clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2016 Draft Preview No. 22: A Last Batch of Young Bats

New, comments

The long-in-coming final edition of player profiles for the 2016 draft is finally here, with high school hitters and bonus content aplenty.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I know I had said before I was going to do a final wrap post today, but I changed my mind. I wanted to get just a few more players written up; guys I've had on my list since PG National last June, and just hadn't gotten around to yet. So rather than wrap up the previews today, I'm going to write a larger post about my final favourites and the like tomorrow afternoon to go along with the lead-in to the draft itself. Considering there hasn't been a ton of news surrounding this draft class, as well -- no Tommy Johns in the last week, no pre-draft arrangements just yet, with the Phillies either playing it very close to the vest or legitimately having not finalised what they're going to do -- it works out just as well to talk about the players, rather than updating any news that has come through the pipeline.

So what we have here today is a group of four (instead of the usual three), high school position players, all of the infield variety. Two of these players, Drew Mendoza and Grae Kessinger, have been on my spreadsheet since I saw them last June at the PG National showcase event. Max Guzman first popped on my radar last August when he put on a show at the All-American Classic home run derby, and the heavy recent interest of a poster here and at Minor League Ball has made me more intrigued, enough to make sure I got him written up. And I had two shortstops to choose between at the end, and ended up going with the one who has a little more power potential and an interesting (to me, at least), Cardinals tie. I suppose I could have just written up all five, but I've tried to stick with my formatting over the past few years, so even four is stretching it a bit if I plan on going into my usual depth, rather than the briefer POI format.

Grae Kessinger, SS, Oxford High School (MS)

6'1", 180 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Grae Kessinger might have the most impressive bloodlines of any player in this year's draft, or at least tied for first, to quote a former Cardinal manager. He comes from a baseball family, with a big-league uncle, a minor-league father, and a grandfather who was a multiple-time All Star in the late 60s-early 70s. (Admittedly, with the Cubs, so there's a taint there. But still. He did also play part of the 1977 season with the Redbirds.) Of course, all the baseballing blue blood in the world won't help you if you don't have talent yourself, but there is obviously a tremendous wealth of institutional knowledge, for lack of a better word, that exists within those dynastic families, also for want of a better term.

The good news for the current generation of Kessingers is that Grae does, in fact, possess the kind of talent that should get him drafted relatively early on. Particularly on the defensive side of things, though there's some offensive upside as well. He's one of the better defensive shortstops in the draft this year, with high-grade tools and a degree of technical soundness that's very unusual for a high-schooler, which is likely a reflection of that ingrained feel for the game that comes from having former professional players teaching you the game as a child.

Kessinger has plus range laterally, and footspeed that's probably a tick above average, allowing him to get to balls both up the middle and in the hole toward third. He has a big arm, as well; it's probably his best tool overall, and might rate a 65. That arm strength gives him an immediate advantage in addition to the natural range, as he can make out of position plays at a rate many others can't thanks to being able to make the throws. The tools are reminiscent of Brendan Ryan's defensively, but Kessinger already has a level of consistency in his footwork and throwing I'm not 100% sure we ever saw from Boog in his entire tenure with the Cardinals. Then again, it's tough to say that with limited viewing of a player, so that bit of analysis is probably worth ignoring. Still, we're talking about a guy who has big-time defensive tools, and already an unusual maturity in his understanding of how to use them.

Offensively, things are much less rosy for Kessinger. He has some feel to hit, but the quality of contact just isn't all that good. He lacks functional strength, and tends to hit without much, if any, load in his swing, so he's strictly a slap kind of guy at this point. That being said, he's not prone to swinging and missing with his current setup, so at least he can put the ball in play. Still, this is a player who looks very little like he will in his finished form offensively. Well, hopefully he doesn't look much like he currently does when he's finished developing; the hitter he is right now is not a hitter who makes it to the big leagues. Oscar Mercado, the Cards' second-round draftee from a few years ago, isn't a bad comp in terms of defensive tools and offensive questions.

He's committed to Ole Miss, and it's apparently a pretty strong commitment (he's a legacy kid there), which is giving teams pause about his signability. If a club manages to buy him away from college, he should move through the minors pretty steadily, based on his glovework alone. If he gets to campus, though, I expect him to spend some time in the weight room, grow up and fill out a little, and be back in the draft as a no-doubt first-rounder in 2019.

via Baseball Factory:

Drew Mendoza, 3B, Lake Minneolla High School (FL)

6'4", 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Feel for hitting, that's what. Drew Mendoza has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the draft this year. It's interesting, how many high school bats there are this year with very good feel for hitting, while the college crop of hitters is full of athletic outfield types with questionable hittability. Usually you would expect something closer to the reverse.

