June 4, 2014
Draft Ten Pack
June 4, 2014
Our last draft ten pack of the season contains end-of-year notes from the Midwest region (courtesy of myself) and Southern California (courtesy of Ron Shah). Make sure to check out Baseball Prospectus’s full draft content here, including in-depth scouting notes, prospect video, and links to more draft content from our partners at Perfect Game USA. We hope you enjoyed this series; see you again next February! –Nick J. Faleris
Mitch Keller (RHP, Xavier (Cedar Rapids, IA)) | Commit: North Carolina
Keller has emerged as the top prep arm in the Midwest, capping a strong spring with this three-inning outing at Perfect Game’s Top Prospect Game, which highlights the top talents from PG’s Iowa Spring League. Keller has an easy arm that produces two potential plus offerings: a low-90s fastball that touches 94, and a promising curve that flashes good bite and depth. It’s a cold weather arm with limited mileage, and should garner interest no later than the second round. The strength of Keller’s commitment to North Carolina will determine if he actually gets popped that early.
Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo High School (San Diego, CA) | Commit: Oregon
Jackson has had better performances than Friday’s showing, when I saw him fail to hit the ball out of the infield in three at-bats, but the Oregon commit displayed the tools that could have him off the board within the first five draft selections. Jackson is a physical presence, looking significantly bigger and stronger than ever before, but is close to filling out his frame. At the plate, Jackson displays a simple low-maintenance swing that is easily repeatable. But don’t confuse Jackson for a contact hitter, as the swing features plenty of loft and is completely geared to driving the ball out of the park. There is some fine tuning that might need be done, such as shortening the hand load, but there is nothing there to deter the long-term projection. The only question is whether Jackson can stick at catcher, or whether a move to the outfield is inevitable. The arm is a weapon, so Jackson will be fine regardless of where he makes his defensive home. But the discussion itself is burying the lede. If you don’t mind dreaming, Jackson could be a 60-grade hitter with 70-grade raw power. That is a monster of a player.
Keaton McKinney (RHP, Ankeny (Ankeny, IA)) | Commit: Arkansas
While Keller has surged, McKinney has slid this spring, with no real growth in his breaking ball or in his ability to maintain his stuff deeper into starts. He’ll still flash an impressive changeup, but the fastball is average, even with the heavy life, and he shows visible effort in his mechanics to keep the heater in the 88 to 91 mph range as he works deeper into his starts. McKinney entered the spring as a candidate to come off the board as early as the second round, but I’d be hard pressed to invest more that fourth or fifth round money at this point.
It would be difficult to find a draft prospect who creates a greater divide of opinion within the industry than Cederoth, whose draft stock peaked and valleyed over recent years. But since moving into the bullpen, Cederoth has blossomed and is climbing draft boards in his newfound role. Cederoth’s physical tools are impressive, as he sports an athletic 6-foot-6 frame and elite arm strength. But trouble throwing strikes, paired with a lack of a developed arsenal, have made starting pitching a thing of the past. Cederoth’s repertoire once consisted of four offerings, but the below-average curveball and split-changeup have been eliminated in favor of the 80-grade fastball and above-average 85 mph slider that will flash plus. Cederoth uses his size to his advantage, consistently getting on top of the baseball and driving it down into the zone. But the long arm action and high-maintenance delivery hinder the command profile. Cederoth can make it work with control, but will need to find consistency in harnessing his long levers. He’s athletic enough to do so with enough repetitions, giving him the potential of a high-leverage reliever who can move quickly through the minor-league ranks.
Jonah Patten (RHP, Norwell (Osian, IN)) | Commit: Arkansas
Another Arkansas commit, Patten was dismissed from his high school team this spring due to a violation of school policy (a “by the books” action that does not concern scouts, as far as Patten’s makeup is concerned). Slow to warm to the idea of throwing in Iowa on the weekends, Patten’s stock has improved this spring after he decided to pour his effort into his weekend outings, showing a step forward in execution and a half grade or so bump in his stuff. Patton works easy in the 89 to 91 mph range with his fastball, and will show an above-average to plus mid-70s curve and solid low-80s change that comes with arm-side fade. He’ll also show a tighter low-80s breaking ball that’s a little more horizontal than the curve but still shows solid tilt. If Patten is interested in starting his pro career he’ll be given the opportunity to do so. If he opts instead to tackle the SEC he could be a contributor as a freshman and will be one of the more interesting arms to follow over the next three seasons.
