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June 4, 2013

Dissecting the Draft

Pairing and Parsing 1-7 Targets

by Nick J. Faleris

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Housekeeping
Today we finish up with our look at potential targets for the seventh overall pick before moving on to a broader examination of the draft class as a whole and, finally, putting in place our formal strategy for draft day. Before jumping in, let’s catch up with one significant update since our last entry.

Player: Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma University‚Ä®
Event: Yesterday, word leaked that two potential Day 1 arms, Jonathan Gray (RHP, Oklahoma) and Aaron Blair (RHP, Marshall) tested positive for Adderall—a banned substance under MLB guidelines.
Effect: Gray will be exposed to additional testing moving forward, but there is no substantive effect on his professional career. From a draft perspective, one could try to make the argument that this alters leverage in negotiations, but it’s not an argument I’d seriously entertain were I representing Gray. There is little reason to believe this is anything more than a single indiscretion to be learned from, rather than evidence of character issues or more concerning issues with controlled substances. Teams would have to convince Gray that he was in danger of falling out of the top five picks or so in order for this to play as a game-changer in negotiations, and that simply isn’t logical considering other options available and the stage in which we find ourselves in the draft cycle. Gray should have a good idea as to where he stands on the draft landscape, and orgs such as Minnesota, Cleveland, and Colorado have little reason to show disinterest in Gray now to the benefit of Houston. He’s still a Tier 1 target for our purposes, and still highly unlikely to reach us at 1-7.

As a recap from our earlier pieces, we have three Tier 1 targets that would top our options should any of them fail to come off the board in the first six picks:

1. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma University
2. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford University
3. Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (Loganville, GA)

Additionally, we have examined three Tier 2 talents, ranking them approximately on par with each other, but specifically as follows:

4. Kohl Stewart, RHP, St. Pius X (Houston, TX)
5. Trey Ball, LHP, New Castle HS (New Castle, IN)
6. Kris Bryant, OF/CIF, University of San Diego

As noted in our prior series entry, while Bryant rates behind Stewart and Ball from a pure grading standpoint, additional factors (namely proximity to the majors) could find him the preferred option if it fits better with our overall strategy—a decision that will ultimately be reached over the next two entries in the series.

The next step, then, is to finish with our remaining six Tier 2 targets, as well as a re-examination of Trey Ball as a position player (for purposes of this piece, we’ll compare his risk/upside in each capacity). The goal is to make sure (1) each player rates out at least on par with Stewart/Ball(LHP)/Bryant, and (2) we have a feel for the player profile for purposes of structuring our overall draft strategy, which will include balancing our draft portfolio on the whole in terms of investment type.

Shipley vs. Stanek: From front-end to late innings
Braden Shipley (RHP, University of Nevada) and Ryne Stanek (University of Arkansas) have taken very different paths to potential top-ten selection. Shipley, a converted shortstop, began his pitching career in earnest last spring and saw his stock steadily rise through a strong showing in the Alaska League (summer collegiate wood bat league) last summer and a strong first two-plus months of the season this spring. As Nevada concluded its season, the consistency in Shipley’s stuff wavered, with some velocity dips in his fastball, command issues, and execution inconsistencies in his secondaries.

Stanek entered the spring as a candidate to go first overall to Houston but struggled through some bad luck (and bad weather) early on, logged a heavy workload, and has simply taken a step back across the board. While the velocity has climbed close to where he was last spring (mid-90s), his slider—projected to be his best offering entering the year—has been flat and inconsistent. He’s shifted his focus to a curveball, which has come in tandem with an alteration in his arm slot and a slight shortening in his stride, putting his release point higher than 12 months ago. The overall results have been flatter stuff, and he has just two-and-a-half pitches that currently look to have major-league utility at this point.

Adjusted OFP grades for these two college arms come in at 56/62 (Shipley) and 53/60 (Stanek). Shipley’s strengths are in his fastball/change-up combo (projecting as 60/65 and 65 offerings, respectively, on the 20-80 scouting scale), very good athleticism (which will aid in smoothing out his motion and repeating his mechanics), and his relatively fresh arm (being new to the pitching game). His big knocks are his lack of a track record and his lack of a true plus breaking ball.

