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May 29, 2014

Scouting the Draft

2014 Draft: Corner Infielders to Know

by Nick J. Faleris

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

Full 2014 Draft Video Library

Positional Overview
A corner infield designation carries with it a higher bar for offensive performance than you find in the middle of the diamond, so it should be no surprise that some of the best pure bats in the class reside in this grouping. Prep standouts Michael Chavis (Sprayberry (Marietta, GA)) and Braxton Davidson (TC Roberson (Asheville, NC)) have swings geared to contact and an ability to make loud hard contact on a regular basis, while Casey Gillaspie (Wichita State) and AJ Reed (Kentucky) offer big raw power and solid strike zone awareness.

There is further offensive potential sprinkled throughout the collection of early round targets, skewed to the collegiate ranks headed by advanced hit tools such as Alex Blandino (Stanford) and Sam Travis (Indiana), and big power with some swing-and-miss in the form of JD Davis (Cal State Fullerton). Prep bats Bobby Bradley (Harrison Central (Gulfport, MS)) and Sean Bouchard (Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, CA)) offer projectable power.

Top Players to Know

Michael Chavis | 3B/2B | Sprayberry (Marietta, GA) | Commit: Clemson
Height/Weight:
5-foot-10/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 10m
Projected Slot: Round 1, as high as top half of first
Scouting Video: Video 1

Chavis hits. That’s the simplest description of the Clemson commit's profile. He utilizes a short and explosive swing that produces regular loud contact and allows him to both turn on velocity and let pitches travel on the outer half. The lack of load can lead to an abrupt entry into the swing and inconsistent barrel delivery—something that could potentially be exposed by more advanced pitching, even if it leads to more soft contact than empty swings. Those issues have yet to surface, however, and the core of the profile remains Chavis’ ability to put barrel to ball on a consistent basis.

Outside of the batter’s box Chavis is a better athlete than you might expect from the frame and build, and he profiles well as a solid, and potentially above-average, defender at the hot corner, with a left side arm and good first step to the ball. In addition to lower-half quickness on the defensive side, he can move on the bases and has consistently showed a willingness and capability to take the extra base when the opportunity presents itself. He has enjoyed a productive spring and his hit tool is up there with those of Forrest Wall and Nick Gordon as the best in the prep ranks, and perhaps in the entire draft. The number of power arms up top could push him to the second half of the first round, but he’s a potential top 10 talent.

Braxton Davidson | 1B/OF | TC Roberson (Asheville, NC) | Commit: North Carolina
Height/Weight:
6-foot-3/215 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 17y 11m
Projected Slot: Round 1 to First Supplemental, as high as middle of first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3

Davidson concluded the summer circuit as perhaps the best blend of hit and power at the high school ranks, and his reputation preceded him to Jupiter where he was pitched around for an entire weekend. Through the spring Davidson has seen some inconsistencies in his swing, including a compacting of his core as he began his barrel delivery at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational, which reduced leverage and sapped some pull side pop, but there is potential 60/60 hit/power here if everything clicks.

As a below-average runner with arm strength that is average at best, Davidson is fighting an uphill battle working off of the three spot, but there is a contingent that believes he could hold his own out in left field. So far as draft value is concerned, the offensive upside is large enough to make it a moot point. Davidson has the benefit of some loud performances in front of decision makers (particularly a record setting home run performances at the Tournament of Stars), and if you believe Davidson will find consistency as he logs consistent pro reps and takes in instruction, he’s an easy mid-first round talent.

Casey Gillaspie | 1B | Wichita State
Height/Weight:
6-foot-4/238 pounds
B/T: S/L
Draft Day Age: 21y 4m
Projected Slot: Round 1 to Round 2, as high as middle of first
Scouting Video: Video 1

Gillaspie has enjoyed a monster offensive season, slashing .389/.520/.682 while blasting 15 bombs and drawing 58 walks to just 28 strikeouts. About 38 percent of Gillaspie’s hits have resulted in extra bases and he has produced from both sides of the plate. In spite of the impressive production, Gillaspie comes by his power via strength and leverage, rather than bat speed, and there is concern he might struggle to handle more advanced arm when armed with wood.

Gillaspie is solid at first, capable of working off the bag and showing adequate range to both sides. He’s a well below-average runner, so a shift to the outfield is likely not in the cards. Some evaluators have dropped the “metal bat swing” label on him, and a second round designation that comes with it. His supporters insist there is enough bat speed to overcome the length, and his ability to track and find his pitches will give him ample opportunity to impose his power on the game. He’s a likely day one name that could come off the board as early as the mid-first round.

