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May 14, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Middle Infielders to Know
The 2013 draft class is shy on impact middle infielders, particularly at the collegiate ranks, where our three profiled players each stand a fair chance of shifting to another position once they begin their pro careers. The high schoolers carry a little more depth but still plenty of questions, with only one player seeming to fit a true first-round profile.
Cream of the Crop
J.P. Crawford | SS | Lakewood HS (Lakewood, CA)
Though seldom overflowing with draft prospects, the shortstop position is particularly thin up top this year, with Lakewood High School standout J.P. Crawford, a USC commit, the only true Day 1 talent that projects to stick at the position long-term. Crawford blends a promising offensive profile and the defensive foundation to thrive in the six spot as a pro and has improved his game on both sides of the plate over the past 12 months.
At his best, Crawford hits off of a firm front side and creates some leverage through his long arms and quick-twitch core. His swing can get long and loopy, but there is potential for an average or better hit tool and fringe-average pop off the quality of his hands and increasing ability to consistently barrel the ball. He made steady progress throughout the scouting circuit last summer/fall and has continued to put together solid showings this spring.
In the field, Crawford blends smooth actions with soft hands, a wide wingspan, and an arm for the left side of the infield, making him a solid candidate to handle the challenges of shortstop at the next level. He loses some range due to occasionally stiff setup as he transitions from pre-pitch to first step, though this is something that pro instruction should clean up quickly. When in motion, he moves confidently and has the arm strength and lower-body agility to make throws from multiple angles at various positions on the field.
Crawford has the profile to develop into an elite draft talent after three years of college ball but is ready to tackle the challenges of pro ball now and should find himself easily in seven-figure territory come June. An average runner out of the box, he profiles as a number-two hitter that will provide some value on the basepaths and average or better defense at a premium position.
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 performances on the scouting circuit, producing line drives regularly and demonstrating 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 match 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 he warrants sandwich-round to second-round consideration if you believe he can ultimately fit at the keystone.
Oscar Mercado | SS | Gaither HS (Tampa, FL)
Mercado entered the spring as one of the top prep talents in the draft class, but he has slumped his way through much of his senior year at Gaither High School, casting some questions as to where he fits as a draft-day target. When his game is clicking, Mercado shows clean actions at short and more than enough arm strength to handle the six-spot.
Mercado’s bat was inconsistent throughout the scouting circuit and has seemed to move backward this spring. While he can produce some backspin now and shows the ability to drive the ball some in batting practice, he will need to add strength to get the gap-to-gap pop to play more effectively in-game. He can show a solid swing plane that keeps the barrel in the zone. He is a good baserunner whose instincts and aggression allow his average speed to play up. Provided Mercado is willing to pass on his commitment to FSU, he could fit in the first 75 picks or so, even with a rocky spring in his rearview. If signability is a question, it could be difficult for teams to pull the trigger on a Day 1 bonus with so many questions still remaining regarding his ultimate offensive profile.
Malik Collymore | 2B/SS | Port Credit SS (Mississauga, ON)
Collymore doesn’t get the attention of his middle-infield brethren in the States, but the talented Canadian possesses one of the more intriguing profiles in the class. A solid defender with hands to finish and plus arm strength, Collymore projects as an average to above-average defender at second base, likely lacking the lower-half actions to stick at short. Additionally, he is athletic enough with enough foot speed to tackle an outfield corner should the need arise. A solid runner out of the box, Collymore has clocked 6.5-6.8 60 times and handles himself adequately on the basepaths.
In the box, the NC State commit shows off a compact swing that can produce pull-side power withenough force to drive to the opposite-field gap. He could come off the board in the top four rounds and has the upside to develop into an offensive force at the collegiate level, should he opt for that route.