Stanek has the opposite problem, with a strong track record but a spotty 2013 showing. His slider has flashed plus to plus-plus in the past, but it was barely average for much of the spring. His command and control issues, combined with a lack of a third pitch with major-league utility this spring, further cloud his future as a starter at the highest level. If he can recapture the electric stuff he showed with more consistency in the past, he still possesses front-end upside, but it’s tough to gamble on that coming back after such a topsy-turvy junior year.

In each case, Shipley and Stanek could end up relievers—albeit relievers capable of tackling high-leverage work. Shipley’s athleticism and fresh arm help his cause as a starter, as does Stanek’s history of maintaining quality stuff deep in starts, and deep into the season. Right now, my preferred gamble is that Shipley won’t see a big regression in stuff once tasked with throwing more regularly, as opposed to betting that Stanek can undo his 2013 mechanical changes and rediscover the slider he lost somewhere along the way. His command was never a strength, but it has regressed significantly this spring, which again adds risk to his starter profile.

Give the nod to Shipley if both are available at our selection; Stanek’s upside keeps him in the discussion if Shipley is off the board and other factors cause us to strongly consider a college arm with our first pick.

McGuire vs Denney: Defensive certainty trumps offensive upside
McGuire and Denney are the top two catchers on my board, and the two I think are worth consideration with our first pick. McGuire is an advanced defender who shows excellent lateral movements and excels at blocking and deadening the ball. His catch-and-throw game is above average, and he’s an adequate receiver, with the total defensive package projecting to above average, leaving little doubt in his ability to stick behind the plate.

Offensively, McGuire shows core strength and good hips, helping to produce pull-side power and potentially average or better over-the-fence pop as he matures. In the past, his 5 o’clock power outdistanced his in-game thump, in part due to a conscious effort to trade leverage for bat control. This spring, he has pared back his stride and shown a more compact barrel delivery, producing regular loud contact and impressive gap-to-gap power. He isn’t the defender Austin Hedges was entering the draft, but his bat is ahead of the Padres’ 2011 first-rounder.

Denney’s value lies in his bat, which could grow into an average hit tool with above-average pop. Defensively, he has shown inconsistencies in his receiving and his catch-and-throw game, but flashed enough last summer to win over a fair number of decision-makers and should get every chance to stick behind the dish at the next level. This spring has not been kind to Denney, with evaluators questioning the bat and the glove at different points of the high school season, though his summer circuit showings should have bought him enough good will to stay in the first round.

While his power falls shy of the Diamondback’s first-round selection last June—Stryker Trahan—there are similarities in their profile, down to the “disappointing” spring performance. Trahan grades out as a better prospect, but the two could share developmental curves wherein the initial progression through the minors is slowed in order to give the glove a chance to catch up to the bat.

Adjusted OFP grades for each of McGuire and Denney come in at 52/59 and 50/56, respectively. While I still believe Denney has potential as a backstop, long term, McGuire’s defensive certainty behind the plate outweighs the advantage Denney holds in offensive upside. McGuire is the clear choice if both are available, and Denney grades as a clear step behind the rest of our Tier 2 targets. In order for Denney to be the selection, we would have to have a strong reason for targeting a catcher with the first pick and McGuire would have to be off the board.

Crawford vs. Smith: Offensive upside trumps positional value
Looking at prep infield options, the decision between JP Crawford (SS, Lakewood HS (Lakewood, CA)) and Dominic Smith (1B, Serra HS (Los Angeles, CA)) is one that asks the question, “Do you prefer defensive value or offensive upside?” Crawford provides the former, projecting as a long-term shortstop capable of providing average to above-average defense to go with below-average pop and an average to tick-above hit tool. Smith, conversely, shows potential to grow into a 6+hit/6 power bat tied to a first base defensive profile (granted, a plus or better defensive profile at the three spot).

Adjusted OFP grades shake down as 50/57 for Crawford and 53/60 for Smith, with Crawford’s risk coming in the form of his bat and the fact that he projects to a deliberate developmental curve, requiring a fair amount of work with regards to most aspects of his game. While he moves well in the field, particularly with regards to finishing plays at the margins (the edges of his range), he will require reps and pro instruction to smooth out aspects of his game, including his first step off contact, his footwork ranging left, and his setup on throws from multiple angles on the diamond. Additionally, while his bat shows promise, it is far from an advanced weapon at this point, and will likely require forging at the complex and short-season ranks before jumping to the challenges of full-season ball.

