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2015 Draft Preview No. 8: Polished Diamonds (As In Players On The)

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College infielders! Getcha college infielders heeyah!

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, all. I'm in a terrible hurry today, having not done any of this work ahead of time and just getting started on this piece at...6:54 am central. That doesn't give me a whole lot of time to write up this particular trio of scouting reports, and while I know what I'm going to say about each player in a general sort of way, I don't have a specific outline to follow or anything, so this is going to be a bit of a rush job on the reports themselves.

What we have here today is a trio of college players, middle infielders all. I originally thought to include a third baseman in here, but decided three players up the middle matches up better thematically than two middle guys and one corner player, particularly when the skillset of the third baseman in question is fairly dramatically different from the other two players I was covering. So, Kevin Newman comes in, and a mystery player to be covered at a later date was taken out. Interesting side note: looking at my list of players I've taken at least a preliminary look at, third base is a ridiculously dark position in this year's draft. It's kind of hard to believe, honestly. (Catcher is also extremely barren.)

Anyhow, enough preamble; let's just jump straight in to the information you came here for this Wednesday morning, shall we? (He asked, pretending anyone ever talks about his draft previews in the comments....)

Richie Martin, SS, Florida

6'0", 185 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

He's a shortstop, basically.

By which I mean, of course, Richie Martin is a player who plays shortstop right now, and will, in all likelihood, contine to play that position in the future. Sure, the Cardinals have the amazing Jhonny Peralta manning shortstop right now, but think back to the seasons before he got here. Remember what shortstop was like for we Redbird fans in, say, 2011? Remember when Ryan Theriot wasn't a joke about things being whatever those things are? Remember when he was an actual player? Do you remember how horrible life was then?

The thing is, shortstop is a tough position to fill. Aside from catcher, which presents its own challenges, unique enough to set the players who take the position on apart from the normal defensive spectrum almost entirely, shortstop is the single toughest spot on the diamond to fill. So when you see a player like Martin, with virtually no doubt as to his future position, it's a relatively safe bet to say that player will have plenty of value.

Which isn't to say Martin has no tools other than positional adjustment on his side; far from it. The same fleetness of foot that makes him a solid-average to plus defender plays on the bases as well, giving him at least one useful offensive tool. His arm is a plus, his hands are soft, and he should end up adding real value to whatever team he plays on in pro ball at the shortstop position. He also hit the holy hell out of the baseball last summer in the Cape Cod League, which was incredibly exciting to see.

The problem is Martin hasn't hit the holy hell out of the ball at any other point in time, and it's likely he's not going to, either. He has very, very little power potential, and while you might look at the height/weight ratio listed and think there's room for a bit more size, his is not a frame that looks like it could handle much more weight, certainly not without slowing down and becoming bulky. He's shown a fair amount of patience in college, more than willing to work a walk if he doesn't get the pitch he wants, but the lack of functional strength in his swing makes me wonder if pro-level pitchers aren't going to simply knock the bat out of his hands, unafraid to challenge him straight out given how unlikely he is to do real damage at the plate. He has solid enough contact skills, but that real lack of thump is going to be a limiting factor for him in a big way.

Martin is sort of like the college version of Oscar Mercado. If you're drafting Martin, you're looking at the slick glove (though he lacks quite the capacity for spectacular plays Mercado showed coming in to the draft), and choosing to accept the very limited offensive upside as the price to be paid for a player so far over at the good end of the defensive spectrum. He won't strike out a ton, but pitchers aren't going to be afraid to attack him, and I'm not sure he'll ever be enough a of a threat with the bat to keep them honest.

However, he most definitely is a shortstop, and just how valuable that is on its own is a question teams are all going to have to mull over when placing Martin on their respective draft boards.

via Secondary Lede:

Dansby Swanson, SS/2B, Vanderbilt

6'0", 190 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Wouldn't it be classy and kind of awesome to have a guy named Dansby on your team? Of course it would!

Dansby Swanson is one of the most well-rounded players in the entire 2015 draft, as his is a game without any glaring holes, and a hit tool that could very well make him a premium player down the road. He's playing shortstop this season at Vandy after playing second his first two years with the program, and so far the results have been at least mildly encouraging. Personally, I'm still fairly skeptical of Swanson at short; I think it's much more likely he ends up playing the same position in the pros at which he's spent most of his college days, mostly because I don't think the arm really plays on the left side of the infield, but over on the second base side I think he could be a plus defender. He has excellent lateral quickness and good hands, and while the arm isn't all that impressive in terms of strength, Swanson is one of the more dependable, steadier defenders you're going to see among the college ranks.

