To put it bluntly, this is not a very strong draft class, at least not on paper. The same problems that have plagued the last few classes—such as the lack of quality collegiate bats and depth up the middle—are here. But compounding the issues is that there isn’t the glut of prep pitching prospects that we’ve had in the previous editions of this decade, and there are a plethora of injury question marks here, particularly with the college arms.
With all of that being said, the barrel isn’t empty, and there is some upper-echelon talent to be found here, particularly in the southern part of the country. Despite the injury concerns college pitching—again—dominates the top of the class, and there are some prep bats here that have a chance to be all-stars if everything breaks right. Even the weakest class will give your team a chance to substantially improve its system, and 2015 isn’t an exception.
Here’s my first edition of the top-50 prospects—with notes on the first 25—in the 2015 MLB Draft.
1. Brady Aiken, LHP, IMG Academy (Fla.)
UPDATE: 3:55 PM PST – Well, those health concerns sure were legit. Aiken had Tommy John surgery yesterday, ending his season. This likely means he won’t throw a pitch until the spring of 2016 at the earliest.
First, outside of the obvious well wishes to the young man, this is a terrible blow to the class. There wasn’t much depth at the top here to begin with, and when you take away the best player—in my opinion, anyway—you obviously dilute it substantially.
Now the (multi)million dollar question is, what does this mean for Aiken? I think it’s fair to say that he’s no longer an option for the top pick, and he wasn’t going to be an option for the Astros at no. 2 for fairly obvious reasons. Last year we saw Jeff Hoffman go ninth overall to Toronto after his Tommy John surgery, and I think that’s about as far as Aiken slips as well. As a guy who can throw three plus pitches for strikes and who will still be a teenager until August of next year, I just can’t see him slipping outside of the top half of the first round.
A team will have to do serious homework though, and where Aiken goes now becomes the most the most interesting storyline of the 2015 MLB Draft. It just stinks on ice that the reason is injury rather than the talent in his left arm.
ORIGINAL WRITE-UP: Aiken was my top prospect in 2014, and despite the inauspicious start to his 2015 campaign, I can’t drop him from the top spot yet. There’s three plus pitches in his left arm, and his feel for pitching for a teenager is outstanding. The health concerns are legit though, and if he’s not throwing well in April he’ll drop down this board somewhat precipitously.
2. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (Fla.)
Rodgers is the best prep bat in the class by a substantial margin, and one of the only players eligible this year with a chance for both a 60 hit and power tool. Add in a strong chance to stick at shortstop, thanks to his instincts and arm strength, and you get a player who has a chance to be an all-star at a premium position.
3. Michael Matuella, RHP, Duke
It wasn’t a banner start to the year for Matuella—sitting mostly 92-94 mph with his fastball and showing a solid-average breaking-ball—but he was much closer to the pitcher scouts saw this summer last weekend, touching 97 and showing a plus curveball (a pitch that he calls a slider but doesn’t have the velocity or tilt for me to consider it one). He’ll also show the makings of a solid change, and with his ability to get downhill from his 6-foot-7 frame, he’s a legit 1-1 candidate.
4. Dillon Tate, RHP, UC Santa Barbara
If you follow me on Twitter (thanks), you likely know that Tate was originally scheduled to start the year in the bullpen before an injury “forced” him into the rotation, and that I wasn’t a very big fan of that decision. All he’s done since then is look like one of the best pitchers in college baseball; showing two plus-plus pitches and an average change. The command needs work—and the delivery has quite a bit of effort in it—but in terms of upside, no hurler has more in this class than Tate.
5. Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Buehler missed the first few weeks of the 2015 season with elbow soreness, and though he hasn’t been lights out, he has shown three above-average to plus pitches and the ability to throw all three for strikes. Like so many in this class though, there are durability concerns because of the elbow trouble and his less-than-ideal size. With the ability to get up to 96 and a curveball that can make hitters look stupid however, it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t a top-10 pick.
6. Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente HS (Calif.)