For Mendoza, though, it's that contact and feel that really stands out, as he commonly peppers the gaps and center field with line drives. He rarely turns on the ball, and doesn't create a ton of loft yet, so at the moment his hit tool is much more notable than his power potential, which is relatively modest. There's also the fact he's 6'4" and sub-200 lbs, so this is a kid with quite a lot of growing into his body to do. Perhaps the power is simply 20-30 pounds of extra strength away. Personally, I'm fine with him keeping his current profile, with perhaps just a marginal boost thanks to simple growth. There's a bit of Matt Carpenter to Mendoza, and as a Cardinal fan I'm certainly okay with that.

Defensively, the tools are much more raw. Mendoza has a big arm, more than enough for third base (he pitched in high school, also, and could hit 92), but he plays defense, both at short where he's spent much of his time up until now, and at third, where he'll end up in pro ball more likely than not, in a manner that somewhat suggests an adolescent animal, a deer or giraffe, whose legs have suddenly gotten very long and don't quite work in the way the animal expects as of yet. That's not to say he doesn't have tools defensively; his hands appear fine and, as I said, the arm is a plus. He just doesn't display anything approaching the level of coordination and smoothness in the field he possesses as a hitter.

Sad side note: the advertisement at the beginning of the Drew Mendoza video I'm loading up to embed here is Kolten Wong talking about the print on the Hawaiian jersey the Cardinals are doing as a promo soon, and how the print reflects both his Hawaiian background but also a tribal-specific heritage. It sounds like the marketing wing really got it right on the jersey; sad that Kolten may not be here for his own jersey day. Oof.

Anyhow, back to our regularly-schedule programming, already in progress.

That feel for hitting should serve Mendoza well, whether he turns pro after the draft or heads on to Florida State, where he's committed to attend. Like Kessinger, the college commitment is apparently pretty strong, so there's a bit of a question of signability with Mendoza. The bat is advanced enough I assume he'll get drafted at a point it will be worth his while to turn pro, but it's certainly not a guarantee.

Way back in the early going of this series of draft previews, I wrote about Carter Kieboom, a high school shortstop/third baseman with an outstanding feel for barreling the ball. Mendoza is a remarkably similar player, only hitting from the left side. Both have contact skills and strike-zone awareness in their favour, and both have yet to develop the kind of power you probably expect in the long run as they mature. Taken on balance, I think I still like Kieboom better overall, compared to Mendoza. I think he's a slightly better hitter, and I think the athleticism is a bit more pronounced over at third base. Really, though, they're remarkably similar players, and both possess exciting potential. If both were sitting on the board at, say, 33, though, I would be slightly more inclined to go for Kieboom, I think.

via rkyosh007:

Max Guzman, IF, Osceola High School (FL)

6'0", 215 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

I first came across the name Max Guzman last August, when he put on a show in the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game All-American. He ended up hitting ten dingers in the timed event, and very few of them were cheapies. Andrew Yerzy, the lefty-swinging catcher from Canada, was the guy who stood out in the home run derby held for amateurs coinciding with the Futures Game last summer at the all-star break; a month and a half later it was Guzman knocking everyone's socks off.

Following that event, I looked into Guzman some, found a bad-body slugger with a very intriguing swing, and packed his name away on the 'follow' section of my spreadsheet. And then, of course, didn't actually follow; that column is really just there to remind me of players I found interesting at one point or another.

Well, I have to give a tip of the hat to CardzZilla, who as part of his preparations for running the Cards' mock draft over at Sickels's site reached out to me. In the course of the conversation that followed, he brought up Guzman to me again, and at the very least got me interested enough to go back and take a second, harder look at the kid.

Spoiler alert: I like Guzman quite a bit, and think he could end up a bit of a steal in this year's draft.

Further spoiler alert: there are definite reasons he's not going at the very top of the draft, and we'll get to those in a minute.

The thing that stands out most when it comes to Guzman, as you might expect from a kid who jumped on the scene thanks to a big performance in a home run derby, is the power. He has legit elite-grade power, at least a 70 and maybe better. Huge raw bat speed, and a swing plane seemingly built to put balls in the air. He hits with a big leg kick at pretty much all times, and actually uses it well to maintain balance in his swing. He very rarely gets stuck out on his front foot, and the fact he's strong enough to do damage to center and right field helps him as well, since he doesn't have to sell out to try and pull the ball for power.

