The major league draft is less than a week away, friends; by this time next week we’ll have two days of the draft already in the books and be preparing for the absurd day three sprint covering the final 30 rounds.
With that fact in mind, I’m not going to beat around the bush today with a bunch of preliminaries. Rather, I’m just going to write up a bunch of players I find intriguing for one reason or another, rapid fire style. No theme, no groupings; types are going to be all jumbled up here.
Sam Keating, RHP, Canterbury HS (Florida)
One of my personal favourite high school righthanders in this draft, Keating has some helium heading into the draft as his velocity was up this spring, which isn’t surprising for an eighteen year old kid with plenty of filling out to still do.
Keating has the short righthander thing working against him (he’s 6’1”), but also has outstanding run on a fastball that sits in the low 90s now, working from a low 3⁄4 armslot. He backs up the heat with a really intriguing changeup for a high schooler, with wicked tumble at times (though he telegraphs the pitch pretty often), and an average slider that might be more in time. It’s a little soft, but there’s promising spin in the arm.
The arm action itself is a little long in the back, but far better to be long in the back than an elbow lifter or something; his timing is really quite good. He’s not big enough to comp to the high school version of Max Scherzer, but the low arm slot and running action on the heater brings a little Jake Peavy into the picture. Keating is one of the more raw high school arms in the top five rounds, but he’s also one of the most exciting, I think.
via Matt Czechanski:
Baron Radcliff, OF, Norcross HS (Georgia)
Speaking of raw, Baron Radcliff is a two-sport beast of an athlete from a Georgia high school who will probably have to go fairly high to stay away from a Georgia Tech scholarship. He’s built like a man already, and has big time power, but there’s a whole lot of swing and miss to his game at this point. Radcliff appears committed to baseball regardless of whether he goes pro or collegiate, so it’s encouraging he has that kind of passion for the game. Like most two-sport guys, he needs a lot of refining, but there’s great raw material here. Probably a high strikeout guy even with refinement, the power upside could be enough to make him a star if he can develop some patience at the plate down the road.
Charlie Barnes, LHP, Clemson
A 3⁄4 slot left-hander with excellent offspeed stuff but a fastball that tops out around 90-91, Barnes is every inch the prototypical crafty lefty. Depending on the day one sees him, Barnes could have as many as three offspeed pitches worth 55 grades, with his changeup the most consistent. His curve and slider both have their moments as well, but he needs more work keeping the two separated and distinct so as to avoid slurvedom. Still, you catch Barnes in the right outing, and you might see a guy with three above-average pitches he can fool hitters with.
The bad news is the fastball just doesn’t have the kind of oomph to make Barnes a star, even with very solid complementary pitches. It’s possible he could end up with 60 grade command, at which point maybe the outlook might have to be upgraded a touch, but it’s just tough to really project more than a #4 ceiling for a guy starting off with a lack of velocity. Still, he comps reasonably well to Marco Gonzales, I think, and I might like Barnes better in that similar mold. Marco’s changeup is better, but Barnes has more present weapons and a little better feel overall.
Cole Brannen, OF, Westfield HS (Georgia)
I wish I had written up Brannen earlier, because he just happens to be one of my favourite high school bats in the class this year, fitting in with the speedy group of high-ceiling athletes I profiled a while back. In fact, he was initially in a couple different groups I was planning on writing up, and I ended up just missing putting him in multiple times.
The swing is a little stiff, but there’s significant raw power potential in Brannen’s 6’1” frame. It’s hard to project any more than 20 homer power at his peak, and even that isn’t a sure thing, but there’s enough bat speed one can at least dream even higher.
The best news of all is that wherever you set the home run ceiling, be it 15, 20, or even 30, you could say there’s a reasonable chance of Brannen being a 15/15, 20/20, or 30/30 guy. The speed is a legit 65/70, and even as he fills out the body just has the look of an athlete. I believe a couple weeks ago I described Mason House as a J.D. Drew starter kit; on further reflection, that probably overstated House’s speed by a fair bit. I always forget just how remarkable an athlete Drew was initially. Brannen really fits the bill even better, capable of swiping 30+ bags a season if his instincts and timing develop well. That speed also makes him a plus center fielder, one with a big arm to boot. Brannen is very much a complete package of tools, just waiting to blossom into skills.
via Brian Sakowski:
Brent Rooker, 1B, Mississippi State
One of the stranger offensive forces in the draft this year, the fact I haven’t yet written about Rooker is a real oversight on my part. He would have fit perfectly next to Evan White, the hyper athletic first base prospect out of Kentucky, given how similar Rooker is.