AJ Reed | 1B/LHP | Kentucky
Height/Weight:
6-foot-4/250 pounds
B/T: L/L
Draft Day Age: 21y 1m
Projected Slot: Round 1 to Round 2, as high as back half of first
Scouting Video: N/A

Reed is one of the top candidates for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award (the college baseball equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) thanks to an impactful season both in the box and on the bump. His pro future is at first base, or more accurately in the left-handed batter’s box, where his evaluators see his plus raw power capable of playing to the tune of 25-plus home runs a year at the highest level. As is the case with Gillaspie, some evaluators are turned off by the lack of impact bat speed and fear the production will wilt under brighter lights.

Reed is a below-average runner who has the arm, but not the straight-line speed, for the outfield. He handles first adequately and possesses a solid safety net on the mound, should the bat fail to play, where he could profile as a swing man. Teams looking for college bats to balance a portfolio, or high on junior year production, could target Reed toward the end of day one, and the profile makes sense anywhere through the second round.

Alex Blandino | 3B/2B | Stanford
Height/Weight:
6-foot/190 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 21y 7m
Projected Slot: First Supplemental to Round 3, as high as late first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Blandino has not enjoyed the loudest offensive spring, but with a solid Cape performance under his belt, including a very impressive showing at the Cape All-Star Game in front of a large contingent of decision makers, he has won over more than enough evaluators to solidify a spot in the early rounds. The swing is short to contact and produces line drives to all fields, with over-the-fence pop to pull. At first blush his .306/.396/.541 slash line this spring might seem underwhelming, but teams digging deeper will find some unfortunate luck buried in those numbers (.297 BABIP in spite of regular hard contact) and he passes the eye test without question.

Defensively, Blandino is capable of making the spectacular play at the hot corner, and possesses enough lower-half quickness to handle second base at the pro ranks, and even shortstop in an emergency. He has left-side arm strength that would play at third or to the extreme of his zone at second. Whether it is at second base or at third, Blandino has the chance to provide above-average defense. He also gets high scores for makeup and feel, and should adapt quickly to the pro game. The depth of the class may squeeze him down boards, and some feel he fits best defensively at third where the power might be light. Folks buying in could pop Blandino as high as the late first round, and he fits well anywhere from the supplemental-first to third round, depending on how you project the power.

Sam Travis | 1B/OF | Indiana
Height/Weight:
6-foot/205 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 20y 9m
Projected Slot: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as supplemental-first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Travis doesn’t get the national attention of teammate Kyle Schwarber, but a number of Midwest scouts prefer his hit tool and believe he will ultimately hit for a higher average at the pro ranks. While that opinion is not the one of the majority, Travis has enjoyed good success this spring, finishing the regular season with a .342/.408/.561 slash while muscling out double-digit home runs for the second straight season. He utilizes a compact line drive stroke that plays well to all fields, and his ability to track helps him to consistently square pitches across the quadrants.

While some scouts argue he should get a shot out in left, fringy arm strength and 30 speed are likely to limit Travis to first base, where he is a solid, but not standout, defender and his stature (scraping 6 feet) would be non-traditional for a major-league first bagger. As an undersized, offensively balanced first baseman, the profile isn’t dissimilar from former Gamecock Christian Walker, who lasted to the fourth round before being selected by Baltimore and is currently enjoying a strong season with Double-A Bowie. Travis won’t get close to the fourth round, and should be off the board somewhere in top 100 picks, and likely early on day two.

Bobby Bradley | 1B | Harrison Central (Gulfport, MS) | Commit: Louisiana State
Height/Weight:
6-foot-2/225 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 0m
Projected Slot: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as supplemental-first
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Bradley compares favorably to fellow prep first baseman Braxton Davidson as a balanced left-handed bat with a chance to hit for average and power, though Bradley’s projection grades out a notch below Davidson’s in each facet at this point, and Davidson shows a more advanced ability to drive the ball pole-to-pole. The LSU commit excels on the inner half of the plate, where his bat speed allows him to utilize his hip/shoulder separation to create maximum leverage and drive the ball to right. He can be tripped up by soft stuff away, but supporters feel he will make the proper adjustments as he faces better competition more regularly.

Defensively Bradley is currently limited to first base, though he may have a fallback at catcher, where he has logged time and should some aptitude. A team drafting him and offering enough to buy him out of three years in Baton Rouge, however, is buying the stick, and it’s highly unlikely they risk delaying offensive development chasing down the chance of passable defense behind the plate. Bradley’s profile fits as a traditional third round prep power bat, but it’s possible he comes off the board as early as the supplemental-first round on a pre-draft deal if the right team buys into the idea that the hit and power tools will make jump with pro instruction and more regular exposure to high end competition.

Taylor Sparks | 3B | UC Irvine
Height/Weight:
6-foot-4/210 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 21y 2m
Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2

Sparks is a top shelf defender at third, showing above-average arm strength, solid range, and an ability to make the play off his feet. The offensive production has not been what some had hoped for this spring, but a loud summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, where he lead the squad in hitting and on-base percentage, gave evaluators a taste of what he can do with wood. Still, the approach is often too loose, and he’ll get caught expanding the zone and giving away at bats—a weakness than could be exploited by pro arms in short order.

