May 30, 2014
Scouting the Draft
2014 Draft: Corner Outfielders to Know
The high school ranks are much thinner on the corner outfield side, with Alex Verdugo (Sahuaro (Tucson, AZ)), Gareth Morgan (North Toronto Collegiate (Toronto, ON)), and Casey Soltis (Granada (Livermore, CA)) making up the group of players most likely to get popped in the top three rounds. Morgan has some of the biggest raw pop in the class but has had trouble getting to it in game action, while Verdugo carries a more balanced profile. Soltis might have had the best spring of the three, and offers good left-handed power out of a rapidly maturing body.
Top Players to Know
Michael Conforto | OF | Oregon State
Conforto mashed his way through the regular season, slashing .364/.518/.578, drawing 50 walks to 35 strikeouts over 250 plate appearances. There’s more pull-side power in the bat than his seven home runs would indicate, and he gets to it easy thanks to a pronounced uppercut in the swing and raw strength that allows him to generate easy lift and carry. The tradeoff is a diminished overlap of swing and pitch plane due to the barrel’s quick passage through the hit zone. He can struggle adjusting to secondaries away, and there is risk the hit tool will lag at the next level as he is more consistently challenged with quality off-speed stuff.
Defensively it’s a left field profile whose nose for the ball outdistanced the physical tools he uses to chase them down. He’s a below-average runner with average arm strength that should be able to provide adequate defense at the seven spot, but lacks the arm for right or the coverage for center. He profiles as a power-first middle-of-the-order bat capable of 25-plus home runs a year. While the on-base production this spring has been staggering, the walks will likely drop some as more advanced arms challenge him in the zone. He could come off the board in the top 15 picks and is a lock for first round selection.
Fisher lost six weeks of his spring to a broken hamate bone, sidetracking the Cavalier’s campaign to be the first college bat off the board in this year’s draft. Fisher has a balanced offensive approach that should allow him to hit for average and power at the next level, and evaluators are more confident his offensive game will translate with wood thanks to a strong showing on the Cape last summer. He’s an average runner who gets solid reads on the bases and should provide some value there via his ability to grab an extra base when the opportunity presents itself.
Defensively, Fisher will likely slot into left at the next level, though he could get the opportunity to show his chops in center field. The arm strength is average, but he gets good carry and accuracy on his throws, helping it to play up. The reads are solid and he has improved his routes over his tenure in Charlottesville. A healthy and productive spring could have landed Fisher in the top 10 picks, but even given his limited action it’s unlikely he falls out of the first round. He fits well in the bottom third of the round and could get popped as early as the middle third.
Mike Papi | OF/1B | Virginia
Papi had perhaps the best hit tool on a talented Virginia squad, showing good plate coverage and a propensity for loud contact both to pull and to the opposite field gap. It’s a loose and balanced swing out of an upright stance and he handles the barrel well, allowing a sweepy cut to find more barrels than you’d expect. He could develop into an above-average hitter for average with on-base ability and 15-plus homers a year. While the power might be a little lighter than you’d traditionally expect out of a corner defender, the aggregate production should be more than enough to carry his defensive profile.
While more than capable in the outfield, Papi played at first base in Charlottesville thanks to a glut of outfield talent. He will shift back to the grass as a pro where he should provide average or better defense in right field, where his plus arm strength will be an asset. There are some concerns tied to his relatively high strikeout rate, and if those issues persist they could cut into his profile as a two-hole hitter geared to hard contact. His production was light for the spring, likely placing the supplemental-first round as his ceiling, and he fits well in the second or third round.
Alex Verdugo | OF/LHP | Sahuaro (Tucson, AZ) | Commit: Arizona State
Verdugo is a true two-way talent with professional upside both on the hill and through his left-handed, right-field profile, though most scouts prefer him on the mound at this point. He will show good pull-side power in batting practice and has flashed that pop in-game on the showcase circuit and periodically this spring. He gets the barrel to the ball consistently, but can get frustrated behind in the count and expand the zone. The upside is an average hit tool with a chance for 20-plus home runs and good extra-base pop.
The biggest asset Verdugo has in the field is his plus arm strength, which comes with good carry and accuracy out of right field. He is a fringy runner who is better coming in on the ball than he is ranging back or to the sides, and probably tops out as an average defender in right. Should he elect to attend Arizona State, Verdugo will have a chance to impact the game as a pitcher and as a position player, while it’s likely a team drafting him high enough to sign will do so with an eye toward transitioning him to pitching full time. As an outfielder he’s a second to third rounder.
Gareth Morgan | OF | North Toronto Collegiate (Toronto, ON) | Commit: NC State
Morgan has been on scouts’ radars dating back to his sophomore year as a projectable outfielder showing signs of emerging power. Fast-forward to present and the body has matured into a true pro build with room to add even more strength over the coming years. As is common with teenagers, his coordination has struggled to keep up with his growing body, creating issues in the swing throughout the summer and fall, and casting doubt as to whether the Toronto prep product was ready to tackle professional ball. He has taken positive steps forward this summer, showing more consistency at the plate and flashing more playable power than he had displayed through the preceding nine months. There’s 30 homer upside if he can make enough contact.