You don’t often see first basemen leading their conferences in stolen bases, but Rooker nearly did this season, coming just two steals short of a 20/20 season in the SEC. I’m not sure I buy him keeping quite that level of athleticism down the line, but for now Rooker shows at least average tools across the board, with the power standing out a little above the rest.
Given a choice between the similar profiles of White and Rooker, I would choose Evan White. Whereas Rooker is average or a tick above in all tools, White is a legit plus runner and could have a 65-70 glove at first base. As far as offensive production, though, it’s tough to ignore Rooker’s .395/.498/.827 line this spring, playing in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball.
On the downside, Rooker is one of the oldest college juniors in the draft, and none of his tools are spectacular, even the power. He also lacks the potential positional flexibility of White, though left field certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for Rooker, as he does move well for his size.
Drew Ellis, 3B/1B, Louisville
Drew Ellis isn’t a standout athlete, and it’s an open question whether he’ll be able to play third base at even a basic, acceptable level in pro ball. On the other hand, Drew Ellis can really hit, and that gives him a chance to make it no matter what position he plays.
It’s a 55/55 hit/power package down the road, I think, with very good command of the strike zone to boot. Ellis posted a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio this season, and he wasn’t taking advantage of weak competition, either. The ACC might be even better than the SEC right now. (Probably is, in fact.) Solid swing, very good balance, good bat speed...there’s really not much to quibble with when it comes to offense with Drew Ellis. The fact he is so athletically limited, bringing no real speed to the table or any kind of positional versatility, puts a lot of pressure on the bat to produce. I think he can hit enough to get at least to the high minors, but I do question whether he’ll get to that big league starter status.
via 2080 Baseball:
Bryce Bonnin, RHP, Barbers Hill HS (Texas)
Bonnin is a bit of a pop-up guy this spring, having shown a velocity uptick this year he didn’t have last year during the showcase season. A six foot righty with a bunch of moving parts in his delivery sitting 88 and hitting 90 goes to school; a six foot righty with a bunch of moving parts in his delivery sitting 92 and touching 95 is a slightly different animal.
That velocity spike is nice, but the most intriguing thing about Bonnin might be his breaking ball. He is possessed of one of the more electric high school sliders in the draft this year, a big, slurvy downer he gets tons of swings and misses with but doesn’t really command inside the zone very well yet. The changeup barely exists, which isn’t a problem for a high-schooler, but the control is also pretty shaky, so there’s a chance he still gets to campus (Arkansas commit), this fall to try and refine his game further.
You never want to look at a high school kid and limit him to a relief ceiling, but I look at the slight build, the risky delivery, and the dynamic two-pitch mix, and I can’t help but see Scot Shields.
via Brian Sakowski:
Ernie Clement, SS, Virginia
Okay, let’s start with the bad: Ernie Clement is most likely not a shortstop long term. He’s a solid athlete, but the range is just a little short, and the arm is just averageish. He has slightly above-average speed, but he’s not a burner and probably won’t be an impactful basestealer.
Now, the good news: Ernie Clement can hit. In fact, Ernie Clement might be one of the most remarkable contact hitters we’ve seen come out of college in quite some time. Playing for a Virginia program with a well-earned reputation for featuring tons of high-contact hitters, Clement manages to stand out.
Clement came to bat 285 times this spring for the Cavaliers. In those 285 plate appearances, he struck out seven times. No, that’s not a typo, and you didn’t misread it.
Seven. That’s a 2.5% strikeout rate. He doesn’t hit for power, and he doesn’t walk. (Although he did post a 2:1 BB:K ratio this spring, thanks to the 2.5% K part of that ratio.) What he does is make contact with anything and everything.
Maybe Clement moves around the infield, maybe he ends up a starter at second base, maybe he improves little by little and actually manages to play a passable shortstop. I wouldn’t bet on it, but it’s possible. Regardless of where he plays, though, any player with a skillset as extreme as his is going to be fascinating to follow.
Dylan Busby, 3B, Florida State
Dylan Busby has some of the bigger raw power of any hitter on the college side this year; the problem is that power comes with quite a bit of swing and miss, and not a great approach at the plate to boot.
The offensive issues for Busby, I think, stem from not so good swing mechanics, as he barely loads his hands at all and seems to start his swing later than is optimal, in a somewhat Heywardesque fashion. That said, he has tremendous hand speed, able to drive balls to all parts of the field with authority when he makes contact, and has a very high ceiling. For me, though, I think a team could rebuild Busby’s swing and turn him from a 4-6 round talent into a second rounder.