The athleticism and potential for plus defense at third, as well as a strong performance last summer with the premier collegiate wood bat team in the country, could be enough to land Sparks in the second round, but he seems a better fit in the third or fourth. It’s an upside play that could pay dividends to the team capable of reining in his approach and coaxing out the average power and hit tools buried in the skill set.

Matt Chapman | 3B/RHP | Cal State Fullerton
Height/Weight:
6-foot-1/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 21y 1m
Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1 | Video 2 | Video 3 | Video 4

Chapman is a solid athlete with plus-plus arm strength well suited for the left side of the infield. There is above-average pop in the bat, but the barrel delivery isn’t clean and there is some dip that moves the bat out of the hit zone quickly, limiting both his plate coverage and his opportunity to square-up balls. He was hot and cold this spring with the stick, and the power never really blossomed as evaluators had hoped.

Defensively he has solid hands and handles his zone adequately at third. The arm is an asset, and he is comfortable throwing behind the bag and on the run. There is a fallback for Chapman on the hill, where he is capable of running the ball up to the mid-90s, though he has seen limited action in that role this spring. A team that whose development staff can clean up the swing could find a bargain in Chapman in the third or fourth round, and it’s possible he comes off the board as early as the middle to late second round.

JD Davis | 1B/RHP | Cal State Fullerton
Height/Weight:
6-foot-3/215 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 21y 1m
Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: N/A

Davis lead Fullerton in all three slash categories this spring, posting a .338/.425/.521 line in just over 250 plate appearances. There is plus power here to pull, and enough strength to muscle the ball out to all fields, as evidenced by a strong showing on the Cape last year that included six home runs in less than 125 at bats, and a second place finish at the Cape All-Star Game Home Run Derby. The power hasn’t manifested this spring, however, and Davis has proven susceptible to merely average off-speed stuff down and away, perhaps in part due to a tendency to drift through his trigger and his merely average bat speed. There is likely to always be swing-and-miss in his game, which will likely limit the utility of both the hit and power tools at the pro ranks.

While Davis will show a plus to plus-plus arm when he lets it go, his below-average foot speed could limit him to first base as a pro, where he moves well around the bag and shows a good feel for the position. Davis has a safety net as a hard throwing reliever with a chance for a plus fastball/slider combo. College bats and power bats often get a boost on draft boards, so it’s not inconceivable Davis could come off the board in the second round, but he seems to fit better in the third or fourth given the risk that comes with the stick.

Sean Bouchard | 3B | Cathedral Catholic (San Diego, CA) | Commit: UCLA
Height/Weight:
6-foot-3/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 1m
Projected Slot: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Scouting Video: Video 1

Bouchard displays good raw pop through a powerful and leveraged swing, but periodically struggled with contact and in-game utility throughout the scouting circuit. Those struggles continued this spring, making him an upside play with a chance to grow into an average hit tool with above-average pop as the body matures and the approach refines. When things are clicking, he shows balance at the plate, a strong front side, and solid barrel acceleration and extension through contact.

Defensively Bouchard fits comfortably into a third base profile, with enough arm for the hot corner and solid lower-half agility. He should develop into at least an average defender at third, and there is enough projection across the profile to think he could blossom into a first round candidate after three more years of development at the collegiate ranks should he elect to honor his commitment to UCLA. He currently fits best in the third to fourth round.

Quick Hits

Shane Benes (3B/RHP, Westminster Christian (Town and Country, MO)) | Commit:
Missouri
Scouting Video:
Video 1
When on, Benes shows the potential for average or better hit and power tools thanks to an easy swing that produces natural lift to pull. He can struggle with velocity on the inner half, and he has yet to clean up an early weight transfer that can too often lead him to get caught out front. Benes could fit in the mid-single digit rounds if he is signable there. Otherwise, he’ll head to Missouri where he could develop into an impact player both on the mound and with the bat.

Austin Byler (1B/3B, Nevada)
Scouting Video:
N/A
Byler is a bit of tweener, likely lacking the athleticism to stick at third long term and possessing an offensive profile that is likely a bit light for a first designation. There is above-average raw pop here, but the swing comes with coverage issues and average bat speed, making him a candidate for exposure against more surgical arms and high end velocity. He could fit into the fourth to sixth round range.

Skyler Ewing (1B/C, Rice)
Scouting Video:
N/A
Ewing’s standout performance last summer came in his home run derby victory prior to the Cape All-Star Game, where the powerfully built first baseman outslugged Fullerton early round candidate JD Davis. Ewing has plus raw pop from the right side, which plays closer to average thanks to a lofted swing that carries the bat out of the zone and limits use of the full field. He currently sits as a mid- to late-single round target, but will get one more chance to make an impression on scouts at the Reckling Regional this weekend, where Rice will face some potential early round arms. A strong showing in front of the right eyes could bump him to early day two status.

