Archive for 2016 MLB Draft

The NCAA’s New Agent Rule and the MLB Draft

Historically, players selected straight out of high school in the Major League Baseball draft, or those drafted following their junior year in college, were forced to walk something of a fine line. Because the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rules specified that any player who formally signed with an agent would lose his remaining college eligibility, draftees could not be directly represented by an agent when negotiating with an MLB team.

Instead, players could only employ an agent in an “advisory” capacity. Under NCAA rules, so long as a player’s “advisor” did not directly communicate with an MLB team on the player’s behalf, and so long as the player compensated the advisor for his services (at the advisor’s normal hourly rate), a player would maintain his college eligibility should he ultimately elect not to sign a professional contract and instead return to (or enroll in) college.

Of course, in practice this distinction between an “agent” and an “advisor” often turned out to merely be a matter of semantics. Teams routinely expected (and preferred) to communicate directly with a player’s agent, rather than the player himself, while recent draftees usually preferred to have their agent/advisor negotiate directly with an MLB team on their behalf. So despite their official title, advisors often served as players’ agents, directly representing their clients during their interactions with MLB teams, in violation of NCAA rules.

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2016 Draft: Kyle Lewis Swings Way to Top-Five Consideration

After a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis entered the spring as a potential first-round pick and has managed to dramatically improve his stock over the course of the season. He’s among the country’s leading hitters with a .411/.545/.729 line, 17 homers and 61 walks against 43 strikeouts at the time of this publication, numbers that helped him win the Southern Conference Player of the Year Award for the second straight season. With elite performance to back up five-tool promise and one of the best swings in the class, he’s in the conversation to be one of the first five players off the draft board.

I saw Lewis this past weekend when the Bears traveled to North Carolina for their regular-season series finale at UNC-Greensboro. The video below offers two angles from batting practice and a couple throws from center field, concluding with his first three plate appearances of the series. Other draft follows from this series get their own blurbs at the end.

Physical Description

Playing in the Southern Conference, Lewis looks pretty different from everyone else on the field. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and features a high-waisted, athletic build that should add another 15 pounds or so. He shows fast-twitch ability in all phases, coupling athletic movements in the box with fluid actions in the field.

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Timing of Jason Groome’s Suspension Raises Questions

The biggest news regarding this year’s draft broke a couple of weeks ago when we learned that Barnegat High School (N.J.) left-hander Jason Groome – a strong candidate to become the No. 1 overall selection in June – was temporarily suspended for violating a transfer rule.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association requires that any athlete who transfers schools without changing addresses must sit out the first 30 days of the season or half of the team’s total number of games. According to multiple media reports, the NJSIAA found Groome violated that rule when he transferred to Barnegat for his senior season after spending last year at IMG Academy in Florida. In other words, because his parents didn’t move with him to IMG – which is a boarding school – he didn’t provide the “bona fide change of residence” as outlined in the NJISAA’s bylaws. Because of the ineligibility ruling, Barnegat forfeited both games in which Groome has pitched, erasing the 19-strikeout no-hitter he threw on April 11. He’s eligible to return to action this week.

For a second, let’s not consider why parents would be expected to move with their children to a boarding school. Let’s also not consider how this transfer rule is in place to prevent the gaining of an athletic advantage, and that Groome was transferring back to the school where he played his freshman and sophomore years to play a final season with his hometown friends. And let’s also not question why the NJSIAA doesn’t allow an appeals hearing under the rule. You can find other media outlets exploring these issues at length, with the majority opinion coming down on the side of the player. Instead, let’s focus on the timing of the suspension, which is at least unfortunate, and at most suspicious.

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Will Craig’s Power Bat Buoys 2016 Draft Stock

In a draft year that’s churning out a better college hitting crop than the industry expected before the season began, Wake Forest infielder Will Craig is another such college hitting prospect that’s making a strong case for a top-two-rounds selection.

I saw Craig this weekend when the Demon Deacons visited N.C. State for a three-game series that included a rare Monday night game, which aired on ESPNU. He’s a high follow mostly for his bat, and he’s done nothing but rake since he arrived in Winston-Salem. As of publication, he’s comically slashing .466/.581/.909, placing him inside the nation’s top five in all three categories. Perhaps then it’s no wonder that he surfaces as the ACC’s top draft-eligible batter in Carson Cistulli’s latest installment of top college players by (maybe) predictive stats.

