Teams covet no commodity in the draft more than college pitching. They never have enough arms, and they’re always on the lookout for advanced pitchers who won’t need much time in the minors.
So the glass-half-full view of the 2013 college crop is that there’s plenty of pitching. For the second straight draft, Stanford righthander Mark Appel enters the year as the favorite to go No. 1 overall to the Astros. His two biggest challengers may be Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea and Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek.
|Best Athlete: JaCoby Jones, Louisiana StateBest Hitter: Colin Moran, North Carolina
Best Power: Kris Bryant, San Diego
Fastest Runner: Trea Turner, North Carolina State
Best Fastball: Sean Manaea, Indiana State
Best Curveball: Andrew Mitchell, Texas Christian
Best Slider: Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State
Best Changeup: Marco Gonzales, Gonzaga
Best Command: Trevor Williams, Arizona State
Best Defensive Catcher: Spencer Navin, Vanderbilt
Best Defensive Infielder: Brandon Trinkwon, UC Santa Barbara
Best Defensive Outfielder: Michael Lorenzen, Cal State Fullerton
The glass-half-empty outlook is that the college position players aren’t nearly as enticing. Most of the tooled-up players have major questions about their bats, and most of the best hitters face uncertain futures as defenders. Catcher and shortstop are the two toughest positions to fill in the major leagues, and there’s not a single collegian at either spot on our Top 50.
“The college pitching crop is better than last year,” a National League club official said. “But it’s a pretty thin group as far as college position players, maybe one of the thinnest groups in the last few years.”
Florida’s Mike Zunino went third overall in the 2012 draft, making him the third-highest pick ever among college catchers. But there’s no one with anywhere close to Zunino’s ability on the college landscape this year, and there might not be a college backstop selected in the top two rounds in June. Andrew Knapp offers the most all-around upside but has barely caught in two seasons at California. Vanderbilt’s Spencer Navin and Louisiana State’s Ty Ross are advanced defenders but have been serviceable, rather than excellent, at the plate.
ANDREW KNAPP, CALIFORNIA: Chadd Krist did almost all of the catching for the Golden Bears the last two years, leaving Knapp mostly on the bench as a freshman and at first base as a sophomore. He has had to be content with getting time behind the plate in summer ball, winning the Northwoods League batting title (.400) in 2011 and earning Cape Cod League all-star honors last year. He’s more advanced offensively at this point, showing a sound approach and average power from both sides of the plate. Quicker and more athletic than many catchers at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, Knapp has solid arm strength but must quicken his release and refine his receiving.
“There weren’t a ton of catchers in the Cape Cod League, but I liked Knapp,” an American League scouting director said. “I saw him crush an opposite-field homer over the Brewster scoreboard hitting lefthanded. He boxed some balls in the Cape all-star game, but he has a chance to hit, a decent arm and some athleticism.”
Excluding pitchers, third base is the deepest college position. The college game’s best pure hitter (North Carolina’s Colin Moran) and its player with the most usable power (San Diego’s Kris Bryant) call the hot corner home, as do the sluggers who led Team USA (New Mexico’s D.J. Peterson) and the Cape Cod League (Notre Dame’s Eric Jagielo) in homers last summer. Whether any of them can play third base at the big league level remains to be seen, however. Stanford’s Brian Ragira and Vanderbilt’s Conrad Gregor headline the first-base crop and project as second- or third-rounders.
KRIS BRYANT, SAN DIEGO: Bryant’s righthanded power might have made him a first-round pick out of a Las Vegas high school in 2010, but his price tag and commitment to the Toreros scared teams off. Three years later, his pop could make him a top-10 choice. What sets him apart from the other guys with high-end power potential in this college crop—Peterson, Jagielo, outfielders Aaron Judge (Fresno State) and Austin Wilson (Stanford)—is that Bryant is a safer bet to hit. Though his stroke can get long at times, he does a reasonable job of controlling the strike zone. He has good athleticism for a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder, though his size may preclude him from being more than an adequate third baseman. He has average speed and a strong arm, so right field could be his eventual destination.
“Bryant really does it easy,” an NL scouting director said. “He has good natural loft and the swing to hit for average. He’s going to get better and better. There’s still room left in his tank to fill out and develop more. I would send him out in pro ball at third base, but if I had to bet, he probably ends up in right field. He definitely has a corner bat.”
COLIN MORAN, NORTH CAROLINA: His uncle, B.J. Surhoff, starred for the Tar Heels and became the first overall pick in 1985, and Moran is following a similar path. The only thing that has slowed him in two years of college is a broken right hand that cost him 21 games last spring, and he bounced back from that to lead the Cape Cod League with 42 RBIs during the summer. The best position prospect in college baseball, he has a smooth lefthanded swing and employs a patient, up-the-middle approach. He has enough bat speed and strength in his 6-foot-3, 209-pound frame to develop average or better power once he turns on more pitches. Most of Moran’s value comes from his bat. He’s a below-average runner and fringy athlete who may not ever be more than an adequate defender at third base. He does have a solid, accurate arm and has made some strides with his defense.
