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2015 Draft Preview No. 13: The Ceiling Report, Again

Three players who put the 'Exciting' in, "Excitingly high upside," scouted and vetted and presented just for you.

Ryan Howard, whom I have been told hails from St. Louis. Has anyone else heard this?
Ryan Howard, whom I have been told hails from St. Louis. Has anyone else heard this?
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

A couple things before we jump in to the scouting reports.

First off, I'll be doing a radio spot tomorrow in Philadelphia with Michael Cerio, whose show (From the Phans, to be specific), I've done quite a few times before. As I doubt many of you are in the Philly market, I'll just link to Cerio's page, where you can listen to the archived version if you like sometime. If you do happen to be in the Philadelphia area, the show is on 98.1 HD-4 every Thursday at 3 pm ET. Shameless self-promotion over.

Second, I fully expect the Cardinals to explore every internal option they have to fill in for Adam Wainwright this season, and I think that's absolutely the right move. There are solution I would support from a long-term perspective that would cost the team big money (*cough* David Price *cough*), but throwing young talent at another organisation like the Phils or someone else to try and bring in an immediate replacement for Waino is not a very good idea, I don't believe. Still, even with Marco Gonzales and Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons and Zach Petrick and whoever else the club might want to throw at the problem this year, it seems somewhat likely there may be a real need for innings before the season is over. And in that case, might I suggest to the Cardinals that bringing Dan Haren back after all these years might be an ideal solution. Haren certainly isn't the pitcher he once was at this point -- his long-running vulnerability to giving up home runs has become an even bigger issue the last couple years -- but if you're looking for a pitcher who consistently delivers a bulk of innings, year after year after year, then Danny Haren is probably your guy.

Now, what the Marlins would want for Haren I don't know, as dealing with Miami always seems like a complete roulette spin in terms of how reasonable they're going to be, but it's looking, at least in the early going, as if the club may not be going where they want this season, and Haren was sort of an odd, possibly-retiring throw-in in another deal anyway. It would be at least worth the call, I think, and perhaps the karmic balancing effects of bringing Haren back home a decade after one of the more disastrous trades I can recall would propel him to something resembling a fountain of youth-type performance.

Third, I've received a couple emails this spring from people looking for an easy way to find all these draft posts in one place. As of right now, there isn't a single easy place to pull them all up together, but I'll link them all here for anyone who might be interested in going back and reviewing things. I'll do the same thing again right before the draft, as part of my final wrap-up on all the guys I've seen and who I like going in, etc. For now, I hope this helps those of you who have asked about it.

  1. Part Zero -- returning from 2014
  2. Part Zero point One -- returning in general
  3. Part One -- favourite arms
  4. Part Two -- favourite positions
  5. Part Three -- college bats
  6. Part Four -- short college RHP
  7. Part Five -- high school RHP
  8. Part Six -- high school middle infielders
  9. Part Seven -- college RHP
  10. Part Eight -- college infielders
  11. Part Nine -- high ceiling high school pitchers
  12. Part Ten -- high school outfielders
  13. Part Eleven -- high school catchers
  14. Part Twelve -- college LHP
In compiling that list, I just realised I've already covered Andrew Suarez, the left-handed pitcher from Miami, twice this year, both just last week and way back almost at the beginning, in that second post of players returning to the draft pool. I'm relieved to see I had basically the same opinions on him both times; I would be very upset with myself if I had changed my tune based on how I felt a given day or having seen him one way or another recently. But, I still kind of can't believe I didn't remember already writing him up. I have a big list of names that I make up in the fall of players to follow, and then I add to it as I go through this process. When I cover a player, I move him over to my spreadsheet of guys I've already written up; Suarez didn't get moved to that second list, and so was still on my to-do list of players. Frustrating.

Anyhow, enough of that. Here are scouting reports. The players have huge upsides. Two are pitchers, one is a hitter. Let's rock.

Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (Pennsylvania)

6'5", 205 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Mike Nikorak has all the tools and pure stuff to be an absolute monster. He throws hard, sitting 92-95 and reaching into the upper 90s at times, boasts a hammer curveball that calls to mind Justin Verlander at his late-aughts best, and a changeup that, well, exists. I'm sure you're all aware, having read so many of these scouting reports over the years, just how rare it is a changeup is more than a nascent offering, a show-me pitch at best, for a high school pitcher. It's just the nature of things. My rule of thumb over the years has become: if I've seen a high school pitcher throw at least two identifiable changeups, it isn't really a concern for me. Nikorak easily clears that bar, and so his changeup is not a worry from where I'm standing.

Besides, it's difficult to worry about a guy's third pitch too very much when he's capable of bringing to bear the kind of one-two punch Nikorak can with his bread-and-butter offerings. The fastball, in addition to elite velocity, has solid life to it, both riding high in the zone and nice downward plane at the bottom. You could slap a future 65 on the pitch and not be at all hyperbolic; a 70 might be stretching it but isn't out of the realm of possibilities. Personally, I couldn't go higher than a 65, because I see a lack of lateral movement down in the zone, but if he were to incorporate a two-seamer and learn how to get the boring action of a true sinker, the sky could seem a slightly low limit.

The curveball is maybe my favourite pitch of Nikorak's, simply for the aesthetic value. It's a beautiful pitch, thrown with unusual power for a pitcher this young, and I have yet to see a hitter put a good swing on it. Most high school curveballs are casted, dead-fish sorts of pitches that rely as much on gravity as spin to generate actual break; Nikorak's is a pro-grade pitch already, at least in terms of spin and power. It doesn't have quite the huge waterfall action of an Adam Wainwright-style bender, but comes in substantially harder and sharper at its best. The pitch needs work, of course; no high-schooler has a finished repertoire, no matter how talented, and Nikorak can throw the curve too hard at times, flattening it out and hanging it up, at which point it's really only good enough to get out seventeen year old kids without a shred of discipline at the plate; professional hitters will tee off on Nikorak's mistakes, specifically because they tend to be up and over the plate.

There is plenty of development left to do on Nikorak; the changeup will need to be developed, and the breaking ball refined. Learning to add and subtract from the fastball would help a lot, too, as would figuring out how to move and manipulate the heater, rather than just relying on overwhelming hitters with big velocity. Still, the combination of raw stuff, a huge frame that already looks bigger than the listed 205, and an aggressive approach to throwing strikes give Nikorak one of the higher ceilings of any pitcher in this draft class. The delivery isn't great, but I've seen much, much worse; if I were handing out risk grades I would probably give him a 'Moderate'. It's tough to gauge where Nikorak will go this year, but the talent could push him far up draft boards if a team is willing to take on the risk of a cold-weather high school pitcher.

via Jheremy Brown:

Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna HS (New York)

6'1", 195 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

In many ways, Garrett Whitley is the position player equivalent of Mike Nikorak, in that both are extremely athletically gifted individuals from cold-weather states who have been on the radar for awhile but made big showings on the showcase circuit that pushed them into further prominence.

Where Nikorak has a dominant combination of pure velocity and a power breaking ball, Whitley shows an intriguing power/speed combination reminiscent of players like Drew Stubbs or the Cardinals' own injured duo of Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham. Pham in particular feels like a good comp for Whitley, as the latter brings an intelligent, patient approach at the plate that neither Grichuk or Drew Stubbs ever did.

Also like Pham, Whitley has tools that rate above-average nearly across the board, with only his throwing arm falling somewhat short of plus status. He has easy plus speed that makes him a perfect fit in the large expanses of center field, and should allow him to make an impact on the bases as well. There's little reason to think he'll have to move to a corner, as even if he fills out and slows down some, there's speed to spare and instincts for the position as well. In other words, barring some unforeseen happening, Whitley should play a premium position, pretty much all the way up the ladder.

It's at the plate Whitley has a chance to really separate himself from the pack, however. Where a player like Daz Cameron, the early-blooming center field prospect I covered awhile back who seems to have leveled off since a breakout his sophomore season, has shown a broad base of skills that should add up to an impressive hole but lacks true separating potential, Whitley has shown at least flashes of power that could take him from intriguing to can't-miss if it shows up more regularly in games.

