Archive for February, 2013

Greetings, fellow prospectors.

It may be four months away, but time has little meaning when it comes to speculating on who will be taken at the top of this year’s draft.

The experts say this will be a substandard draft overall, but the same was said of last year’s crop, and that surely hasn’t stopped anyone from buying baseball cards of players from the 2012 draft. As always, you should expect more of the same this year.

Here are my early favorites for those who, based upon observations of professional scouts, have a very good shot at being taken at or near the top of the draft.

Collegiate Top 5 List

1)        Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas – Thin, projectable build, excellent arm strength, has a fastball that sits in the 92-94 MPH range, but can top out at 96, with excellent movement. Slider is in the 84-87 range, can be a plus pitch. Changeup also in the mid 80’s, and is deceptive. Still needs better command. Presently projected as a #3 starter, but could become a #2 or even a #1. Has a strong case to become the #1 draft pick.

2)         Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State – I’m admittedly partial to lefties, but he is something special. A gifted athlete, his fastball sits in the 93-96 MPH range, has great life to it, and can touch 97 late into games. Variable curve, deceptive changeup, clean arm action, great makeup, command still a bit of a work in progress, but could very well end up becoming the #1 overall pick. Not presently as polished as some, but ceiling is higher.

Image3)         Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford – Sits in the mid to upper 90’s and can reach 93-94 MPH late in games. Great changeup and curve in the low 80’s. While most project him to be the #1 pick for the second straight year, he still needs to improve location on all pitches, and fastball needs more late life. Still considered the safest pitcher in the draft, projects as a frontline starter, and could very well go first overall in June.

4)         Colin Moran, 3B, North Carolina – Best pure, polished hitter in this year’s college class, strong left-handed hitter, power still a work in progress. Should be able to stick at the hot corner, with great range and a solid arm. Very even shot to go somewhere in the top 10.

5)         Jonathan Crawford, RHP, Florida – Has a plus fastball in the low-mid 90’s, can touch 96 MPH. Hard breaking ball as well. Good arm action and delivery, needs to learn to change speeds effectively. Could easily be drafted in the top 10.

High School Top 5 List

1)         Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson HS (GA) – He has actually evoked early comparisons to Josh Hamilton; has true 5-tool potential, with a very athletic frame, excellent feel for the game, could have a plus arm in the future, quick hands, great bat speed, average power with the potential for more. Currently expected to go in the top 5 picks, perhaps top 3.

2)         Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (GA) – very impressive all-around, excellent bat speed, despite not having a large frame he has emerging power potential, is a plus runner, great range in CF (chances are he could stick there), was the most talked about player during the showcases last summer. Some say his ceiling is higher than Meadows’. Has gotten some early comparisons to Andrew McCutchen. Easy top 10 pick at this time, with the chance to go in the top 5.

Image3)         Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood HS (WA) – likely the top catcher in the entire draft class, he has great defensive instincts, can block almost anything, with pop times of 1.8-1.9 seconds. Has great raw bat speed, with average power and an above-average arm. Will almost certainly stick at his position. Could be mentioned in the same sentence as Padres catching prospect Austin Hedges if all goes as planned. Very good chance to get popped in the top 10.

4)         Dominic Smith, OF/1B, Serra HS (CA) – considered the best pure hitter in the HS  class, has above-average power, may eventually switch to 1B fulltime but has the tools for OF as of now. Excellent athlete, with the potential to go in the top 10.

5)         Trey Ball, OF/LHP, New Castle HS (IN) – the top two-way player in the entire 2013 class, has serious projectability in his lanky frame. Heater currently sits at 87-92 MPH, but could easily add more in the future. Has a deceptive changeup, curveball still a work in progress. Also a great runner and excellent athlete overall, with a smooth left-handed swing. His future is likely to be on the mound, though. Easily a first-rounder at this time.

Everyone knows Travis d’Arnaud, Jurickson Profar, Dylan Bundy and Wil Myers.  It’s not a struggle for even the most casual prospector to follow the career paths of these players, and players with similar pedigree.  The high draft pick.  The five tool guy.  The million dollar arm.  The can’t miss prospect.  Let’s face it, more than half of the guys with these tags miss, or at least don’t live up to their potential.  And for each of these guys, there is a Keith Hernandez or a Ryne Sandberg or a Mike Piazza.  These are guys who are almost after thoughts, selected to fill out rosters, or maybe just because somebody saw something special in them that nobody else did. Or, perhaps there is a player with exceptional talent in an organization where he is third or fourth on a positional depth chart.  What you will find here are five players that fit this profile, only one of which can be found on a team’s top-10 prospect list but deserve that type of attention.

