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May 7, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Corner Infielders to Know
The corner-infield position at the major-league level generally places a high level of import on offensive production. That means draft prospects that project to a corner are often viewed first as bats, with a secondary consideration given to their projected level of defensive contributions. This year’s draft class includes a wide variety of corner-infield bats, including some loud tools and some equally loud question marks.
Cream of the Crop
Kris Bryant | OF/CIF | University of San Diego
It seems as though it is getting more and more difficult to find true plus-plus power at the prospect ranks, so any time a player provides the potential for true elite power at the scholastic levels, he is bound to get a lot of attention. San Diego’s Kris Bryant is just such a talent, wowing evaluators this spring with his eye-popping home-run total (23 through this past weekend) en route to working his way into early-first round, and likely top-ten overall, consideration. Over the duration of his time with the Toreros, Bryant has moved from a close-legged setup to an extremely wide base, which has helped him to steady his head and simplify the delivery of the barrel to ball. Additionally, Bryant has learned to improve his pole-to-pole power by meeting the ball more consistently at high-leverage points in its path, which has also helped him to cut down the empty swings. His swing can still get long and grooved, but teams will gladly live with some swing-and-miss if it comes legit 35-plus power potential.
Bryant has rotated between third base, right field, and first base, with right field seeming to be the most logical entry point for him as a professional. He moves well enough to cover line to gap and possesses the arm strength to hold down the nine spot. Additionally, Bryant is a capable defender at first base, but his ultimate defensive position is going to be a secondary concern for any drafting team. In a class with a deeper reserve of college bats, or at a time where power was less of a premium, Bryant might project closer to the mid-first round. But given the composition of the draft class, and the thirst for thunder currently defining the prospect landscape, it would be a surprise if he lasted past the first ten picks this June.
Dominic Smith | 1B/OF | Serra HS (Los Angeles, CA)
Smith is a hitter, pure and simple. Already in possession of a big-league body, with solid strength in a tapered athletic frame, Smith began to use that body more effectively last summer, producing in-game power with increasing frequency along with one of the more advanced hit tools in the draft class. Smith keeps a clean path to contact and uses the entire field without effort, showing hard contact in particular to the opposite field gap. He comes to the plate with a good idea as to what he wants to do and has benefited from the challenge of facing advanced pitching on a regular basis (throughout the scouting circuit and carrying over into the spring).
Smith’s foot speed is less than ideal, limiting his utility in right field in spite of an easy plus arm that he unleashes with accuracy. At first base, however, he is among the best in recent memory when it comes to picking and footwork, creating a rare profile wherein a drafting team could be strongly incentivized to play the kid lower on the defensive spectrum in order to max out his potential contributions. Smith has a bat worthy of top-ten overall consideration, and were he able to project to an up-the-middle defensive home, he’d be in the discussion for top-five overall consideration. As it stands, he should fit well in the middle of the first round. His makeup and approach to the game are top-notch, and his drafting team should have little concern over his ability to adapt to the physical and mental rigors of pro ball.
D.J. Peterson | 1B/3B | University of New Mexico
Peterson is most likely destined for first base as a professional, which will set an incredibly high bar for his future offensive performance if he’s to come off the board on Day 1 of this June’s draft. Fortunately for the Lobos slugger, his bat stands a solid chance of being up to the task. Peterson boasts a simple load, relatively tight bat path, and good extension through contact, giving him a nice foundation upon which to build an offensive game at the next level, including the potential for plus or better power and a solid-average or better hit/on-base skill set. He is comfortable using the whole field, allowing balls on the outer half to travel and driving them to the right side. Peterson’s trips to the plate come with a game plan, and he shows the ability to make adjustments from at-bat to at-bat. At times, the young slugger will expand the zone, and as with any collegiate bat, he’s likely to be tested by pro arms that can effectively change speeds and move in and out. But as far as pure offensive profiles are concerned, Peterson is among the best in the draft class.
