Moderator: Baseball America editor-in-chief John Manuel was here to chat about our 2014 Draft midseason update.
John Manuel: Sorry for the delay, getting off a phone call a little late. Let’s talk 2014 draft.
Jimmy (Florida): What are you guys hearing on Gatewood? Is he still likely to go in the 1st round or could he drop a bit?
John Manuel: We’re still hearing him as a first-rounder, because of the body, the power potential, the fact he’s an infielder … those are all still in his favor. Just not hearing as much about Gatewood as one of the top HS bats anymore. Certainly could see a team still banking on the track record early; he does seem to fit the bill of what the Phillies do, and they pick No. 7 overall. Philly likes prep athletes and banks on upside. He has top 10 picks upside. But I think the industry consensus is he’ll go out later in the first round.
Mary Ramirez (Humboldt County, California): Given the Giants penchant for spending their first pick on players often perceived as non-first rounders (e.g., Panik, Brown, and Arroyo), is it safe to say, given their draft position this year, the Giants are likely to pick a player widely recognized as a "worthy" first round guy? Thanks!
John Manuel: John Barr and I have shared a few laughs over the Christian Arroyo business last year, and I would agree with you that Panik is similar, but Gary Brown had first-round tools and doesn’t fit into that same comparison. That said, the Giants draft the way they draft. They aren’t looking at consensus picks, they are looking at their board, and picking 14th, there probably will be some value there in a high school arm. Everything we’re hearing is, college pitching is pretty strong this year, and college pitchers are going to be stuffed up a lot of teams’ boards. That might leave a Grant Holmes or Touki Toussaint or Sean Reid-Foley at 14 for the Ninja, Dick Tidrow, and Barr to select and shape into another future Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner.
Andrew VU '04 (Baton Rouge, LA): With his recent spate of bad starts, how far has Tyler Beede's draft stock fallen? Or are MLB evaluators focusing largely on his arm talent and viewing this as a blip on the radar?
John Manuel: We do hear Beede was probably a shade high at No. 6 in our Midseason Update. He seems to be in a bad groove right now; when he throws strikes, he gets hit, or he has one of those 5-walk outings. His command lags behind his control. The pitch that has really caught scouts’ attention is the improvement in his changeup, but it feels like he’s more of a 6-10 pick overall rather than a threat to go in the first five selections. I don’t believe he’ll fall into the second half, barring injury, just because there is so much to work with there.
Will (San Francisco): Luke Weaver has been showing well recently. With a plus fastball with life, a plus changeup, plus command, how high could weaver go, and do you have a good comp for him?
John Manuel: First, I’m a big fan of @DreamWeava7, and we had a good video of him from his latest start, at Wake Forest, that is under the video tab on BaseballAmerica.com if you want to see it. Our reports on him are not as sanguine. The fastball does have life, but I think it’s tough to call it a plus fastball. His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down. I believe he will go out higher than where we had him, which was in the supplemental range. But he’s a smallish RHP with the breaking ball as his third-best pitch. That’s just not a tremendous profile. You’re betting on the athleticism and pitchability if you’re taking him in the first round. Maybe he’s a Mike Leake type but I don’t quite see him as being at that level.
Dino (Chi-town, NORTH side.): Hey John, thanks for the chat! Jedi (really Theo) is gonna take a pitcher at No. 4 right? Given this draft is pitcher-heavy, and the relative lack of arms in our system compared with our positional depth, this seems pretty obvious. One of Hoffman, Beede, Rodon, Aiken, Kolek is gonna be there.
John Manuel: We thought the same thing last year, when the Cubs picked No. 2 overall, but they wound up going with a hitter in Kris Bryant. That said, there is not a Bryant in this draft, and this pitcher class is stronger than it was last year. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were all in town last week to see both Jeff Hoffman and Carlos Rodon, so both are in play, as potentially are Aiken and Kolek as you said. I can see Aaron Nola being in that mix, though he’s more in the Mike Leake mold, and I believe Kyle Freeland, Erick Fedde and Brandon Finnegan also could be in that mix at No. 4. None of those guys would stun me at No. 4, though I would at this point be a bit surprised by Beede at that spot.
