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2016 Draft Preview No. 19: Two-Way in Two Ways

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Reviewing three high school position players, all of whom have the skillsets to do multiple things on a baseball diamond, and occasionally elsewhere.

Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

I have about half a post in the can already that I was going to finish up this morning; it was the first edition of what I have alliteratively titled 'System Sundays', where I will attempt, most Sundays, to offer some bit of minor league news or analysis. We have people doing excellent jobs now with more-or-less regular DFRs, which I'm very pleased by; my goal now is to do at least one deeper dive per week on a given subject.

Today's was supposed to be a brief look at what the near future for the Cardinals looks like in terms of middle infielders. With Jhonny Peralta on the road back this season, but also in year three of a four year deal, and with Aledmys Diaz suddenly looking very get-outable (the secret is to throw him junk; he completely refuses to take a walk), it seemed like a good time to assess where the up the middle talent in the system stands as we near Memorial Day of 2016. It was, in fact, the post I was working on last Sunday morning, when my internet suddenly went on the fritz (no, not you, Alex), due to the sudden death of my admittedly aged router. So my apologies for the lack of a post last week, and my further apologies for not getting to the subject today, either. Perhaps I'll circle back at some point in the future, though the time frame may not fit quite as ideally as it did.

The reason I am changing course back over to draft coverage is because, as I'm sure you've guessed already, the draft is now less than two weeks away, and I find myself in the same position as every year, in which I look around, realise the draft is less than <insert time frame> away, and freak out at the number of players I still have on the side of the spreadsheet where I keep the names I haven't yet written up. So it's going to be draft write-ups nonstop from me the rest of the way, in all likelihood, with a regular slate of three today, a second Persons of Interest on Wednesday, another standard group next Sunday, and then a wrapup the following Wednesday heading into the draft. I'll probably cover my favourite players in that post (Wednesday the 8th, to be specific), as well as players I'm specifically expecting the Cardinals to be looking at, which will probably be a very different list from the players I hope they're targeting. Then on Thursday afternoon/evening heading into the draft, I'll put up a thread for the draft itself, with a little news, maybe a few predictions sprinkled in, or another player name or two I'm hoping to hear called. That sort of thing. I'll try to get reaction/analysis pieces up as quickly as possible on each pick as it is made that evening by the Cardinals; if they go way off the board and surprise me with a player I completely missed, it may be a little slower. Otherwise, it shouldn't take too terribly long to give at least an initial impression of the pick and player.

So that's the schedule I'm hoping to follow for the draft, just so everyone knows what to expect. Beyond that first night, I'll try to give my thoughts on later picks over the next two days, but will probably not be able to go as in depth on some players, and may not be as timely, given the realities of work and life and all.

With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, what we have here today is a group of three high school position players, all of whom in one way or another have a broad base of skills that translate into multiple potential paths.

Josh Lowe, 3B/RHP, Pope High School (GA)

6'4", 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Josh Lowe is the only player I'm covering here today who does not play multiple sports. Instead, he simply plays both sides of the one he knows best, and is talented enough he could be a first-day pick either pitching or hitting.

However, while Lowe is a very talented pitching prospect, one with a fastball he can goose up to 95 at times and a feel for spinning the baseball, it would appear the majority of the industry now agrees his future is probably brightest in the field, playing third base. I happen to agree; partially because the power potential is too intriguing to pass up, and partially because it's a pretty ugly delivery that I feel would require quite a lot of work and might not take even then. Still, the fact he is at least partially a pitching prospect now, and a very good one, is not an insignificant piece of information. Particularly when considering the club whose picks we are hoping to benefit from, given that the Cardinals have a serious history the past decade of converting position players whose bats stall out to the mound. (Jason Motte, David Carpenter, Sam Tuivailala, Rowan Wick, etc.) Just a little something to keep in mind.

As intriguing as the arm is, though, the package of tools and skills Lowe brings to the batter's box is what's the most exciting about him, and with good reason. Hitting from the left side, he hits with a fairly pronounced leg kick (though he drops it with two strikes, interestingly enough; very few high school hitters have anything resembling a two-strike approach), and generates plus power potential that belies his skinny build. (He is very much built like a pitcher at the moment.) The leg kick gives him very good balance in his swing, and while his pitch recognition is a little on the raw side, he shows an understanding of the craft of hitting in his approach. He already shows an ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, a quality I consider to be an excellent indicator of future success.