As mentioned above, while Peterson handles third base for New Mexico, his lack of lower-half mobility could land him at first base after draft day. A team less concerned with defensive output could pop him early with the hopes of developing him enough to be passable at the hot corner, with first base serving as a tolerable fallback plan provided his bat develops as expected. His meaty .410/.521/.798 line this spring and impressive offensive showings during his previous two seasons at New Mexico (admittedly a hitter-friendly park), not to mention a solid track record with wood over the summer, provide an additional level of comfort for would-be suitors. In a draft with limited impact bats at the collegiate level, it’s highly unlikely Peterson slips out of the first round, and nearly unthinkable at this point that he could escape selection on Day 1.
Colin Moran | 3B | University of North Carolina
Moran has put together a strong spring for the Tar Heels, solidifying his reputation as an elite college bat and earning him consideration for selection in the top ten picks. Moran can do a little bit of everything at the plate, showing good discipline, a knack for barreling the ball, and even the ability to run into a pitch and drive it out of the park. While his previous showings with wood raise some question as to how much power he’ll ultimately produce at the pro ranks—a worthwhile consideration when selecting a college bat—Moran’s ability to match swing plane to pitch plane, as well as his adjustments this spring away from defensive at-bats, should give a team a high enough degree of comfort to pop the Tar Heel in the top half of the first round. His swing is far from textbook, but it works for him, and, at the end of the day, his propensity for loud contact should win over a drafting organization early.
Considered more passable than impressive at the hot corner, Moran’s actions at third this spring have provided hope that he will indeed stick there long-term. His glove work is steady, and he does an adequate job of setting himself up to deliver through deliberate footwork. The lateral range is fringy, but he finishes well at the margins and should, with continued growth, prove not to be a defensive liability. Ultimately, Moran is selling a hit tool, so there is some inherent risk that if that tool falls short you will be left little else with which to work. College bats are always in demand on draft day, however, and Moran’s track record, coupled with a strong spring, should see him popped somewhere in the first 15 picks.
High School Talents
Travis Demeritte | 3B | Winder-Barrow HS (Winder, GA)
Demeritte was part of the loaded East Cobb team that won the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter last October, and the Georgia standout has additionally enjoyed a loud spring, helping to propel him into the Day 1 discussion. He’s a gifted defender with a 6+ to 7 arm; smooth, athletic actions; and a good first step—all of which combine to make him a potentially elite defender at the hot corner. Offensively, he lacks the power upside generally looked for in a corner defender, but a broad, strong frame; strong core; and big-time bat speed could help that power to manifest down the line, particularly if he can make some adjustments in his swing, which is truly geared to line drives at this point. Demeritte is an average runner with good awareness on the bases and generally shows good feel in all aspects of the game. He’s a potential Day 1 talent that should be off the board early on Day 2 if he makes it that far.
If Biggio fit more cleanly into a defensive profile of any sort, he could be an easy first-round talent off of the strength of his bat. Despite some length and some wrap, the Houston-area talent has no trouble squaring up advanced pitching, putting up some of the most impressive showcase showings on the scouting circuit, producing line drives regularly, and showing an ability to lift the ball to the pull side. As Biggio continues to mature physically, the leverage he creates through his explosive hips should start to produce more consistent power, including to the opposite field, and he already has a firm enough understanding of the craft to fair the challenges of professional baseball as early as this summer. Biggio most frequently gets mention as a future third baseman, but the arm strength may prove a little light for the five spot. He holds the most value as an offensive-minded second baseman and warrants sandwich round to second-round consideration if you believe he can ultimately fit at the keystone.
Ryan McMahon | 3B | Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA)
McMahon has seen his draft stock rise this summer to the point where it would not be a surprise to see him come off the board late on Day 1. Defensively, he shows soft hands and decent footwork, working best when he’s fielding through the ball and worst when he gets tentative right before reaching the ball (manifesting as a defensive drop step on his glove hand). At the plate, McMahon produces hard contact when he is able to stay inside the ball and deliver the barrel efficiently. When pushing, he can get uphill in his swing in an attempt to lift and drive, but, for the most part, the USC commit shows solid balance and works his upper and lower half in harmony. Teams heavy on McMahon could give him some thought in the supplemental first round, with the Mater Dei infielder profiling well in the second to third round.