Ideally, a pitcher who is under 6 feet tall with back problems isn’t the top prep pitching prospect, but this isn’t an ideal situation. That being said, Allard isn’t a consolation prize either, with two pitches that flash 60 in his fastball and curveball, and a change that isn’t far behind.
7. Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
In addition to having my favorite name in the class, Swanson also is the top collegiate position player in the class, with 60 hit and speed tools and surprising power in his right-handed bat. A future star he is not, but a top of the order hitter who can stick at shortstop is a pretty nice thing to have, too.
8. Ian Happ, OF, Cincinnati
Happ is the most advanced collegiate bat in the class, and it’s not particularly close. He hits the ball hard to every part of the field, and though he won’t put up big power numbers, average power production from a corner outfield position isn’t out of the question. It’s not the sexiest skillset, but a team looking for fast-track offense would do very well to draft Happ.
9. Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia
Every year there seems to be a collegiate southpaw who moves up boards because of his advanced feel for pitching, and this year it’s Kirby. His change will flash plus-plus, and his fastball and slider are solid above-average offerings. The command isn’t always consistent though, so there’s a little more volatility here than you might expect from the “safe option.”
10. Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice HS (Mich.)
Plummer is the best pure bat of the high-school class, showing a beautiful swing from the left side that allows him to hit the ball hard to every part of the field. There are some questions about where he’ll play in the field, but even if he’s in left, the bat will play.
11. Beau Burrows, RHP, Weatherford HS (Tex.)
I’m higher than the industry on Burrows, though that’s not to say that he’s not a well-known prospect. He’ll touch 97 and sit 92-95, and he throws strikes with two above-average secondary pitches in his curveball and change. What you see is what you’re going to get, but what you see is pretty darn good.
12. Alex Bregman, 2B, LSU
Bregman has been a favorite of scouts for years for many reasons, not the least of which is his outstanding feel for hitting along with a baseball acumen that is off the charts. There’s very little upside here however, and though he’s currently manning shortstop at LSU, there isn’t enough athleticism to project him at the position long term.
13. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
If you see Funkhouser on his best days, you’ll see a plus-plus fastball and one of the best sliders in the class, thanks to its sharp, hard bite. Too often though, those pitches are nowhere near the strike zone, and he struggles to stay on top of either of his off-speed pitches. Some believe he’s a reliever, but I’d give Funkhouser a chance to make some mechanical changes and see if I have a mid-rotation starter.
14. Chris Betts, C, Wilson HS (Calif.)
Betts is one of the better offensive talents in this year’s class, and like Rodgers, he has a chance to hit for both average and power from a position that you don’t find many guys who can. The difference is Betts provides no value on the bases and isn’t a lock to stick behind the plate. He’s still a first-round prospect at first base though, and a team will give Betts every chance to provide that value as a backstop.
15. Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (Ga.)
You’ve likely heard of Cameron by now, either because he’s the son of former Mariner All-Star Mike Cameron or because he’s been in seemingly every showcase since 2012. There’s no standout tool here, but there’s also no real weakness, which gives him a chance to be a solid regular—maybe even an all-star if he shows more power in games.
16. Kevin Newman, SS/2B, Arizona
The only collegiate position player who’s hit tool is close to Happ’s is Newman, as the right-handed hitting infielder sprays line drives all over the park. He’s also a plus runner who has enough arm strength to stick at shortstop, making him the most likely player in this class to hit at the top of a lineup.
17. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
Even with a toned-down delivery, I still get sympathy pains watching Fulmer deliver the baseball. That being said, he also has arguably the most electric stuff in this class sans Tate, with a fastball that moves like a slider and a curveball that moves like a really, really good curveball. Because of the effort involved in the delivery though, many believe his likely landing spot in the bullpen.
18. Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg HS (Pa.)
Nikorak was one of the stars of the summer, showing a 70-grade fastball at times and two 50-plus pitches in his curveball and change. “At times” is the key part of this though, as consistency has not been the 6-foot-5 right-hander’s friend. Pennsylvania is just beginning their prep season, so don’t be surprised if Nikorak is several spots higher—or lower—in the next version of this list.
