THE 2017 NatsGM Preseason MLB Draft Big Board

After what seems like an eternally long offseason, pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week and today is the first day of college baseball, which means we have survived another winter without baseball.  Considering these milestones on the calendar, I thought this a prudent time to channel my inner Jim Callis and Mel Kiper Jr. to publish a preseason list of the top prospects available in this June’s amateur draft.

#1  Jeren Kendall OF  Vanderbilt University

In a year light on college position players, Kendall stands out as an elite athlete with the potential for five tools.  The knocks on Kendall are the questions about his swing-and-miss and ability to recognize spin at the plate, but he projects to stay in center field as a professional and should not escape the top-5 picks in June.

#2  Hunter Greene RHP/IF  California HS

The clear top high school prospect in this year’s class, Greene is easily the top pitcher in the crop and has a legitimate argument to being the best hitting prospect as well.  While teams might be tempted by his bat, most scouts project him on the mound, due to his upper-90s velocity and polished 3-pitch arsenal.  Typically team shy away from high school arms at the top of the draft, but Greene stands an excellent chance of being selected in the top-3 picks and perhaps #1 overall.

#3  Alex Faedo RHP  University of Florida

A powerfully built 6-5 220lbs. Faedo possesses a quality 3-pitch repertoire, featuring a mid-90s fastball, tough slider and quality changeup.  He may not own the same raw stuff as 2016 Florida 1st Round pick A.J. Puk, but Faedo has a solid delivery and shows good command of the strike zone.  He should dominate the SEC on Friday nights this spring and profiles as a #2/#3 starter in the majors.

#4  Tanner Houck RHP  University of Missouri

A massively built 6-5 200+lbs righty, Houck is the next in an impressive list of Missouri pitchers in the past decade.  Houck features a low three quarters release point which is difficult on right-handed hitters, not to mention a fastball in the mid-90s, a hard breaking ball and an impressive changeup.  He needs to refine his mechanics and control, but Houck has everything one would want in a college pitching prospect.

#5  J.B. Bukauskas RHP  University of North Carolina

A local product from Stone Bridge High School in Northern Virginia, Bukauskas is a shorter right-handed pitcher at 6-0 220lbs. with a blazing fastball that has reached 100mph.  In addition, he has a mid-80s slider that is a plus pitch and a developing changeup.  He was a possible 1st round pick three years ago but has dramatically improved his stock while pitching for the Tar Heels.

#6  Alex Lange RHP  Louisiana State University

The strength of this year’s draft, especially at the top, is college pitching and Alex Lange is yet another impressive southern right-handed pitcher.  Lange is a projectable 6-3 200lbs with an impressive low-90s fastball that he locates well, along with a plus (or better) curveball.  He throws a changeup but it is extremely raw at present, leading critics to wonder if he is a future closer.  Nonetheless, he should act as LSU’s Ace this season and profiles as a 1st round pick in June.

#7  Kyle Wright RHP  Vanderbilt University

Wright is yet another in the impressive crop of SEC starters this season, and he might be the most polished of the entire group.  Standing an impressive 6-4 220lbs, Wright features a low-90s fastball that he commands well through the entire strike zone, an impressive curveball and a fringy changeup.  Wright needs to improve his changeup to remain a starter as a professional, but Wright profiles as a durable mid-rotation workhorse in the majors.

#8  Royce Lewis SS/CF  California HS

If we assume Hunter Greene is a pitcher, then Royce Lewis currently ranks as the top high school hitter in this draft class and is a legitimate five tool prospect.  Long known in prospect circles, Lewis has notable and impressive bat speed, along with some bat-to-ball skills, allowing him to project to hit for both average and power in the future.  Defensively he has plus speed and a plus arm, allowing him to profile well either at shortstop or center field long-term.

Presently, he reminds me a great deal of last year’s 1st overall selection Mickey Moniak, in that he’s an emerging hitter with outstanding tools and exceptional makeup.  Also like Moniak, he ranked outside the top-5 prospects this time last year, but has the potential to be the first overall pick.

#9  Brendan McKay LHP/1B  University of Louisville

A legitimate 2-way prospect both as a pitcher and a hitter, most scouts and myself prefer McKay on the mound, as he has excellent command and control of his low-90s fastball.  Additionally, McKay throws a above-average curveball with excellent depth, plus the occasional changeup.  He is known to have a terrific demeanor on the mound and scouts often mention his competitiveness as a player.  McKay is the clear top left-handed college pitcher in this class and should not escape the top-15 picks.

#10  Hans Crouse RHP  California HS

If not for Hunter Greene, Crouse would be receiving more hype as the top high school arm, as he stands a projectable 6-4 185lbs with a punishing low-to-mid-90s fastball and a powerful low-70s curveball with depth.  As with more high school pitchers his changeup needs development, but scouts have observed the offering as average, with potential to improve.  He is committed to USC, but the sun failing to rise tomorrow is about the same likelihood he will step foot on campus next fall.

Honorable Mention  ->  Jordon Adell RHP/OF Kentucky HS, Tristan Beck RHP Stanford University, Michael Gigliotti CF Lipscomb University, D.L. Hall LHP Georgia HS, Mike Rivera Catcher University of Florida, J.J Schwartz Catcher/1B University of Florida, Kevin Smith SS University of Maryland

Scouting The MLB Draft – The Cape Cod League All Star Game

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Late last month the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League held their annual All-Star game, undoubtedly my favorite scouting event each summer.  Unfortunately for the third consecutive year I was unable to make the trek to Massachusetts, but luckily Fox College Sports televised the game, allowing me the chance to evaluate the top prospects on Cape Cod.  This year’s contest was a surprising 8-0 bludgeoning by the West over the East – these are my scouting notes on several prospects that stood out during the game.

Kevin Smith        SS           University of Maryland                 Yarmouth-Dennis

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Perhaps my favorite prospect in next summer’s draft, Smith has rebounded from a disappointing sophomore campaign (.259/.308/.409) to make the All-Star team representing Yarmouth-Dennis.  Smith was impressive in this game, making several nice plays defensively and flashing above-average arm strength.

Offensively he showed good speed in his first at-bat, going home-to-first in 4.22 seconds in nearly beating out a grounder to shortstop.  Later in the contest he pounded a 90mph fastball opposite field for a long line drive out, easily one of the hardest hit balls in the game.  In his final two at-bats he struck out both times, showing the biggest present weakness in his game.  Nevertheless, Smith shows 4 easy average or better tools, and if a team believes in the hit tool, he projects as a potential Day 1 selection in the 2017 draft.

Gunner Leger     LHP        University of Louisiana-Lafayette             Wareham

Entering the game in the Bottom of the 2nd, Leger immediately caught my attention for his “80” name and prototypical 6-3 200lbs pitcher’s frame.  Leger retired the side 1-2-3, needing only 10 pitches to get those 3 outs.  In this brief outing, Leger showed his entire 3-pitch arsenal, featuring a 90-93mph fastball with arm-side movement, a 79mph changeup with excellent arm speed and a sweeping 77mph slider with some tilt.  With excellent size and the potential for 3 average or better offerings, Leger profiles as an easy top-100 selection next summer.

Garrett Cave      RHP        Florida International      Hyannis

Cave entered the game in the 7th and quickly caught my attention with his simple delivery, impressive 6-3 200lbs projectable body and how easy the ball left his hand.  Cave pitches exclusively from the stretch, portending a future as a reliever.  Cave needed 17 pitches to strike out all three batters he faced, showing off a 94-98mph fastball with movement and a hammer 81-82mph curveball with plus potential.  The fact that he profiles purely in relief is the only knock I see, as he has a simple motion and the potential for two plus or better offerings.  Cave is another intriguing collegiate pitcher in the 2017 draft class.

Short Hops

Old Dominion rising junior SS Zach Rutherford (Hyannis) stood out during the game, making several highlight-worthy plays.  Defensively he showed a solid arm and quality range, making several nice plays deep in the hole.  Also, in the 2nd inning, Rutherford took a low-and-away fastball deep to right field for an opposite field home run.  Later in the 4th inning Rutherford showed above-average speed in beating out an infield single.  A middle infielder with obvious tools, Rutherford has a chance to be a top-5 round pick next year.