John Richy, RHP, University Nevada Las Vegas
Richy began the season as a weekend starter, but the mustachioed man now finds himself stepping into the spotlight of the Friday night starter’s role due to Erick Fedde’s recent injury. He took advantage of the opportunity against San Diego State, throwing eight innings of shutout baseball while striking out five and walking zero batters. The 6-foot-4 righty possesses a mature frame with some room to put on additional weight. Richy will show his athleticism in his ability to stay balanced and consistently repeat his simple delivery. There is a decent-sized leg kick within the delivery, but he will stay tall from start to finish. However, Richy will down his momentum when beginning his stride due to the way his arm stroke works from his rear pocket. In regards to the arsenal, the fastball showed plus, consistently clocking in at 92 mph. But it was the command that carried him, as Richy moved the offering in and out with a quick working pace to keep hitters off balance. The secondary offerings need work, though, as there isn’t a strong feel for a low 80s changeup and a 79 mph curveball possesses early bite. Still, there’s enough here to keep things interesting.
Freeland had a rough start by the numbers in his sole Missouri Valley Conference appearance, allowing four runs on four walks and five hits over just five innings, though he did punch out six Salukis in the process. While Freeland was not as precise as he has generally shown throughout the spring, he was saddled with an inconsistent strike zone, which left him frustrated on the mound as he attempted to work the corners and the knees. First the bad: it was an opportunity for Freeland to show an ability to adjust to a tough work environment, and he missed that opportunity in spectacular fashion, locking in on his fastball at times and loosing a handle on his release as he overthrew towards the center of the zone. And the good: he still showed good feel for a changeup and a slider that he can throw with different looks. Taking his whole arsenal into account, he has quality offerings that can register in the aggregate from the upper 70s all the way up to the mid-90s. It’s still a potential top 10 overall profile, but it was a sour note to end on after such an impressive spring, overall. As an interesting tidbit, Freelands four walks in this game represent 31 percent of his total bases on balls issued this spring. Pretty staggering.
Bubba Derby, RHP, San Diego State University (2015)
Derby is not the most physically imposing starter, as the righty sophomore is just 5-foot-11 on a good day. It is also an odd build, as Derby appears to be mature in the upper body but lacking development around the core. Nonetheless, the small righty shows body control and flexibility on the mound. The arm action can get stiff at times, but Derby does hide the ball reasonably well with identical arm speed on all his offerings. In regards to his arsenal, the fastball works at just 89-90 mph, without much projection or plane coming from his small stature, but it will show decent two-seam life. Derby will show you two variations of a breaking ball, both in the upper 70s, but there isn’t a strong feel for either pitch and both are used as chase pitches in the dirt. However, one thing Derby can absolutely do is fool hitters with his deceptive changeup, which features significant velocity difference when compared to his fastball. Derby’s changeup is his bread and butter to both right- and left-handed batters, routinely getting hitters well out in front due to the deception and fastball arm speed.
Sam Coonrod (RHP, Southern Illinois)
Coonrod threw opposite Freeland in the MVS opening round, showing what scouts have come to know from the power righty. The fastball showed easy velocity, climbing up to 95 mph and sitting comfortably in the 91 to 94 mph range throughout the entirety of his start. The breaking ball is inconsistent and the overall command profile with all three of his offerings is below average, leaving too much in the middle third and making Coonrod much more hittable than his raw stuff would otherwise suggest. Were he a little more precise, and a little more consistent, you could see a future mid-rotation arm here based on stuff, size, and arm action. At this point, however, evaluators seem to be resigned to penciling him in as a back-end arm or, for the particularly pessimistic, a middle reliever. There is still a good amount of source material from which to work, and a dev staff that can help smooth out the rough edges could help turn Coonrod into excellent value in the fourth or fifth round.
