Good morning, all. I hope the game last night went well; it certainly feels like the club needed that day off in a way you don't often see, even during a 162 game schedule, doesn't it? (Yes, I'm writing this Tuesday, so as always, if there was big news in the night, please forgive me for not covering it/feel free to ignore the extensive, almost Herculean effort I put into these draft posts to discuss.) If nothing else, it feels as if Matt Carpenter would have had something to say about Sunday's loss, at the very least. Mark Reynolds has been just fine this season as a bench bat, but watching him actually play third base, or seeing Pete Kozma take his typical hopeless at-bats at the hot corner, really drives home just how vital Carpenter has become to this team.
Also, can I just tell you that I'm beginning to get the feeling I'm going to hate Jung Ho Kang? The Cardinals were in on signing him; I'm worried every time he comes to bat I'm going to get that same twinge of frustration as occurs every time I see Aroldis Chapman closing a game.
Anyhow, let's cut the intro stuff short, and get right into the meat of the post, shall we? I've got four hitters of the high school variety to talk about today, all of whom show tremendous power potential. Yes, that's right; I said four, rather than the usual three. The reason? As always, a simple desire to get as many players written up as possible, and in this case it makes for an easy demographic grouping to stick these particular players together under the banner of power bats. So, you get a bonus scouting report, and I get to cross another name off my list and move it over to the spreadsheet of already-covered players. Everybody wins!
Brandt Stallings, 1B/OF, Kings Ridge Christian HS (Georgia)
6'4", 215 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
If you're looking for a player who absolutely looks the part, of a slugging, big-swinging right-handed hitter who probably ends up over at first base, then Brandt Stallings is probably the guy. Straight out of central casting, he's tall, well-built, broad-shouldered, and takes a hack that feels straight out of the age of tall tales.
Stallings is a big, big guy at a legitimate 6'4", and the long levers that come along with that size are both a blessing and a curse. He has the leverage, of course, to drive a baseball a country mile, and the strength to tap into that leverage pretty consistently. There's length to the swing as well, though, and that's where the biggest concerns about his offensive profile come into play. On the other hand, Stallings has shown both plus bat speed and an ability to cover the outside part of the plate, driving pitches away to the opposite field rather than helplessly rolling over or missing them entirely, so the swing-and-miss aspect of his game may be somewhat ameliorated by that plate coverage. He's a good hitter in general, in fact, as that plus bat speed translates into an ability to wait on pitches, rather than having to cheat to get out in front of the pitch and try to just pull everything for power.
Even as big as he is, Stallings is also a plus athlete, at least at present. He runs well, particularly once underway, and has the tools to handle a corner outfield spot if necessary, including an arm that's probably big enough for right field, though it isn't in the cannon category of a Jason Heyward or Bryce Harper, by any means. Still, given his current size and a lower half that looks like it could thicken as he fills out further, first base might be the best long-term solution for him, and he's shown signs of being a quality defender there. Personally, I prefer him at first because what I've seen of him in the field makes me think his hands could be a big plus for him, though I certainly don't claim to have seen more than a handful of innings overall.
As I said before, there is some swing and miss to his game, as there likely always will be, simply because of his size and aggressive, power-oriented swing. It's a complicated swing, also, and a pro team would probably try to get him to simplify a little in terms of his hand load and all that. If you're looking for an area to really cast doubt on Stallings, it's likely a question of his ability to maintain good contact rates as he moves through the ranks of pro ball. Personally, I'm not that concerned; he'll strike out his share, but the power, approach, and willingness to use the whole field all make me think he's going to be a very, very productive hitter. In fact, if you were to ask me, "Hey, Aaron, which high-schooler this year is most likely to turn into Kris Bryant after three years in college?" it wouldn't take me long to answer, and the answer would likely be Brandt Stallings.
Josh Naylor, 1B, St. Joan of Arc HS (Ontario, CAN)
6'1", 225 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
A moment ago, I said Brandt Stallings was the most likely player in this draft to turn into Kris Bryant. Keeping with the theme of Cubs prospects, Josh Naylor is the most likely to become Dan Vogelbach, the portly but talented slugger currently playing first base for the small bears' Double A affiliate.
It's a bad body for Naylor, there's no doubt about that. And while one could quote Billy Beane about not selling jeans all day, and point to plenty of big-leaguers who succeed despite bodies that don't fit the prototypical athlete's frame, the fact is Naylor is a very limited player. He's a good athlete for someone with his body, sure, but that's maybe the faintest, most damning praise you're ever going to hear a person give.