Screen shot 2013-02-25 at 11.43.11 AMFirst up is Luis Sardinas.  Sardinas is a shortstop signed by Texas as an international free agent out of Venezuela for a $1.2 million bonus on July 2, 2009, ironically the same day the Rangers signed Jurickson Profar. Sardinas battled injuries in his first two pro seasons and is currently ranked third in the organization’s depth chart at shortstop, behind Profar and Major League stalwart Elvis Andrus.  Luis is a terrific defender with elite range.  He is a switch-hitter with quick hands and plus speed on the bases.  He has a lean frame so is unlikely to lose speed as his body matures, but may add a little power.  In his first full minor league season at age 19, he put up a .291/.346/.356 line with 32 steals in 412 plate appearances at Class -A Hickory.  Rangers Director of International Scouting Mike Daly said “Luis might be the most natural baseball player in the organization.”  MLB Comparison: Elvis Andrus

In the 33rd round of the 2012 amateur draft the New York Yankees took Saxon Butler, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound first baseman out of Samford University in Birmingham Alabama.  As a senior, Butler put up a .340/.429/.575 line with 15 home runs.  He was even better his junior year where he set school records in doubles (26) and RBI (61), while batting .355.   He continued to produce that summer putting up a .296/.370/.620 line at Low –A Staten Island earning a promotion to Charleston.  At Charleston, Butler admittedly ran out of gas, saying “I did decent…But my mind was saying one thing and my body was saying no, just from the wear and tear. But now I know what to expect heading into next season.”  Butler is a mediocre defender who may end up as a designated hitter, but he is a pure hitter.  In 2012, the 22-year-old combined to hit 28 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances between college and the pros.   MLB Comparison: Chris Davis/Mark Trumbo

Hansel Robles is a power pitcher signed by the New York Mets as an amateur free agent in 2008. Robles made his debut in the 2009 Dominican Summer League and the Mets finally brought the 5’11”, 185 pound hurler to the States in 2011.  The right-hander has spent time as both a reliever and a starter in the Mets system, but pitched the entire 2012 season at Class –A Brooklyn as a starter while posting eye-popping numbers.  In 72.2 innings over 12 starts last season, Robles emerged with a 6-1 mark with a 1.11 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 66 strikeouts, and only 10 walks.  The Dominican has an outstanding fastball, to go along with a good slider and an average change-up (when he uses it).  Robles mechanics make him an injury risk, although he’s steered clear of any issues during his first four pro seasons.  At age 22, Robles likely has a few more seasons in the minor leagues, but based on mechanics and his repertoire of pitches he’ll likely be joining a Major League bullpen sooner rather than later.   MLB Comparison: Carlos Marmol

Prior to being drafted in the eighth round by the Houston Astros in 2012, Tyler Heineman was a walk-on at UCLA.  It seems no matter where Heineman has gone he has outperformed expectations.  As a walk-on for UCLA in 2010, Heineman was used sparingly.  He continued to work hard to hone his craft and by his senior year he started 59 games (52 of them as catcher) for the Bruins and was the only catcher to earn all PAC-12 Conference honors.  That year he hit .332 with 27 RBI and 42 runs while finishing sixth in the conference in on-base percentage with a .435 mark.    A plus defender, Heineman won the NY-Penn League batting crown last year posting a .358 mark while getting on base at a .452 clip.  Although the 21-year-old doesn’t project to hit for power, his terrific plate discipline combined with ability to hit for average and plus defense should land him a starting Major League gig in time.  MLB Comparison: Yadier Molina (less power)

Much like the aforementioned Robles, Boston’s William Cuevas is a 22-year-old Latin American hurler who spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before coming to the states in 2011 and breaking onto the scene in 2012.  Used primarily as a reliever, Cuevas put up outstanding numbers in Lowell last year, posting an 8-2 record with a 1.40 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 72 strikeouts and only 15 walks in 77.1 innings.  The 6’1”, 170-pounder has a lanky frame, featuring a ¾ arm delivery on a fastball that tops out at 93 and a good looping curveball.  The right-hander also mixes in a change-up which averages about 7-9 mph slower than his fastball.  Having already mastered A -Ball, Cuevas projects to open up the season at AA Portland and should reach the Sox bullpen some time in 2014 if he continues to develop.  MLB Comparison: Tim Collins

Who Are They?