“Moran has a history of hitting,” a second NL scouting director said. “He knows what he’s doing at the plate. He has power, but he cares more about hitting now and the power will show up later. He has enough athleticism that with some work, he can stay at third base.”
BRIAN RAGIRA, STANFORD: His best tool is his righthanded power potential and he has pure hitting ability, yet Ragira has hit just nine homers in two seasons with the Cardinal. He matched that total in the Cape Cod League last summer, though the balls were juiced there and scouts aren’t sure how much he’ll be able to tap into his considerable bat speed and strength. He lacks discipline at the plate, leading to high strikeout totals. A center fielder in high school, Ragira has added at least 20 pounds since then and now carries 200 on his 6-foot-2 frame. He has lost some athleticism and probably is limited to first base. He has the hands and arm strength for third base or an outfield corner, but not the speed or range.
“He’s a righthanded-hitting corner guy, a first baseman or maybe a left fielder, who hasn’t shown the power yet to profile there,” an AL front-office executive said. “He’s going to have to prove it this year, but I do think there’s power in there. He needs to show it.”
At least one college shortstop has been selected in the top two rounds of every draft since 1979, but that streak is in jeopardy this year. The best shortstop prospect is North Carolina State sophomore Trea Turner, who won’t be eligible until 2014. The 2013 crop features steady but unspectacular shortstops such as UC Santa Barbara’s Brandon Trinkwon, Mississippi State’s Adam Frazier and Stanford’s Lonnie Kauppila. It’s unusual for a second baseman to outshine all the shortstops with his tools, but that’s the case with Louisiana State’s enigmatic JaCoby Jones, who’ll be a first-round pick if he shows enough with the bat.
JACOBY JONES, LOUISIANA STATE: The consensus among scouts is that Jones is college baseball’s best athlete, but they have concerns about his hitting ability following his .253/.308/.363 sophomore season. He showed off his tremendous bat speed and strength by winning the Cape Cod League home run derby last summer. A righthanded hitter, he hurts himself at the plate with an all-or-nothing approach and a tendency to press when he struggles. His plus speed makes him an asset on the bases, while he has the range, soft hands and solid arm to handle second base or center field. His 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame likely will fit better in center when he gets to pro ball.
“He’s a pretty good athlete but you’re looking at something like a Drew Stubbs where you’re not sure how much he’ll ever hit,” a second AL scouting director said. “There were times in the summer on the Cape where he looked like he turned the corner as a hitter. This is a big year for him. He can run, he can throw and he has power. His upside is similar to Brett Jackson from the right side of the plate.”
TREA TURNER, NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Turner terrorized pitchers and catchers in 2012, succeeding on his first 29 steal attempts and becoming the first freshman to lead NCAA Division I in swipes (57 in 61 tries). The fastest runner in the college game, he uses his 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale to his advantage in all facets of the game. At 6-foot-1 and 171 pounds, he’ll never be a slugger, so he focuses on getting on base by beating out grounders and drawing walks. He does have some bat speed and gap power, though he can get out of control at the plate at times. A third baseman a year ago, Turner will move to shortstop this spring. He should have plenty of range and enough arm strength for the position, though he’ll need to improve his defensive consistency.
“The guy can fly,” the first NL scouting director said. “I think he’ll hit because his instincts on the bases also carry over to the plate. He knows how to bunt already. I’ve only seen him play third base, but he has a solid arm and covers ground, so he should be able to play shortstop. He may well be a center fielder.”
It’s easy to dream on this year’s contingent of college outfielders. Judge and Wilson may have the two highest ceilings in the 2013 draft, though they also have swing-and-miss issues that scare scouts. Samford’s Phillip Ervin isn’t as physical, but he’s the best all-around college player in the draft. There are several more intriguing athletes, including Kansas State’s Jared King, Washington State’s Jason Monda, Michigan’s Michael O’Neill and Georgia Tech’s Brandon Thomas. The sophomore class is strong as well, with Oregon State’s Michael Conforto, Kentucky’s Austin Cousino and Virginia’s Derek Fisher comprising our second-team outfield and Southern Mississippi’s Mason Robbins on the third team.
PHILLIP ERVIN, SAMFORD: Ervin performed well in his first two seasons with the Bulldogs before breaking out in Cape Cod League last summer. He homered eight times in his first 14 games, was the only Cape player to reach double figures in homers (11) and steals (10) and won the league MVP. He’s not a beast at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, but he has tools and skills across the board. He has the bat speed, efficient righthanded swing, plate discipline and strength to hit for both average and power. Ervin can use his above-average speed to swipe bases and run down balls in the gaps as a center fielder, and he has shown a 90-92 mph fastball on the mound. Scouts aren’t entirely sold that he’ll stick in center, but he has a chance and he would still profile well as a right fielder.