Good foot speed, a terrific first step, and solid arm strength give Unroe a shot to stick as a shortstop but also afford him quality back-up plans as a second baseman or center fielder. He is athletic enough to excel at any of these defensive spots, giving his drafting team some flexibility in their implementation and development. Unroe hits with an extreme arm bar from both sides of the plate but has utilized his impressive bat speed to barrel balls consistently this spring, regardless. His success was less pronounced during the scouting circuit, where he sometimes struggled to get to the inner half—particularly from the right side—but “hitters hit,” and for the most part, Unroe has done just that over the past 12 months. He profiles as a potential top-of-the-order threat with enough pop to reach double-digit homers and a strong enough approach to create a 50-plus bip delta between his average and on-base percentage. He fits well in the second or third round.
Hernandez is a long-limbed, soft-handed defender with a chance to stick at short if he doesn’t outgrow the position. An average runner today, Hernandez figures to slow as he fills out his medium-broad frame, which could land him at the hot corner, where his arm and bat should play just fine.
Offensively, Hernandez delivers the barrel well, adding some natural lift and pull-side power that could grow into more usable pole-to-pole pop. In spite of several strong showings throughout the scouting circuit, Hernandez underwhelmed this winter and periodically this spring, which clouds his draft day stock. He grades out to an early Day 2 talent with a shot at the sandwich round to a team that views his stick as a legit top-of-the-order weapon. .
Tucker Neuhaus | SS/3B | Wharton HS (Tampa, FL)
Neuhaus boasts a strong build that is beginning to fill his broad frame, which might force a shift to the hot corner. For now, the Louisville commit utilizes soft hands and decisive actions to help counter his occasionally choppy movements at the margins and could be a solid collegiate defender at short, or an above-average defender at third at the collegiate or professional ranks.
At the dish, Neuhaus can produce solid pull-side power and excels driving to the right-center gap when he’s allowed to get his arms extended. He should slot into the third to fifth round and has a chance to produce average or better pop once he finishes filling out and is afforded more reps against advanced arms.
Slowed last summer by a hip ailment, McGuire underwent surgery last fall and returned to action this spring, showing a more nimble lower half and smooth enough actions to give him a chance to profile as a shortstop at the professional level. While McGuire will show left-side arm strength and adequate footwork around the bag, his broad frame could end up thickening to the point where a shift to third or second is required, with third being the most likely landing spot.
He’s at his best offensively when he allows the ball to travel before unleashing his leveraged swing. Already capable of over-the-fence pop to the left side, McGuire could grow into above-average power as he continues to hang strength on his wide hips and broad lower half. A candidate to come off the board as early as round two, McGuire fits best somewhere in the second to fourth round. He is committed to Texas and would be an instant impact player if he makes it to Austin.
Trey Michalczewski | SS/3B | Jenks HS (Jenks, OK)
The Sooner stater showcases good hands, a solid arm, and solid footwork at the six spot, with third base the likely point of entry at the pro ranks due to his thickening frame and limited range. Michalczewksi already flashes above-average pop, and could grow into a legit 20-homer threat as he continues to add strength and refine his approach. He shows comfort from both sides of the plate but produces a little more pop from the left side (along with occasional backside collapse) and a slightly more compact swing from the right. He’s a below-average runner out of the box with limited utility on the basepaths. The Oklahoma commit profiles as a third- to fifth-rounder that could get popped as early as the second round by a team sold on his power developing into a true plus tool.
Errol Robinson | SS | St Johns College HS (Chevy Chase, DC)
A talented defender, Robinson’s defensive game currently outdistances his offensive prowess, as the Ole Miss commit boasts quick feet, good range, smooth actions, and an above-average arm that plays even better due to a quick transfer and clean release. Offensively, Robinson has a simple swing that produces loud line drives, but he struggles to handle quality secondaries and will need to add strength in order to deal with the challenges of more advanced velocity on a daily basis.
Robinson is a solid-average runner on the bases, with an aggressive approach that helps his game to play a notch faster. He profiles as a fourth- to sixth-rounder that could come off the board a tad earlier to a team placing a premium on up-the-middle defense.
Stephen Alemais | SS | Elev8 Sports Institute (Delray Beach, FL)
Another talented defender, Alemais battled through the scouting circuit while dealing with a nagging left labrum injury, which negated his ability to hit as a righty. He addressed the injury with surgery at the end of the summer and opted to spend his senior year of high school in Florida at Elev8 Sports Institute, rather than his hometown All Hallows High School in New York. Alemais has solid range and arm strength, showing soft hands and a level of creativity in the field that generally portends future success at the six spot.
At the plate, Alemais has a solid swing from both sides of the plate with a chance to work the gaps as he continues to improve his barrel rate. Alemais is committed to Tulane and could continue to grow his stock there should he forgo the start of his pro career. There are enough questions remaining on the offensive side to drop his stock down to the fourth to sixth round, with an equal chance to go a little higher or a little lower, depending on signability and his performance in workouts over the next month.
Rivera has struggled some this spring, with inconsistent week-to-week showings producing an unclear vision of his future offensive profile. Rivera has struggled to find a consistent delivery system for the barrel, and the result has been a checkered offensive performance this spring with doubt as to whether he is prepared to tackle the rigors of pro pitching. Further, through the summer, he worked best gap-to-gap with occasional pull-side power, but that power hasn’t manifested this spring. As a result, Rivera currently has a limited hit tool paired with merely average foot speed out of the box—foot speed that figures to further diminish as he hangs more weight on his frame.
In the field, Rivera is a good defender up the middle with enough arm strength for shortstop. He could come off the board in the first four or five rounds. He could prove excellent value there if his drafting organization can smooth out the inconsistencies in his swing and get him back to where he was toward the beginning of last summer.
Anderson is a speed and athleticism prospect whose past struggles with on-field intricacies limited his future profile. He has made steady progress over the past 18 months, now boasting a simple swing with good bat speed that can punish fastballs and mistakes alike. He has limited exposure to advanced pitching, and there are legit questions as to how refined his game truly is, given the inconsistent nature of his competition at East Central Community College. Still, his raw skill set is loud enough to get early-round attention, and potentially first-day selection.
A merely adequate defender now, Anderson stands a good chance to show rapid improvement at short once he is immersed in a pro system and provided reps and advanced instruction. If short proves too challenging, he would fit well in center field, with a chance to develop into an above-average defender there.
Jones has top-shelf athleticism and flashes intriguing tools—particularly his raw power and above-average speed. Unfortunately, those tools haven’t come together for him, and through May 10, he has posted a triple-slash line of just .283/.379/.428 with a strikeout rate of over 20 percent. At his best, Jones can produce over-the-fence pop from pole to pole, and hard line drives from gap to gap. At his worst, Jones struggles to stay balanced in the box and brings to the plate little to no real feel for the craft.
He is more than athletic enough to stick in the infield, showing good arm strength and solid hands, but too often loses focus. A shift to center field could be in the works at the next level, and Jones should have no trouble making the transition, having showcased his skills on the grass this past summer on the Cape. Jones grades out as a top-three-rounds talent but will see plenty of his reports turned in with adjusted OFPs deducting for feel and in-game implementation of tools. Similar to Stanford’s Kenny Diekroeger last June, Jones’ athleticism and upside could get him off the board by the fourth round in spite of uninspired showings this spring.
Hunter Dozier | SS/3B | Stephen F. Austin St. University
As is the case with Anderson and Jones above, Dozier could find himself shifting off of shortstop upon the start of his pro career, though unlike the two aforementioned middle infielders, Dozier figures to shift to a corner. He’s a fringe-average runner with athletic actions but lacks the range to cover the six spot at the next level, making him a good fit for third, where he could be an average or better defender.
Dozier’s calling card is his raw power, which plays to all fields and has produced an impressive 16 long balls this spring. There is swing and miss to his game—a characteristic that was somewhat magnified during his 237 at-bats in the Northwoods League last summer—but the tool teams are buying is the raw pop, which could produce 20-25 home runs at the major-league level if his contact ability allows. In a draft shy on college bats and power, he projects to be picked in the second to fourth 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.