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May 28, 2014

Scouting the Draft

2014 Draft: Middle Infielders to Know

by Nick J. Faleris

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Series Links: Catcher | Corner Infield | Center Field | Corner Outfield | Right-Handed Pitcher | Left-Handed Pitcher

Full 2014 Draft Video Library

Positional Overview
There are limited options up the middle at the top of the draft class, but the prep ranks offer some interesting options from the back of the first round to the third or fourth round, as well as some upside targets later on. Nick Gordon sits atop the grouping as the lone pure top 10 talent, with a chance to project to above average both offensively and defensively. The top collegiate shortstop in this year’s class is NC State’s Trea Turner, who can flash above-average potential defensively and plus-plus speed on the bases, but struggles to consistently execute on both sides of the ball.

Prep talents such as Ti’quan Forbes (Columbia (Columbia, MS)) and Forrest Wall (Orangewood Christian (Maitland, FL)) have a chance to come off the board in the first round, as well, with Forbes offering loads of projection across his game and Wall boasting one of the purest hit tools in the class. The remainder of the middle-infield crop is weighted heavily toward the prep class with no pure shortstop or second baseman at the collegiate ranks likely to fit into the top three or four rounds.

Top Players to Know

Nick Gordon | SS | Olympia (Orlando, FL) | Commit: Florida State
Height/Weight:
6-foot-2/170 pounds
B/T: L/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 7m

Projected Slot: Round 1, as high as top five overall
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3

Gordon struggled offensively through the summer and fall, showing heave in his swing and routinely rolling over the ball. The FSU commit entered the spring with added strength and, as a result, showed a greater propensity for impactful barrel delivery. His hit tool presently projects to above-average with a chance for average pull-side power as he continues to mature, physically. He keeps a compact swing from the left side and shows an ability to spray line drives across the diamond. His plus straight-line speed exceeds his out-of-the-box speed, which grades out as average.

Defensively, Gordon shows clean actions at the six spot and possesses enough arm strength to make all the throws. His hands are soft and his lower half does a solid job getting him into position and creating good angles. His reads aren’t always the best, and as a result he can struggle at times to get to balls within his range. Considering his overall feel, he should improve in this area with added reps and pro instruction. Gordon should be the first middle infielder off the board and could go as high as the first five picks.

Trea Turner | SS | NC State
Height/Weight:
6-foot-1/170 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 20y 11m

Projected Slot: Round 1, as high as top 10 overall
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Inconsistencies in the field and at the plate plagued Turner early this spring, though he righted the ship offensively as the season wore on, finishing with a .321/.418/.516 slash line to go with eight homers and 12 doubles in just over 250 plate appearances. Despite plus to plus-plus speed, Turner doesn’t profile well as a top-of-the-order bat due to a lengthy swing that sweeps in and out of the hit zone with little pitch plane overlap. An overhaul in approach that involved a greater focus on putting the ball on the ground and working middle-out could serve him well.

Defensively, Turner has solid range to the glove side and is comfortable both coming across and behind the bag. He has enough arm strength for the position, including to the backhand, but can get lax in his footwork, leading to inconsistencies in his throws. He has shown this spring he has the physical tools to stick at short, long term, but needs to improve his focus and execution. Turner fits best in the back half of the first round but could go as high as the top 10 picks to an organization that believes in him as a future leadoff hitter with solid defensive chops at a premium position.

Ti’quan Forbes | SS | Columbia (Columbia, MS) | Commit: Mississippi
Height/Weight:
6-foot-4/170 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 17y 9m

Projected Slot: Round 1 to First Supplemental Round, as high as top half of first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3

One of the youngest and most projectable talents in the class, Forbes impressed with flashes of an impact skill set throughout the showcase circuit last summer and continued to entice teams with the same this spring. At his best, Forbes is quick and free with the bat, capable of squaring velocity across the quadrants while utilizing the entire field. The load is inconsistent, and can get hitchy at its worst, but the issue should subside as he continues to add strength and gain reps. The power is below average at present, but there is a fair amount of muscle to hang on his frame, and it’s easy to project average (or a tick above) pop in the long term.

In the field Forbes shows loose and limbsy actions at short, with plenty of arm strength for the left side. While some argue a shift to third is likely as his broad and projectable frame adds mass, there is plenty of athleticism and lower-half quickness at present, giving him a good chance to stick or, at worst, shift across the bag to the keystone. Forbes could go as high as the top half of the first round to a team buying into his upside, and in any event should be off the board at some point on day one.

