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2019 Draft Preview No. 13: Persons of Interest Two — Hitters

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A penultimate draft preview, focusing on some intriguing hitters who will be available after the first round.

Grae Kessinger, SS, Ole Miss

6’2”, 200 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I scouted Grae Kessinger coming out of high school, and he just so happened to be a personal favourite of mine in the Persons of Interest group in 2016. At the time, he was a lanky, rangy athlete who handled shortstop at a reasonable level while showing off tremendous contact ability with a bat in his hands. He felt to me like a bit of an Alex Bregman starter kit, in fact, with maybe a better chance of sticking at short.

Well, three years later, I still like Kessinger, but it’s a little more complicated at this point. In the intervening years, he has filled out and slowed down substantially, and while he’s still playing shortstop right now in college, I’m not confident you want him to do that in pro ball. Second base is probably the best option, considering he doesn’t have a huge throwing arm that would push him toward third instead, but in reality he has more the look of a utility guy who can work mostly up the middle to me. That’s not a bad profile, by any means; it’s just less of a slam dunk than what he looked like coming out of high school.

It’s at the plate, though, where I’m really more conflicted about Kessinger. See, here’s the thing: Grae Kessinger put up some remarkable numbers this spring. He hit over .400 in SEC play, which basically means he hit over .400 against the very best competition college baseball has to offer. He still has fantastic contact ability, pushing his strikeout rate below 10% this season. The problem? I kind of hate Kessinger’s swing.

To be clear, this is a new thing, and I hadn’t really paid enough attention to Kessinger over his college career to have noticed what happened until I started scouting him again this spring. Where Kessinger in high school had a level, line-drive oriented swing, Kessinger now chops down into the ball. His first move with his hands as he moves into his swing is up, and that causes his angle of attack coming toward the ball to be very much high to low. Rather than trying to match the plane of his swing roughly to the descending angle of the pitch coming in, Kessinger swings his bat almost like a tennis player trying to hit a drop shot. The fact he still managed to put up the numbers he did with this swing is a testament to some truly remarkable hand-eye coordination, but it ruins his ability to really hit for any power.

There’s still a lot to like about his offensive profile, for sure, so I don’t want this to sound overly negative. He walked more than he struck out this season after posting essentially a 1:1 K:BB ratio as a sophomore, and he really does have a knack for putting the bat on the ball. Why I would still very much like to see the Cardinals draft Kessinger is essentially because, to my eye, he looks like exactly the kind of hitter you would take if you were looking for a swing change candidate. The contact ability is so good that if you could get him to retool his swing path the sky could be the limit, I believe. And then you might really have that Alex Bregman starter kit I thought I saw three years ago.

via Baseball.:

Jake Mangum, OF, Mississippi State

6’1”, 185 lbs; Switch/Left

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I’m tired of scouting Jake Mangum at this point. I wrote him up two years ago as a draft-eligible sophomore, and he was drafted by the Yankees in the 30th round. He didn’t sign. I wrote him up last year as a standard-issue junior draftee, and he was drafted by the Mets in the 32nd round. He didn’t sign.

Now, here we are, Jake Mangum as the rare thrice-eligible college senior, and I don’t want to write him up any more. Okay? So whatever other New York team there is, please just draft him and sign him so I can be done.

The strange thing is this: Mangum has never had a major injury, which is what usually is going on in these cases where you see a player drafted multiple times but not signing. He’s also not changed appreciably as a player over his college career, which is the other thing you occasionally see. Jake Mangum is the same guy now he was two years ago (though admittedly he struggled his sophomore season, which had a lot to do with him falling so far in the draft), and the same guy he was last year.

Which means that, in a nutshell, here is his game: Jake Mangum is very fast, possibly a 70 grade runner, and makes a lot of contact. He does not walk. He has very little power. He is stealing bases at a fantastic clip this spring, more so than in the past, and his defense in center field looks like it could be above-average. He’s got a big throwing arm, having hit 93 from the mound as a pitcher a couple years ago.

I like Jake Mangum. King of Carrot Flowers is an amazing song, and as a slap-and-dash center fielder with good control over the strike zone he has a fairly high floor. Maybe the best thing about him this year, as opposed to in the past, is the fact he is a college senior, and as such could very well represent a player that shouldn’t break the bank in terms of a signing bonus, allowing a team extra maneuverability in terms of how and where they allocate their available pool of cash to sign some overslot guys elsewhere.

via HailState:

Kyren Paris, SS, Freedom High School (CA)

6’0”, 165 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Kyren Paris isn’t the most tooled-up prospect in the draft this year, particularly considering the demographic he represents — high school shortstops — but he has one of the most well-rounded games of any player on the board, and is one of the very youngest to boot.

