap with the best, hitting lofted liners out into the wide green spaces with remarkable regularity. He can turn on the ball as well, and most of his home run power is to the pull side for now, but simply hitting the ball in the air, with authority, where it's pitched is his absolute best quality.
There's enough arm to play right field, if necessary, which gives him a modicum of versatility, which is helpful. Still, it's a corner profile with above-average but probably not truly elite raw power, and I wonder if Kirilloff might not see his stock fall slightly compared to where the talent might seem to dictate due to teams being fearful of a potential 'tweener situation. Personally, I think there's an outstanding hitter and top-level defender here, even if it comes at a non-premium position, and I would love to nab him in, say, the second round. The first feels slightly steep, at least in a draft as loaded as this one, but if he was sitting there in round two? I would jump at the chance to draft him. I might be okay with the sandwich round, even.
One last interesting little nugget of info about Kirilloff: his father, Dave, just so happens to be a coach and a bit of a mechanics guru, with the sort of self-promotional bent that seems to inevitably come along with it. I'm not going to comment on the man's philosophy; I don't honestly know enough about his program to have an informed opinion. But it's worth noting he is at least somewhat of a public figure, and I wonder if there are teams who might be hesitant to draft his son for fear of a stage parent situation, some combination of Ron Wolforth, Chris Lincecum, and Tony Rasmus making news by sniping at the club. Again, I have no idea the exact personalities involved; I just thought it was worth noting.
Gavin Lux, SS, Indian Trail Academy (WI)
6'1", 170 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
I've covered several up-the-middle infield types among the high school crop already this year; in fact, two of my favourite players from this class, Delvin Perez and Ben Baird, both fall into this category. (Not to mention Nick Shumpert, the juco holdover from last year I so wanted the Cardinals to select last time around.) Where Perez has shown contact issues and a general rawness of game, and Baird is working with one of the uglier swings I've seen in a very long time, needing a fair bit of work on it long term to succeed, I think, Gavin Lux presents an intriguing blend of skills, as he's a very good bet to perform at the position but also possesses some of the more notable natural offensive ability to be found in this year's class as well.
Lux's calling card with the bat in his hands is absolutely elite pure bat speed, in the same sort of category that both Bryce Denton and Nick Plummer, the Cardinals' two early-round high school picks last year, fall into. He hits with a short stride -- occasionally a small leg kick, depending on when you see him -- and a slight hand hitch, but the hand speed is simply explosive. He already shows plenty of extra-base power and plus contact ability, owing in large part to that natural bat speed, as it allows him to wait and adjust to pitches without having to cheat to try and catch up to velocity, the way you occasionally see with less-developed players who lack that pure ability.
Simply put, Gavin Lux hits everything hard, to all fields, and while he still has plenty of development to do, and falls prey to the same flaws and mistakes all players his age are vulnerable to , there is a level of natural ability to swing the bat here that gives him a potentially huge ceiling.
The other part of that huge ceiling is an ability to stay at shortstop over the long haul, which it appears Lux possesses. He's a twitchy athlete in everything he does, seeming to move at a slightly faster pace than most of his contemporaries, and while that occasionally translates into some out of the control play, it's also the sort of thing that can be harnessed and toned down during the process of development. There's room on his frame for an additional 15-20 pounds without sacrificing athleticism, I think, and increased strength to go along with it.
Back when I was doing my early favourites for this series, I considered both Lux and Ben Baird, who eventually made the cut. They're actually remarkably similar players, both possessing big-time raw power and bat speed from the shortstop position, along with plus arms and the range to stick at the toughest of infield spots. I went with Baird at the time because the arm was even a little better (for one thing, he doesn't sling the ball, Aledmys Diaz-style, nearly as often as Lux), and he had a slightly more polished game in general, not surprising when comparing players from California and Wisconsin, respectively. Baird is a little bigger physically, also, which might make him slightly more likely to end up at third base.