Jacob Gatewood | SS/3B | Clovis (Clovis, CA) | Commit: Southern California
Height/Weight:
6-foot-5/190 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 8m

Projected Slot: Round 1 to Round 2, as high as middle of first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3

Gatewood concluded his junior high school season as an early favorite to go first overall in the 2014 draft, his stock buoyed by big power displays that put him in rarified air amongst underclassmen. The summer circuit saw a breakdown in his approach and swing mechanics, and by the fall there were serious questions as to whether he had the requisite bat-to-ball skills for his power to manifest in-game. This spring he has righted the ship some, but there is still a good amount of collapse and yank in the swing, and he’s too often geared to pull in an “all or nothing” heave, resulting in empty swings and soft contact against even marginal arms. The upside is a 30-plus homer bat, but he’s a long ways from realizing that promise, developmentally.

In the field Gatewood’s actions currently play at short, as does the arm, but his footwork is inconsistent and, at times, he comes off as wholly disinterested. It is easy to see him shifting to third and handling the position well, but the better fit may actually be out in right field, where refinement could be kept to a minimum and developmental focus could be centered on the bat. It’s tough to picture Gatewood salvaging top 10 status, but a team willing to take a developmental gamble could pop the USC commit in the mid- to late-first round. The risk/reward profile, however, probably fits best in the late first to second round.

Forrest Wall | 2B | Orangewood Christian (Maitland, FL) | Commit: North Carolina
Height/Weight:
6-foot-1/180 pounds
B/T: L/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 6m

Projected Slot: Round 1 to Round 2, as high as middle of first
Scouting Video: Video 1

Wall’s obstacles to early selection are twofold: first, he has dealt with not insignificant injuries to each shoulder through his high school career, and second, the defensive profile is limited to second base. Setting that aside, the UNC commit’s hit tool is among the purest of the draft class, boasting contact-friendly barrel control and a knack for matching swing plane to pitch plane that is reminiscent of another Tar Heel: Dustin Ackley. There is surprising pop in the bat, as well, giving Wall a chance for a 65 hit/50 power gradeout—good for one of the best pure offensive profiles in the class.

Defensively, Wall handles second well, showing solid range up the middle and into shallow right field. He is adequate around the bag in utilizes a quick first step and sure hands to make all the plays he should. Provided his arm proves up to the task, a drafting org could also run him out in center field where his plus-plus speed could play up. The depth of the draft class could push Wall to early day two status, where he would provide good value, but it is more likely he finds a home somewhere in the first 41 picks.

Josh Morgan | SS/2B | Orange Lutheran (Orange, CA) | Commit: UCLA
Height/Weight:
5-foot-11/180 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 7m

Projected Slot: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as first supplemental
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Morgan lacks a carrying tool across his profile, instead carving out his niche as a well rounded middle-infielder that has a chance to provide impact value in the aggregate via incremental value across his game. At the plate, Morgan hits from an open stance and, when on, does a good job sealing his front side and utilizing hips and core to generate good bat speed. He does a solid job covering both sides of the plate, stays compact to contact, and excels at producing loud contact up the middle and oppo. He tracks the ball well out of the hand and has the makings of a top-of-the-order on-base approach.

Morgan doesn’t “wow” in the field, but he is capable of making the outstanding play, and his game is underscored by crisp and refined actions. His hands are soft to receive and quick to transfer, making him a good candidate to transition to second if he needs to shift off of the six spot. His above-average arm gets the job done at short and would be an asset turning the double play and ranging to backhand at the keystone. Morgan could come off the board as high as the supplemental-first round and should be secure in the top 100 picks or so, provided he is signable.

Milton Ramos | SS | American Heritage (Plantation, FL) | Commit: Florida Atlantic
Height/Weight:
6-foot-2/165 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 7m

Projected Slot: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as supplemental-first round
Scouting Video: Video 1

Ramos is a potential plus defender at a premium position, which alone should guarantee him early-round attention. The actions in the field are smooth and refined, with little wasted movement a clean lines to and through the ball. The arm plays as at least average, and he has shown the ability to convert at the margins without sacrificing accuracy.

Offensively, the FAU commit is not quite as sexy. At present, the swing works and Ramos shows little difficulty finding the ball with the barrel. But his strength is below average and perhaps not capable of tackling more advanced stuff without having the bat knocked out of his hands. A team placing high value on defense and confident the strength will come as the body matures could grab him early on day two.

Cole Tucker | SS | Mountain Pointe (Phoenix, AZ) | Commit: Arizona
Height/Weight:
6-foot-3/175 pounds
B/T: S/R

Draft Day Age: 17y 11m

Projected Slot: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as supplemental-first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3

Tucker has improved his draft stock as much as any middle infielder, after finishing strong on the summer circuit and showing well with the USA Baseball 18U Team. The Arizona commit is still seeing his long and lanky frame mature, and as a result he will flash inconsistent control of his body, particularly in the swing. When it is all working together, he drives the gaps with the best of them and it is easy to picture a big developmental jump as he settles into his matured body and the hand-eye coordination is permitted to take over.