It was a pleasant surprise to see two George Washington Colonials playing in the event, their first CCBL All-Stars since 2005. Senior RHP Eddie Muhl (Cotuit) entered the game in the 4th inning and looks ominous on the hill with a thick 6-4 225lbs frame.  Muhl was clearly struggling with his command, but showed an 89-91mph fastball with excellent arm-side movement and one 81mph changeup with heavy sink.  He is a pure reliever, but with the way seniors are presently valued in the draft, Muhl could be a top-10 round pick next year.  Later junior 2B/P Robbie Metz (Wareham) entered the game but was unfortunately hit by a pitch in his only at-bat, though he did come around to score for the West.

Scouting The MLB Draft – The 2016 Under Armour All-America Game

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Saturday afternoon, in an effort to avoid this oppressive heatwave, I stayed indoors to watch the Under Armour All-America Game to begin preparing for the 2017 MLB Draft.  Under Armour partners with Baseball Factory to bring 40 of the best prep prospects in the country to play this annual exhibition contest at Wrigley Field in Chicago.  Many of these players will be selected early next summer, making this a must-watch for any draft nerd.  Unfortunately intense lightning halted the game twice and terminated it after only 7 innings – Nevertheless, several prospects still stood out during the contest.

Hans Crouse      RHP       California HS

Serving as the starting pitcher for Team National, Crouse immediately passes the eye test at 6-4 185lbs with significant projection remaining.  He was obviously struggling with the big stage early, needing 31 pitches to complete the 1st inning: fortunately Crouse rebounded in the 2nd, needing only 9 pitches to retire the side.

Crouse features an active delivery with plenty of extraneous movement, which likely hinders his command and control.  Over these two innings, Crouse flashed a 91-94mph fastball with excellent life and arm-side movement, which he located to both sides of the plate.  In addition Crouse showed a low-70s curveball with depth and impressive 12-6 action.  He only threw 1 curve in the 1st, instead relying on his fastball, but dropped a few hammers in the 2nd inning.  He did not throw a changeup in this outing, but reports have him possessing a credible cambio as well.

Committed to USC, it would be a bigger surprise than Omar’s death in The Wire if a major league team did not sign him away from college.

Hunter Greene  RHP       California HS

The starting pitcher for Team American, Greene is a well-built 6-4 200lbs right-handed pitcher with a powerful, well-developed upper body.  Greene needed only 7 pitches to record three outs, giving a quick glimpse into his abilities.  He owns a fast, almost spastic, delivery with plenty of movement above his waist.  Greene’s fastball was sitting 96-98mph with late life, along with a 77-80mph breaking ball with impressive downward movement.  Committed to UCLA, his lightning-quick arm and immense potential gives him little chance of escaping the 1st round next June.

Jordon Adell      CF           Kentucky HS

Perhaps the top 2017 prep position prospect, Adell is an sleak-looking athlete, listed at 6-3 185lbs with projection remaining.  A right-handed hitter, Adell has noticeably fast hands, obvious bat speed, and the ability to recognize spin.  He has home run power, as evidenced in the home run derby, although his swing currently has some excess length.

Defensively Adell has above-average or better speed and a powerful throwing arm, as he has been clocked at 92+ mph on the radar gun in the past.  Scouts profile him as a sure-fire center fielder as a professional and he projects as an above-average to plus future defender.

There are some questions on his hit tool, but Adell has obvious five-tool potential and profiles as a potentially above-average 2-way center fielder.  Committed to the University of Louisville, Adell is yet another player unlikely to play collegiate baseball.

Heliot Ramos    OF          Puerto Rico HS

Easily the most impressive hitter in this year’s event, Ramos is a thick 6-2 185lbs athlete and one of the few players in the event without a college commitment.  A right-handed hitter, Ramos has healthy bat speed, lithe wrists and a mature approach in the batters’ box.

His first at-bat immediately caught my attention, as he patiently worked a 2-2 count before punishing a changeup to deep right field for a triple.  He showed easy raw power, nearly hitting an opposite field home run , along with above-average speed running the bases.  Next in the 4th inning he ripped a 95mph fastball into center field for an RBI single, showing he can handle professional velocity.

In his final at-bat, Ramos worked back from an 0-2 count to get to 2-2 before pounding a 92mph fastball over the left-center field wall for a home run.  Sure the wind and humidity aided the distance, but it still easily cleared the 368 foot marker.  Ramos finished the day 3-3 with 3 RBIs, 2 runs scored and a double short of the cycle.

