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May 21, 2013
Scouting the Draft
Corner Outfielders to Know
This year’s draft class offers an interesting blend of talent at the outfield corners, particularly at the prep ranks, where we find a dynamic cross-section of thumpers, pure hit tools, and a little of everything in between. At the collegiate ranks, some of the top talents include current infielders and center fielders that project better to a corner at the next level, with perhaps the best current corner outfielder in the class representing one of the biggest displays of helium over the past 12 months.
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 totals (30 through this past weekend) en route to working his way into top ten overall consideration. During his time with the Toreros, Bryant has moved from a close-legged, upright setup to an extremely wide base, which has helped him to steady his head and simplify the delivery of the barrel to ball. Bryant improved 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 homer 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, though 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 isn’t a top-10 pick.
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.
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, though a team could certainly run him out there to gauge his potential with regular reps and advanced pro instruction. He probably fits best at first base, where 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 their prized acquisition 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 with a shot at top-ten selection to a team that values an advanced hit tool, feel, and age (at 17 years, 11 months on draft day, Smith is one of the youngest players in the draft class). 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.
Austin Meadows | OF | Grayson HS (Loganville, GA)
Throughout last summer’s scouting circuit, Meadows was routinely viewed as one of the top prep talents in the 2013 draft class—a designation that brings with it the benefits of early attention from decision-makers, but also additional scrutiny throughout the 12 months leading up to the draft. Meadows looks the part of an elite outfield talent, boasting a strong, athletic build hung on a high-waisted and broad frame. His on-field performance, however, has lagged behind his raw grades, pushing him down some draft boards and casting doubt as to his future overall profile. Once thought to be a safe bet to stick in center field, Meadows now looks to be a slightly better fit in an outfield corner. Over the past six months, the Clemson commit has packed on almost 15 pounds of muscle, primarily in his lower half, and has seen his plus to plus-plus straight-line speed decrease as a result. His reads off the bat also lag behind the better defenders in the class and force his speed to play down some. If he is relegated to a corner, it will have to be left field, as his arm strength grades as merely fringe average (45 or 50 on the 20/80 scouting scale).
At the plate, Meadows showcases a compact stroke from the left side and good bat speed generated through a very strong core. He regularly puts on strong batting practice displays, wearing out the right-center gap and showing over-the-fence pop, which some scouts expect to grow into a true plus tool. Meadows projects to a plus or better hit tool due to his simple swing and bat speed, but detractors point to the stark contrast in batting practice displays with wood (over the past summer and fall) and metal (this spring), with a relatively flat plane and limited leverage cutting down on his carry. Additionally, outside of East Coast Pro, Meadows did not show particularly well in-game through the scouting circuit and has put together a good, but shy of great, spring.
The upside for Meadows is that of a 30/30 center fielder capable of hitting for average and getting on-base. The risk, however, is that he has to shift over to left field while failing to make the necessary adjustments in his swing to reach his plus power potential, leaving you with an average offensive profile for the position. Meadows grades out well enough, so it’s unlikely he’ll drop out of the top half of the first round, but he could be anywhere from top five overall to the teens.
Hunter Renfroe | OF | Mississippi St. University
Perhaps no one in the draft class has raised his stock more over the past year than Mississippi State right fielder Hunter Renfroe. Renfroe finished his sophomore year at MSU hitting a paltry .252/.328/.374, while striking out about once every five plate appearances. Renfroe skipped an offer to play on the Cape in favor of a repeat trip to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League last summer. He led the league in home runs (16) and finished fifth in the league in batting (.366). He carried that momentum through a solid fall before exploding this spring. As of this past weekend, Renfroe is posting a triple-slash line of .362/.459/.691, and has cut down his strikeout rate to just under once every eight at-bats.
