Moderator: Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel and national high school writer Clint Longenecker stopped by to chat about BA’s midseason draft update and top 2014 draft prospects.
Kevin (Baton Rouge): Is Aaron Nola going to be the quickest player from this draft to reach the big leagues
John Manuel: Hi gang. Thanks for the questions. Nola’s a good answer. A healthy, peak version of Carlos Rodon would also not need much time in the minors, though he probably could use a few months to just not throw his slider and work on basics like locating his fastball better and trusting his changeup more.
Brian (Jacksonville, FL): Where do you see Indiana's Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis being drafted realistically, and Is there any chance Schwarber stays at Catcher in pro ball?
John Manuel: Schwarber is on our list at No. 18, so we see him as a mid-first-round pick. There’s always a chance, and the feedback we’ve gotten on Schwarber this year is as a catcher. He has the physicality for it; mobility, flexibility, his hands, those are the real big keys, and I think scouts see the body and instantly have their doubts. He will have to keep working to prove he can stay back there. Travis has single-digit round interest as well, primarily because he can hit and is hitting. He’s a 3-5 round range guy, a little higher if he keeps hitting.
Steve (Dallas): Phillies have their highest pick in a long, long time (at #7). I know they are always ALWAYS associated with the high risk tool heavy HS position player but I'm thinking this year they go pitcher. Thoughts?
John Manuel: Highest pick since 2001, when they took Gavin Floyd. Still a decent amount of the same decision-makers with the Phils, too; I believe Marti Wolever, their current scouting director, was national crosschecker that year. All our info is that scouts expect most of the top 10 picks to be pitchers, but there’s a lot of talk about Nick Gordon, the Orlando SS, going in the first 5-7 picks. That’s a possibility for the toolsy HS position player, even though they just took J.P. Crawford last year. If Alex Jackson were available, I could see him here too, but I don’t see any other HS hitters being worthy of the No. 7 pick at this time. I’ll also throw out that the Phillies drafted LHP Kyle Freeland out of a Denver high school.
Mark (Florida): What are your impressions of Touki Toussaint so far this season and an early guess of where he goes in the draft?
John Manuel: We saw Touki up close & personal at NHSI, and he pitched well considering the cold, fairly blustery conditions. He secondary stuff has been better this year, both the breaking ball and the changeup, which stood out at NHSI. I happened to talk to the home-plate ump who had that start, and he thought Touki was throwing a split-finger pitch. He was wrong; that was just his changeup, but that’s how much tumble it had. He’s had some starts where scouts have praised his improved strike-throwing ability as well. He just hasn’t done it all together yet, and he’s seen as a higher-risk pick. I see him going in the 11-15 range, to a team like Toronto or San Francisco.
Joe (PA): Who does Brandon Finnegan compare to?
John Manuel: Well, he says he tries to model himself after Scott Kazmir, and they are of similar size, so let’s go with that. I know last year I had a scout discuss him and Billy Wagner, because there are some doubts about whether or not he’s a starter, but he’s progressed well since then. Good piece on him here by our own Aaron Fitt: http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/finnegan-has-shown-mental-edge/
Greg (Phoenix, AZ): Hey Guys, if Rodon's stock slips, is there still a guy out there strong enough to knock him down from his potential #1 slot? Even if he has an average year, his prior 2 years make him tough to beat. Thoughts? Thanks, Greg
John Manuel: There’s no if; Rodon’s stock has slipped. He just hasn’t been as explosive this year. We believe Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek have nudged past him on this draft board, and if it weren’t for those two prior years, Rodon likely would rank lower. I’ve just had too many scouts tell me they have top men, as Indians Jones fans would say, running back in to see Rodon this time of year because he may be available after the top pick or two, whereas early in the season, scouts were rushing in to see him to “do their due diligence,” thinking he would go 1 or 2 and be off the board and they wouldn’t have to worry about seeing him again. Maybe you didn’t get a chance to view the list. It’s here: http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/2014-draft-update-change-at-the-top-as-pitchers-dominate/
Zack (Calgary): Does Aiken have more potential than Rodon after Carlos' recent back to earth performances?
