Names for the First-Round, 2014 Edition
Edit: I had intended to let this one sit, but this morning’s mock draft from BA indicated that we were hot on two more prospects, which I have now added to the list. One of them I am rather keen on! The other I am not.
One of the positives I can take of last season’s poor record, as I am in the lemonade business, is that the Mariners ended up with a high, protected pick in a draft that most people seem to like. And it being that time of year of wildly casting energies about at all manner of likely and unlikely possibilities, I’m now here to write about some of them in that foolish way that hopefully obviates the need of my frantically writing the evening of the draft. It worked so well in the Hultzen draft.
This year is a pitcher-heavy year for the draft. Look through the top 100 prospects by BA and you’ll only see seven hitters in the top twenty, and a little over sixty pure pitchers on the list, not counting those two-way guys who could slide into the role. With the weirdness that we’ve already seen with regard to pitchers, it’s easy to imagine a lot of teams wanting to take advantage here. Whether they do or are scared out of it remains to be seen, but it’s not as if baseball can do without pitching. It’s good that they seem to be taking the initiative to try to figure out what’s going on. Imagine a sport that, I don’t know, risked traumatic brain injury on a routine basis, and imagine that sport just ignoring those injury risks and shrugging them off. Why, people would be up in arms! Not that the arms aren’t up now, in stiff casts and largely useless… You know, let’s just move on.
I don’t have any more special insight to what the M’s might bring to this draft than I usually do. That is, aside from that the 2nd round to date has been all position players, the 4th round entirely college players, and the third round skews towards prep players. Often in the last few days, we’ll get attached pretty solidly to a name this high and that will be that. As for who is most likely, Dave noted last June that since McNamara has been at the helm, four of the five top picks have been “safe” college players who were emphasized as sure major league contributors with sound fundamentals and high floors. “Contributors” seems key here because some of these fellows are still looking to have complete seasons. Shifting gears to the exception, and a considerable reach at the time, Taijuan Walker has had at least had the look of being the highest ceiling player of the bunch, going from live-armed curiosity moving off shortstop to one of the best prospects in the game, prior to the epidemic rise of injury and surgery.
As an addendum to Dave’s post, while the first round favors college, we’ve seen them mix both raw and experienced players in the top five rounds overall. On the side of rawness, Nick Franklin, Tyler Marlette, Edwin Diaz, and Patrick Kivlehan have all been boons; Joe DeCarlo, Marcus Littlewood, and Steve Baron, less so. Nor has experience been a sure-fire winner as, first-round aside, the additions of your Kyle Seagers and your 2013 Brad Millers and your Chris Taylors have been weighed against the faults of a Rich Poythress, or a John Hicks, or a Tyler Blandford. There have also been trends that suggest a love for shortstops and college pitching, so these are also probably givens in the early rounds of what is now a three-day oh godda-
Let’s just look at some names then. This will ease past some of the obvious ones, because in the unlikely event that Aiken, Rodon, or Kolek manage to drop somehow, you would have to give them strong consideration.
C/RF/3B Alex Jackson, R/R, 6’2″, 210 lbs, 12/25/1995, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA)
In spite of the college preference, Jackson is the name I usually see linked with the Mariners at #6 in mock drafts, which are entertaining if useless exercise even in a sport where you can’t trade picks. Jackson’s most interesting comp is as a poor man’s Bryce Harper because he has high-end power and may move from catcher to right field. It’s also a reminder that comps are awful. He’s been the beneficiary of middling springs by Michael Gettys and Jacob Gatewood and is now regarded as the top prep hitter available. The bat will likely play anywhere and as with all prep catchers, some think he can stick and some think he can’t, but consensus is that he will only get bigger. The floor of that is that he may not end up at right field or third base, but at first, where the arm and power are less interesting. In watching him take swings, he seems to be more uppercut than level through the zone and rocks on his back foot then steps in while he’s swinging. This suggests to me that he’s not actually transferring his weight efficiently in the swing (there’s little lower body involved) which means that the power we’re seeing is a product of his bat speed and raw strength. That’s good in that it speaks to his physical ability and bad in that his skills aren’t there. If the rock-back-and-forth thing is a timing thing, that doesn’t bode well either [hitters with timing tells are usually cheating a little]. People who have seen him in the field says that he can hit to all fields. Good for him. Upper end projections of him are below-.300 avg, 30 HR, etc. Lower end would be that he strikes out too much to put the power to use and ends up on the low end of the defensive spectrum.