Over the last weekend, Conforto tallied a pair of hits and handful of walks, and is now sporting a slash line of .364/.518/.578 in the Pac-12 conference. The Oregon State outfielder keeps raking at the plate and Conforto’s draft stock is rising in a class light on polished college bats. At the plate, Conforto is light and quick with his hands, with a great feel for the strike zone and hitting. But there is an uppercut within the swing path and a pull-heavy approach that have me concerned. The raw power is above average but, again, it is exclusively to the pull side. Right now, Conforto is limited to a left field profile due to his below-average run and an arm that is accurate but lacking in strength for right field. There is an unfortunate scenario where he isn’t able to improve on his defensive inefficiencies, such as slow read-and-react skills, forcing a move to first base. I don’t believe Conforto will be a star, but a team that pops him in the first round is looking for a safe bet rather than a lottery ticket.
Dylan Davis, OF/P, Oregon State
Davis is a two-way player for the Beavers, but I only had the opportunity to see him as a positional player in my weekend look. At the plate, he isn’t quite as polished as his teammate Michael Conforto, lacking a refined approach and seemingly having an issue with every called strike made by the home plate umpire. For Davis, it is his noticeable hand strength that gives him a chance to turn into a quality hitter at the next level. He brings his hands to the baseball and the bat speed allows the barrel to catch up to it. He is capable of driving baseballs to left or right field when he connects with his swing, even if he isn’t balanced at or through the point of contact. As one would expect with a two-way player, the arm strength is plus, but he is a below-average runner. He profiles in either outfield corner with a backup plan on the mound if he cannot figure out how to hit a breaking ball.
Fry largely had his way with opposing hitters in his start against conference opponent USC, tossing six innings of work without allowing an earned run. He set the tone in the first inning with his fastball-slider combination, firing three consecutive four-seam fastballs with natural lefty run at increasing velocities of 92-93-94 mph to begin the game, then mixing in an above-average low-80s slider with late sweeping action. Fry set up hitters by missing arm side with his plus two-seam offering and finishing them off with his sliders located down and in to right-handed batters. Though Fry isn’t a physical specimen, he possesses a mature six-foot frame that is now largely maxed out at 197 pounds. There is noticeable thickness in the lower half, and he will need to improve his conditioning. But right now, it looks like Fry made the right decision by opting to head to Oregon State rather than entering professional baseball after being drafted in the ninth round of the 2011 amateur draft, as he possesses the ingredients of a potential third round talent.
With many talent evaluators in attendance, Strahan had the opportunity to raise his draft stock, but he instead made profiling and projecting him even more difficult. Strahan didn’t have his usual plus fastball velocity, as he sat in the average 89-91 mph range while topping out at 93 mph, perhaps because he was throwing on five days of rest. While I have seen better fastball velocity in the past, the secondary offerings were as good as ever. He snapped off several plus breaking balls, of both the slider and curveball variety, each featuring late break and diving action. The changeup does need work, but it flashes average quality due to its arm-side action. While I believe the arsenal will work as a starter, the stiffness and lack of extension within the delivery paired with subsequent command issues that arise make for a difficult projection. The $500,000 question is: can Strahan throw enough strikes? A team that believes he can after assistance from player development should pop him in the first three rounds, hoping he can throw enough strikes with enough command to profile as a starter.
Wetzler drew celebrations from Oregon State fans after his complete game shutout made the Beavers outright Pac-12 champions on Saturday. But while he dazzled the crowd, the southpaw failed to impress those behind home plate and only hurt his draft stock. Aesthetically, Wetzler looks like Angels southpaw C.J. Wilson on the mound, but the comparisons stop there. Wetzler’s delivery is methodical and lacks explosion, though he is able to consistently repeat his mechanics. Wetzler impressively became stronger as the outing went on, at least on the radar gun, as he hit a few 88s late in the game. But the fastball sits at 86 mph, which is a 30-grade offering on the 20-80 scouting scale. It plays up due to his ability to spot it well once he is ahead in the count. The secondary offerings aren’t necessarily strong, including a flat low-80s slider and changeup with sink. From a financial perspective, it appears Wetzler might have made the wrong decision by choosing to return for his senior season.
Marc Hubberman, LHP, University of Southern California (2015)
Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @NickJFaleris