19. Alonzo Jones, 2B, Columbus HS (Ga.)
Jones’ calling card is his speed, which is easily plus-plus and will get 80 grades. He’s not just a burner though, as the switch-hitter has a solid swing from both sides of the plate and can turn on fastballs middle-in. The question right now is where he’ll play, but I’d give him a chance to play second base, with center field also a realistic possibility.
20. Trenton Clark, OF, Richland HS (Tex.)
The Lone Star State has produced several athletic bats, and Clark appears to be next in line. I’m not a huge fan of the swing, but he has excellent bat-to-barrel skills and there’s above-average power projection in his left-handed stroke.
21. Phil Bickford, RHP, Southern Nevada CC
Bickford is the “other” former first-round selection in this year’s draft, having gone 10th in 2013, but failing to come to agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays. The industry is higher on his right arm than I am, as I see more of a mid-rotation starter with a solid fastball and an above-average breaking ball. In a weak draft class though, that likely gets Bickford into the top half of the first round.
22. James Kaprelian, RHP, UCLA
Kaprelian is sort of the right-handed version of Kirby; a pitcher without elite upside, but could become a backend starter in the next few years thanks to his ability to throw four 50 to 55 pitches for strikes. He isn’t allergic to missing bats though, and if either of the secondary pitches becomes a 60—which is not unheard of by any means—he has a chance to be a durable mid-rotation arm.
23. Kyler Murray, SS, Allen HS (Tex.)
Murray is a scout’s dream: a shortstop who oozes athleticism in everything he does and has a chance to win games both in the field and on the bases. Unfortunately, there’s a better than 50/50 chance we never see him in a professional baseball uniform, as the Texas A&M commit is considered a legit five-star prospect at the quarterback position. The last five-star quarterback (no, Bubba Starling was not a five star recruit, nor was Carl Crawford) to turn down football was Joe Mauer, and Murray isn’t getting drafted where Mauer was. Here’s hoping I’m wrong.
24. Richie Martin, SS, Florida
Martin was one of the most impressive hitters this summer in the Cape Cod, but even with some mechanical adjustments he made this year, he still has a swing that I think will struggle against velocity. The approach is solid though, and his athleticism makes it very likely he stays in the middle-infield.
25. Cody Ponce, RHP, Cal Poly Pomona
Like Martin, Ponce was a standout this summer, showing a plus-plus heater and a slider that was closer to 70 than 60 for most of the Cape Cod season. He hasn’t shown that same stuff this spring though, and he’s missed time this year with shoulder fatigue. Add in the concerns of facing small school competition, and Ponce has just as much risk as he does reward.
26. Dakota Chalmers, RHP, North Forsyth HS (Ga.)
27. D.J. Stewart, OF/1B, Florida State
28. Garrett Whitley, OF, Niskayuna HS (N.Y.)
29. Chandler Day, RHP, Watkins HS (Oh.)
30. Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU
31. Kyle Cody, RHP, Kentucky
32. Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (Calif.)
33. Chris Shaw, 1B, Boston College
34. Tristan McKenzie, RHP, Royal Palm Beach HS (Fla.)
35. Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedral HS (Ind.)
36. Skye Bolt, OF, UNC
37. Tyler Jay, LHP, Illinois
38. Gio Brusa, OF, Pacific
39. Mikey White, SS, Alabama
40. Josh Staumont, RHP, Azusa Pacific
41. Kep Brown, OF, Wando HS (S.C.)
42. Jalen Miller, SS, Riverwood HS (Ga.)
43. Cole Irvin, LHP, Oregon
44. Cole McKay, RHP, Smithson Valley HS (Tex.)
45. Luken Baker, RHP/1B, Oak Ridge HS (Tex.)
46. Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS (Fla.)
47. Drew Finley, RHP, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
48. Christin Stewart, OF, Tennessee
49 Demi Orimoloye, OF, St. Mathew HS (Canada)
50. Ke’Bryan Hayes, Concordia Lutheran HS (Tex.)
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