At the plate is where things start to get really interesting for Swanson, as he brings an outstanding line drive approach and an ability to plug the gaps to go along with a solid understanding of the strike zone. He's a doubles machine, to Matt Carpenterian levels, which could allow him to post above-average slugging numbers in pro ball even without possessing great raw power. He goes to the opposite field as well as any hitter in this year's class, just as capable of slicing a double down the right field line as he is plugging the left-center gap. He runs well also, probably a 60 runner right now, and could swipe 25 bases a year without any trouble at all, I believe.

For whatever it's worth, Swanson's makeup gets off the charts reviews, and just in watching him you get the feeling he has the drive to be special. I hate scouting things like that -- or even bringing them up for the most part, since I don't have the kind of access to really get to know these players -- but in the case of Swanson it's such an overwhelmingly positive note that I feel almost obligated to bring it up.

There are no real holes in Dansby Swanson's game. He runs, he fields, he definitely hits. The one knock I can come up with is I doubt his ability to play on the left side of the infield due to a pretty mediocre arm, but that's a pretty damned mild complaint, all things considered.

It's inevitable, I suppose, that Swanson gets compared pretty regularly to Alex Bregman, the other big-name middle infielder in the SEC, and to a somewhat lesser degree to Richie Martin. I covered Bregman all the way back in one of the early editions of the draft reports this year, as part of my positional player favourites; I suppose you can guess what I think of Bregman vs Swanson considering one ended up in a post with the word 'favourites' in the title and one didn't, but that doesn't mean I don't like Dansby Swanson. In fact, I like him a whole lot. He's probably never going to hit for Dustin Pedroia-like power numbers (although Fenway does have a way of doing funny things to player's numbers), but I could actually see a similarity. When he was at his best, Pedroia added value by being good at absolutely everything across the board; if Swanson is to become a productive major leaguer it will likely be in the same broad-base-of-quality-production sort of way.

I know we all like Kolten Wong here, but if Dansby Swanson happened to be sitting on the board when it's the Cardinals turn to pick in June, I would love to hear his name called.

via rkyosh007:

(Side note: those are some of the greatest uniforms I've ever seen in my life.)

Kevin Newman, SS/2B, University of Arizonaa

6'1", 180 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Kevin Newman can really hit. At least, from a numbers perspective he can really hit; he won back to back Cape Cod League batting titles, and we all know how much stock the Cardinals put in players who have success on the cape.

I say he can hit from a numbers perspective because this is a player whose offensive abilities are perhaps a little overstated by the raw numbers, and a little scouting perspective is really needed to explain why the really great numbers Newman has put up so far may not be the best indicators of what he will be in the future.

First things first: Kevin Newman does, in fact, have very good contact skills. He rarely swings and misses, and does a nice job of not expanding the strike zone to do opposing pitchers any favours. You don't win back to back batting titles in the most competitive, most prestigious college summer league there is if you don't have a penchant for putting the ball in play with pretty remarkable consistency. So that's a very, very good thing.

Now for the bad things. The things that don't necessarily show up in the stat line. While Newman has a knack for making solid contact and putting the ball in play on a line or on the ground, he has absolutely zero power, even just of the extra base hit variety. Where Dansby Swanson is a doubles machine, Newman is strictly singles all the way down, which both depresses his value with the bat and also causes me to worry that, much like Richie Martin, pitchers at the highest levels of baseball are going to be able to challenge and simply overpower Newman down the road. He isn't particularly fast, either; he might be a tick above-average as a runner, but it isn't the kind of premium speed you might expect from a middle of the diamond athlete, and stolen bases aren't really a part of Newman's game. That batted-ball profile that gives him high BABIP numbers doesn't lend itself to greater power, even if he were to add functional strength to his frame; ground balls with slightly more oomph behind them are still ground balls and fairly unlikely to land somewhere over an outiflelder's head unless that first bounce was a real doozy.

On the defensive side of things, Newman is not, to my eye, a very good candidate to play shortstop in the middle or long term. Neither his range nor his arm stand out; neither is a strong enough carrying tool to make up for the other's weakness. I don't see him at third base, either, given my doubts about his arm strength, so it's likely second base or bust for Newman. Which, of course, isn't the end of the world; second base is still a premium position, and it certainly doesn't hurt to have options to play in the middle of the diamond. Still, given my questions about Newman's offensive upside, you would like to see a guy capable of adding big time value with the glove, and I'm not sure he's really that guy either.

So what we have is a player who main skill consists of posting a relatively empty but quite high batting average but who lacks any sort of power, much in the way of speed, and whose arm strength hurts his case as any sort of five tool player.

In other words, if you took Jon Jay, made him a righty instead of a lefty, and stuck him at second base, you would have Kevin Newman. Which isn't the worst thing in the world, obviously; Jon Jay is a perfectly cromulent contributor to the ball club. But if I'm spending a relatively high draft pick on a player with that skillset, well, I'm probably not spending a relatively high draft pick on a player with that skillset, if that makes any sense.

And with that, I will call this quite late draft preview post good and end it right here. I'll speak to you all soon.