The video below moves from batting practice to pre-game infield to game swings. For the sake of an evaluation, it helped that he was facing N.C. State left-hander Ryan Williamson, a solid pro prospect who gets his own video and bullet point further down. Both videos also feature receiving demonstrations by N.C. State catcher Andrew Knizner, another solid prospect who gets mentioned in this space.

Physical Description

Craig looks every bit of his listed 6-foot-3, 235-pound constitution, a big-bodied frame that has reached its full development. His natural strength is concealed by a soft, thick build that’s supported by a pair of tree trunks. He also has unexpected rotational athleticism for such a big dude, which is more apparent when he’s pitching than when he’s doing anything else. Ideally, his pro training regimen trims 10-15 pounds and replaces the void with muscle. Craig was drafted by the Royals in the 37th round of the 2013 draft out of Science Hill HS (Tenn.), where he teamed with Tigers lefty Daniel Norris.

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Blake Rutherford Shows Tools of a Top-Five Draft Pick

I got my first look at Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep, Calif.) at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars showcase last summer. The 18-year-old outfielder, whom evaluators considered a top 10-draft prospect entering the spring, reinforced that status at last weekend’s National High School Invitational at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC, perhaps elevating himself given the underwhelming performances of some of his similarly talented peers.

The video below merges Rutherford’s batting practice from Tournament of Stars and his four at-bats from the Chaminade Prep vs. Walton HS (Ga.) contest at NHSI.

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Tennessee’s Nick Senzel Among 2016 Draft’s Top Bats

Infielder Nick Senzel has been an impact player for Tennessee ever since he arrived in Knoxville, but his draft stock took a major jump forward last summer when he was named MVP of the Cape Cod League and positioned himself as a first-round candidate heading into the spring.

He’s built on his momentum in his first 12 games this season, hitting .396/.500/.521 while answering some questions about his glove and where he’ll play at the next level. I caught Senzel when the Volunteers visited East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., as part of the 13th Annual Keith LeClair Classic last weekend. The video below starts with his pre-game batting practice in ECU’s indoor cages, then moves to pre-game infield and concludes with his first three at-bats from the game.

Physical Description

Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Senzel has a muscular, pro build that looks about five to 10 pounds denser. He’s barrel-chested with broad shoulders and, in general, well developed and proportioned. Though he won’t get much stronger than he already is, you probably don’t want him to, either, as added mass would just limit his flexibility and medium-twitch athleticism.

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Lefty Jake DeVries Gives Air Force a High Draft Follow

There have been just three Air Force draftees since 2007, with the most recent coming last year when senior right-hander Ben Yokley was signed by the Cardinals as a 29th-round selection. Now the program is entering unchartered territory thanks to two pitchers in junior left-hander Jake DeVries and junior right-hander Griffin Jax, each of whom will command more scouting attention this spring than any Air Force player of the last decade.

I first wrote about DeVries in October after he flashed some intriguing pitching tools in the Cape Cod League last summer. As I mentioned then, Air Force players have obligations that supersede baseball and make it more complicated for teams to sign them out of the draft. This is particularly the case for players who aren’t seniors, as noted by Brent Briggeman in a piece recently for The Gazette of Colorado Springs. DeVries and Jax, explains Briggeman, basically have three options: they can (a) sign a pro contract and remain at Air Force to graduate while playing baseball on available leave time until the academy grants them a release from active duty, (b) resign from the academy and face two years of active duty as an enlisted airman, or (c) come back for their senior year like Yokley did, sign the contract, and then balance pro ball with combat training.

Briggeman notes that neither DeVries nor Jax has asked out of their commitments, though their performance this spring might change the situation. I’m told that academy leadership doesn’t have a thorough understanding of how the draft process works and may be uncomfortable setting a precedent in letting players out of those commitments. This is obviously a fluid situation, but the takeaway for now is that teams will have to clear administrative hurdles to sign either pitcher away from their senior seasons at the academy.

I got an up-close look at both DeVries and Jax this past weekend when Air Force and Navy squared off in a three-game series known as the Freedom Classic in Kinston, N.C. The video of DeVries is from the first inning of his start on Saturday, and the video of Jax (further down) is from the third inning of his start on Friday.

Jake DeVries

DeVries has most of the baseline attributes you want to see in starting pitcher prospect. He’s big, throws with little effort, has plus velocity and can spin a breaking ball. The biggest question mark surrounds his ability to throw strikes. Let’s talk about the pros first.

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2016 MLB Draft: Louisville’s Corey Ray Thriving Atop Order

One week into the college baseball season, Louisville head coach Dan McConnell’s decision to bat Corey Ray atop the order this year looks like it’s going to pay dividends for the next four months.

If you’re unfamiliar with what the star outfielder has done over the four games since he moved up to the leadoff spot from the three-hole last season, consider this cartoonish statline: .733 AVG (11-for-15); .750 OBP; 1.533 SLG; 1 double; 1 triple; 3 HR; 6 SB.

For sure, Louisville’s two opponents for those four games – Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Eastern Kentucky – aren’t teams that we could have expected to offer much resistance. But no matter: it’s an exceptional beginning that deserves mention as the five-tool prospect looks to establish himself as the best position player in the 2016 draft class.

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Cal’s Daulton Jefferies Shows First-Round Potential in Opener

Daulton Jefferies wasn’t at the very peak of his game in California’s season opener against Duke at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday, but the junior right-hander still flashed the stuff that makes him an early favorite to be a first-round selection in June.

I was on hand for his first start of the year as he opposed another top draft prospect in Duke right-hander Bailey Clark. To paint a fuller picture of Jefferies’ prospect outlook, I’m mixing my takeaways from this outing with what I saw this summer when he pitched for the Team USA Collegiate National Team and ranked as my No. 13 prospect on the squad.

The video below shows all 15 pitches from the first inning of his start on Friday. He tossed six innings and gave up five hits, two runs (both unearned) with two walks and nine strikeouts.

Physical Description

Jefferies is listed at six feet and 180 pounds. He has wiry strength and still projects in spite of his stature, with room for mass through his shoulders and a lean torso that tapers off at the waist. It’s an athletic body type that’s not difficult to maintain. He also shows quick-twitch actions when fielding his position, which you’ll see at the 1:30 mark in the video.

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Even More 2016 Draft Prospect Standouts from Jupiter

One doesn’t simply write about Jupiter, not without first reflecting on this matter’s relative futility.

Perfect Game’s 2015 WWBA World Championship – often referred to by its aforementioned host town in Florida – marks the last stop on the high school showcase circuit. Between Oct. 22 and 26, 85 travel ball teams competed against each other at the Roger Dean Stadium complex, the spring training home of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins. Though most of the top-flight draft talent was concentrated among 20 or so teams, it was still tricky to navigate 13 fields in a golf cart while jockeying for real estate behind home plate of said fields with hoards of other golf carts. This happened for five days, for 10-14 hours each day, depending on your ambition level. And lo, this test of scouting endurance was further complicated by basic human maintenance, as one must still eat on a regular basis and displace the eaten contents on a more timelier one. I say these things to say that there was a lot happening at once, and as one half of a two-man FanGraphs team that slogged through this test, I also say that it was difficult to see all of which that happened at once, in case your expectations were higher before you finished reading this sentence.

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Scouting the 2016 Prep Draft Prospects in Jupiter

Last weekend featured the first event I covered as Lead Prospect Analyst for FanGraphs. I cannot imagine a better crash course in the who’s who of draft prospects than the Perfect Game WWBA tournament in Jupiter, Florida. Jesse Burkhart and I spent the weekend watching players and exchanging notes and ideas; be sure to check out his post for some information on other top high school prospects attending the event.

This article will hopefully be a little different than what you can find elsewhere covering the tournament. There were too many players in too short a period to reasonably do a ranked list, and boring everybody with a long list with a short blurb on each is no fun. Instead, I chose three players who are either undervalued or just generally interesting to me, and have given a full analysis of what makes each one provocative while also attempting to characterize their limitations. These are not the three best players we saw in Jupiter, but rather the ones whose strengths I wanted to illuminate. Read this as a case study on three specific players as well as an introduction to the thought process through which I go while looking at amateur prospects.

Following the three main write-ups, I’ve also posted some thoughts on players of interest upon whom Jesse doesn’t touch in his piece. Some are probable first or second round picks for next June, others are lesser ranked guys whose upside you might interest you. None of these evaluations are set in stone, since although I had seen a decent number of the top rated guys on video and read others’ thoughts prior to Jupiter, these are still fresh faces to me. As I said in my introductory post when I was hired, I want you guys to engage in discussions on any players you have seen or questions you may have about the discussed prospects here.

Drew Mendoza SS/3B Minneola, FL (Florida State)

Before seeing him play last week, I had already heard of Mendoza’s defensive skills. He possesses a reputation for being a quality shortstop prospect with excellent footwork and range to pair with a strong arm. Kiley McDaniel said this about Mendoza in his early 2016 draft rankings posted earlier this season:

Mendoza was a skinny shortstop with some feel to hit from the left side that was a solid follow, then he hit two homers this spring off RHP Brady Singer, who will likely go in the first 50-60 picks this summer. Mendoza has filled out his lanky 6’4 frame a bit but still looks like a [sic] shortstop for now, with the bat showing more impact.

I was disappointed not to see him make any plays that challenged his abilities to corroborate the rep, but in warm ups and fielding practice his skills are still readily apparent. He carries himself well, with good balance and fluid movements catching and throwing the ball. The athleticism in his arm alone is exceptionally smooth. What I was surprised to see is how impressive he is at the plate.

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Introducing the 2016-2018 Sortable Draft Ranking Boards

I announced yesterday my looming exit from FanGraphs to join the Atlanta Braves later this week. It wouldn’t be me unless I went out with a bang, so we’re rolling out sortable boards for the next three draft classes today, all of them months in the making. Here’s the current draft order, though it will change as free agents move around this offseason.

For the 2016 class, I ranked as far as I felt like there was some separation (63 players), then gave you 101 additional players who project for the top 3-4 rounds. For the 2017 class, I gave you a ranked top 30 then 42 additional players who have already emerged as early round prospects. For the 2018 class (that’s high school sophomores and the incoming college freshman who were high schoolers eligible for the draft last summer) I gave you 30 players and, within that 30, included four high schoolers who already have scouts excited. The additional players in the 2016 and 2017 sortable boards who aren’t ranked are grouped by pitcher/hitter and high school/college and then ranked roughly in order of my preference within those listings.

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College Team USA Top 20 Prospects: Nos. 1-10

It will be a challenge for the 2015 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team (CNT) to match what the previous two editions of the club have achieved in terms of the draft. The 2014 CNT produced 10 first-rounders in this year’s draft, including five of the top six college players taken as well as four of the top six picks overall. The 2013 CNT also produced 10 first-rounders.

That’s why ranking the top-20 prospects on Team USA isn’t an easy exercise. The majority of the players have the tools to land in the first round, so there are a few places on this list where the talent runs together. Nevertheless, the obvious strength of this year’s team was power arms with pitchability. The weakness was the lack of impact middle infielders.

Because of the length of this feature, we decided to split the list into two parts. You can see the 11th-20th ranked players and honorable mentions here.

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College Team USA Top 20 Prospects: Nos. 11-20

It will be a challenge for the 2015 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team (CNT) to match what the previous two editions of the club have achieved in terms of the draft. The 2014 CNT produced 10 first-rounders in this year’s draft, including five of the top six college players taken as well as four of the top six picks overall. The 2013 CNT also produced 10 first-rounders.

That’s why ranking the top-20 prospects on Team USA isn’t an easy exercise. The majority of the players have the tools to land in the first round, so there are a few places on this list where the talent runs together. Nevertheless, the obvious strength of this year’s team was power arms with pitchability. The weakness was the lack of impact middle infielders.

Because of the length of this feature, we decided to split the list into two parts. The top 10 prospects will be coming tomorrow.

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Lefty Jason Groome Leads Top 15 from 2016 Draft Showcase

USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars is an annual event held in Cary, N.C., that serves as a tryout for the 18U national team trials roster. Six teams that include more than 100 players compete in a tournament-style showcase over six days, and USA Baseball selects 40 players for the trial roster who then compete for 20 spots on the team that will go to the World Baseball Softball Confederation 18U World Cup, set for Aug. 28-Sept. 6 in Japan.

For scouts, TOS represents the No. 2 stop on the high-school summer showcase circuit after PG National, and it’s a prime opportunity for evaluators to watch many of the nation’s best draft-eligible high-school players do battle against each other while hitting with a wood bat. Often, showcase performance factors heavily into a prep prospect’s evaluation and helps put relatively unknown players on the map. This was the case for Cardinals first-rounder Nick Plummer, whose outstanding play on the summer circuit carried more weight since he played in a Michigan high-school league that starts the count at 1-1, thus complicating the evaluation. Another recent example is Manny Machado, who emerged from relative obscurity and turned heads at the 2010 TOS and East Coast Pro showcases. He became a high-level follow for Florida area scouts entering the spring, and you know the rest.

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