In the field he is a below-average runner with solid arm strength and athletic actions. He should be able to handle right field, and will see more consistency in his throws as he finishes maturing and gets a better handle on his arms and legs. Morgan will be a bit of a wild card, as the upside could land him as high as second round consideration, while the contact concerns and multiple rough showings in front of high-level decision makers might drop him far enough that he’ll opt to head to NC State to up his stock over the next three years.
Dylan Davis | OF/RHP | Oregon State
Davis has plus raw power capable of driving the ball out to all fields, but struggles to tap into that power thanks to a lofted swing plane and inconsistent balance at the plate. The bat speed is solid, and should allow him to overcome some swing ineffeciencies, but there is still bound to be a fair amount of developmental work put into cleaning up his barrel delivery and giving him a better chance of finding the ball with the barrel. He does a solid job avoiding empty swings but needs to get back to where he was mechanically last summer, when he led the Cape Cod Baseball League in slugging.
In the outfield Davis is a below-average runner, but moves well enough to stick on the grass long term. The arm grades out at 65 or 70 on the 20/80 scale, and will be an asset out of right field. If Davis were to struggle to develop offensively, his drafting organization could run him out as a pitcher, where he’s reached the upper 90s with his fastball. His profile on the mound is that of a reliever thanks to a limited repertoire and below-average control. Davis’ power upside should earn him attention in the third or fourth round, and there is a chance a team pops him as early as the second.
Jordan Luplow | OF | Fresno State
Luplow has raked his way through the spring to the tune of a .377/.475/.609 slash line while drawing 36 walks to just 22 strikeouts over 270 plate appearances. Injuries robbed him of the opportunity to showcase his stuff on the Cape last summer, but he has made up for it and then some over the past three months, with his bat carrying into early round consideration. It’s a sound swing that could produce solid average and power, and he runs well enough to bolster his slugging percentage with doubles and the occasional triple.
In the outfield his arm works well enough for right field, and the speed should help him to an average defensive profile, overall. Some knock the power profile as light for a corner, while others insist he could produce enough to carve out an everyday role. He’s a worthy target in third to fifth round.
Aaron Brown | OF/LHP | Pepperdine
Brown has proponents on the offensive side and on the hill, but the plus-plus raw pop might be enough to entice a team to roll the dice on him as a upside stick in the top five rounds. It’s a heavily lofted swing plane that can produce majestic moon shots, but also leaves his plate coverage limited and can tie him up on the inner half. There is a lot of swing-and-miss here, and likely always will be, so the trick will be for Brown to make adjustments in approach that allow him to better find pitches he can handle. That means toning down the aggression some and learning to rein in the swing some when behind in the count.
Brown has easy right field arm strength and is athletic enough to develop into a solid defender there with pro instruction. His throws come with good carry out of a smooth transfer and fluid actions. If he comes off of the board as an outfielder, it will likely be in the third to fifth round range, and a team enamored with the power could pop him as early as the late second round.
Slater lead the Cardinal in hitting this spring, sporting a .349/.400/.497 slash line along the way. The swing is flat and geared to line drives, limiting his power potential primarily to gap-to-gap work. He can get tight in the upper body, losing fluidity and further sapping his leverage. The overall offensive profile is light for a corner player, and he could greatly benefit from a shift back to the infield, where he’s logged time at third base.
On the grass he shows above-average speed and solid arm strength that is probably better suited for left field than right. He makes the plays he should and does a good job of slowing down the game in front of him, showing good decision making and execution in his throws. Slater’s stock will get a bump due to the limited number of single-digit-round collegiate bats in play, but probably fits best in the fourth to sixth round range.
Casey Soltis | OF | Granada (Livermore, CA)) | Commit: Oregon
Soltis saw a nice bump in his draft stock this spring thanks to added strength and easy access to his developing power. He hits out of a balanced, open stance, showing good barrel acceleration through the zone and a compact cut that allows him access to all four quadrants. Given the compact nature of his swing, solid bat speed, and growing strength, the Oregon commit could grow into an average or better hit tool with average power once fully developed.
In the field Soltis is a solid runner who has improved his routes and should continue to build upon his solid foundation with reps and instruction. He has enough arm for right field and might be able to hold down center at the college level, should he head to Oregon and forgo starting his pro career. The overall skill set is still raw, which could keep him down in the fourth to sixth round range, but a team looking to get him started early could pop him in the third round if he is looking to sign quickly and get started.
Caleb Adams (OF, Louisiana-Lafayette)
Luke Bonfield (IMG Academy (Bradenton, FL)) | Commit: Arkansas
Tanner English (OF, South Carolina)
Stone Garrett (OF, George Ranch (Sugar Land, TX)) | Commit: Rice
Jon Littell | (OF, Stillwater (Stillwater, OK)) | Commit: Oklahoma State
Storm Edwards (OF, West Henderson (Mountain Home, NC)) | Commit: NC State
Richard Prigatano (OF, Long Beach State)
Clark Scolamiero (OF, Greenville (Greenville, SC)) | Commit: South Carolina
Michael Suchy (OF, Florida Gulf Coast)
Nick Torres (OF, Cal Poly)
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.