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March 27, 2014

Draft Ten Pack

Weekend in Nashville

by Nick J. Faleris

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I was in Nashville two weekends ago for the much-anticipated matchup between two of the top programs in the SEC, as well as two of the top arms in the 2014 draft class: Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede and LSU’s Aaron Nola. Beede and Nola took the bump opposite each other in Friday night’s opener and proceeded to solidify their claims to first round consideration. The series concluded with a doubleheader on Saturday, with a number of talents on each side standing out—particularly a handful of underclassmen with first round aspirations.

Ace-Off

Tyler Beede, RHP, Vanderbilt
Scouting Video (2014 vs Long Beach)
Prior to Friday’s series opener, my most recent look at Beede had been an underwhelming showing with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, speckled with down stuff and well below-average command. Conversely, in his outing against LSU Beede displayed legit front-end offerings and improved command (though still below where you would hope to see a potential top-of-the-draft arm.)

Beede’s fastball sat comfortably in the 91 to 94 mph range for the duration of the start, regularly touching 96 up the zone. There’s some life to it, and the potential exists for the pitch to grade as a plus-plus offering eventually if he can hone his command. For this start, he was adequate throwing to both sides of the plate early on, but began to elevate as the game wore on and generally struggled to throw to the quadrants. His curve flashes plus-plus now as a low-80s power breaker that is nasty enough to miss bats in the zone and out of it. The change-up looked rudimentary in the early innings, but he found his feel by the fourth and was flashing it as an third above-average or better offering for the remainder of the start.

The start to Beede’s season has been strong and the strikeout-to-walk ratio is a feather in the cap of a pitcher who has struggled mightily with bouts of wildness throughout the duration of his college career. While the command was certainly improved from my last viewing, it was shy of precise, and I’m not sold that the command will ever grade out better than average. He should be able to regularly find the strike zone, and even pitch to both halves of the plate, which should be enough to help him to mid-rotation production given the quality of the raw stuff. He profiles well in the top half of the first round with a front-end ceiling and more likely mid-rotation projection. Depending on how the rest of the spring unfolds, he could climb as high as top five overall consideration.

Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
Scouting Video (2012 vs Arkansas)
Nola’s raw stuff registers a half to a full grade below Beede’s across the board, but whereas Beede’s command limits the ceiling on his projections, Nola’s arsenal plays up due to his feel and execution. While the mechanics and the arm action both seem to point to a future in relief (high effort, low slot, with some wrap), the LSU ace keeps a fairly tight arm circle, keeping his timing in check and allowing each of his offerings to jump at the outset. Further, Nola has no trouble maintaining the quality of his stuff deep into starts, and given the success he’s currently seeing in the role it’s reasonable to believe he will be given every chance to stick in a rotation at the next level.

On this particular night the fastball sat low 90s, climbing to the 94-95 mph range in the early innings, and it came with good arm-side life and dive, as well as a tough angle for righties. His best pitch of the night without question was a 76 to 78 mph breaker that tied up same-side bats on the inner half all evening. As Nola worked into the middle innings he leaned heavily on the pitch and the Commodore bats simply were not able to pick it up. It played easily as a plus offering and could consistently work in that range given his level of confidence and ability to place it on the inner half to righties and at the back foot of lefties. Nola also boasts a quality change piece that comes with good plane and arm speed deception, as well as diving action that follows an exaggerated version of his fastball trajectory.

Nola doesn’t wow with loud stuff, but everything dances and he shows a strong feel already for placement and sequencing, which allows him to regularly miss bats (he registered 12 punchouts on this particular night) and barrels alike. As a starter he probably tops out as a mid-rotation arm with a chance for three average or better offerings and plus command. Should he ultimately switch to the pen, it’s easy to picture him in the 93-95 mph range with his breaking ball and change serving as an impressive, and deceptive, backing to the heater. He would seem to fit in the mid-first round, and even in a draft deep on potential impact arms seems a safe bet to come off the board on day one.