Smith’s approach is advanced, as is his feel for finding the ball with the barrel, giving him a chance to move relatively quickly once he enters a system. Further, while the defensive profile limits him to first base, he is among the most advanced prep first basemen I’ve ever seen, including excellent footwork around the bag and comfort scooping and reading throws from his infield. Smith should advance as quickly as he proves capable of making offensive adjustments at the various levels, ultimately projecting as a candidate for a 2016 to early 2017 MLB promotion.

Both players remain potential candidates for selection at seventh overall, though Crawford’s selection would require a specific desire to bring a shortstop into the system, while Smith’s selection would be evidence of a concerted effort to opt for a stout corner bat up top to go with some arms and up-the-middle talent later on. Because of their somewhat limited profiles, each could be considered as potential Tier 3 candidates that might offer a slight discount signing at seventh overall, with each otherwise a prime candidate to last until the 12th to 16th pick overall.

Ball vs. Ball: Starting pitcher or center-patcher?
As noted in an earlier entry into the Dissecting the Draft series, Ball grades out as a 56/62 AOFP on the bump, making him an attractive option at the very top of the draft as a lefty arm. With talents in the field, on the bases, and in the box, we also need to consider whether it might make sense to run Ball out as an everyday player, should he end up our selection at seventh overall. As an outfielder, Ball’s AOFP grades out as a 50/58, with developmental risks slightly outweighing overall upside as a potential center fielder with an above-average offensive profile.

Ball’s struggles at the plate this spring have cast doubts as to his ultimate hit tool utility, which could bleed over into his ability to reach his projectable in-game power. Additionally, while he’d a good athlete who glides to the ball in the outfield, his physical projection leaves open the real possibility that, as he hangs more muscle on his frame, we will see a decrease in outfield range, forcing him over to right field (where he would project as an average or better glove).

While Ball retains the possibility of producing above-average value at the plate, on the bases, and up the middle defensively, the picture of him as a finished product is much murkier as an everyday player than it is on the bump. Additionally, because he has such an impressive “now” profile as a pitcher, in addition to highly impressive projection in both his physicality and his stuff, we are left with a situation where he may actually have both higher probability and slightly higher upside as a potential mid-rotation to front-end arm.

As an arm, Ball would be among our top options at seventh overall. While he similarly merits discussion as an everyday player, that aspect of his game is likely most valuable as a back-up plan should he falter, developmentally, on the mound.

Lining Up Options
With our three Tier 1 options set:

1. Jonathan Gray | Scouting Report
2. Mark Appel | Scouting Report
3. Clint Frazier | Scouting Report

we are left with the following options among Tier 2 candidates (for the moment arranged by AOFP):

1. Kohl Stewart
2. Braden Shipley
3. Trey Ball (as a pitcher) | Scouting Report
4. Kris Bryant | Scouting Report
5a. Ryne Stanek
5b. Dominic Smith
6. Reese McGuire
7. JP Crawford
8. Jon Denney

Each of these options merit consideration for our first overall selection, providing us with a multitude of options, depending on what else we are looking to accomplish with our other picks. All else equal, we are fortunate to have as our “seventh-best option” (fourth in Tier 2), a legit potential offensive force in Kris Bryant. As pointed out in our previous entry in the series, which focused on Bryant, he is likely to come off the board prior to our selection, meaning that our ultimate selection is likely to be one of our top six candidates. Again, it’s a nice position in which to be sitting.

Looking Ahead
Our next piece will step away from our first-round selection to provide a broader snapshot of the draft class. The purpose of this next step is to identify which aspects of our desired diversified draft portfolio will be easiest to obtain later on in Day 2 of the draft. To the extent that we can find certain player profiles deeper in the draft, we may be incentivized to focus Day 1 attention on draft profiles to which we will not otherwise have access.

Finally, prior to Thursday’s Dissecting the Draft piece, which will lay out our most desirable draft day options, we will finish posting our remaining individual player reports for the seven Tier 2 candidates not yet covered. While the ultimate findings of these reports have been set forth above, the player reports will provide you with additional details as to each player’s full risk profile and projected upside.

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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