John Manuel: He has plenty of potential; not sure he has more if you believe in Rodon’s knack for pitching and strike-throwing ability. His delivery just makes it a lot harder for him, at this time, to throw quality fastball strikes. If you believe you can get him doing that on a consistent basis, I believe his pitches have higher grades than Aiken. But Aiken has precocious fastball command, impressive work ethic … similar stuff, the body has gotten better and better pitchability.
Alan (Chicago): Any inclination towards where the ChiSox are leaning with #3? Heard Hoffman plenty, but any chance they break the trend and go with a prep arm in Aiken/Kolek?
John Manuel: I haven’t really started trying to match up players with teams yet. I know the White Sox love athleticism in their pitchers, and I know they have been here in NC a lot this spring due to Rodon, Hoffman and Trea Turner, so if they took any one of those three guys, it wouldn’t surprise me. I think they would prefer Rodon over Hoffman. If you think a pitcher needs a mechanical tweak, Don Cooper and the White Sox want you.
ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Comp Gordon with another Florida prep SS from a few years ago Lindor. Who rates ahead of who in power/ave/speed/defense/arm?
John Manuel: That’s not fair to Nick Gordon. Scouts like Nick Gordon, and he plays shortstop, but I haven’t spoken to anyone who likes him more than Lindor. He just happens to be in a draft class without shortstops. Lindor was the 8th overall pick in a draft where four of the guys picked ahead of him already have played in the major leagues.
Sang (Chicago): Is Beede a future ace or is he closer to a #2 pitcher? Is there a MLB pitcher that he resembles?
John Manuel: Feels like more of a No. 3 type, an A.J. Burnett type in that he has front-line stuff without No. 1 or No. 2 command. I was stunned to learn that his start last Friday at Tennessee was the first time he’s gone 8 innings in three seasons. He was SEC pitcher of the year last year and still never was efficient enough to go more than 7 innings. His control has improved this year but he doesn’t have front-of-the-rotation command.
Bill B (Glen Allen, VA): What makes a really good high school pitcher a great pro prospect from a scouts point of view?
John Manuel: Start with the fastball. We’re working on a story for the draft preview and can’t find a high school pitcher who’s gone in the first round in the last decade who didn’t at least hit 92, at least according to our pre-draft writeups. You just don’t see first-round pitchers get picked without a plus fastball, and it helps if it has some life and if the guy throws strikes with it. Body type and athleticism are the next boxes that scouts check, along with arm action and delivery, but it all starts with the fastball.
Justin (Tucson, AZ): For position players, does Alex Jackson have the best chance to be an impact major leaguer? If not, who does?
John Manuel: Yes, that’s why he is the top-ranked position player on our list. Scouts seem to be doubting Trea Turner’s ability to make an offensive impact; I’m a Turner believer, but his swing is long and that hampers the scouting grades for his bat. His swing probably needs to change, according to the scouts we’ve talked to. Jacob Gatewood and Michael Gettys have that impact potential but their bats have been iffy for a while. Monte Harrison would be next for his athleticism. I like the college hitters in this draft more as solid regulars rather than as stars, but the whole industry missed on Paul Goldschmidt, so maybe there’s a Goldschmidt in here too.
Sal (Chico, CA): Do any of the HS pitchers have clear advantages over Grant Holmes?
John Manuel: Aiken and Kolek do; they have taller, better frames, Aiken is lefthanded and throws more quality strikes, and Kolek throws 100 or better. He’s a bigger, better Holmes in many ways. I like Grant Holmes, always have loved the mini-fro, as well as the stuff. Touki Toussaint vs. Holmes is a tough one; I think Holmes is more conventional, Touki offers more risk, but Touki’s long arms, athleticism and frame are more typical of what scouts look for than Holmes, who is maybe 6-1 (6-8 with the ‘fro for you Fletch fans).
Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): John and Clint, thank you guys for the chat today and hope all is well. Of course Derek Fisher's injury is a direct effect on his drop in the Midseason Top 50. My question is, does this become kind of a Pedro Alvarez situation where as long as he comes back this spring he still goes in the top half of the 1st round, or is there a bigger concern because he has never really tapped into his raw power at UVA (now coupled with the broken hamate)?
John Manuel: Yeah, Joe, I don’t think it’s an Alvarez situation. Fisher has been solid but never spectacular, not for me, so I think he has work to do when he gets back just showing a good approach and trying to drive the ball. Power usually takes a little while to return with hamate injuries, as you know. So that’s a reason why he dropped, and it may be tough for him to work his way back up the list.
Mick (Chicago): John, If I may ask an non draft question; I was kind of bummed after ready your piece on the lack of baseball interest in Australia. Is it worth the money MLB puts into the academy to continue there, or is it a similar futile attempt like the NFL makes in Europe?
John Manuel: This is a good place for me to exit but also to share MLB’s rebuttal to my column. I am bummed that Australia hasn’t panned out more. I remember an agent who shall remain nameless chastising me for not ranking Luke Hughes in the Twins’ Top 30 prospects, but the Aussie track record scared me away and turned out to be correct. Justin Huber, Hughes, the Australian Pete Rieser (Chris Snelling) … a lot of hitters who haven’t panned out, and most of the pitchers have fallen by the wayside too. It does seem that MLB has spent a lot of money there for not a lot of players. That said, MLB did inform me that the games fared very well on ESPN Australia, that more than 100,000 attended the two games, merchandise sales went very well, etc. So MLB is growing its revenue, and I bet MLB does just as well if not better when it ventures to the Netherlands, I believe that’s next year. And there is much more money to be made in Europe. MLB knows what it’s doing with these ventures; I don’t blame them for doing it. This approach is what has helped turn a $2 billion industry into an $8 billion industry in the last decade.
John Vittas (College Park, MD): How much will Tommy John or other major arm surgry diminish a pitcher's draft value? Guys like Mike Compton and Matthew Crownover have been dominant in the ACC this year, but both have had TJ in their recent pasts.
John Manuel: My sense is neither of those guys throws particularly hard, but then neither was really thought of as a power pitcher pre-TJ. Both have come back healthy, they are good college pitchers, and I don’t believe either one is seen as a premium draft prospect. Crownover is the better prospect as a lefty with pitchability and a good changeup.
Warren (Texas): Which prospects have the most helium? Who are your favorite sleepers? Who, in your eyes, is the most likely to not live up to their expected draft slot? Thanks for the chat!
John Manuel: Kyle Freeland has helium; the West Coast scouts I have talked to this week had heard the buzz of his outing Friday that Clint and I attended and that Clint chronicled earlier this week. Bukauskas and Spencer Adams were the high school pitchers with the most helium in our calls and contacts this week, with Monte Harrison the other guy moving up. He got some Bubba Starling comparisons, and that was meant as a compliment.
phillip (long beach,ca): Will you have a draft podcast anytime soon? thanks
John Manuel: We’ll either do one after this chat or tomorrow a.m.
John Manuel: OK, I’m passing the mic now to Clint Longenecker, who wears more fashionable pants than me but types slower. Have at it Clint!
Taylor (Tampa): Where do you see Jacob Bukauskas landing?
Clint Longenecker: Thanks for stopping in. The remaining few starts will likely mean as much for JB as any other high school pitcher because evaluators are still running in to see him and getting a feel for him as a prospect. He is tough to peg because of the lack of information on him relative to others in the class, but he will likely be gone by the first or comp round. When I saw him in his first regular season start a few weeks ago, his offspeed stuff left something to be desired. But we have gotten positive reports on the development of his changeup and his slider will likely improve significantly give his hand speed. With a strong finish to the season he could move up into the top 20 picks. 94-97 from a 17 year old is tough to bypass.
Richie (Jacksonville, FL): Lots of good HS players in the Jacksonville/Orlando area. Who besides Reid-Foley looks like a top round(s) pick?