He's unusually patient and advanced for a player from a cold-weather state; the lack of high-level competition and just general playing time that comes with growing up outside the traditional baseball hotbeds usually leads to much rawer, less developed skills, no matter how impressive the tools. Whitley, though, waits for his pitch and rarely expands the zone, even when playing in a showcase event, knowing he might not get many chances to impress the right people. It's a fairly remarkable skill for a player this young to have; to remain patient and stay within himself when it would be all too easy to press in an attempt to make it happen, rather than just taking what's given and making the most of it.

The speed, the power, and the patience are all plus tools; the one real question mark for Whitley is going to be contact. There is some real swing and miss to his game at this point, at least in the limited showcase looks he's gotten, and there has to be some trepidation about how that will translate going forward. On one hand, you could argue he's seeing the best competition of his life at those showcases, and in time he'll adjust to that higher level of competition as he sees it more consistently. On the other hand, one could argue this is a big fish in a little pond, and once he gets into a bigger pond he'll be exposed, no longer having the luxury of dominating weaker competition. I personally tend to fall more on the former side, and I expect Whitley to do big things in professional baseball. The swing needs work, but mechanical adjustments and the like are the sorts of thing professional coaching should be able to do for him.

The ceiling for Whitley could be huge; if he progresses far enough with the bat to consistently tap into the raw power he's shown, there are no weak points in his game to quibble with. An impact center fielder with 20-25 home runs annually and above-average on-base skills is relatively easy to see in his future if he can put the bat on the ball consistently. There is some question in my mind if he gets there, of course, but as all-around talents go, this is one I would have very few reservations about betting on.

via FanGraphs:

Dakota Chalmers, RHP, North Forsyth HS (Georgia)

6'3", 170 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Chalmers is much more of a raw ball of clay than a guy like Nikorak, despite playing in one of the biggest hotbeds of the sport. That said, it's hard to find a more exciting ball of clay out there than what you'll see from Chalmers.

In addition to a 75 grade name, Chalmers has one of the fastest arms in this draft class. It's shown up at times in terms of velocity, with radar gun readings into the mid-90s on occasion, but far more so in an absolutely elite ability to spin the ball. Chalmers can spin a breaking ball as well as any pitcher you're likely to ever see, unless you're going back and watching highlights of Rick Ankiel's rookie season.

He throws both a slider and curveball, and while I'm long on record as preferring pitchers who work with curves over the slider, I have to admit to drooling a bit seeing some of the sliders he's broken off. Then again, the curve isn't much less impressive; he's the rare pitcher capable of throwing both breaking balls, keeping them separate, and having both be plus offerings. You don't see it very often, and when you do, it's usually a good sign of big things to come for the player in question.

Chalmers is very young physically; there's more than a passing resemblance in the body to Luke Weaver, the Cardinals' first round draft pick from last year. How much Chalmers fills out his skinny frame is anyone's guess at this point, but there's plenty of room for him to add strength and endurance both over the next four to five years.

There's a changeup reported, but I haven't really seen one. How much he'll need it is up for debate, though, as Chalmers already boasts three pitches, two of which are easy pluses and the third. his fastball, could end up a 60 as well if those occasional 94 readings on the gun become the norm, rather than the top-end exception. Still, developing a changeup could be huge, if only because it's much easier to combat opposite-handed hitters with a change than a breaking ball, even an elite one.

The bad news for Chalmers is the delivery. That resemblance to Luke Weaver doesn't stop at the body, as Chalmers exhibits a similar high back elbow delivery, though I will say his timing isn't quite as disastrous as the Florida State product. Still, if I'm grading the mechanics, I don't much like what I see from Chalmers, and it concerns me he's going to have a shorter career than we might otherwise see. It's a shame, too, because while he might not be quite the fireballer a few of the other pitchers in this draft look to be, there isn't another guy in the class who can spin it, and make hitters look helpless, quite the way Dakota Chalmers can.

via FanGraphs: