No matter the year or the strength of the class, volatility will always play a significant part in scouting the MLB draft. It’s only natural for 18 to 22-year-old players to go experience significant highs and lows over their respective seasons, and it’s why so many players who start the year near the top of the draft boards end up seeing their stock diminish, and vice versa.
“It’s just a natural part of the process,” an NL Central front-office member said. “You always start your year with a certain idea of how you think things are going to break down, but there are always those handful of prospects that you just don’t know how things are going to end up. It drives you nuts, but it also sort of makes things fun.”
Here’s a look at five of the most volatile prospects in this year’s draft, and why their respective developments will play a major factor in shaping the 2015 class.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
Funkhouser starts the year near the top of many teams boards, and if you see him on his best days it’s easy to understand why. The fastball touches 96 mph and sits comfortably 92-94, and his slider is a pitch that can make both left and right-handed hitters look silly thanks to its hard, biting tilt.
Too often though, that’s not the version of Funkhouser that scouts see. His velocity will occasionally dip in the low 90s, the slider will look more like a solid-average offering, and his change is still very much a work in progress.
Those issues pale in comparison to his control struggles, however. Funkhouser walked 65 batters in his 120 innings in 2014; hitting nine batters and throwing eight wild pitches in the process. If he can show the two plus pitches and solid-average change he’s a potential top 10 pick, but there’s as much volatility here as there is in any pitching prospect in this year’s draft class.
Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (Calif.)
On paper, this is not a great prep-pitching class, but it does have more left-handed depth than it has in the past few seasons, and many believe the best southpaw eligible this June is Hooper. The 6-foot-7 left-hander has prototypical size, and a fastball that already touches the high 90s. He’ll also show an above-average curveball, and there’s the makings of a competent third pitch in his change.
And while Hooper has the stuff to be a top of the rotation starter, there are concerns he’ll never get there because of his mechanics. There is a tremendous amount of effort in his delivery, and his arm action gives scouts cause for concern. The secondary stuff also doesn’t show much consistency, though that’s to be expected from a player who won’t turn 19 until the fall.
Because of his velocity and size Hooper will likely go early, but there’s more risk here than typically associated with highly drafted prep pitchers, so teams will have to really do their homework before taking him in the first twenty or so selections.
Demi Orimoloye, OF, St. Matthews HS (Can.)
Canada has produced several quality baseball players since the turn of the century, but there hasn’t been a player from Ontario taken in the first-round since Scott Thurman in the 2000 draft. That could change this year, as Orimoloye is considered one of the most talented prep bats in the entire class. He’s one of the few in the class who possesses three potential plus tools; showing big power potential from the right side along with a strong throwing arm and plus speed, as well.
No one questions Orimoloye’s athleticism, but there are some concerns about just how well those tools will translate to the baseball field. He’s relatively new to baseball, and he’s still very much a work in progress, not only with the bat but with the glove as well. He’s a high-risk, high-reward player as is; and when you add in the fact that he’ll face inferior competition all spring, he’s arguably the riskiest player in the entire 2015 class.
Chris Shaw, OF/1B, Boston College
Guys who show plus-plus power tools are always going to be sought-after commodities, and that’s what you get in Shaw. He led the Cape Cod league in homers this summer, and with his size (listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds), extension, and natural loft, he’s capable of hitting tape-measure shots not only in batting practice but in games as well.
There aren’t many questions about Shaw’s power, but there are questions about what else he can do on a baseball field. Because of the length of his swing there’s likely to be quite a bit of swing and miss, and the hit tool projects to be just fringe average at this point. He’s also a 20 runner, and though he has the arm strength to play a corner outfield position, his lack of athleticism likely means he’ll end up at first base as a professional. There’s a good chance the power plays there though, so even with the below-average tools he has a chance to be one of the first collegiate bats taken off the board come June.
Cody Ponce, RHP, Cal-Poly Pomona
Ponce was a relative unknown until the summer, and was considered more of a backend starting pitching prospect than a potential first-rounder. That all changed in the Cape, when Ponce was routinely hitting 92-96 with his fastball, and showed a plus-plus slider to boot.
And while scouts will no doubt keep that in mind when scouting Ponce over the college baseball season, we’ve seen plenty of hurlers who showed big-time stuff over the summer fail to carry it over into the spring. If he shows that 70 fastball and 65 slider this spring he’ll be a top 15 pick, but the lack of track record makes Ponce one of the riskier college hurlers in the 2015 draft class.
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