OF Bradley Zimmer, L/R, 6’5″, 205 lbs, 11/27/1992, U San Francisco
Or if you are going with the college bat, then Zimmer is the other name mocked to the M’s. They’re mocking us! Athletically, there’s a vague resemblance between Austin Wilson and Zimmer in that they both have good arm strength and good but not elite speed which puts him as a plus RF who will leg out triples sometimes. Offensively, there’s also a resemblance because neither were particularly effective power hitters in their college careers. He also doesn’t transfer his weight exceedingly well and is a bit more geared in his approach to spraying the ball around. Some think he’s a good hitter, others wonder if he whiffs a bit much. The good news is that he’s pretty disciplined and leads his team in walks so, I don’t know, #2 hitter on present ability? The Mariners seem to have hit the lottery with Wilson as far as getting him to translate his physical abilities into skills and if that wasn’t just Wilson’s own drive or magic, then there’s some kind of hope that they can perform the same stunts again and get him to exceed what the current projections are. If the Mariners were the Seahawks, I could justify this. Instead, the Mariners are the Mariners. But since he’s Bradley and not Brad, we don’t have to worry about any Brad redundancy as was similarly the concern to adding Mike Zunino to a roster already with Michael Saunders on it.
OF Michael Conforto, L/R, 6’2″, 215 lbs, 3/1/1993, Oregon State
While the Mariners sort of like their Beavers (Stefen Romero, Cole Gillespie), the historical record has suggested to us that the M’s probably don’t care that Conforto grew up in the area, so I wouldn’t recommend getting too attached. Now that I’ve cleared that up… Conforto is less about raw tools and more about skills. It’s not that he doesn’t have tools, because he does. He can hit, and seems to use the whole field while he’s doing it. Like the other hitters I’m mentioning, it’s not a level swing that he uses and there’s a little bit of a rock back and forth, but something about his weight transfer on the swing looks better to my untrained eyes and looks to be more generative of power. This is weird because he actually hasn’t been hitting for as much power this year and that’s caused him to drop on some boards. The walks are still there though, and better than ever. So where Zimmer seems more like a #2 hitter, Conforto might be able to slip down to five or six, or be a #2 with some added power. Where Conforto lags behind Zimmer is that his defense is nothing special. He doesn’t have much of an arm and could probably be an okay left fielder, but he could also end up at first, which is less interesting as a 20-25 HR guy, but hey, walks. He does pose the name redundancy risk. Or we could call him “Mickey.”
RHP Aaron Nola, 6’2″, 170 lbs, 6/4/1993, Louisiana State
But say the Mariners decide to go with pitching instead. There’s reason, with Hultzen now out and this year more broadly proving that aggravating, quippy adage of There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. Well, if you accept and simultaneously ignore that, Nola can be a selection. He’s a guy who throws out of a high three-quarters delivery and usually sits in the higher end of the low-90s, hitting the mid range sometimes. Good command and a varied arsenal also speak to his polish, but some of the reports I read suggest that his change, previously a plus, has taken the back seat to the slider. If he manages to recover that change, then he has three plus pitches and would seem to be at least a middle of the rotation guy. It should be mentioned now that Nola pitches for Louisiana State, which while in Baton Rouge, gets him mentioned in various NOLA papers and blogs. If you are now finding yourself joyful, but also cringing a bit, I am the captain of the boat you are on. If the M’s are looking for the pitcher in the class with the highest floor, that “safe” pick if you will, Nola is probably it, but I still don’t know if I’m quite excited about it for a farm system that could really use an impact player. Sorry, Nola.
RHP Jeff Hoffman, 6’4″, 185 lbs, 1/8/1993, East Carolina
Hoffman is a wild card in this whole draft. Proving that the arm surgery thing is not exclusive to affiliated ball, Hoffman needed Tommy John surgery this year. Previously, he was considered to be maybe the top RH in the draft and a team siding with him could get that or something less than that. For the Mariners part, I haven’t seen them draft too many hurt pitchers under this management whereas it was kind of a thing Fontaine liked to do around the fifteenth round, but I do know that they had to have seen him a bunch since their fifth-round pick last year, SS Jack Reinheimer, was also out of East Carolina. Hoffman throws hard and maintains that velocity, sitting low-to-mid-90s and approaching triple digits sometimes. He also throws five pitches, between the four-seam, the two-seam, the curve, the slider, and the change, and all the pitches seem to be regarded as at least average, some better. Watching his delivery, he seems to repeat his release point well and seems balanced throughout, and the reports on his athleticism seem entirely valid except oh no he’s hurt. If the surgery goes well and gets him back to normal-ish, or as normal as any pitcher is, he’s a #2, maybe more. If the surgery isn’t good, then you’ve invited a lot of aggravating 20/20 hindsight commentary.
RHP Touki Toussaint, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 6/20/1996, Coral Springs Christian HS (FL)
But maybe you don’t want the old and familiar and instead want something weird and novel, a Taijuan Walker style pick, a late-comer to the game who is just bizarrely talented and delightful. Then you get one of the best names and best arms of the draft in a single package in Touki Toussaint. Toussaint is Haitian and played soccer before he came to baseball and then later, the mound. His polish is low, his control is sketchy, and his endurance is something we’ll be trying to figure out, since he doesn’t have a long track record. Also he’s a pitcher. But he has a low-to-high-90s fastball, a curve that flashes north of amazing, a change-up that seems to be further along than anyone thinks that it should be, and I don’t think I’ve heard anything negative about his personality or leadership abilities. To sandwich the positives with more negatives, his release points aren’t entirely consistent and sometimes he can telegraph a pitch here and there, so given those facts and his overall experience, you’re looking at a long-term project over a player that may more immediately fill both a need and a roster. Drafting Toussaint would be a move more indicative of an organization that expects to be in town for a while. The M’s admins may be in more of a win-now mode.
LHP Kyle Freeland, 6’4″, 190 lbs, 5/14/1993, Evansville
Of course, not all pitchers are right-handers. Some are southpaws. A majority of the people that write articles for this here blog are even southpaws. Kyle Freeland is the ace for the Evansville Purple Aces. His specialty has been making opposing hitters blue. Originally out of Colorado, Freeland threw in the mid-80s in high school, touching a bit higher, and would probably have been taken somewhere between rounds ten and twenty if not for the fact that people generally don’t know what to do with baseball players from that part of the country [ergo, 35th-round, Phillies]. Now with years of college under his belt, the recently-21-year-old southpaw sits in the low 90s and has touched mid-90s. Velocity is neat on its own, but Freeland has a few other tricks. For example, he throws a mid-80s slider that’s just mean, and can spot a curve now and then. For another, he just doesn’t walk dudes. Maybe once every ten innings or so. Otherwise, strikeouts and pitches spotted well enough in the zone to avoid dingers. The delivery is consistent, release points are pretty much the same and the arm speed looks the same regardless of what he’s throwing. How he finishes seems a little bit off, like he sometimes loses balance at the end or his arm will look whippy after the release or just the fact that it seems like he’s throwing across his body. You’re not usually inclined to fix something that’s so obviously working, but then one notices that lately arm ligaments have been going the way of paper-and-coil snakes out of cans of “mixed nuts.” Maybe we’re looking for sustainable over dynamic.
SS Nick Gordon, L/R, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 10/24/1995, Olympia HS (FL)
I don’t really “want” this to happen, but it’s something I can’t rule out. Nick is Tom’s son and Dee’s brother and is the top shortstop in the class, having passed the speedy Trea Turner and Gatewood, who probably is a third baseman anyway. Every year when we talk about shortstop draftees, particularly prep ones, it’s regarded as a sort of revelation when one has the chance to stick. Gordon does. I’ve watched videos: the first steps are solid, he transfers like a pro, and the arms is a pitcher’s arm, which would be his backup. I don’t see why he couldn’t manage it. Offense, if nothing else, provides me with different things to talk about. Unlike every other guy I’ve mentioned, Gordon’s bat is surprisingly level through the zone, though some older footage I saw had him taking more of a cut. He looks like a gap-to-gap guy, but he’s also big enough to where he might have decent power down the road if he refines the weight transfer, matures, etc. Which provides as decent a launching point as any: Nick isn’t Dee. Dee is really fast and has a game geared more towards getting on base and making himself a nuisance on the basepaths. Nick isn’t as fast (not a base-clogger though) and seems to have such an easy time making contact that I question how much discipline he might have, though the power may help to cover for that. He looks like a potential above-average shortstop, maybe a fringe all-star. In any other sport, you’d probably be saying “the M’s have Miller, and Franklin, and Taylor, and maybe even Ty Smith and Ketel Marte to consider now and Greifer Andrade perhaps in the distance, so why pick another shortstop?” Well, development times are so long, and development has such a low-yield, that redundancy is rarely an issue. So there you have it.