Unfortunately I did not see him do anything noteworthy defensively, meaning I cannot judge two of his five tools.  That said the three tools I did observe (hit, power, speed) all looked to have above-average potential.  The brother of Boston Red Sox catcher Henry Ramos, I expect Heliot to join him in professional baseball next summer.

Short Hops

Although the results were lacking, Georgia HS DL Hall possesses a live left-handed arm with a solid 3-pitch mix, showing a 91-94mph fastball, an upper-70s changeup with fade and a mid-70s curveball with above-average potential.  A Florida State commit, Hall would be an impact freshman for the Seminoles if he reaches campus.

Catcher MJ Melendez showed off a cannon-like arm in the 2nd inning, posting a 1.87 second pop time on a perfect throw to second base on a stolen base attempt.  Just that throw in front of dozens of scouts should get him drafted inside the top-5 rounds next year.

Prospect Talk with Adam McInturff from Baseball Prospectus

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Similarly to my recent piece “Quoting The Experts”, last week I reached out to Baseball Prospectus’s prospect team member Adam McInturff to get his general thoughts on the MLB Draft and the top Nationals selections.  During our conversations, Adam was sending me these wonderful scouting notes, which I thought were too good to keep for myself.  So with his permission, here are some of Adam’s thoughts on recent Nationals draft picks Carter Kieboom, Dane Dunning and Nick Banks.

Carter Kieboom

“The Nationals selected Kieboom with the 28th pick, the first of their back-to-back selections in 2016. A lean, tapered 6-foot-2 and 180-some pounds, there’s no doubt he will add strength to his frame as his body matures. He’s currently at shortstop, and while he has good hands defensively, he’ll probably outgrow the position–hopefully growing into more power and a true third base profile. One of the purest swings of any prep hitter in this class, Kieboom stays inside the ball well with a fluid, quick path to the ball. He shoots line drives all over the field, showing the backspin to allow projection on his home run power. If he adds strength and continues to develop offensively, Kieboom’s ceiling looks like that of a regular left-side infielder.”

Dane Dunning

“Dunning was another college arm who moved up boards with strong late-season showings, throwing well both in the SEC Tournament and the Gainesville regional the following week. The Gators have an embarrassment of riches on the mound, so much so that Dunning—a potential first-day pick—didn’t even crack their weekend rotation, stuck behind early picks A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, and Alex Faedo (2017 eligible). As such, Dunning was relegated mostly to bullpen work as a junior in 2016, where he’s been a multi-inning super reliever for Florida. His strikeout and walk rates both improved in shorter stints—where he showed his stuff is enough to overwhelm hitters working out of the bullpen—but has the tools to transition back into a starting pitcher’s development path once he signs professionally.

A wiry 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, with long arms and a tapered lower-half, Dunning shows a consistently above-average sinker and slider. His fastball is an extremely heavy pitch, with turbo sink, tunneling down in the zone to his arm-side. His slider flashes solid-average tilt in the 82-84 range. His delivery finishes fairly loosely, and on-line, and he’s able to keep both offerings around the zone. Dunning could be a sleeper in this draft class due to not pitching in the highly-scrutinized Gators rotation, with the best-case ceiling of a middle-rotation starter, possessing the sinker to be a groundball machine. If the move to the bullpen ultimately winds up fitting him better down the road, he demonstrated this season that both his fastball and slider are quality pitches.”

Nick Banks

Banks had a lot of buzz coming off the Cape, I actually had a lower role 50 and a Chris Coghlan comparison on him coming out of the summer. He dinged his wrist right before his JR year started and it really slowed up his bat to start the year. As a result, Banks wasn’t the type of guy with plus statistical performance who gets those points in draft rooms, but he did pick it up by season’s end. More of a hitter than a power guy, but I think it’s the ceiling of a heady 4th outfielder for a good team–maybe at best a starter on a corner for a bad team–and he’s going to out-perform his round.

Neither of them have light-the-world-on-fire tools, but it will be fun if we get to see Banks and Andrew Stevenson in the same outfield. Maybe at Harrisburg or Syracuse. They’re both kind of that ‘good little player’ mold the Nationals like from college (Max Schrock).”

Special thanks to Adam for generously sharing his thoughts: Please follow him on Twitter @WAdam_McInturff and read his work at Baseball Prospectus.