Beyond the power, the rest of the hitting profile is very good as well. His swing can get long at times, particularly facing pitchers who try to get him out with offspeed stuff, but even so, he puts the bathead in the zone and keeps it there. How he deals with elite velocity remains to be seen, as he hasn't faced tons of high-octane arms on the showcase circuit the way some players with a longer track record have, but he shouldn't be an all-or-nothing hitter who is only capable of thumping homers but struggles to make contact in general. He's patient and disciplined, as well; even if he doesn't hit for a huge average I think he should be able to get on base at a good clip. In short, this is a very, very good offensive talent, cut from something like the Jose Abreu sort of mold.

So why is this a guy who's not going in the first round? Or the second? Or probably even the third? Well, there are a few reasons, including that shorter track record of showcase events, weaker competition in school, and questions about that swing -- which, again, he doesn't always maintain a good hand path and the like -- translating to the high-octane stuff he's likely to see from top prospects in pro ball. Mostly, though, there's really just one big question. Or one big question, and one smaller question related to it. The big question is the body, and the related question is where Max Guzman is going to play on the diamond.

Guzman is a big kid, and is likely to be a very big man. If he had the body he currently has coming out of college, it might actually be a little less of a concern; there's a difference between being heavy at 21 and heavy at eighteen. One has to be concerned about how well his conditioning is going to hold up, when he's already shown a propensity for packing on the pounds at such a young age. A couple years ago Josh Naylor was the first pick of the Miami Marlins, and he was a bad-body, big offensive upside player from Canada. That kind of player going anywhere near the top of the draft is a marked rarity, though.

To Guzman's credit, he has taken steps to get in better shape, and was relatively open about trying to slim down in an interview this spring. You have to admire both the work ethic and the willingness to honestly assess oneself, but there is a physical component here that's just going to be difficult for him to deal with. Maintaining one's weight when one is predisposed toward packing on the pounds is just plain tough; somewhat paradoxically, it can actually be as tough or even more difficult for an athlete, as in spite of the natural advantages they would seem to have in terms of muscle mass and genetics, they're also limited how severely they can shoot for weight loss, due to having to maintain strength more religiously than the general population.

It's easy to talk about Pablo Sandoval as being simply undisciplined, but what about a player like Miguel Cabrera? Cabrera has a dedication to the craft of baseball most of us can't imagine, and still struggles mightily to keep himself in shape. Guzman may very well get himself into better shape in the short term, hopefully boosting his draft stock, but how well that holds up when he's 22, or 26, or 30, is very much an open question. Of course, looking out that long term is maybe a bit overzealous, but you take my point, I hope.

The attached question of where Guzman plays is a simple fact of his physical build. He moves quite well for a player his size, but there's still the qualifier of 'for a player his size' built in. He's played catcher in the past, has moved mostly to third base, and is more likely than not a future first baseman. Maybe there's a chance he could play third; if a team is willing to try Brett Wallace over there someone will certainly give Guzman a shot. He has the arm for the left side of the infield. But realistically, you're probably talking about a first base profile. And that, of course, puts a heavy burden on the bat to produce.

The good news is, I think there's a very good chance Guzman can produce at a level it won't matter where he plays. I have some concerns about his ability to catch up to top velocity, in spite of his bat speed -- as we've seen with Byung-ho Park of the Twins this year, bat speed and power don't mean you necessarily get the bat there faster, only travelling faster, if that makes any sense -- but I love the approach, and he's going to be able to put balls over walls pretty much anywhere he plays. He's also a true baseball rat, with both a passion for the game and a real drive to succeed, so I believe he'll put in the work to get there.

I wouldn't pick Guzman in the first round, or the second. Probably not the third, either. But I wouldn't shy away from taking him and paying him to turn pro in that 4th-6th round area, at all. He's almost certainly destined for a first base or DH role, and it's probably always going to be a struggle for him to keep his body in top condition. But he can hit. I'm not quite as sold on the bat as I was that of Zack Collins back in 2013, but I'm certain that I would love to have this guy in my system.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

You know, I do have to wonder why the home run derby for these 17-18 year old kids was soundtracked by pretty much nothing but wall-to-wall hair metal butt rock. When Drew Mendoza was hitting his round, Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head (Metal Health)" was playing. (And no, I'm not proud of how quickly I was able to name the song; my childhood as a hair-metal enthusiast is a font of deep, abiding shame.) It's like Perfect Game hired a former Poison roadie to do the setup for their event.