Renfroe’s carrying tool is his plus power, which he generates most effectively to the pull side, though he easily possesses the strength to drive the ball out oppo. He struggles with quality secondaries at times and has some trouble covering the outer half when he fails to close his front side exiting his open setup. He also loses contact with the ground on his back foot moving through contact, which limits his ability to make slight mid-swing adjustments. He is likely to have some swing-and-miss to his game unless he is able to smooth some of this out at the pro ranks, though it seems unlikely any of this will prevent his power from playing as an at least above-average tool.
Defensively, Renfroe is an easy right field profile with plus arm strength, above-average to plus speed that plays well due to his assertive first step, and good body control while closing and finishing. He should be an easy first round selection, likely coming off the board somewhere in the teens.
Billy McKinney | OF | Plano West HS (Plano, TX)
McKinney will make his draft day money off of his simple left-handed swing, which he utilizes to consistently barrel balls across the quadrants with a compact stroke. His feel hitting helps his hit tool to project to plus or better, and he produces enough natural lift that there is a chance for above-average power when all is said and done. He has shown an ability to attack the ball on both sides of the plate, particularly last October down in Jupiter, as part of the always-talented Texas Yankees Scout Team.
Defensively, McKinney’s best fit is left field, as he lacks the foot speed to handle center field at the major-league level, and his arm falls short of what you’d like for right field. He is an aggressive defender, however, and stands a good chance of providing above-average defensive value at a position where pro teams are generally hiding poor defenders. He shows good instincts on the bases, which helps his below-average speed to play up some, and should lead to a handful of additional extra bases each year off his reads and selective aggression. Provided he is signable, McKinney could come off the board anywhere in the bottom two-thirds of the first round and is a safe bet to be unavailable come the start of Day 2.
Williams has among the best raw power at the amateur ranks, capturing home-run titles last August at Petco Park and Wrigley Field as part of the Perfect Game All-American Classic and Under Armour All-America Game, respectively. Williams kicked off the summer circuit with perhaps the loudest batting practice display of the Perfect Game national event at the Metrodome, which multiple towering drives to the upper deck in right field. His showings this spring have been largely limited to batting practice, as he has been pitched around frequently. Generally a pure fastball hitter, Williams sometimes struggles to get good wood on premium velocity and prove deficient in identifying off-speed stuff throughout the summer.
He’s a below-average runner out of the box, and his speed plays down in the outfield due to poor routes. His arm may relegate him to left field. Williams has the upside of an early-round talent, but it remains to be seen whether he showed enough last summer and this spring for a team to buy him out of his commitment to LSU. Should he wind up in Baton Rouge for three years, he could emerge as an easy first-rounder in 2016.
Jordan Paroubeck | OF | Serra HS (San Mateo, CA)
Paroubeck is a switch-hitter from the Bay Area who projects to 55 or 60 power on the 20/80 scale regardless of which side of the plate he happens to be hitting from. His power is generated through a strong midsection and a quick-twitch upper-half reminiscent of Barry Bonds—a high school teammate and friend of his father, and part-time private hitting coach for Paroubeck this spring. No, the Fresno State commit is not going to hit you 60-plus home runs a year, but there is true controlled violence in his swing that a good developmental team could tap into and shape into a 30-plus home-run threat.
He is compact to contact and covers the zone fairly well, giving him a chance to hit for average. He is deliberate in his outfield actions, but should improve steadily with pro instruction and reps. His arm gives him a chance at right field. Paroubeck could come off the board as early as the sandwich round, but he figures to be an early Day 2 selection.
Mason Smith | OF | Rocky Mountain HS (Meridian, ID)
At his best, Smith shows as a mirror image of Jesse Winker—a supplemental-first round pick for the Cincinnati Reds last June—boasting a compact barrel delivery, good hips, good extension, and a slightly lofted follow-through that helps to project some pull-side power. Smith showed well last summer at the Area Code Games, which was important for his stock as an Idaho high schooler with limited opportunities to face elite competition. He profiles as a right fielder long-term, lacking the straight-line speed to cover the deep gaps in center but offering enough arm strength and athleticism to provide some value in a corner. He grades out with a plus hit tool with the chance for average (or a tick better) power. There is risk associated with his limited track record, but a team sold on his August showing, workouts, and pretty swing could grab him in the second round. He doesn’t figure to last past the third.
Ivan Wilson | OF | Ruston HS (Ruston, LA)
Wilson is a big corner outfielder with one standout tool—raw power. Capable of big-time 5 o’clock pop, Wilson tends to struggle to replicate those BP showings in-game, wrestling with pitch identification and elite velocity. He is an average runner with some athleticism and a chance to develop into a fringe-average defensive right fielder, though his arm action and release adds some bow to his throws and limits the carry (something that could be ironed out with pro instruction). The big question for Wilson will be whether teams feel the bat is ready to tackle pro pitching. There is enough raw strength for him to run into his share of home runs, but the climb through the pro ranks could be all but impossible if he isn’t able to handle even rudimentary secondaries. A team willing to gamble on the upside and put in the developmental efforts early on—potentially in the form of multiple complex/rookie league seasons—could grab him in the fourth to sixth round.
Wilson can boast two plus to plus-plus tools in his arm strength and raw power, with the latter being the key to his draft day value. After an up-and-down first two seasons in Palo Alto, and a dismal first season on the Cape (following his freshman year), Wilson made progress last summer with Harwich, launching six home runs in just 77 at-bats, while posting a triple-slash line of .312/.436/.623. He entered the spring as one of the premier draft-eligible bats at the collegiate ranks, but suffered an elbow injury during the first game of the season, limiting scouts’ looks leading up to the draft.
Since returning to action, the news has been largely good for Austin, who is showing a little more torque in his lower half (something that was all but missing in his swing through his first two seasons at Stanford), and the production has been solid but unspectacular. The questions facing Wilson are the same questions scouts had entering last summer—will his contact ability allow for his plus-plus power to show at the pro ranks, and will his big body and large arms make it too difficult for him to adequately cover the plate against advanced arms—especially good velocity. In a draft weak on power, he could come off the board as early as the middle-third of the first round, and he’s a safe bet to be popped on Day 1.
Aaron Judge | OF | Fresno St. University
Judge’s size is one of his best assets and biggest hurdles, as the towering outfielder can simultaneously sell you on top-shelf power potential and a high likelihood that he will never make enough contact to get to that power. He doesn’t handle elite velocity particularly well, and he can have trouble covering the inner half of the plate—an issue for many long-armed hitters. Over the last year, Judge has attacked this issue by shortening his swing, which has helped him cut down the path to contact but has also limited the leverage in his swing. While he can drive the ball out to all parts of the park during batting practice, he has only managed 11 home runs this season while striking out about once every five at-bats.
He fits best as a late first-round or sandwich-round pick for a team that believes they can help him produce more leverage and playable power. He may not hit for average and will certainly produce his share of empty swings, but the upside is a 30-plus home-run bat. In a power-starved prospecting world, that alone will get him a lot of consideration among draft-day decision-makers.
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. This spring, he has shown an ability to shorten up his swing 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 mid- to late first round, regardless of where a drafting team ultimately views him in the field, and seems a strong bet to be off the board on Day 1.
Phillip Ervin | OF | Samford University
Ervin made himself some money last summer, finishing an impressive run on the Cape with 11 home runs and a .323 average en route to taking home the league’s Most Valuable Player award. He provided impressive production through even more impressive on-field displays, including an advanced feel for the game on both sides of the plate and a focused and efficient implementation of his tools.
At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Ervin lacks physical projection but makes up for it with a solid “now” profile that will play well in right field at the next level, and may even give him a shot to stick in center. He produces constant hard contact with a chance for average to above-average playable power, and shows enough arm strength to hold down right field. He fits well in the top two rounds and could be a first-rounder for a team that believes in him as a center fielder long-term.
Jared King | OF | Kansas St. University
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, 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.
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.