If you’re looking for an easy comp for Paris, I would look no further than a former Cardinal first-rounder: Pete Kozma. Now, maybe that doesn’t sound so great, considering how frustrating it was to watch Pete Kozma not hit, but it’s also important to remember that Pete Kozma, for all his failings, was an above-average defender at one of the two toughest positions on the field, a plus runner, and coming out of high school had shown high-level offensive ability, which unfortunately just never really showed up in pro ball.

To be clear, I think Kyren Paris has a better chance to hit in pro ball than Kozma did. Paris’s swing isn’t my favourite; he loads his hands up closer to his head than I would prefer, and he’s out on his front foot more than I like. In other words, some swing tweaking is in order. However, he has excellent bat-to-ball ability, enough wiry strength in his frame I think there’s more power in there than has yet shown up, and good balance overall in his swing. He’s mostly a gap-to-gap hitter, which is fine given he’s not a huge power threat, and understands the strike zone very well for a player so young.

In the field, I have no qualms about projecting Paris as a shortstop long term, and I believe a very good one at that. He’s very smooth in the field, and has enough of a base of tools he could play any of the three infield positions. In short, he does a little bit of everything, is an above-average athlete overall, and won’t turn eighteen until November. I already comp’d him to a former Cardinal first-rounder; now let me comp him to another: Dylan Carlson. Paris is similarly young as Carlson was coming out of high school, and has a similar kind of game in that he does pretty much everything well, with the whole standing out as greater than the sum of the parts. Paris has had some helium this spring, so I’m not sure how high in the draft he’ll actually go. Second round would seem to be a good spot for him, but if you could get him in the third it would be a coup.

via 2080 Baseball:

Drew Millas, C, Missouri State

6’2”, 205 lbs; Switch/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Switch-hitting catchers are one of the rarest commodities in all of baseball, and that’s exactly what Drew Millas is. Interestingly, though, that’s one of the things about him I’m least enamoured of, and I say that as someone who is a huge fan of Millas as a player overall.

See, here’s the thing: Drew Millas kind of just can’t hit right-handed. Like, he looks okay swinging a bat from the right side, but he just sort of sucks at actually hitting from that side. Personally, I think he would be better off abandoning that side entirely, focusing on having the platoon advantage most of the time, rather than all the time, and taking one thing off his plate. Catchers have their focus pulled in so many directions anyway that switch-hitting seems like a bridge too far if the player isn’t incredibly naturally talented from both sides of the plate, and Millas is not that.

In fact, he’s actually had a tough season this spring at the plate in general. He’s tried to hit for more power, it seems, but has only succeeded in swinging and missing. A lot. As a sophomore, he was a much better hitter, and had a much better approach to the craft of hitting overall. Again, I feel like eliminating his weaker side and maybe readjusting his approach would benefit him greatly.

On the other hand, I have absolutely no qualms, doubts, megrims, or concerns about Drew Millas behind the plate. He is one of the more athletic catchers you will ever see back there, and he moves around remarkably well. He’s an average runner, above-average for a catcher, and just has that natural spring in his legs in the crouch that the best catchers seem to have. The throwing arm is a plus as well, allowing him to post 1.8 second pop times pretty regularly.

The fact Drew Millas is a switch-hitting catcher puts a certain picture in one’s mind, I think. Most guys of that ilk are offense-first players who are only wearing the gear because they don’t fit many other positions well but have certain skills that keep them from being relegated to first base duty entirely. Millas is a very different animal, however, and brings high-level defensive tools that, along with some potential as a hitter (particularly if he gave up hitting from the right, I believe), could make him a very exciting player.

Oh, and he was also born in St. Louis and grew up in Belleville. Bring him home.

via D1Baseball.com:

Cameron Warren, 1B, Texas Tech

6’3”, 220 lbs; Right/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Cameron Warren can really hit. Boom. Scouting report over.