In the field, Tucker is a high-energy defender capable of covering solid ground with good hands at the margins. The arm is average to tick above, and the lower half does a good job of lining up his throws from varying angles. There isn’t apparent impact on either side of the ball, but as a projectable switch-hitter capable of growing into an average defender at a premium position, Tucker could easily come off the board as early as the supplemental-first round and fits well in the second or third.

Isan Diaz | 2B/SS | Springfield (Springfield, MA) | Commit: Vanderbilt
Height/Weight:
5-foot-10/185 pounds
B/T: L/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 0m

Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1

Diaz boasts good barrel acceleration, some pop to the pull side, and an ability to square up the ball across the quadrants. His competition in the northeast has been spotty at best, but the Vandy commit was able to show enough on the showcase circuit to convince evaluators there is potential for an average or better hit tool to go along with low double-digit home run power and plenty of gap coverage.

Diaz’s fringy arm strength probably limits him to second as a pro, though he could likely handle any of the three skilled infield positions at the collegiate ranks were he to take his talents to the SEC. His hands are adequate and his nimble lower half and ability to throw from varying angles could amount to above-average production at the keystone when all is said and done. He will need reps against advanced competition, but the foundation is here for an everyday regular capable of producing at the plate and in the field. He should fit somewhere in the second to fourth round if his Vanderbilt commitment doesn’t scare teams off.

Trace Loehr | 2B/SS | Rex Putnam (Milwaukie, OR) | Commit: Oregon State
Height/Weight:
5-foot-10/175 pounds
B/T: L/R

Draft Day Age: 19y 0m

Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1

Like Diaz, Loehr likely fits best at second base at the next level, due to a fringy arm (though also like Diaz he could likely handle himself across the diamond at the college ranks). The first step is quick and generally accurate, helping him to cover lots of dirt, and the Oregon State commit shows a solid ability to slow the game down and execute.

At the plate, Loehr’s game is working the gaps, with a slashing line drive swing that can produce hard contact to all fields but can also struggle to impart backspin and carry. There isn’t much physical projection remaining, so a team buying in on Loehr early is doing so with a strong belief that the present skill set can be shaped into two-hole bat and average or better glove at second with proper pro instruction. If he elects to head to Corvallis, Loehr will be draft eligible again as a sophomore in 2016.

Luke Dykstra | 2B/3B | Westlake (Westlake Village, CA) | Commit: Fresno State
Height/Weight:
6-foot-1/190 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 18y 7m

Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 5, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1

Dykstra has a loose, whippy bat that can produce hard contact and even some over-the-fence pop when his upper and lower halves are working together. When he gets out of sync the torque generated by his core dissipates, resulting in softer contact and more difficulty covering the inner-half of the plate. A dev staff that can iron out the swing could unlock a solid average hit tool to go with average pop, making him a legit fit in the early rounds from an offensive perspective.

The glove works well up the middle, and he has the arm to turn the double play without issue. Some view the hot corner as the best fit, but the bat would be stretched there and the lower half works well enough that the Fresno State commit should have little difficulty handling the transition to the keystone. There is enough inconsistency and uncertainty in Dykstra’s profile to drop him as low as the fifth round, but strong bloodlines and a couple of loud showcase performances could be enough to get him off the board as early as the second round.

Tate Blackman | 2B/SS | Lake Brantley (Almonte Springs, FL) | Commit: Mississippi
Height/Weight:
6-foot/187 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 19y 9m

Projected Slot: Round 4 to Round 6, as high as Round 3
Scouting Video: Video 1

What Blackman lacks in impact tools he makes up for with feel and execution. At the plate, the Ole Miss commit can work both sides of the field with ease thanks to a line drive swing that keeps the barrel in the hit zone for an extended period of time. Hard contact tends to come without lift or carry and, considering the lack of physical projection or loft in the swing, it is difficult to project more than fringy power long term.

Defensively Blackman shows solid hands and footwork and good accuracy on his throws. The arm is fringe average and will play best at second base at the pro ranks, which dovetails with his offensive profile. Like Loehr, Blackman is old for the class and will be draft eligible as a sophomore in 2016 should he forgo pro ball and ship off to Mississippi. He projects as a fourth to sixth round talent that could go as high as the third round to a team that believes the hit tool will play above average.