In the field, Lowe is long and rangy at third, playing the position much like a converted shortstop (which is what he is; like so many other premium high school players he's spent much of his time at short, simply on account of being the best athlete on the field), with okay hands but an arm that allows him to make plays many others can't. It's a Scott Rolen arm, if you remember what that looked like. The combination of athleticism and arm strength could make him a plus defender down the road; how he improves his footwork and actual glove technique will go a long way toward determining if he gets there or not.

He's also at least a 55 runner, probably more like a 60. As big as he is, there has to be some concern he'll slow down as he fills out, but he's starting from a good enough place that shouldn't be an issue. He isn't a burner, by any means, and probably won't rack up big stolen base totals, but we're talking that consistent first to third kind of speed that is arguably more valuable in the long run, if not nearly as flashy.

Overall, it's easy to slap 55 or better grades on Lowe's arm (which is probably more like a 65 or 70 for an infielder), his speed, and future raw power. The glove right now overall is probably just average, but I could see a future 55 or better there as well. The hit tool is slightly more questionable; I love the approach and the feel, but the pitch recognition needs work. (Which isn't surprising for a high schooler, admittedly.) Considering how many things he does well on the field, though, the bat doesn't have to play up a ton for Lowe to look like a very valuable player down the road.

If he's still on the board at 23 when the Cardinals pick, they would absolutely have to use that pick, because he certainly won't be around in the 30s. There's an interesting thing about Lowe in that he is a Florida State commit at third base, which also happens to be both the school and position of another high school hitter named Drew Mendoza, who I really need to try and get to soon. The Seminoles are just hoping to get one of the two to campus at this point, I'm sure, as it's possible both Lowe and Mendoza could go in the first 25 picks. Mendoza is a bit more polished hitter, but Lowe has louder physical tools. On balance, I might have to bet on the guy with the better hit tool, but I admit to not really being able to decide.

via Matt Czechanski:

Taylor Trammell, OF, Mount Paran Christian High School (GA)

6'2", 195 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Left

So, what's so great about this guy?

Where Josh Lowe plays baseball in two very different ways, the other two players on the docket today both play two sports, baseball and football, and show the kind of athleticism that two-sport stars are almost always known for.

First up is Trammell, a high school running back who set records as a junior, but is focusing now on baseball exclusively. It's an interesting choice, and one I wonder if we won't see more of going forward, as more and more the sport of American football comes under fire for the well-documented health risks it poses. Time was, a big, fast, athletic kid from SEC country would never have even considered passing on college football; perhaps times are changing. Or maybe Trammell just likes baseball better.

Either way, there's reason to believe he's making a good decision choosing to go baseball only, as he'll probably get taken on the first day of the draft and receive a significant bonus to forgo a Georgia Tech commitment.

Trammell is, as you might expect from a two-sport athlete, very raw still in most of the finer points of the game. The athleticism, however, gives him a chance to make quick adjustments and pick those finer points up in a hurry. He's made big strides already, with his glovework in the outfield making the biggest improvements since he made the choice to give up football. His plus speed (at least a 60, maybe more like a 65), should allow him to play center field in the pros, and he shows good instincts and an ability to track the ball. The arm is just average, but should play just fine in center. If he had to move to a corner, left might be a better fit, but I think he could play either one if need be. The glove alone, coming as it does in a premium position, probably gives Trammell a solid floor. He may still fail to really develop, but I don't think there's huge bust potential here, given his ability to handle center field at a very solid level already.

At the plate, things are tougher to judge. He's certainly gotten better since the first time I saw him, again not surprising since he's focusing on baseball exclusively for the first time in his life. Trammell is capable of putting on a show in batting practice; not in terms of hitting moonshots a la Joey Gallo, but peppering line drives hard to the gaps on swing after swing. The problem currently is translating those excellent BP skills to games, where Trammell's pitch recognition and approach at the plate are very lacking. Where in batting practice he's confident and aggressive in attacking the ball (not that tough to do when you know what's coming and roughly where it will be), in games he's reactive, susceptible to being both overpowered and outwitted by pitchers even of the same level as he. You see a lot of slapped singles the other way from a flat-footed stance in games from Trammell. Of course, it's easy to argue that should all improve as he accrues experience, but I'm just telling you what I see right now. To his credit, he doesn't strike out a ton, seeming to have very good hand-eye coordination and contact skills, but the overall quality of contact at the moment is definitely lacking.