Clint Longenecker: The Orlando area is LOADED. Orlando has Nick Gordon, Forest Wall and Foster Griffin, to name a few. All three are in our top 50. Orlando also has a few top 2015 guys as well with LHP Juan Hillman of Olympia and Hagerty High INF Ryan Mountcastle, who was one of the initial 10 invites to the Under Armour All-American Game for August.
James (DE): Any prep prospects in Delaware this year?
Clint Longenecker: OF Tyler Hill of the Delaware Military Academy is an athletic, strong-bodied power hitter who has posted average 60-yard dash times with a below-average arm.
Steve (Cherry Hill, NJ): I read on Twitter that Scott Blewitt was sitting 89-91 yesterday while Bryan Dobzanski (Delsea, NJ) sat 91-94 the same day. Why Blewitt over Dobzanski, considering both are big physical RHP from the NE, but Dobzanski is the better athlete of the two?
Clint Longenecker: Dobzanski, the NJ state wrestling champ in the 220 lb weight class, is a good athlete but so is Blewett, who has a great body and strong coordination for someone his size. Blewett’s delivery is a little cleaner. This is not to diminish Dobzanski but just to distinguish the two. Blewett’s breaking ball showed better on the showcase circuit and he has also been up to 94 this spring. I believe he was up to 94 in his last start but the velocity fell after that.
Sang (Chicago): Could Rodon thrive in the majors with his present stuff? Should the Cubs draft him even if theres a slight chance he loses a bit more on the fb?
Clint Longenecker: It is tough to say that any amateur player could thrive in the majors. To do so in the long run, Rodon’s fastball command will be a point of emphasis, as will pitching off his fastball. His slider is such a strong offering that he is able to pitch off it. But a crosschecker who just saw a recent start said that if Rodon was in pro ball a team would shelve his slider and tell him that he has to learn to pitch off his fastball and locate it to both sides effectively. That and continued development of his changeup will be keys.
Craig (Ca.): Thanks for the chat. Just curious as to where you think a couple of Ca. HS players will go in the draft......RHP Mitch Hart (Granite Bay) and OF Trenton Kemp (Buchanan HS).
Clint Longenecker: Hart, an athletic RHP, has not taken the step forward this spring that many expected, according to scouts. His velocity has been in the 80s in some starts, although his fastball has been up to 92 in the last month. He entered the spring as a potential top 3 round pick but evaluators have said he has fallen from that territory. But he could push back up into that territory with a strong finish to the season.
ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Is Phx Brophy product Ryan Castenelli helping his draft stock? Heard he is up in the 94mph range now. What about Tucson's Verdugo? After a lot of attention last summer his name has been quiet
Clint Longenecker: Yes. Castenelli has had a good spring. He had reportedly touched higher than 94 very early in the spring. He has always had the strike-throwing ability, fastball movement and an changeup with above-average potential with a good-looking pitcher’s body. But his breaking ball has reportedly taken a step forward and he is young for the class.
Francisco (Atlanta, GA): What round do you see Griffin Helms in the draft? Do you think Chavis could be a good first round pick by the Braves?
Clint Longenecker: We have gotten many questions about which players specific teams may be targeting and many it is too early too put much stock in that. The Northeast, for example, just started high school baseball last week. But Chavis could be a first-rounder as a bat first infielder with a well-rounded skill set. He has plus power and bat speed and has shown the ability to hit in games. His bat stands in contrast to many of the top high school hitters who have not hit as evaluators had hoped this spring.
Homeswithhart (New York): Who do you see right now as increasing the most in draft position and who do you see as the biggest drop in position so far this season?
Clint Longenecker: OF Monte Harrison of Missouri has had a strong start to the season. One of the top athletes in the class, Harrison is a three-sport star committed to play WR for Nebraska. Despite his limited time on the baseball field he has shown baseball instincts in addition to his raw physical attributes, plus speed, power and one of the top outfield arms in the class. As far as players who have dropped, there is still plenty of time left for players to improve their status before the draft, but Cobi Johnson’s velocity has not increased as expected. The same can be said about RHP Alex Faedo. But both are athletic pitchers with strike-throwing ability and feel for offspeed stuff.
Zach (Maine): Where do you see Sean Newcomb landing, and what is your take on a reasonable ceiling for him?
Clint Longenecker: He could go in the top 20 picks. It is tough to say what his ceiling is because it seems like he has as much projection left (with his stuff, not necessarily his body) as any college pitcher. He could be a very different pitcher in one calendar year. With continued progression of his slider, it could be a very loud package. For more on him check out http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/hartfords-newcomb-is-late-rising-northeasterner/
brian (braintree, ma): Who do you feel are the top 3-4 relievers right now for the draft?
Clint Longenecker: The top college reliever for this draft is Louisville RHP Nick Burdi, who regularly touches 100 with a slider that shows plus-plus potential. UVA Nick Howard is another power armed reliever who has touched 97 with better command than most relievers. San Diego State RHP Michael Cederoth is another fireballer that can touch triple-digits but he is walking more than 5 per-nine. College relievers are not a highly coveted demographic.
jeff (daytona, FL): Who are the biggest risers on the draft board right now, and are there any prospects from the Northeast that are generating draft buzz?
Clint Longenecker: The Northeast has some interesting high school players. Dobzanski and Blewett were already mentioned. RHP Joey Gatto has been up to 95 this spring with a great pitching body and easy delivery. His rotationmate, LHP Zach Warren, is an athletic strike-thrower wtih a projectable build, fastball movement and command. LHP Devin Smeltzer has a deceptive delivery and feel for a slider. OF Zach Sullivan has a loud set of tools and looks the part in a uniform. RHP Austin DeCarr has been up to 96 with a good breaking ball. MIF Isan Diaz is a smooth defender with hitting ability. There a lot of talent up there.
Josh Levasser (Knoxville, TN): First of all thank you for all your coverage. You guys do such a great detailed job covering the entire country. It is refreshing to see the growth of BA and the draft segments. My question is about the state of Tennessee. Who are your top 5-10 guys coming out of the Volunteer state? Have any helped, hurt, or otherwise their stock?
Clint Longenecker: Thank you very much. Tennessee will have a first-rounder with Vandy RHP Tyler Beede. The arms are down from the HS side from last year. But LHP Justus Sheffield is strike-throwing ability and feel for three pitches that could be above-average. OF Lane Thomas,a UT commit, is an athletic player with feel for the bat and above-average speed. The athletic Hunter Tackett has a well-rounded set of tools and projectable build. MIF Dale Burdick is a good player as a contact-oriented bat and scrappy player. RHP Kevin Steen looks the part in a uniform with a projectable build and has a fast arm with good fastball movement.
Pete Lunchbox (Handsome City USA): Ti'quan Forbes seems to be one of the most divisive prospects. What is it that kept him out of your top 50? Is there a concern that his hit tool isn't developed, he can't stick at SS, or something else?
Clint Longenecker: He was right on the outskirts and would have been in a top 55. Some evaluators are not confident that he can stay at SS because despite his physical attributes he has an average arm at best and he has a big frame that could really fill out. Sure, his hit tool isnt developed compared to some in the class, but you wouldnt expect for it to be for a three-sport athlete from Miss. who is young for the class. He has bat speed and the strength he will add could make it a solid bat.
johnny (Austin): Where do you project Parker French, Dillon Peters, Daniel Mengden and Zech Lemond to go in the draft? Want to know how the State of Texas pitching lines up this year
Clint Longenecker: Lemond likely had the highest potential draft stock of all those players. He has run his fastball into the upper-90s out of the rotation but left his last start early. Its wait and see with him but his talent could put him in the top 2 rounds. Those other guys are likely top 5 round talents.
Greg (Brea, CA): Where would like class rank in comparison to the last 3 draft classes?
Clint Longenecker: It does not have the athletic, impact high school position players at up the middle positions like the 2012 draft possessed. But it is likely the deepest draft of the 3 in terms of power arms, especially last year’s class.
Clint Longenecker: Thats all the time for today, folks. Thanks for stopping in and for reading Baseball America. Expect a draft podcast soon.