OF Michael Gettys, R/R, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 10/22/1995 Gainesville HS (GA)
Everyone usually has a pick or two that isn’t substantiated on much rational basis. You just like the guy, or the idea of the guy, and then are tasked with the uphill climb of trying to justify why. Gettys was the guy for me, months ago, whom I thought could slip to us and really wanted to have. Why not? He’s a probable center fielder, with a run times that grade him out to plus plus speed. He’s broken the national record for outfield velocity, gunning it up to 100 mph, which is just absurd. He’s thought of as having potential plus raw power and no one complains about his bat speed. So why has no one mentioned him as a potential top-five pick lately? Simple: his skills suck. I don’t mean “suck” suck, but what you’re looking at is a guy whose tools are not translating to skills just yet. He makes contact, but his swing is inconsistent and uppercutty, he doesn’t look balanced in the batter’s box and plenty of the swings seem to result in him hopping around to regain his footing. His legs look stiff as he’s swinging and his center of gravity just looks different, erratic, and improperly positioned relative to the other guys I’ve watched. He tries to make a lot of contact, but it’s not always good contact and it seems like he could lay off a few more than he does. As a consequence of all of the above, his speed doesn’t play well out of the box and the power doesn’t come up in games. If he goes to college and gets himself straightened out, heck, I could believe he’s a #1 overall, but right now the whole thing looks kludged together with a bunch of gooey, unrefined talent. Any team that wants him badly enough is going to have to believe absolutely that they can tap into all this talent lest he go the way of Bubba Starling.
SS Trea Turner, R/R, 6’1″, 170 lbs, 6/30/1993, North Carolina State
When I was thinking about this draft, probably at least nine months ago (it IS often too early, despite what they say), I was thinking that Trea Turner made too much sense for this organization’s tendencies. He’s a shortstop! He plays for an ACC college! What more could you ask for? There are good things about Turner, certainly. The big selling point is that he’s maybe the fastest guy in this draft, and the speed has come back despite his having an ankle injury last year. He’s also a college shortstop, which is more vetted than a high school shortstop. As you’d expect, his range is good and his hands are likely better than Brad Miller’s, so the only drawback is that he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, more of a pop gun, I guess. Prior to Gordon’s ascendance, he was probably the top SS prospect in the country. I haven’t talked about his bat yet though, and there are reasons. One is that people are plainly more excited about his speed and defense and offense videos are harder to come by unless you want to scrutinize his bunting and say “oh man, if he batted LH there would be no getting him out.” His batting cage work doesn’t look right. The swing is level and he seems to be spraying the ball around but every follow-through seems to result in him holding the bat with just his left hand and letting the back swing just go completely around. WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT. THIS IS NOT CONDUCIVE TO POWER OR GETTING OUT OF THE BATTER’S BOX IN A HURRY. The footage I’ve seen in games shows more urgency, but is no more compact or focused. Long swing is long. I don’t even know if he could get around on elite velocity doing what he’s doing. So, while the ceiling is probably a pesky #2 hitter, right now he just looks like a guy you try to stash somewhere in the bottom of the order. Without a serious overhaul to his swing, I don’t want anything to do with him, seeing as how his speed is probably the bulk of what’s getting him hits. And if you do overhaul the swing, the development turnaround suffers.
LHP Sean Newcomb, 6’5″, 240 lbs, 6/12/1993, Hartford
Yesterday, when I was thinking about Hartford, I was thinking about how Wallace Stevens’ house is on the market and how there should be an effort underway to buy the property and preserve it as a historical landmark. Today, when I’m thinking about Hartford, I’m still thinking about Wallace Stevens, but I’m also thinking about Sean Newcomb. While fans of Captain Planet and the Planeteers villains or 90s-era side-scrollers turned first-person shooters are thinking about his last name, it belies the fact that Newcomb is a cold-weather kid through and through, going to high school in Massachusetts and college in Connecticut. In high school, he was twenty-five pounds lighter, doubled as a first baseman, and threw in the mid-80s. Not really a high priority target. Now, he throws in the low-to-mid-90s and still has limited mileage, leading some to wonder if he can’t sustain mid-90s like, I don’t know, James Paxton? Beyond that comparison, there’s a more solid Mariners link in that his coach at Hartford is former Mariners farmhand Justin Blood. Newcomb doesn’t have the crazy command of Freeland, but his arm action looks a bit cleaner and he repeats the release points well. Among the concerns I would have is that he may walk guys before he gets his command in order, his change-up is generally liked if rarely seen, and that his breaking ball right now is a bit of a slurve, a contrast with Paxton at the same stage who had recently turned his breaking ball into a full-fledged curve. I don’t think this poses any concerns in that the Mariners are great advocates of the curveball and should get that fixed in short order. Basically, Newcomb is a guy who may be a little underrated at the moment whose prospect ceiling is comparable to a guy we already have and adore. Not a guy I had been thinking about, but a defensible pick.