Mike Zunino was selected out of the University of Florida by the Seattle Mariners with the third overall pick in June 2012’s amateur draft.  Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 12.54.33 PMSelected behind only Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton, he was the only catcher selected in the top 25 picks.  Many viewed Zunino as a “safe” pick in the draft; his defensive prowess was never in question, but at the time some wondered if he would hit enough in pro ball to make The Show.  If his first 300 professional plate appearances (including the Arizona Fall League) are any indication of his future, Zunino may ultimately be the best pick in last year’s draft.

Travis d’Arnaud has yet to crack the big leagues, and at age 24, is already with his third professional franchise.   What does this say about d’Arnaud?  One school of thought is that there is something wrong for such a highly regarded player to already be with his third franchise.  The other school of thought sees d’Arnaud as the special player he is; traded each time for a Cy Young Award winner.  d’Arnaud was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school in 2007, taken in the first round (37th overall) from Lakewood, CA.  Two season’s later he was one of the key cogs in the deal that netted the Phillies arguably the best pitcher of the last decade, Roy Halladay.  Three years after that the Blue Jays saw themselves as a piece away from contending in the AL East, and dealt a package centered around d’Arnaud to the Mets in exchange for reigning NL Cy Young Award winner RA Dickey.  The Mets made it clear the deal would not have happened without d’Arnaud.

By The Numbers:

Zunino signed quickly after last year’s draft and went right to work at Class- A Everett where he impressed not only with his glove, but erased any doubts about his bat by posting a .373/.474/.736 line in 133 plate appearances and prompting a promotion to Double- A Jackson.  In a smaller sample size in Jackson, against older and more seasoned competition, he posted a .333/.386/.588 line in 57 plate appearances.  After the season ended Zunino went on to display his skills in the Arizona Fall League, posting an OPS of .800 in 80 at bats.  Last month the Mariners announced that Zunino had been invited to Major League spring training after only one professional season, leading some to speculation Zunino could break camp behind the plate for Seattle.  Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 11.50.30 AMSince then the M’s have added veteran backstops Kelly Shoppach and Ronny Paulino to their catching mix, making it less likely that Zunino will make the big league club in April.  The Mariners will likely have Zunino open the season at AAA, not wanting to hinder his development sitting on the big league bench.

Unlike Zunino, d’Arnaud was drafted out of high school, which usually leads to a player needing more Minor League seasoning.  However it’s likely he would have already had made his Major League debut had he not suffered injuries in each of his last two seasons.  In 2011 for Toronto’s Double- A affiliate d’Arnaud posted a .311/.371/.542 line, following this up in 2012 with a .333/.380/.595 split before suffering a tear in his posterior cruciate ligament.

Projections:

Both Mike Zunino and Travis d’Arnaud project to be above average, every day, Major League catchers.  Both are good with the bat and glove, with Zunino having the potential to be a great defensive backstop  and d’Arnaud possessing the upside to be a great offensive run producer.  The only question mark about d’Arnaud is his health.  He needs a strong full season this year to dispel notions that he’s an injury prone player. Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 12.02.51 PM

I suspect Mike Zunino will begin the year at Triple- A Tacoma regardless of what happens in Spring Training, as the Mariners are unlikely to contend this year and there’s no reason to rush him.  The 22-year-old should pick up right where he left off with the bat and reach the bigs by Opening Day 2014 at the latest, where his ceiling will likely be a .275/.350/.450 hitter with 20-25 home runs.

The Mets, not expecting to seriously contend until 2014, will likely keep d’Arnaud at Triple- A  starting the season to avoid d’Arnaud reaching Super Two status and gaining a year of arbitration eligibility.  When he finally does get the call this year it will not be to sit the bench, and he’ll begin following in the footsteps of his idol Mike Piazza as a .300/.380/.500 slugger.