Underclass Standouts

Alex Bregman, MIF/C, LSU (2015)
Scouting Video
An early candidate for top 10 selection in the 2015 draft class, Bregman is the rare college draft prospect who can offer a plus offensive profile and up-the-middle defense. What’s more, he has done nothing but produce since arriving in Baton Rouge. In his freshman year he slashed .369/.417/.546 while drawing 24 walks to just 25 strikeouts and swiping 16 bags on 17 attempts. Thus far in 2014 the average is down some, though that’s due more to some bad luck than shortcomings in approach, and if anything the understanding of the strike zone and overall approach have taken a step forward.

In the series against Vandy he put together two impressive at-bats against Beede, with one resulting in a line-drive single to center off of a 95 mph fastball at the knees and the other resulting in a “just missed it” fly out to left after an eight-pitch battle. He plays a solid and steady shortstop with enough arm strength for the position but maybe not enough range to excel there as a pro. The glove could play to plus at second, and he has experience behind the dish, as well. The footspeed is average, but plays up on the bases due to his reads and feel. It’s still very much an early-first round profile at this point, and he should shine for decision-makers this summer, be it on the Cape or in a return stint with the USA Collegiate National Team.

Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt (2015)
The Vandy closer made an appearance in each of the first two games of the series, showing top-shelf power stuff in each instance. On Friday night the fastball sat 95 to 96 mph, and that velo climbed in his Saturday showing to a comfy 96 to 97, hitting 99 on some guns. The breaking ball is a low-80s bender with slurvy shape but hard late bite, and it can grade up thanks to plane deception out of his hand when compared to his fastball. The profile appears to be purely that of a relief arm, but the quality of the stuff, and Fulmer’s poise on the mound, could fit nicely into the back end of a bullpen. He’s a potential first rounder next year.

Tyler Ferguson, RHP, Vanderbilt (2015)
Ferguson showed front-end stuff, but struggled with consistency and was forced out of the game after retiring just 10 batters. The fastball played at 92 to 95 mph, touching 97, with some arm-side action. It was a difficult pitch for LSU to square, but Ferguson could not rein in the offering, and as a result it too often missed up. He threw two distinct breakers with similar action but varying depth. The slider came tilted in the low 80s, while the curve showed a deeper 11-to-5 break in the 75-78 mph range. Both pitches were effective, and could be above-average offerings. His changeup was rough, ranging from 75 to 80 mph with several failing to reach the plate and a few more floating well outside of the zone. There’s violence and a short stride as part of the package, but with 14 months to go prior to the 2015 draft, Ferguson has lots of time to convince evaluators he’s capable of handling a starter’s load at the pro level.

Xavier Turner, 3B, Vanderbilt (2015)
Scouting Video
Turner is an interesting profile, showing some offensive upside but wildly variant performances at the hot corner. At the plate, Turner has trimmed down his swing some since his high school days, and as a result is more direct to the ball and quicker to contact. He’s strong enough to drive the ball, even with the slight loss in leverage, and he showed some ability to hang with quality secondaries in-game. He hasn’t figured out big velocity yet, but it is a nice starting point for a potential early-round profile for next year. Defensively, Turner showed solid arm strength and the coordination to make plays off of his feet at third, but also threw a couple of balls away, and looked stiff in his lower half. If he is forced to first base, the package is less impressive, so a lot of attention will be paid to Turner’s ultimate defensive home come June 2015.

Dansby Swanson, 2B/3B, Vanderbilt (2015)
Scouting Video
Swanson is a dynamic player, capable of making quality plays at the margins at second base thanks to solid arm strength and good hands. He turns over the double play well, and has enough arm strength to vary his pivots as needed. Offensively, Swanson knocked the ball around the field, collecting a couple of doubles, bunting for a base hit, and stealing a couple of bases on the weekend. He likely profiles at the keystone as a pro, and his gap-to-gap approach should work well in that context. He is an early-round candidate for 2015 and will be watched closely this summer with Orleans on the Cape (teammates Ferguson and Jordon Sheffield are slotted to join him on the Firebirds).

Rhett Wiseman, OF, Vanderbilt (2015)
Scouting Video
Wiseman was a player of interest for pro scouts coming out of Buckingham Browne & Nichols day school in Cambridge, MA, building on that profile after a strong showing in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League the summer before his freshman year at Vandy. Despite lots of playing time in his first season-plus, Wiseman hasn’t yet taken the next developmental step, though the potential for above-average power out of a corner outfield spot remains readily visible. When he squares up the ball it carries well to the gaps, and there is plenty of bat speed and leverage to project growth in his over-the-fence pop. (He launched four home runs for Contuit on the Cape last summer as a rising sophomore.) He is yet another Vandy sophomore with a chance to go in the early rounds come 2015.

