May 122014

MLB draft 2014Originally this week, I wanted to write about some non-top 30 prospects having good seasons.  Since there are so few of them, and the few that are really aren’t even doing that well, I’m moving onto the draft.

The draft is about three weeks away, and draft boards were blown up this week when it was announced a potential top five pick, Jeff Hoffman (East Carolina), and a potential top 10 pick, Erick Fedde (UNLV), would have Tommy John surgery.  This affects the Phillies even if they weren’t focusing on either player because other players have to slide up one or two spots on the board.

The Phillies will still have a number of options with the seventh pick though.

High school bats

C/OF Alex Jackson, Rancho Bernardo HS (California)

12 years ago, the Phillies selected a player from Rancho Bernardo in the first round.  Expecting Jackson to have the career Cole Hamels has had isn’t reasonable, but he’s long been thought of as one of the top players in this draft despite some uneven performances this spring.

The draft’s highest ceiling bat likely belongs to Jackson, but in a more pitching heavy draft, he could still fall to number seven.  He’s a big right-handed hitter with potential plus or better power, and he has the bat speed to hit for average to all fields if he can cut down on his strikeouts.  He has the athleticism and arm to catch, but for a long time, it’s been expected that he’ll move to right field as a professional because the development of his bat is more important.

SS Jacob Gatewood, Clovis HS (California)

Gatewood was once thought to be neck and neck with Jackson for top prep hitter in the draft, but his stock has taken a hit this spring.  Nevertheless, the Phillies have been reported to have a ton of interest for him, and it only takes one team for a player to go earlier than mock drafts expect.

He could very well become one of the top players in this draft and could be its greatest high-risk/high-reward pick.  He has more power than Jackson, and that’s actually what got him into trouble this spring.  He sold out to hit the ball as far as he could every at-bat, and it led to a lot of swing and misses.  He’s made some adjustments as the season went on, but it’s still a concern.  Despite his size (6’4, 190), it’s actually possible he stays at shortstop where his power would obviously be very uncommon.  If he can’t though, his power plays anywhere on the diamond.

College bats

OF Bradley Zimmer, San Francisco

Bradley is the brother of Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, and he could find himself drafted in the same range as his older brother.  The last few drafts, everyone has lamented the poor crop of college bats, and this year is no different.  It may even be worse than previous years, but Zimmer is a legitimate top 10 pick.

At 6’5, Zimmer is unusually big for a center fielder.  He’s very athletic for his size and could stick there, but even if he doesn’t, he has a strong arm for right field and enough bat for the position too.  Right now, his power is mostly seen in batting practice, but he has the strength and swing to hit 20 or more home runs annually.  He has bat speed and some patience but could stand to strike out a little less.

LF Michael Conforto, Oregon State

Conforto doesn’t have the ceiling of Zimmer, but he’s probably more of a safer choice.  The Phillies aren’t a team that typically makes the safest pick, so they might not make this reach though.  He’s been a consistently productive player for the Beavers and Team USA over the summer.

His power is roughly equivalent to Zimmer’s, but Conforto is the superior in-game power hitter right now.  In all other areas, he lags behind.  He’s not going to hit for a tremendous average, although he has improved his pitch recognition this season.  Unfortunately, he’s a bit of an awkward defender with a below average arm, and his limited athleticism is going to confine him to left field.

High school pitchers

LHP Grant Holmes, Conway HS (South Carolina)

Holmes is likely at the top of the second tier of high school pitching prospects, and it’s almost certain neither of the two arms in the first tier fall to the Phillies.  The college pitching in this draft is a little deeper, but the top of this tier among high school arms belongs in the top 10 anyway.

Holmes isn’t a typical high school arm; he can probably move a little quicker than most of his peers since he’s already strong at 6’2 and 200 pounds and doesn’t need to grow into a better fastball.  He can already touch the mid and even high-90’s, but he’ll settle in the 92-94 range.  His hard breaking ball is probably his best pitch, and he shows a feel for a changeup.  He can throw strikes with all three of his pitches, so why is he even going to be available at the seventh pick?  He’s 6’2 and not 6’3.  His fastball can flatten out, but I don’t think that’s a make or break inch.

RHP Touki Toussaint, Coral Springs Christian Academy (Florida)

Very, very early draft previews had Toussaint as one of the top pitchers in the draft, but once scouts started seeing him in game action, his stock dropped.  After making some adjustments and improvements, his stock is on the rise again, and being taken in the top 10 isn’t out of the question again.

Toussaint’s stuff has always been really good, but he had a lot of problems throwing strikes.  His poor delivery led to poor fastball command, and he couldn’t throw his hard breaking ball for strikes.  Late in the season, his delivery looked better, he was spotting his breaking ball more and even showed an improved changeup.  With two potential plus-plus pitches, teams will line up to take a chance on him, even if it takes some time to straighten out his control issues.

College pitchers

RHP Aaron Nola, Louisiana State

Even with the two big injuries, this is still a pretty deep draft for college pitching.  Among the top 10 candidates, Nola is the “safe” pick.  He’s a consistent performer that throws strikes for one of the top programs in the country year in and year out.

Nola isn’t going to overwhelm anyone with his stuff, at least not compared to some of his peers in this range.  He throws a lot of strikes with three average or better pitches, led by his curveball that should be his go to pitch for strikeouts.  He’s a bit on the short side at 6’1, but he still throws his low-90’s fastball downhill.  His changeup is a work in progress.  With his track record of shutting down SEC offenses, and he could be the second college arm off the board.

LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville

Freeland could be a bit of a stretch with the seventh pick, although this was his landing spot in Baseball America’s first mock draft last week.  The Phillies took a flyer on him late in the 2011 draft, and there doesn’t seem to be any indication they ratted him out to the NCAA for trying to negotiate a signing bonus.

After dominating Colorado hitters in high school, Freeland struggled his first couple years in the Missouri Valley Conference, but he broke out in a big way in 2014, posting an absurd 111:7 K:BB ratio on an Evansville team that should be headed for the NCAA tournament.  His fastball is just average now, but at 6’4 and 185 pounds, it’s still not out of the question that he adds strength and a little more velocity.  His best pitch is a hard slider that’s a potential plus-plus pitch and effective against lefties and righties.  He can throw a changeup too.  He’s not facing top notch competition, but he could still move quickly with his stuff and control.

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Scott Grauer writes for PSC and Bus Leagues Baseball – check him out!