Maryanna (San Francisco): Grant Holmes has been thought of highly for a long time. reports have started showing him listed at 6-2, did he recently grow? If so, wouldnt that shoot him into the top 5 picks or so? i thought the only knock on him was his height, as his arsenal is complete....
John Manuel: That’s a funny one. The listed heights and weights of these players is the subject of much discussion here at BA. He’s listed at 6-2, 210 pounds in what we have as his “official” list. We have him in our database as 6-0, 216 pounds, and we use measurements from Area Code Games, East Coast Pro or Team USA where applicable. That has been disputed, and I even got a picture of Grant sent to me the other day sent to me contending he’s taller than 6-0. I’d say he’s likely 6-1, 6-3 if we game him credit for the hair. More important than joking around about his hair, he throws downhill, he has big-time stuff … I don’t think the difference between 6-0 and 6-2 is why he’s lower. If he were 6-4 vs. 6-0, that’s a bigger deal. He’s not 6-4 even with the mini-fro. But he’s in the mix to be the third prep pitcher drafted and could go in the first 10 picks overall, and I think he’s a lock to go top 15-20.
Will (St Louis): Touki Toussaint has huge potential with a plus plus fastball and a hammer curve, but he has a tendency to be erratic. Some have him as a top ten pick while others see him slipping out of the frist round. Where does he end up?
John Manuel: Sums him up fairly well, though I wouldn’t put 70 on his fastball, and the changeup was quite good at NHSI. The body, with long arms and big hands, and athleticism are other plusses for Touki. There is a difference of opinion on him because he hasn’t been consistent with his strike-throwing and with the quality of his secondary stuff. But we have him slightly ahead of Holmes as the No. 3 prep pitcher right now because of the upside potential. There could be a fit or two in the first 10 picks; his upside fits what teams like the Phillies and also Blue Jays are looking for.
G.G. (New York): John, what is Alex Jackson's ceiling/floor in terms of when he'll be selected? Seems like Houston and Miami need pitching more than hitting, but CWS could use everything. On the pessimistic side, could he fall out of the top 10?
John Manuel: In this draft class, Jackson’s power and offensive ability stand out. I don’t see him falling out of the first 10 picks. I think he’s in play anywhere in the first 10 selections, frankly. He can hit, he’s athletic, he has a lengthy track record (particularly for a high school player) and he could remain at a premium position.
Justin (Missouri): Are Carlos Rodon's "struggles" a serious concern? Given his past success, wouldn't he be the safe #1 in this class? Is he still considered a potential ace?
John Manuel: We discussed Carlos at some length in the recent Draft podcast, which I would recommend (seeing as how I co-hosted it). The short version is that he is still considered a potential ace, I believe he is not as safe as Brady Aiken, who has better fastball command and is as polished even though he’s a high school player. I talked to an evaluator yesterday who compared Rodon to Jeremy Affeldt, which was a first. The lack of fastball command, the consistent struggle with that, is a concern. But at his best, Rodon is the best player in this class. He just hasn’t been at his best this year; he throws a lot of sliders; and he’s physically mature. So those are issues for the teams evaluating him.
Andrew (St Louis): How good is Nick Gordon? Dee is finally hitting enough to be productive at the major league level but Nick is supposed to be a more polished hitter and with some pop. Is this an upton like situation where the younger brother ends up being the far more complete and productive player?
John Manuel: It feels like a lot of teams and scouts are asking themselves that question. Some scouts question how much Nick will impact the baseball at the plate, while others see a guy who uses the whole field, runs well, can play a premium position and can learn how to pull the ball as he gains strength and matures physically. It certainly does not hurt that his older brother is playing better than ever at the big league level at this point. I’m not going to put the Gordons in an Upton category, those guys were picked No. 2 and No. 1 overall … just not the same.
Lance (Charlottesville): Could Derek Fisher be the "steal" of this draft if teams are low on him due to the hamate surgery recovery? It seems a little narrow-minded to drop a guy a few rounds because of his immediate potential when teams should be thinking long-term.