Isiah Gilliam (1B, Parkview (Lilburn, GA)) | Commit: N/A
Scouting Video:
Video 1
To my knowledge the newest member of the draft class, Gilliam was declared a draft-eligible junior early this spring, which made USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational a perfect opportunity for decision-makers to get an extended look at a player with whom most had little evaluative history. While the Parkview first baseman’s performance wasn’t exactly dominant, he showed enough to keep his name in the mix for signing round consideration, and remains there two weeks out from the draft. In the box he utilizes a controlled setup and smooth barrel delivery at his best, while lapsing into a tendency to throw the barrel to the outside and heave it through to get to the inner half when he falls out of his comfort zone. It’s a pro body that moves well around first and might be able to handle a corner outfield spot with further maturation and pro instruction, though the safe bet is on the three spot as his long-term home. Gilliam won’t turn 18 until after the draft and could fit anywhere in the fourth to 10th round as an upside play.

Tyler Humphreys (3B, St. Johns River)
Scouting Video: N/A

One of the more intriguing junior college talents in the class, Humphreys brings to the table an interesting blend of athleticism, power potential, and defensive aptitude at the hot corner. The approach can get overly aggressive, leaving him open to exploitation by proper sequencing and casting doubts as to whether the power will ultimately realize at the pro ranks. There might not be enough track record for Humphreys to carve out a spot in the top 100 picks, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him come off the board in the mid-single digit rounds.

JJ Matijevic (1B/3B, Norwin (North Huntingdon, PA)) | Commit: Arizona
Scouting Video:
Video 1
The Arizona commit was one of the more intriguing corner bats on the showcase circuit last summer, competing with Bobby Bradley for the title of “most improved” when it comes to offensive skill set. Matijevic has carried that momentum over to the spring to the point that he has at least been mentioned as an early-round candidate off the strength of his bat. He likely fits somewhere in the top 200 picks, but signability and the depth of the draft class will likely play a big role in determining where he is ultimately popped.

Kevin Padlo (3B/SS, Murietta Valley (Murietta, CA)) | Commit: San Diego
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Padlo utilizes a high-effort swing that generates above-average pop, but also limits his ability to make adjustments and handle quality secondary offerings. He has impressive athleticism, which helps him to project to an above-average defender at third with plenty of arm strength to make the necessary plays and then some. He will likely need to quiet his swing mechanics and rein in the aggressiveness, but you could do worse as an upside play outside of the top three rounds. He would be worthy target as high as the fourth round and could be a steal if he’s signable in the fifth or later.

Joey Pankake (3B/OF, South Carolina)
Scouting Video:
N/A
Pankake entered the spring with a chance to etch a spot in the top three rounds, but an inconsistent spring on both sides of the ball may have pushed him down to the fourth to sixth round range. At present he lacks an impact tool, with his strongest attribute coming in the form of his command of the strike zone. There is still a chance a loud performance during this weekend’s regional could bump him up to third round consideration, but he’s more likely to fit in the mid-single digit range, where it’s debatable whether he will sign or return to South Carolina to try and up his stock in 2015.

Pavin Smith (1B/OF, Palm Beach Gardens (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)) | Commit: Virginia
Scouting Video:
Video 1
Smith shows the potential for pop in his bat, but his current offensive game is centered on the hit tool. Despite a rock-in weight transfer, Pavin keeps a stable head and does a good job of maintaining a consistent swing path that he can pretty solidly match to pitch plane. There is physical projection remaining, and if he elects to forgo pro ball for the time being, he could emerge from UVA as a top tier offensive prospect in 2017. He shows good hands and a decent lower half, defensively, but will be limited to first base as a lefty with well below-average foot speed. Coach “Oke” and Virginia excel at holding on to their commits, further clouding Pavin’s likely drafting round. A team sold on the projection could make a run at him as an over-slot sign in the fourth round or later.

Jose Trevino (3B/C, Oral Roberts)
Scouting Video:
N/A
Trevino has his backers as a catcher given his build, arm, and attention to detail and execution, and he did a praise-worthy job as a sophomore handling 2013 first rounder Chi Chi Gonzalez. Conversely, it’s possible a full time shift would stall out the development of a bat that has the potential to grow into an average major league weapon in spite of some struggles with wood last summer on the Cape. It’s a limited ceiling, but there is a lot of versatility to the profile, opening him up to orgs looking for utility prospects, catchers, or upside corner defenders. The questions surrounding the ultimate utility of the bat, and the ultimate home defensively, mean he could slide anywhere into the single digit rounds once we leave the top three rounds or so.

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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