Trammell is physically larger, but his overall package of tools, skills, and questions put me in mind a bit of Charlie Tilson, the two-sport high schooler the Cardinals drafted and paid an overslot bonus to out of an Illinois high school back in 2011. Tilson is currently just a step away from the big leagues, but does not appear to have impact potential due to an inability to turn what looks like adequate functional strength and solid contact skills into any sort of power production. Still, that center field profile and an ability to make contact has gotten Tilson close to the big leagues, and it wouldn't surprise me at all is Trammell was able to climb the ladder in a similar way.

I like Trammell, but I don't love him. The tools are very intriguing, but I question how productive he will ultimately be in pro ball. I do think the defensive chops and contact ability will keep his floor up higher than you might think, but a lack of offensive upside could also limit how much value he has in the long run.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Thomas Jones, OF, Laurens High School (SC)

6'4", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Holy batman, batspeed! Erm, batspeed, Batman!

That's the first thing that stands out as so great about our second two-sport star here today; Thomas Jones (the high school outfielder-slash-strong safety, not the former New York Jet running back), has tremendous pure bat speed. And while that doesn't always translate to power and production, it's certainly a very good place to start.

The comparisons between Jones and Trammell are easy to make; they're both dual-sport athletes from the Southeast, choosing to give up football for baseball, who are committed to major college programs (Trammell to Georgia Tech, Jones to Vanderbilt). Their games are even somewhat similar, as both rely on above-average speed to close in the outfield and are just learning the finer points of hitting. However, where Trammell is an above-average athlete hoping to turn that athleticism into a more refined kind of production on the diamond, Jones is something else entirely.

Thomas Jones is, to put it lightly, explosive.

As I said, the bat speed is perhaps the most notable quality for Jones as a baseball prospect, particularly considering his swing itself needs a ton of work. He hits with a leg kick, but it's the sort of leg kick a person might try if they had no idea how the mechanics of a leg kick were actually supposed to work; he picks his foot up, moves it back, forward, then puts it back down almost exactly where it was, with virtually no weight transfer. The engagement of his upper body seems oddly disconnected from what's going on with his legs and feet. You wouldn't expect a person to be able to hit at all the way Jones does it currently.

And yet, for all that, he's capable of generating huge bat speed, whipping the head through the zone and punishing anything unlucky enough to get in the way. That bat speed gives him well above-average power potential, though he taps into it even less often than Trammell does his, being even more raw as a baseball player. Again, it's an explosive sort of athletic move when he swings that one rarely sees. Sudden is perhaps the best word to describe Jones's swing.

That theme of explosiveness continues in the field and on the bases, where Jones possesses some of the best pure top-end speed in the draft. Trammell is a 60 runner, and capable of playing center field quite well. Jones is a 70, and able to outrun the bad reads and mistakes he makes. If he improves his reads and routes, this is not just a center fielder, but an impact defender at the position. Even at 6'4" he's not only fast but also quick, and there's potential for 20+ steals annually here.

The downside is that Jones is extremely raw in most facets of the game. Trammell looks positively polished by comparison, and that's saying something. A team drafting Jones is going to be betting not only on his abilities and aptitude, as well as a willingness to put in the work, but also betting on their player development wing to help mold him into the star he potentially could be. There's so much more distance between what he is and what he could be for Jones than there is for most draftable players, even high schoolers, that it's tough to get a read on exactly where he'll go in the draft. He is very much one of those players who, if a club had multiple picks, was very confident in their player development system, and managed to pull at least one player they felt very confident in developing into a productive big-leaguer, could represent a high-risk but potentially enormous reward lottery ticket. For instance, if the Cardinals drafted one of the big college bats at 23 (Collins, Craig, etc), and a polished college pitcher at 34, that 35th pick might not be too high for a guy like Jones, even if it might feel like the question marks are too big. He might end up a 70 runner, 60 power, 60+ fielder sort of player, with a strong enough arm to make it in right field but way too much speed to ever move out of center. Sure, the risk is huge, and maybe he ends up a 40-45 hitter to go along with all that and struggles to impersonate Drew Stubbs for a couple years.

Then again, maybe a team takes him, husbands his abilities patiently, the hit tool develops into an above-average asset (not impossible to imagine, as bat speed goes a long way toward helping a player remain balanced without having to cheat or sell out to hit velocity), and he turns into Eric Davis. The athleticism is literally on that level.

via Baseball Factory: