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 a couple college infielders: Nick Senzel and Will Craig.
Other entries in the series include:
Riley Pint vs. Forrest Whitley
Drew Mendoza vs. Gavin Lux
Corey Ray vs.Kyle Lewis
Keegan Akin vs. Eric Lauer
Cal Quantrill vs. Dakota Hudson
Cody Sedlock vs. Justin Dunn
Nick Senzel, SS/3B, Tennessee
Senzel’s calling card is his pure hitting ability, and he’s consistently posted high averages while controlling the zone during his three seasons in Knoxville. A mainstay in the Volunteers lineup since his freshman year, the .332 career hitter assuaged scouts’ questions about his athleticism and other tools this season. He upped his power (.598 slugging percentage as a junior; five home runs total between freshman and sophomore seasons), and while he’ll move back to third as a pro, he played a sure-handed shortstop down the stretch, showing plenty of arm to finish plays. He shows average raw power in batting practice, though a spread out stance and flatter swing-path have led to more doubles power in games. Defensively, he projects to be a reliable defender at the hot corner, though one with better hands than lateral quickness and range.
Senzel can hit enough to play every day at a corner position, even if the bat always plays with more hit tool than power. He’s seen as having a floor as high as any college hitter in the draft, with more polish—though less best-case impact—than the explosive Corey Ray (Louisville) or powerful Kyle Lewis (Mercer). Senzel has done nothing but perform with all eyes on him coming off a strong Cape Cod League showing, and seems primed to be drafted by a team within the top 10 who values his hitting ability and cumulative success in the SEC.
Senzel is the type of player who can make the scouts who doubted him slap their foreheads if he succeeds in the big leagues, because the hitting ability and production were right in front of them the whole time. However, he’s very reliant on his pure hitting and ability to get on base, lacking the explosive athleticism or dominant raw tool of other position players in the top-10 discussion. He might never hit for tons of over-the-fence power, and in a hypothetical where his batting averages don’t really carry the stat line, his overall value at a corner position could wane.
Will Craig, 3B/RHP, Wake Forest
Craig has been a dynamic two-way player for the Deacons all three years. He’s pitched as both a starter and closer in college, all while anchoring the middle of the lineup on offense. Big-time power and consistent performance are Craig’s calling cards, and he leaves Wake Forest with 42 doubles and 37 home runs in 164 career games played. As a sophomore, Craig hit .382 and slugged .702 (.320 ISO) while walking more than he struck out, and he’s remained in line with those numbers this year: hitting .379 and slugging .731 (.352 ISO)—while once again racking up more free passes than strikeouts. He plays third base when not pitching, and shows off a strong arm (his fastball sits above 90 on the mound). While his arm may be enough to profile as a pro third baseman, his range and glove may not. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Craig’s frame is built sturdily, and a move to first base is within the realm of possibility.
Right-handed power is hard to find, and Craig brings it in spades. He takes an aggressive swing with a two-handed finish. His size and strong bat through the zone give him standout raw power that he gets to easily, though not with the shortest or quickest of swings. He’ll be a first-day selection in the Draft, whoever selects him valuing his rare blend of power, zone control, and statistical track record. In Craig, a club stands to add a player with the ceiling of a right-handed-hitting corner player, strong enough offensively to profile as an everyday contributor—even if he moves to first base.
Despite his impressive raw power and statistical performance, there’s a notable risk that accompanies taking Craig with your first pick this year. He’s a bat-only player, and might be too heavy-footed to play anywhere but first. Evaluators raise questions about how his gaudy numbers will translate to the pro level, wondering if a lengthy swing with limited looseness will give him issues adjusting to professional-grade secondary stuff. Craig can have trouble catching up to the type of velocity we see every night in the majors, while frequently struggling to put quality swings on breaking stuff. He didn’t wow evaluators in the Cape, which has raised questions about if transitioning to a wooden bat will only exacerbate his swing’s mechanical issues.
Senzel and Craig likely won’t play the same position at the big-league level, but they do have some similarities. Both are left-side college infielders, and they both hit right handed. They aren’t the same types of hitter—Senzel the better pure hitter, Craig the power guy—but neither player contributes enough defensively to stay in the lineup if they don’t produce offensively. The 2016 Draft class is rich on prep third basemen, but assuming both Senzel and Craig hear their names called as third basemen on Thursday, they will be the first two college third basemen off the board.
Overall, I see Senzel as a much more complete player than Craig, and I think Senzel’s bat will transition better and more quickly to the pro game. He was a pretty easy choice as I was ordering these two against each other on my final draft preference list. If he’s able to continue adding power, Senzel has the best-case ceiling of a well-rounded everyday player—able to record high batting averages (with plenty of doubles) and double-digit homeruns. There is little doubt that Senzel will go ahead of Craig on day one of this year’s draft, and it is in large part to being a safer bet to reach his ceiling, while also having a foreseeably-higher floor.
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