Then again, the bat is Naylor's calling card, and it is absolutely legit. If I'm putting a comp on him, it's probably going to be Matt Adams, both for the bad body concerns and a simple, repeatable swing that nonetheless generates plenty of power when it connects. Naylor has more movement in his swing than Adams, but he's also lacking several years of strength and development to the big man, so a more pronounced load is probably to be expected. He's well balanced and uses the field from left-center to the right field line, though he very rarely goes straight to the opposite field. He's shiftable as a result, but not to a worrying degree. There's bat speed and discipline, as well; Naylor should be a very good bet to end up a complete hitter down the road, with a lower variance even than Stallings due to a swing that shouldn't require as much upkeep.
The rest of Naylor's game is, well, um, did I mention he's a very good hitter?
There's a definite lack of athleticism with Naylor that is honestly worrisome. It's one thing to look at a player like Matt Adams or Carlos Santana (one of my personal favourites, as a matter of fact), at 27 or 28 years old and describe them as bad body guys; it's another entirely took at a seventeen year old kid with nearly the same build and describe him that way. He's a well below-average runner, to a Molina-esque level, in fact, and doesn't really move that well in the field, either. He plays first base for now, but even that may be questionable down the road, unless he devotes himself to conditioning and defensive work in a way that he has not to this point in his life. In short, as good as the bat is, it's really all there is to hang your hat on.
If I said, "Left-handed Billy Butler," does that give you some idea of how I feel Naylor's future is going to play out? And that's not a bad thing, obviously; Billy Butler has been a very productive major league hitter for quite a few years now. Yet when you look at the WAR number next to Butler's name, it is supremely uninspiring. A player as limited as Butler (or as limited as I feel Naylor is going to be), just has a hard time contributing all that much value overall, beyond what he does with the bat. And unless a player is just transcendently talented with the bat, succeeding in only one aspect of the game while punting on pretty much all the others is usually a way to not really be all that valuable. Again, unless a guy is just an absolutely otherworldly sort of hitter. And maybe Josh Naylor is that. I wouldn't bet on it if it was my draft pick, though.
Kep Brown, OF, Wando HS (South Carolina)
6'5", 195 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
A bunch of the stuff I said a few minutes back about Brandt Stallings could easily apply to Kep Brown, as well, such as the huge, rangy frame, long levers that lead to a long but leveraged swing, and an ability to hit a baseball an absolute mile.
Then again, there are things about Brown that aren't applicable to Stallings, as well. Where Stallings is a good overall hitter and, I think, the sort to make the improvement and adjustments that will make him an offensive force in professional baseball for years to come, Brown is much more a one-dimensional slugger; the kind of hitter who will generate plus power when he connects, but the frequency of connection is much more of a concern to me. In other words, there's a thing called a five o' clock hitter, as in guys who put on a show in batting practice but struggle when the games are actually going on, and I feel a little of that vibe coming from Kep Brown.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to like about him, of course; the power is absolutely real, and he can punish a mistake pitch like very few hitters you're going to see in the draft. He's an average runner, as well, and should be able to play a competent corner outfield spot. The reports say his arm is adequate for right field; I haven't seen enough one way or the other to really have an opinion. In all likelihood, he's a left field profile, which isn't great. But, if a guy can hit, he can make that work. After all, Matt Holliday has been the anchor for the Cardinals' offense for quite a few years now, and I doubt many of us would want to trade him away despite some very real limits to his game.
Personally, though, I have my doubts about Brown. His power seems to be more of the leverage sort, rather than that of a player who generates plus bat speed, and he seems much more inclined to sell out to the pull side. I wouldn't say he's cheating just yet, but that's the kind of hitter he is. (By cheating, I mean starting the swing early to compensate for iffy swing speed, rather than cheating by taking steroids or something of the sort.) That sort of approach can work occasionally; Jose Bautista has made a monster career of trying to yank everything in the air to left field. But it's rare that you see a player be extremely successful that way, as it makes them much easier to pitch to than a hitter capable of going to all fields in general.