Colin Poche, LHP, LSU (2016)
Poche is still building up arm strength and working to maintain his velocity into middle innings, but the early returns are promising for the LSU freshman. Starting the final game of the series, Poche showed an 89 to 92 mph fastball in early innings, dropping down to the 86-89 range by the fourth. His best offering at this point is easily his curve, which he commands to both sides of the plate and can manipulate in both shape and velocity, shifting between a deeper mid-70s breaker and a shorter, sharper, upper-70s version. His change carries some deception when he maintains his arm speed, coming with a solid nine-to-11-mph velo delta, but he will still slow his arm at times, tipping the pitch. There is limited ceiling due to the body type (he is already listed at a sturdy 6-foot-1, 204 pounds), but he could grow into a potential mid-rotation arm worthy of early-round consideration as he refines over the next couple of seasons.

Other 2014 Notables

Jared Miller, LHP, Vanderbilt
Miller is a four-pitch lefty with lots of moving parts in his motion and an unclear future profile at the pro ranks. On the one hand, he shows an ability to fill up the strike zone with each of his offerings, and on the other hand he is not particularly precise within the zone and can struggle to routinely execute his secondaries (particularly his curve). His fastball is an average offering in the 89-92 mph range, with the slider and changeup helping to miss barrels thanks to some deception. The curve can get loopy, but shows potential as a fourth average or better offering. In a draft deep on pitching, Miller could see his ultimate slot drop lower than the profile would generally warrant, maybe somewhere in the fourth to sixth round, but it would not be a surprise to see a team pop him in the second or third round off the strength of a solid four-pitch mix and impressive junior year production.

Chris Harvey, C, Vanderbilt
Scouting Video
Harvey is an interesting player, showing a leveraged swing capable of easy power, but also an inability to regularly reach that pop in-game and some not insignificant concerns surrounding the holes in his plate coverage despite a solid approach. His actions behind the plate are solid, and he will pop average times to second in spite of a little bit of length on the backside, but he isn’t a sure fit behind the dish at the next level. If forced to a corner, there would obviously be more pressure on the bat, There is upside for a solid backup catcher with some pop, which could warrant selection in the fourth to sixth round by a team buying into the upside.

Zander Wiel, 1B, Vanderbilt
Scouting Video
When he centers the ball, the draft-eligible sophomore can put a charge into, though he tends to get too far forward in his weight shift, sweeping the barrel through the zone rather than driving it. This doesn’t prevent hard contact with the metal BBCOR bats, but could lead to issues with wood. In-game, Wiel made lots of solid contact throughout the series against a wide range of solid LSU arms. He is almost certainly limited to first base, limiting his overall draft value and putting adding emphasis on the questions surrounding his ability to manifest his pop with wood against more advanced arms. A strong finish could lead a production-friendly club to pop him in the fourth to sixth round.

Mark Laird, OF, LSU
Scouting Video
Like Wiel, Laird is a draft-eligible sophomore with questions surrounding the ultimate utility of the hit tool. Laird tends to get out of sync in his swing, forcing his lower and upper halves to work against each other, leading to soft contact. When he is clicking, he is capable of hard contact to the gaps, and he has a quick first step out of the box from the left side, which helps the profile. It is tough to lock down a current range of rounds for Laird, as it’s probably an average tool ceiling outside of the run grade, and there are enough inconsistencies in performance to drive him out of the single-digit rounds. Still, a team that believes it can smooth out the swing could pop him in the fifth to ninth round.

Adam Ravenelle, RHP, Vanderbilt
Ravenelle profiles as a seventh-inning arm capable of producing three average offerings, including a low-90s fastball that will kiss 94, a hard overhand breaker in the 80 to 82 mph range, and a solid 82 to 84 mph change piece that can get firm and flat at the upper end of that spectrum. He looks like a third to fifth rounder who might get a chance to start in the early goings of his pro career.

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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