John Manuel: I don’t know that he’ll fall that far; hamate surgery isn’t a long-term concern. We dropped him down our list mostly due to the fact that he was out of sight, out of mind for a few weeks, but we kept him in the top 50 and I can still see him as a first-round pick. Just comparing him to Michael Conforto, the other LH-hitting corner bat in this draft, Conforto has contributed more and produced more over the course of his career and has been a bit better hitter. But I can see scouts liking Fisher more; he’s a bit more athletic, and he plays in a very favorable pitcher’s park. I like Fisher; I can’t shake the home run I saw him hit to LCF off Rodon as a freshman, it was a very good look. Fisher’s going to be scrutinized down the stretch as much as anyone now that he’s back, having returned Sunday against North Carolina.
Brandon (San Diego): Will Alex Jackson folllow the likes of Will Meyers and Bryce Harper and move from behind the plate due to the advanced bat? Is he at that level where it warrants moving him from behind the dish?
John Manuel: That’s possible but I don’t believe he has the explosiveness offensively those two guys have. I do see him moving to RF as a possibility because the bat is advanced, but I haven’t talked to a scout who puts him in the same power category as those two.
Tom (Central Illinois): The Cardinals have few holes...BUT, once Molina is done they seem to have no plan. Is this the draft they take his replacement? Carson Kelly can't be the answer, can it?
John Manuel: I don’t know who the answer is but finding another Yadier Molina, I’m sure the Cardinals know, will be very, very difficult. I do believe the Cardinals are aware of this, however, and have been trying to address it, and will try again. But you can’t skew your draft board just to force a guy into the “need” your organization has. But if, say, Max Pentecost is there at 27 … yeah, that would make sense.
Steve (LA): John, thanks for the chat. Hypothetically speaking, what is your opinion of draft pick trading? Seems like it would make more sense in a non-salary cap sport. Surely some of the "wealthier" teams would consider giving a good MLB piece for a top 5 pick, especially in a deep draft like this one. In turn it would help squads like the Marlins become more competitive. Or do you not see it as a good idea given the bottom-feeders probably would not be able to retain the MLB studs when their contracts are up? (No 1. pick - 6+ years of control, MLB player - ?)
John Manuel: I’ve never been a huge fan of trading draft picks; other leagues trade draft picks because they do not have minor league systems. To me, minor league players are better assets than draft picks. But with the current system, we see how much teams value their draft selections because of the bonus pools that come with those slots. I do think the current system setup would make sense to allow trades of draft spots, which already happens in the comp round and with international bonus pools. We’ve seen that those have value, and we see how much teams value those with regard to free agents. In fact, they’re probably over-valued. I think we’re headed in the direction of draft picks being traded.
Michael S. (Evansville, IN): What range do you see LHP Kyle Freeland going around? Is he picking up momentum around scouts, assistant GMs, and GMs?
John Manuel: Freeland does have momentum, and I could see him going very high. For me, he’d have to be in play at any spot in the first 10 selections. I don’t think he’s the right fit at No. 1 overall, but it’s not outlandish. He has stuff, command and a good pro body, plus he’s from Colorado, and I have an irrational fetish for tall pitchers from Colorado (I blame Roy Halladay, Brad Lidge, Kevin Gausman, Mark Melancon … I could go on). And no college pitcher has performed like Freeland this season when you look at his K-BB ratio.
Teddy (Orlando): Hey John -- Florida has some interesting junior hitters with Taylor Gushue, Casey Turgeon, Justin Shafer and Braden Mattson. Which of that group do you see getting drafted high enough to leave and which come back?
John Manuel: Gushue’s power potential and the fact he’s a catcher makes him the top guy out of that crew. The rest of those guys don’t stand out in the same way and feel more like senior signs.
Greg (ohio): How are Twins gonna resist temptation of Aaron Nola at pick #5?
John Manuel: Ha, they do love strike-throwers. That said, Freeland throws as many strikes, is lefthanded and has more stuff. The Twins have prioritized velocity in recent drafts and that points them away from Nola, but I don’t think Nola would be out of place at No. 5 either. He does more with his fastball than the majority of college pitchers. Erick Fedde would not be totally out of place there either, and is another guy with the combination of velocity and fastball command to interested Deron Johnson, Mike Radcliff & Co.