The rest of Busby’s tools are solid, with his arm rating a 55 and everything else probably sitting right around 50. I think he sticks at third base long term, which certainly helps raise his floor, but that’s not a guarantee. Overall, I think Busby’s draft stock could hinge on what a team sees in him, and what they think their player development department could do. He’s an interesting player now, but there’s better in him he hasn’t yet shown, if a club were willing to work to get at it.
via 2080 Baseball:
Hugh Fisher, LHP, Briarcrest Christian HS (Tennessee)
Way back at the beginning of the year, when I was still planning on trying to write as many draft posts as I normally do, I covered a trio of left-handed pitchers. Among the three was Gore McKenzie, a lefty with an amazingly athletic delivery and one of the better high school changeups you’ll ever see. At the time, he was my favourite left-handed pitcher in the draft, and the guy I was most hoping to see fall to the Cardinals.
Well, since that time, McKenzie has raised his stock to a ridiculous degree, and now appears a lock to go somewhere in the first 15-20 picks, so no more dreams of Gore McKenzie in a Cardinal uniform for me.
Therefore, I now introduce to you Hugh Fisher, my new fondest left-handed wish for the Cardinals.
Like Jake Eder, another high school lefty I covered not too long ago (like him, but don’t love him), Fisher is a Vanderbilt commit, and so presents a bit of a dilemma for a club in the Cards’ position. I don’t know how hard a commitment that is, but considering how limited the Redbirds’ draft budget will be this year, any overage at all might be too much.
On the other hand, there’s enough talent with Fisher that shuffling your draft board might very well make sense. He’s pretty raw, still, compared to some of the top high school pitchers in the draft this year, but possesses more velocity from the left side than nearly any other hurler, and isn’t really having to do too much weird stuff with his arm to get there. He has touched 95 with his fastball, and gets good plane on the pitch in the Michael Wacha fashion. (As in there isn’t a ton of sink, but the ball is delivered high to low in terms of angle.) There’s a pretty decent changeup in there, as well, which Fisher sells with his arm speed but could use more movement.
The most interesting pitch for Fisher, though, has to be his curveball, which as it stands right now isn’t all that good. He doesn’t commit to the pitch. It’s a fairly common issue for young pitchers; they fear breaking off a curve or slider with conviction, because they don’t yet have the feel for the pitch, nor the trust they can bounce it and not have the pitch get through the catcher and to the backstop. So for many high school kids, the curve is as much about gravity as it is real spin, and Fisher falls into that camp much of the time. Every once in awhile, though, he’ll actually pull down on a curve, commit to throwing it, and the results are fantastic. He threw a couple last fall in a showcase that looked like 65 grade offerings; the challenge will be to help him harness the spin he naturally possesses in his arm.
The arm action is good, but the delivery itself is a little jerky and could use smoothing out. Fisher is a raw talent, but he’s as talented as any hurler in the class.
via Perfect Game Baseball:
Je’Von Ward, OF, Gahr HS (California)
Finally today, is anyone here interested in a project? Well, if you raised your hand, then you’re in luck. Because have I got a project for you.
Je’Von Ward is one of the most tooled-up youngsters in the draft this year, and the payoff for a club willing to take him in the top five rounds and really commit to developing him could be huge. Could be.
Ward is huge 6’5”, and fast. He’s also skinny (185-190 lbs), and extremely raw. Tons of movement in his swing, the plane isn’t yet at all consistent, and while he’s very patient at the plate (or at least appeared to be at Area Codes and the like last year), he doesn’t yet have a great feel for when to attack and when to be patient. However, that inherent patience is, to me, a very good sign; a player willing to take what the game gives him and not try to force something good to happen is starting from a much better place, in my opinion, than one who goes up to the plate always looking to attack and bend the game to his will.
The speed, patience, power potential in the frame, all come together to form a package that, to my eye, looks like a really good Gregory Polanco starter kit. And while Polanco has had an up and down start to his career, it’s impossible not to look at the occasional flashes of brilliance he brings to the table and think he might be on the verge of ascending to a new plateau.
If Ward maintains his speed as he fills out, he can handle center field without a problem. If he slows down significantly, maybe he slides over to a corner. For my money, though, he could play any outfield position, probably at an impactful level, and his ceiling if the bat develops the way it could is just huge. Of course, there’s also the chance that just doesn’t happen; Ward is absolutely a project, and a risk. But in a draft full of pitching but light on impact bats, Je’Von Ward could look like an absolutely steal a few years down the road for a patient, smart organisation.