Ward entered the fall as a high school junior slated for MLB draft selection as part of the 2014 class, but has since successfully petitioned Major League Baseball for inclusion in this year’s class. Ward is a big, broad, projectable infielder with left-side arm strength and solid hands. Ward flirts with in-game power right now, and looking at his physicality, it’s easy to dream on plus playable pop down the line, if things break right. While his competition in Oklahoma has been inconsistent, Ward has consistently challenged himself with showcases and travel-ball tournaments, regularly showing as a solid draft follow, even more so now that he is eligible as an 18-year old, rather than the 19 years, six months he would have been as a 2014 draftee.
Ward is a solid fit as a second to fourth rounder, with your final valuation probably tied to whether you see the hit tool playing to a high level. If you believe the Sooner stater will show growth in his approach, including his ability to identify pitches and search out drivable balls, he’s probably a second-rounder. If you view the hit tool as more of a lotto ticket, you are probably content to wait until the third or fourth round before taking on that risk.
Rowdy Tellez | 1B/OF | Elk Grove HS (Elk Grove, CA)
Tellez is a polarizing player in that he has the ability to look like a future offensive force on one day, and a player incapable of making hard contact the next. A physically imposing presence in the box, he can deliver majestic pre-game BP displays, showing 6+ to 7 raw pop on the regular. In-game, however, Tellez can get tied up on the inner half, particularly with good velocity, due to the length involved in his long-limbed barrel delivery. When clicking, Tellez can drive the ball from pole to pole with second-nature power that is rare in any player, let alone a high schooler. The tantalizing juice in his lumber could entice a drafting org to jump on him as early as the second round, though he may be a better fit in the third.
Dustin Peterson | 3B/SS | Gilbert HS (Gilbert, AZ)
A shortstop at Gilbert High School (AZ), Dustin—brother of New Mexico’s DJ—projects as a third baseman at the pro ranks, primarily due to range and a less-than-nimble lower half. Like his brother, Dustin has a strong, compact swing and is able to regularly square up the ball on the barrel. A member of the Rays’ scout team in Jupiter (an Arizona-based travel squad), Peterson established himself as a name to watch for the spring, and followed that up with consistently sound performances over the past few months. Peterson projects somewhere in the second to early fourth round, but he’s the type of talent that could just as easily come off the board late on Day 1 if a team buys into his power tool growing to plus or better (a distinct possibility).
A.J. Puk | LHP/1B | Washington HS (Cedar Rapids, IA)
Puk is a gifted two-way player with the potential to be drafted in the early rounds as both a pitcher and as a first baseman with solid offensive upside. A Florida commit, it’s impossible not to compare him to Brian Johnson—the Gators 1B/LHP/DH who went 31st overall to the Red Sox in last year’s draft. Like Johnson, Puk has the potential for above-average raw power, with good leverage in his swing and hips that work. With growth already showing on the bump, however, it may be tough for a drafting organization to pass on the potential Puk offers dealing three future average or better offerings from the left side. Accordingly, his best chance to develop as a hitter will likely come in Gainesville, should he forgo the start of his pro career.
Setting signability aside, Puk is a supplemental first- to third-rounder from a pure talent perspective, depending on where teams see him on the diamond and to what extent they tend to shy away from tall bats with long limbs. Expect a strong scouting contingent at Perfect Game’s pre-draft workout in Puk’s hometown, Cedar Rapids, next week, as front-office members work to reach a final decision as to (1) where they like the talented lefty, and (2) how much money they are willing to throw at him to convince him to pass on three years with Coach O’Sullivan and the Gators.