“I’d take Ervin over Judge and Wilson because that swing is going to play,” a second NL front-office executive said. “There’s some question on whether he’s a center fielder, but he has a chance because he’s a plus runner. He’s an extremely calm hitter who lets the ball travel deep and hits velocity. He’s similar to Ron Gant with not the same power.”
AARON JUDGE, FRESNO STATE: Judge’s combination of size (6-foot-7, 255 pounds) and athleticism is so unusual for a baseball player that the comparison scouts make most is to NBA star Blake Griffin. With his leverage and strength, Judge can hit tape-measure shots most players only can dream of. He homered just four times as a sophomore, but he went deep twice in one game against Appel in March and won the TD Ameritrade college home run derby in July. A righthanded hitter, Judge still is figuring himself out as a hitter, gets tied up by quality inside fastballs and is overly selective at the plate. He draws walks but lets too many hittable pitches go by. Judge has solid speed and arm strength, and he’ll probably move from center field in college to right field as a pro.
“Judge fits there with the best college tools and power,” the first NL scouting director said. “We’ll go to the end trying to figure out his bat. It’s a big guess. This is a really hard guy to figure out. He hits balls over light towers in batting practice but you don’t see it in games. But he could be a right fielder hitting 35 homers a year, and you can’t ignore that.”
AUSTIN WILSON, STANFORD: If Wilson hadn’t been unsignable at any cost, he would have been a first-round pick as a California high schooler in 2010. Like Judge, Wilson is an athletic behemoth with surprising tools for his size. A 6-foot-5, 245-pound righthanded hitter, he has more bat speed and arm strength than Judge. Wilson can crush the ball to all fields but he still has a long ways to go at the plate, where he struggles with pitch recognition and selectivity and can get beat by good fastballs. Though he improved his Cape Cod League average and OPS from .204 and .573 in 2011 to .312 and 1.059 last summer, he still struck out 33 times in 77 at-bats. He fits the right-field profile perfectly with his power, cannon arm and solid speed underway.
“We have a very split camp on Wilson,” the first NL scouting director said. “Half of our guys like him and half our guys say he won’t hit. He’s an impressive athlete for his size. He can absolutely hit the ball as far as anyone when he makes contact, but you’ll also get strikeouts.”
There are a number of talented two-way college prospects for the 2013 draft. Gonzaga lefthander/first baseman Marco Gonzales’ future is definitely on the mound, but other players have multiple options. Cal State Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen draws interest as a potential five-tool center fielder (albeit with worrisome hitting instincts) and as a righthanded reliever who can hit 97 mph. Pepperdine’s Aaron Brown, a draft-eligible sophomore, first attracted attention as an outfielder but may have more upside as a lefty with a pair of plus pitches in his fastball and slider. Ohio State righthander/DH Josh Desze features plenty of power in both his bat and arm.
MARCO GONZALES, GONZAGA: The Bulldogs never have had a player drafted before the third round, but that should change with Gonzales in June. He has exuded polish from the moment he joined the program, winning 11 games as a freshman and ranking third in NCAA Division I with a 1.55 ERA as a sophomore. His out pitch is a changeup that ranks as the best in college baseball, and he sets it up by commanding his 88-92 mph fastball. His slider and curveball are average offerings that keep lefties at bay. While the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder doesn’t have overpowering stuff, it plays up because he’s lefthanded, locates it well and competes. As a first baseman, he’s a lefthanded contact hitter who plays quality defense but lacks the power to profile as an everyday player in pro ball.
“He does a lot of things well,” a third AL scouting director said. “He can really pitch and he can really hit. He’s a performer. He’s a lefthander whose stuff is pretty good, who really knows how to pitch and throws strikes. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went in the top 30 or 40 picks.”
While four of the first eight picks in the 2012 draft were college pitchers, the depth fell off quickly afterward, especially with lefthanders. The mound corps is much stronger this time around, and it’s possible that Appel, Manaea and Stanek could be the top three selections in June. Rodon might be more talented than all of them, though teams will have to wait until next year to draft him. In addition to Manaea and Gonzales, there are several other attractive southpaw options for 2013, including Oklahoma’s Dillon Overton, Vanderbilt’s Kevin Ziomek and Minnesota’s Tom Windle. Appel is one of three college righthanders who declined to sign as first-round picks in the past, along with 2010 high school choices Karsten Whitson (Florida) and Dylan Covey (San Diego).
MARK APPEL, STANFORD: Up until the moment the Astros took Carlos Correa with the No. 1 selection last June, most teams and draft prognosticators figured that Appel would be Houston’s choice. Instead he went at No. 8 to the Pirates and returned for his senior season after turning down $3.8 million. He’s as talented as any player in the 2013 draft and could go first overall to the Astros a year later than expected. Appel shook a reputation of being less dominant than his pure stuff a year ago, when he posted a 2.56 ERA, 130 strikeouts in 126 innings and a .213 opponent average. An athletic 6-foot-5, 215-pounder, he elicits comparisons to Justin Verlander with a 92-95 mph fastball that peaks at 98, a slider that features out-pitch potential and an improved changeup. His delivery lacks deception, but he throws without effort, fills the strike zone and can overpower hitters when he keeps his pitches down in the zone.
“In terms of talent, I’d put Appel No. 1 in this draft, though how do you take that guy without any assurances he’ll sign this time?” the AL executive asked. “His secondary stuff is more consistent than Stanek’s and Manaea’s, and he does things a little easier than Stanek.”
SEAN MANAEA, INDIANA STATE: Manaea used the Cape Cod League as a springboard last summer from early-round prospect to potential No. 1 overall choice. He earned Cape top-prospect honors from Baseball America and from scouts after leading the league in innings (52), strikeouts (85) and opponent average (.119) while ranking second in ERA (1.22). A strong 6-foot-4, 235-pounder, he has the most explosive fastball in the draft. He consistently works in the mid-90s and can reach back for 98 mph, and his combination of velocity, life, easy arm action and low three-quarters arm slot makes his heater jump on hitters. Manaea’s arm angle doesn’t prevent him from throwing strikes, though it does lead to some inconsistency with his secondary pitches. He has tightened his slider and gained more confidence in his splitter/changeup, both of which have the potential to become plus offerings.
“He snowballed into a much better pitcher on the Cape,” the first AL scouting director said. “We saw 94-96 mph regularly. He gets so many swings and misses with his fastball. His slider is hit or miss, but it has a chance to be a very good pitch. He’ll need some maintenance with his delivery, because his arm slot gets wide and he gets around the ball, but it also adds deception.”
CARLOS RODON, NORTH CAROLINA STATE: Rodon’s first year in college baseball couldn’t have been more spectacular. Baseball America’s 2012 Freshman of the Year became the first freshman to win Atlantic Coast Conference pitcher of the year honors and become a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award after ranking third in NCAA Division I in strikeouts (135 in 115 innings) and fourth in ERA (1.57) and hits per nine innings (5.6). Extremely physical at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds, Rodon has two devastating pitches. Hitters don’t see his 92-96 mph fastball well because it seems to come out of his shirtsleeves, and he owns the best slider in college baseball. He actually has two variations of the slider, one with more cut that he throws to the back foot of righthanders and a sweepier version that he uses as a chase pitch. His changeup and command need more work, but both should be solid or better. The prohibitive favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2014 draft, Rodon might be the top pick this year if he were eligible.
“I think Manaea is the best college prospect in this draft, but I’d take Rodon over him,” the first NL club official said. “He could possibly go 1-1 if he were in this draft. Rodon has a better breaking ball than Manaea, does it a little bit easier and has a better angle to the plate.”
RYNE STANEK, ARKANSAS: The highest-drafted high school player on our All-America first team, Stanek declined a third-round offer from the Mariners in 2010. He would have been an early first-rounder last year if his birthdate hadn’t left him five days short of sophomore eligibility. He has a deeper arsenal than anyone on this list, starting with a 93-96 mph fastball that features good armside run. His mid-80s slider ranks with Appel’s and Rodon’s, and Stanek also can snap off a solid downer curveball. His changeup tails and fades and has the potential to become an average pitch. He’s still learning to control his lanky 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame. He doesn’t always repeat his delivery and has a long arm action, detracting from his command, but he has the stuff to pitch in the front of a big league rotation.
“His fastball has got some hair on it,” the third AL scouting director said. “He has a good breaking ball and he throws strikes. He has a good competitive edge and an edge to his stuff. I think he’ll move quickly through the minors.”
COLBY SUGGS, ARKANSAS: Suggs has posted a 1.22 ERA in two years with the Razorbacks, and he ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the Cape after an equally dominant summer. Coming out of the bullpen, he relies primarily on two swing-and-miss pitches, a heavy 93-97 mph fastball and a hard three-quarters breaking ball. A solidly built 6-foot, 225-pounder, he also has the makings of a changeup, leading some scouts to think he could transition to the rotation as a pro. To make it as a starter, Suggs would have to do a better job of throwing strikes after walking 36 in 59 college innings thus far. Both his delivery and his breaking ball could use more consistency.
“I think Suggs could start in pro ball,” the second NL scouting director said. “He has a really good arm and is built along the lines of Jason Motte. He has a strong body, he competes and he’s aggressive. I saw 96 and he does it without a ton of effort. He gets good angle to the plate despite his size.”