As Spring comes to a close and the 2016 draft looms larger than ever, scouts are finishing up evaluations on players and trying to get one last look. One of the most difficult things for them to do is line up their pref list. The pref list is where they rank each player in order of how they would select them in a vacuum. It mainly follows an OFP (Overall Future Potential) number but sometimes a player will be ranked higher on the list because of intangibles or an area scout’s feel on a player. Most clubs take it a step further at the cross-checker level and have them rank their players by position as well. When all's said and done, there will be a master pref list, or big board, and several smaller lists by position. The team will use this list as the draft unfolds and it allows them to keep track of priority guys and trends that are happening within the draft.
The debates between scouts on particular player positioning can be intense, especially when two area scouts or cross-checkers are pit against each other, but eventually the scouting director will make a decision based on his evaluations of the particular players. This time, we take a look at the two best collegiate bats in the class; Louisville’s Corey Ray, and Mercer’s Kyle Lewis.
Corey Ray, OF, Louisville
Ray was a potential top-100 selection coming into the 2013 draft, but his strong commitment to the University of Louisville saw him drop to the 35th round to Seattle, where he was (obviously) unsignable. As impressive as he was as a prep, he’s been so much better at Louisville, and he’s that rare upper-echelon prep player who saw his stock improve in college.
Ray’s swing is simple: It doesn’t offer a ton of loft or movement before the pitch, but he gets through the zone quickly, and the quickness of his stroke and ability to keep his hands in allows him to hit line drives all over the park. Despite a lack of loft in his swing, he does have power potential—particularly on pitches down and in—and his ability to transfer weight quickly gives him above-average pop potential. He’s willing to wait for his pitch, and while there is some swing-and-miss here—especially against left-handed pitchers who can locate down and away—it’s not so bad that it affects his hit tool in a significant way. He’s got plus speed, but what makes him such a special base runner is his ability to read pitchers and get quality jumps; skills he used to steal 44 bases in 2016.
There aren’t many questions about Ray’s bat, but there are a few about his ultimate defensive position. He has spent most of his career in right, but a team that takes him high is going to want to see him in center. He should be fine there because of his plus speed and good instincts in the outfield, but because scouts have a limited view of him playing there, it’s not seen as a lock. He’s a well above-average corner outfielder despite having an only average arm, but the value (again, obviously) drops if he’s not in the premium position.
Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer
Lewis’ name was certainly on the radar coming into last summer, but it was his performance in the Cape Cod League that really put him on the map. He proved it was no fluke with a 2016 campaign that was among the league’s best.
At the plate, Lewis shows huge bat speed, and that, along with the leverage he generates, gives him easy plus power to all parts of the field. If there’s a concern here, it’s that his swing has considerable length, and because his hands load late, that could give him significant contact issues as he faces harder throwers and better secondary stuff. He also has a pretty substantial leg kick, and it wouldn’t shock me if the team that drafts him asks Lewis to kick that to the curb. His walk totals are a bit misleading because no one in the Sun Belt wants to throw him a strike, but it does show that he’s willing to work counts into his favor, and that’s never a bad thing.
Lewis should be able to stay in center, but as is the case with Ray, it’s not a lock. He’s an above-average runner, but his instincts and routes are only so-so, making it entirely possible he moves to the corner. With his power and ability to get on-base he’s still a regular, but again, it makes the stock drop precipitously if he’s not in center.
If you’ve read my Draft Guide (thank you) or seen my rankings (thanks again), you know this isn’t that hard for me. For much of the industry, however, this is very much up for debate, and in fact, it appears that Lewis is going to be going ahead of Ray. It makes sense, too; he’s a really intriguing athlete who has performed exceptionally well, and if you want to argue he has a higher ceiling than Ray, I won’t stand in your way.
If it’s my choice, however, I’m going with Ray. Yes, he might be a platoon player. Yes, he might not play center field. But he’s going to destroy right-handed pitching, he’s going to steal bases, and he’s going to hit for more power than you might think.. Lewis may have the higher ceiling, but Ray’s floor is much higher, and the ceiling is pretty high, too. He won’t go ahead of Lewis, but in my estimation, he should.
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