Okay, I’ll elaborate a bit. Cam Warren is a college senior this year, meaning he could be a bonus-pool-saving pick (I’m trying not to say money saving, because I don’t care about teams saving money, but when you’re talking about a finite bonus pool I have to bring it up), and can really hit. Basically, Cam Warren has some Luke Voit to his game, and has beaten up on Big 12 competition this spring to a pretty absurd degree. Commenter g h, who definitely knows his draft shit, brought Warren up a few weeks ago as an alternative to Mike Toglia, the UCLA first baseman who will almost certainly go in the first two rounds, and it was a point very well made. Cameron Warren has a pretty limited game, and most definitely is not selling any jeans, as they say, but the thing he does is hit, and he does that exceptionally well.

It’s above-average raw power for Warren, and he gets to it in games pretty consistently. Even better, his power isn’t only to the pull side, and he doesn’t have to sell out to get out front. He can hit the ball out to right field just as well as he can left, which is always a huge positive indicator of future success to my eye. He’s gotten better at managing the strike zone every year of his college career, and this year walked almost one and a half times as often as he struck out. He’s not as patient a hitter as some of the real on-base monsters of college baseball (Adley Rutschman come on down), but he is very willing to work a walk if a pitcher doesn’t give him anything to hit.

Aside from the bat, Warren doesn’t really offer a ton. He’s a below-average athlete, is fine defensively at first but nothing to write home about (unless your family is way into bad-bodied first base types, I suppose, in which case hello Grandma Voit), and isn’t much of a runner. What you’re buying with Cameron Warren is the bat, and the bat is very promising. Again, Luke Voit is a really easy, but also really good, comp here I think. Warren is a very limited player, and probably fits best in an organisation with the DH available to it, but he might also be the best bet of any college senior this year to contribute something at the big league level, or at least of any senior hitter. The lower price tag only makes him more attractive.

via Baseball Census:

Jake Sanford, 1B/OF, Western Kentucky

6’2”, 205 lbs; Left/Right

So, what’s so great about this guy?

I’ve saved my favourite player of this batch for last. Jake Sanford is one of the more impressive athletes in the entire draft this year, and the only reason he’s not a slam-dunk first-rounder, in my opinion, is the accident of where he was born.

See, Sanford is Canadian. Now, Canada has produced plenty of baseball players, even really great ones. Being Canadian is not the kiss of death as far as getting noticed it once was, where you had to literally be Larry Walker talented to make it. However, Sanford is not just from Canada; he’s from Nova Scotia, which is in no way, shape, or form a baseball hotbed. To be fair, he was nowhere near the athlete coming out of high school he is now, but even so, we’re basically talking about a kid trying to get noticed as a baseball player in the middle of nowhere. Even as advanced as we are, there are areas that just don’t get scouted much.

So Sanford came to the States following high school enrolling at a community college for two years and playing baseball. He then transferred to Western Kentucky, and proceeded to win the Triple Crown this year in Conference USA, the first player ever to do so in that conference’s history. In other words, Jake Sanford might literally be Larry Walker talented.

The first thing that stands out about Sanford is the body, which is pretty impressive. He looks like a 3-4 outside linebacker, and moves like one as well. He’s at least a 60 runner, maybe a touch better, and would probably be able to handle center field in pro ball at a reasonable level. For my money, he’s a better fit in a corner, but the speed at least is there.

Even more impressive than the speed, though, is the power. Sanford has some of the best raw power in the draft, and he can hit the ball out to any area of the park, though he is admittedly a pull-heavy hitter in terms of approach. Plus speed, plus-plus power, and what looks to me like a very good glove in the outfield. What’s not to like?

Well, to be fair, there are some things not to like. His throwing arm reportedly sucks, but that’s pretty nitpicky. (I don’t think I’ve actually seen him have to make a throw that really required any oomph.) On the other hand, his approach is still fairly raw, and he’s got some definite swing and miss to his game. That...is less nitpicky. Cold weather players obviously have some built-in disadvantages, and it’s always tough to decide when they stop getting credit for that in terms of projection. It may be that Sanford just is what he is at this point, and he’s always going to be a higher strikeout hitter. On the other hand, hitters are proving to be much more malleable these days than I think we ever really believed before, considering the advancements in training and teaching, so maybe a guy who had to fight his way out of Nova Scotia to an American juco to Conference USA isn’t quite done developing just yet.

This is the kind of player you draft if you want to end up with Cody Bellinger a few years down the line. I’m not saying Sanford is that guy. I’m saying he’s the type of guy you draft if that’s what you’re looking for.

By which I mean, draft Jake Sanford.

via brady heinz:

Something is going wrong with the video embedding right now. I’ll come back and add Warren and Sanford vids later.