While there are still serious questions as to Jagielo’s ultimate defensive home, there is no doubt in his potentially impactful 5/6 hit/power profile playing at a corner position at the next level—be it third base, left field, or even first base. Jags creates good leverage in his swing through a strong core, allowing him to get to his power without too much effort. He opened eyes last summer on the Cape, finishing second in the league with 13 home runs, and has shown a growing ability this spring to shorten up some when behind in the count. He makes good in-game adjustments, improving his hard-contact rates the more looks he gets at an arm, and has shown restraint and selective aggression early in the count, helping him to work toward hitter’s counts and opportunities to drive the ball. While his home-run totals are fairly skewed toward the early spring, Jagielo showed enough last summer for decision-makers to buy into his pop as a playable tool with wood. He could come off the board in the late first round, regardless of where a drafting team ultimate views him in the field, and seems a good bet at this point to be off the board in the first 60 picks or so.
Chad Pinder | 3B | Virginia Tech
After a strong start to the spring, Pinder has cooled some of late as Tech pushes its way through the ACC schedule. When on, his lower half and solid core help him to produce loud contact that should play to good gap power at the pro ranks and, potentially, some over-the-fence pop. When off, his upper and lower half can get out of sync, sapping his power and causing him to roll over. If things click, his offensive profile could top out at an above-average hit tool paired with average power, and he handles himself well enough in the field for the total package to potentially play at a first-division starter’s level.
With a sturdy lower half, broad shoulders and lean, athletic build, Pinder moves well in the field, showcasing soft hands and an easy left-side arm. His footwork enables him to set and deliver from a variety of angles. Pinder’s final draft-day value should be determined in the coming weeks, with the Hokie currently slotting in as an early second to third-round talent.
Palka had his big left-handed power on display this past summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League, finishing third overall with 11 round-trippers and posting a loud three-hit performance (including a double) in the league’s All-Star Game in front of loads of front-office heat. Palka’s impact tools may be limited to his raw power, but the power plays. The Georgia Tech right fielder has enjoyed a productive spring in which he has launched an impressive 28 extra-base hits, including 14 home runs, as part of a .369/.462/.693 triple-slash line. While Palka produces good leverage and pull-side power, his longish swing can force him to commit early to pitches, causing some to question whether he’ll be able to get to all his raw power once he faces advanced arms on a daily basis.
Even as a low-average guy, however, he has the potential to provide solid average to plus power out of a corner slot—potentially in right field, thanks to improved feel in the outfield this spring, including more decisive actions and cleaner reads off the bat. Palka is looking more and more like a surefire second-rounder, with an outside shot at Day 1 action if the right fit comes along.
Ryon Healy | 1B | University of Oregon
Healy announced his presence on the college scene the summer before stepping foot on campus, partaking in the California Collegiate League—a summer collegiate wood bat league—as a rising freshman and showing off big offensive promise coupled with some defensive uncertainty at the hot corner. A large-framed athlete with below-average speed and agility, Healy has since shifted across the diamond to first base, but the defensive downgrade has been counterbalanced by the emergence of a legitimate professional offensive profile. Coming off a solid summer on the Cape in which he batted a respectable .310 with four home runs, in spite of an occasionally overly aggressive approach, Healy continued to display growth in his offensive game and, in particular, his in-game implementation of his power tool. The Oregon first baseman produces good leverage in swing, relying on strength more than bat speed to produce above-average raw power. That strength, combined with some natural loft in his cuts, should help him to continue to produce over-the-fence pop at the next level. He’s passable at first base, but still requires reps and refinement at the three-spot, and could eventually wind up as a DH if he ends up with an AL club. Healy could come off the board as early as the third round, and currently fits well in the third- to fifth-round range.
Gregor assured a prominent place for his name on follow lists this spring after posting a .329/.466/.550 triple-slash line over 44 games and 150-plus plate appearances for Orleans on the Cape this past summer. The Vandy thumper has failed to carry over that success to the spring, however, struggling to tap into his raw power and too often producing soft contact at the plate. Gregor continues to show an excellent understanding of the strike zone, walking in almost 20 percent of his plate appearances. While he has handled himself in the outfield, his below-average foot speed should land him at first base as a pro. Gregor’s strong showing this past summer will buy him some goodwill with decision-makers that saw him, and his plus raw power from the left side could help him off the board early on Day 2, in spite of a less-than-stellar spring. If he lasts, he could end up good value in the fourth to sixth round.
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses in Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.