Tyler Fitzgerald, SS, Rochester High School (IL)

6'3", 185 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

For this last spot, I found myself choosing between a couple high school shortstops, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There's Nonie Williams, a home-schooled Kansan with plus speed and a big frame, who already isn't great defensively and will probably end up at third base. There was also Cam Shepherd out of Georgia, with an easy plus on the hit tool but a lack of range and only moderate athleticism that will likely push him over to second. In the end, I decided on the player most likely to stay at short for the long haul, as well as the one with Cardinal ties. Mike Fitzgerald played exactly one season in the big leagues (actually, saying he played exactly one season is probably pushing it; he appeared in 13 games and collected less than 50 total plate appearances), and did so for our very own El Birdos in 1988. That season for the Cardinals was an ugly one; part of that on-off even/odd year schtick the Cards had going on in the mid- to late-80s that the Giants have co-opted the last few years. I don't quite remember Fitzgerald's cup of coffee, in spite of being able to recall how much I loved Luis Alicea (further proof, if any were needed, that kids don't know shit about shit and should not be major league general managers), but it happened. He hit under .200, collected exactly one extra-base hit (a double), and was never heard from again.

I suppose I should say the big leagues never heard from Mike Fitzgerald again; his wife clearly heard from him, at least enough to eventually produce a son, and that son is the shortstop prospect I eventually settled on as the final player to be profiled here today.

Tyler Fitzgerald is big for the position, and while I think he's much more likely to remain a shortstop long-term than either of the other two players I mentioned a moment ago, there is some question about what his body will look like when he's done filling out. He's a more-or-less legit 6'2"-6'3", and it isn't the narrow, wiry frame of a Brendan Ryan. He could just end up getting big, and having to move to third. For my part, though, I think the tools keep him at short for the foreseeable future, and a bat that could develop into something very intriguing for that position.

Fitzgerald is smooth in the field. gliding easily through his paces at short with a relative economy of motion. The arm is a plus, allowing him to make the throw if he can get to the ball, and he actually has above-average speed (for now, at least), that gives him solid range. He doesn't look spectacular at the position, but he looks like he fits. And that is a very good thing.

At the plate, he hits from a somewhat spread-out stance, hands high, and features plus raw bat speed that could translate in above-average power down the road. For now, he only flashes that power from time to time, and has a long way to go before he's anything approaching a consistent hitter. Part of the problem, for me, is that Fitzgerald does a thing Jason Heyward tends to do, also, and simply starts the load in his swing late. It wasn't the only issue I had with Heyward's swing, but it was the one I always wanted to see him change the most. Fitzgerald just doesn't get his hands loaded and into a hitting position as early as I would like to see, leaving him to rush through. His hands are fast enough he can still make it work at least a fair part of the time, but learning to load slightly sooner and get himself into a more consistently powerful position would go a long way toward improving his hitting profile, I believe.

As it stands now, though, Fitzgerald will flash above-average power commensurate with that bat speed at times, and find himself behind fastballs, or swinging under and popping them up, at others. The offensive side of his game needs work, but the tools and potential are there for him to make an impact beyond what the shortstop position often offers.

If Fitzgerald gets a lot bigger, slows down, and is forced to move off short, third would seem the most likely destination. He might be able to play second base, but a too-big-for-short body and a plus arm would suggest a hot corner home. In that case, the pressure on his bat to produce would be greater, but still manageable, certainly. I don't see a need long-term for him to play anything other than a premium position, giving him some floor elevation, and the ceiling could be considerable. He doesn't have the absolute loudest tools of any shortstop prospect in this year's class, but there are definitely tools here that could make an impact.

via 2xturf:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. The end of the 2016 draft preview season, or at least the player-specific portion. I'll be back tomorrow afternoon sometime with a final post heading into the draft itself, with my own favourite players, potential strategies, and things like that to look for on the first night, at least.

Speaking of that first night, the schedule for the draft looks something like this: the preview show will get underway at six p.m. Eastern, with the draft officially kicking off at seven. (That's 6:00 here in the Central time zone.) The whole thing will be televised on MLB Network and streamed via MLB.com. Just so everyone knows, without having to search around for the info.

See you tomorrow, everyone.