It's probably fairly obvious by this point I'm not a big believer in Kep Brown. I see a long, grooved swing with mediocre bat speed for a guy who has legitimate power, and a player unlikely to contribute much value beyond what he can provide with the bat. Much closer to a righthanded Russell Branyan playing the outfield than a well-rounded slugger, I have serious doubts about his long-term future. Still, right-handed power isn't the most common commodity in the game today, and Brown does have that. Some team is going to bet on him; it won't be my imaginary team, though.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Kennesaw Mountain HS (Georgia)
6'4", 220 lbs
So, what's so great about this guy?
Well, first off, Tyler Stephenson has one thing none of the other players covered here today have: he alone plays a premium position. And not only does he play a premium position, it's maybe the most premium position, depending on how you rate shortstop compared to catcher, and he plays it at a fairly high level as well.
Stephenson is one of the biggest helium players this spring; a guy who came into the draft cycle with a modicum of buzz, but nothing approaching the clamour he now commands. The reason for that buzz? It isn't often a player comes along who looks as if he can stick behind the plate with the kind of offensive potential of Stephenson. Of course, one could say the same thing about Chris Betts, the prep catcher I covered back in mid-April, and Betts is the player Stephenson seems to be in most direct competition with for the number one high school catcher designation as draft day approaches.
If you want to make direct comparisons, Stephenson looks like a better defender than Betts, particularly in terms of blocking and moving behind the plate. They're roughly even in terms of throwing ability, with Betts' arm perhaps a tick stronger, but with Stephenson having slightly better feet. The fact Stephenson comes out looking so good in terms of footwork and mobility behind the plate is proof enough he's a fairly unique player, as elite catching prospects rarely come in six foot four inch packages, but so far Stephenson's size has yet to become an impediment to his defensive work.
On the offensive side, Stephenson isn't as polished as Betts just yet, partially as a result of not being on the showcase circuit and facing high-quality competition for nearly as long, but has a similar level of power potential, which is to say plus for any player, and downright massive for a catcher. There's some definite swing and miss here, as well; enough that it will likely keep Stephenson from hitting better than .260-.270 at his peak, and quite possibly a fair bit lower than that most years. On the other hand, the fact he's only now arriving at his current level of performance could mean there's more to his game than we've seen, and time and polish will help to reveal it. He shows good patience at the plate for a player without much experience facing elite competition, which points toward better things in the future.
The biggest concern for Stephenson is likely going to be that he's just plain big. He's better conditioned than Chris Betts, who also has concerns about his size, and is a better athlete, for now, but he's also a couple inches taller and just as large in terms of frame. Tyler Stephenson is Joe Mauer sized, or Matt Wieters sized, and while both of those players have enjoyed productive big league careers as high-quality defenders behind the plate (particularly Wieters, who grades out as a truly elite backstop), there's a reason catchers so often look more like Yadier Molina or Pudge Rodriguez. Players with frames commensurate with 6'5" heights are most definitely not the norm behind the plate. For now, Stephenson moves around well enough to remain a catcher, and I actually like his chances a bit better than Betts, simply because he seems a much better athlete. Even so, Stephenson is going to have to prove he can catch long term, and it's far from a fait accompli he's going to make it.
Offensively, I'm a believer in Stephenson. I don't like the way he initiates his swing, by bringing the bat to a nearly vertical position with his wrists (it's the same thing I disliked about Kolten Wong's swing when he still started the bat on his shoulder), but that's the sort of thing that's easily correctable. I think that alone would improve his contact skills, and there's more than enough thump in the bat to get very excited.
Overall, I like Stephenson quite a lot, and better than Chris Betts, who still has the higher draft grade most places. Honestly, though, I would probably still take either Wyatt Cross or Garrett Wolforth, the other two prep catchers I covered along with Betts, over Stephenson. It's a close call at this point, though; ceiling is the reason Stephenson has so much helium this spring, and I can't deny that ceiling is a mightily tempting thing.
Note on the video: I apologise for the narrated video; I've managed to see some video of Stephenson here and there, but very little of it is publicly available, and I don't have a YouTube channel to upload what little I have. Also, I would have to get permissions from various people who probably aren't super keen on having their stuff uploaded to the public, either, so it's likely not worth the hassle anyway, come to think of it.
You may notice that as of now we have a separate tag for draft coverage; thanks to Ben for getting that set up. I'll still link directly to all of my previews in the last post I put together heading into the draft itself, but in the meantime there is now an easy way to track down any and all of these draft posts if you are the sort of misanthrope who actually enjoys them or finds them useful in any way, so that's pretty cool.