Brian Anderson | 2B/OF | Arkansas
Height/Weight:
6-foot-3/185 pounds
B/T: R/R

Draft Day Age: 21y 0m

Projected Slot: Round 4 to Round 6, as high as Round 3
Scouting Video: N/A

Anderson is probably a better fit in the outfield, but has managed second base well enough for the Razorbacks this spring that a drafting organization should give him the opportunity to stick long term. He can get stiff at times, and his range to margins is limited by his inability to get the glove down and finish, but there is lots of athleticism here and a team confident in its developmental staff could buy into Anderson as an average defender with enough reps and pro instruction.

At the plate, Anderson is more promise than performance thus far. There is a chance for above-average power, but the swing has come with holes this spring and, even in a tough SEC, evaluators generally look for more on-field success in potential seven figure college bats. The dearth of college position players could inflate Anderson’s stock, perhaps to the tune of late second round consideration, but he fits best in the fourth to sixth round based on the risk profile.

Quick Hits

Branden Cogswell (2B/SS, Virginia)
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Cogswell is a sound defender who should be able to handle either short or second at the pro ranks while profiling as a bottom-third bat. His swing is geared to contact with a chance to develop into a gap-to-gap threat at the next level thanks to a solid approach and good feel for the barrel. He profiles as a potential utility player or second-division starter at second and should fit somewhere in the mid-single digit rounds.

Greg Deichmann (2B/SS, Brother Martin (New Orleans, LA)) | Commit: Louisiana State
Scouting Video:
Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3
Deichmann made some of the loudest contact of any bat during the showcase circuit, but also showed a tendency to expand the zone and abandon his approach. There is plus pull side power in the stick and Deichmann has no issue driving the ball to straight away center or to the oppo gap in-game, as well. It was a choppy spring for the LSU commit, making it tough to figure on a consensus price tag for the profile. It seems most likely he takes his left-handed pop to Baton Rouge where he could emerge as a top two round talent as draft eligible sophomore in two years. He might also make an interesting over-slot target in the mid-single digit rounds for a team with room in their pool.

Dalton Guthrie (SS/2B, Venice (Venice, FL)) | Commit: Florida
Scouting Video:
Video 1 | Video 2
Guthrie has a chance to make an impact on day one in Gainesville if he chooses the college route. He has a balanced approach at the plate, good hands, and a solid line-drive ability up the middle and to pull. Defensively he gets the job down at short and should be able to stick somewhere up the middle long term, be it at the six or two spot. He fits as a fourth to sixth rounder but could drop out of the top 10 rounds if he is not considered signable.

Shane Mardirosian (2B/SS, Martin Luther King (Riverside, CA)) | Commit: UC Santa Barbara
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Mardirosian will garner attention as a left-handed bat capable of working the gaps and holding down an up-the-middle defensive designation. There is minimal raw strength in the frame, but enough bat speed and ability to backspin that an optimist could project low double-digit home run power and a fair number of doubles in his future. It’s a fourth to sixth round skill set that is made more enticing thanks to good makeup and a track record of performance against showcase competition.

Alexis Pantojas (SS, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR)) | Commit: Alabama State
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Pantojas shows a good first step and solid range at short, which paired with his soft hands and above-average arm strength help him to an above-average defensive projection. The bat trails the glove by a fair amount, developmentally, so a team willing to invest in Pantojas in the early rounds is doing so based on the promise of his leather and the hope the wood will eventually develop. The fist step will be adding strength and shorting his path to contact (he currently hits with a wrap, the impact of which is amplified by average bat speed). He should go somewhere in the top 10 rounds and as high as the fourth.

Michael Russell (2B/SS, North Carolina)
Scouting Video:
N/A
Russell is a stats man’s prospect, showing awkward “get it done” actions in the field but producing at the plate, regardless. His .345/.430/.505 line was good to lead the Tar Heels across the board, and will undoubtedly help garner him attention from drafting orgs that lean to college bats in a class thin in that department. The profile is a bit of tweener, with the power light for third base (his best defensive fit) and the lower-half agility somewhat lacking for short or second. Most likely he’ll ease into pro ball as a shortstop before moving across the bag and working to stick there. He could go out as high as the third round to a stat-centric club, but fits best in the fourth to sixth round.

Justin Twine (SS/2B/OF, Falls City (Falls City, TX)) | Commit: Texas Christian
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Twine is a quick twitch athlete capable of producing above-average bat speed and an explosive first step both on the bases and in the field. The finer skills are still raw, including his approach at the plate and his ability to ID and track secondaries. He lacks the feel for short, long term, but the plus speed and solid arm strength could make him a fit at second or center field. It’s a high upside profile that should be available in the mid-single digit rounds, though a team that values athleticism could grab Twine as high as the third.

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.

Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here

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