Looking back, I'm not sure I picked the right shortstop. I still like Baird, a lot, but looking at Lux again, I think he might have less work to do on his offensive game, with a similarly high ceiling. He's committed to Arizona State, never an easy sign in the draft, so there's some chance of him slipping.
via The Prospect Pipeline:
Joe Rizzo, 3B, Oakton High School (VA)
5'11", 215 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Two years ago, in the 2014 draft, one of my favourite players in the whole class was a high school shortstop-slash-third-baseman-slash-occasional-catcher named Michael Chavis. Chavis was a Georgia prep player who played multiple positions, got some iffy body noise thrown around him, and pushed his way into the first round because he could flat-out hit. The Red Sox ultimately drafted Chavis one spot ahead of where the Cardinals picked (the spot the Redbirds used on Luke Weaver, for context), and I was very, very disappointed. Chavis got off to a very hot start the summer after he was drafted, pounding rookie-league pitching, then was pushed aggressively up to Low A in 2015. He struggled, quite a bit, actually, striking out excessively and just generally having a tough time commanding the strike zone against much more experienced pitchers. He hit for big-time power, but the contact skills didn't really show through, which I find a bit surprising. So far this season he's off to a huge start, repeating at Greenville, so perhaps he's made the adjustment.
Why am I telling you about Michael Chavis? Because if you took Michael Chavis and put him in a mirror, you would have Joe Rizzo.
Rizzo hits from the left side, as opposed to Chavis's right-handed swing, but otherwise, they are remarkably similar players. Joe Rizzo is an outstanding natural hitter, showing both contact ability and hard contact on contact ability, and he does so with a short, powerful stroke that I think will allow him to cover the zone and adjust on the fly very well. He hits with a leg kick, and the balance is solid. High school hitters generally are very vulnerable to getting out on the front foot, a consequence of lacking confidence (or maybe just experience), against offspeed stuff, but Rizzo stays back as well as any hitter of his age you're going to see. Facing elite competition at some of the biggest showcase out there, I have yet to see him really fooled and off-balance, even against pitchers with offspeed pitches developed far beyond the rank and file high school arms. It's one of the more impressive qualities I've seen in a prep hitter in this class.
While the bat speed doesn't jump out immediately the way it does with Gavin Lux, Rizzo nonetheless is capable of putting a charge into the ball, lashing hard line drives to all fields. It's impressive that a draft class can boast three high school hitters as capable of using the whole field as the three players here, and the fact these players aren't even the full measure of the available talent -- not by a long shot -- really says something about the kind of draft class we're potentially talking about.
Defensively, Rizzo has the big arm and quick reactions to hopefully stay at third base long term, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention he gets a lot of those same bad body tags that so plagued Chavis a couple years ago. Rizzo is thick and mature already, looking very little like a high schooler. Of course, the fact he's already much more filled out than your average seventeen year old doesn't mean he's going to continue getting heavier at the same rate that, say, a guy like Gavin Lux will, but it's also a fair concern that, you know, what if he does? For now, Rizzo moves around very well at the hot corner, and in his defense he most definitely is not heavy or overweight. He's just built like a man already, and a man specifically who has probably had a few bouncer jobs in his life, to boot.
As much as I like Rizzo, he's had a hard time garnering a ton of attention in this draft class, owing to the sheer volume of talent, and so I think he could very easily slip to a place in the draft where he represents a very good value. I don't see him getting huge and needing to move off third, and I think he's a much better bet to hit than the typical high school position player. I don't necessarily love him quite as much as I loved Chavis two years ago, but I definitely think this is a guy who could have a very bright future.
via Skillshow Videos:
Of the players here today, I have to say I probably prefer Lux first, with Rizzo maybe a shade ahead of Kirilloff. Tough to say, though, really; I think all three have real chances to make it in pro ball. It's a testament to the strength of this draft class that basically none of these three are going to get much in the way of headlines going into the draft itself, and I think all three are potentially worthy of top 50 picks virtually any other year. This year, though, there's a very good chance at least one of these guys ends up closer to 75, maybe even lower depending on the runs of certain types of players we tend to see every year. Again, I cannot state this enough: if ever there was a draft class where having a couple extra picks could potentially land you a monster haul of talent, I think this just might be the year.
And one final note.
Have a nice Sunday, everyone.