Mick (Chicago): Has Trea Turner fell to the 20's in the 1st round w/ his poor offense and reduced 80 to 60 speed?
John Manuel: He’s not a 60 runner. He may not be a consistent 80 runner anymore, but he’s not a 60 runner. He’s not falling that far. Too few college bats, his defense at SS has improved, and he still has impact speed. His SBs are down in part because he batted third for much of the first half of the season and often was clogged on the bases. I could not see him falling below Cincinnati at No. 19.
Steve (Michigan): Thanks for the chat. In a draft that seems to be lacking in college bats could you see guys like Jimmy Pickens and Blase Salter from Michigan State move up draft boards? How high could you see them going? Salter seems like he is a hitting machine with good power and Pickens seems like a toolsy prospect.
John Manuel: I was just talking to an evaluator about Michigan State, and got good reports on Pickens especially. Salter is raking but also is primarily a DH, rarely catching, and I think his 6-5, 240-pound body just lacks the athleticism to have him go out too high. Pickens can run some, he could fit on an outfield corner; he sounds like the best draft prospect on the Spartans’ roster.
Hammer (draft nerd): What are the chances Michael Chavis ends up being this year's Addison Russell?
John Manuel: I would not make that comparison in any way. Chavis can really hit, and both are righthanded bats. That’s about it.
Edgar (Chandler, AZ): Drafting 1st round pitchers, what do you believe is more important: velocity or location?
John Manuel: JJ Cooper is doing some research, and we can’t find a first-round pick for, I’m just thinking off the top of my head, I think JJ had gone back through the entire 21st Century, and every first-round pick pitcher had a fastball that at least reached 93 mph. So there’s a baseline of velocity necessary to be in the mix for the first round.
Chris (Virgina): I know UNC is having a tough year but where do you see some of their draft picks going....Russell, Lassiter, Moss, Cherry, Paula?
John Manuel: Moss is the top prospect out of that group, as long as scouts look past the full academic scholarship. Our information is that Moss is very interested in professional baseball, and at his best, he pitches off an average fastball with a plus curve and solid feel. Michael Russell feels like more of a senior sign but he’s hitting the heck out of the ball and keeps on performing, so I could see someone drafting him. I’m just not sure what his pro position will be; it won’t be shortstop. Cherry and Paula, well, neither has been very good the last two years. Cherry has a nice arm but his lack of athleticism is fairly jarring. I am a Landon Lassiter fan but he hasn’t hit great this season, and he is playing out of position at 3B, which works for him makeup-wise, because he’s doing what the team needs, but also hurts because it exposes his defensive shortcomings. Landon hits like an up the middle guy (and I am a fan of his swing), but he fields like a corner guy. Tough combo for an eligible sophomore.
Michael (Louisville): John, can AJ Reed from UK be the "pop-up" guy this year that goes in the 1st round?
John Manuel: He could hit his way into the first round. He leads the county in home runs, and he’s improved his body significantly this season. There are scouts who don’t love the swing or bat speed, but the bat-to-ball skills and strength are clearly enough for him to dominate at this level. I don’t see him in the first round yet but he certainly could continue to hit his way up draft boards.
Fonz (Milwaukee): There has been little buzz on Joey Pankake, which surprises me because (1) he has had 2.5 years of solid results, (2) he was reasonably well thought of entering this year, (3) he plays for a highly regarded program that is playing well this year, and (4) his name is "Pankake", and everyone loves pancakes. Where do you see Joey going in the draft, and does the glove/bat profile at SS or 3B to you?
John Manuel: I do love pancakes, but Pankake (1) played some LF this year, (2) hasn’t hit for much power this year and (3) has tremendous arm strength that some scouts want to see on the mound. Think of him as a less athletic Matt Chapman, and that lack of athleticism appears to be an issue. I think he’s more of a 3rd-rounder than a top pick.
John Manuel: OK, time to go to this midweek NCSU-UnC Wilmington game. Thanks everybody.