Ask BA: 2014 Draft’s Top Prospects

If you have a question, send it to askba@baseballamerica.com. Please include your full name and hometown if you’d like your letter to be considered for use in an upcoming column. Also, please understand that we can’t respond to every question.

I don’t have an exact count for how many Ask BA columns I’ve written, but I know my first one appeared on July 6, 2001. Taking over for Josh Boyd, who had replaced James Bailey (who originated the column), I got off to an inauspicious start. In the first question I answered, I defended the prospect virtues of Sean Burroughs.

I’ve enjoyed answering your questions, and before Twitter came about, Ask BA was the easiest way for Baseball America to interact with our readers. I’ve always felt that we should be willing and able to explain the rankings on our innumerable prospect lists, and Ask BA is a great forum for that. It also allows us to update our ratings after trades or after the draft, and to answer a wide variety of questions. It has provided plenty of inspiration for my column in the pages of the magazine as well.

Ask BA long has been one of my favorite things to read or write at BA, so it’s with some sadness that I write the next sentence … This will be my last edition of Ask BA. Baseball America has asked me to hold off on providing more details for now (those will come out later in the week), but I can tell you that J.J. Cooper will take over this column starting next Monday.

Please bombard J.J. with the intriguing questions that sustained this column on my watch, and I’ll look forward to reading his responses. You can still hit me up via Twitter at @jimcallisBA.

How well has Baseball America projected the top 10 selections (not necessarily in exact order) in the next amateur draft during the fall beforehand? North Carolina State lefthander Carlos Rodon is an easy No. 1 pick for 2014, but give us the next nine prospects for next year and we’ll see how you do. I know a lot can change in nine months, but how fluid is this exercise?

Bill Lipton
New Canaan, Conn.

Much can happen between the end of the summer circuit of college leagues and showcase circuits and the draft nine months later. Players can progress and regress, they can get hurt, they can emerge from relative anonymity, they can develop signability concerns. That doesn’t stop us from projecting future drafts well in advance, however. Here at Baseball America, we rank everything.

We usually line up the next year’s draft prospects in a College Top 100 and a High School Top 100 in the fall, then combine them in one list for our Early Draft Preview in January. I can’t review past combined overall Top 10s from this time of year, but I can look back at our recent college and high school lists from the fall before the next year’s draft:

2013 College Top 5: Mark Appel, Sean Manaea, Ryne Stanek, Colin Moran, Jonathon Crawford.
Appel and Moran went in first six picks, while No. 6-rated Kris Bryant was second overall choice.
2013 HS Top 5: Austin Meadows, Clint Frazier, Trey Ball, Reese McGuire, J.P. Crawford.
First three guys were among top seven selections, McGuire and Crawford went in the teens.

2012 College Top 5: Mark Appel, Deven Marrero, Mike Zunino, Chris Beck, Kevin Gausman.
Zunino and Gausman were first college players taken, Astros considered Appel at No. 1.
2012 HS Top 5: Byron Buxton, Lucas Giolito, David Dahl, Walker Weickel, Stryker Trahan.
Only Buxton and Dahl cracked first 10 picks, Giolito would have if he hadn’t blown out his elbow.

2011 College Top 5: Anthony Rendon, Gerrit Cole, Matt Purke, Taylor Jungmann, George Springer.
Cole was No. 1 overall choice, Rendon was No. 6, Springer and Jungmann went 11th and 12th.
2011 HS Top 5: Bubba Starling, Daniel Norris, Archie Bradley, Dillon Howard, Dylan Bundy.
Bundy, Starling and Bradley were first three prep players selected, signing for $18.725 million.

Of the last 30 players to rate among our top five college or high school overall prospects in the fall before their draft, half of them became top-10 picks. That includes two of the three No. 1 overall selections (Appel in 2013, Cole), with 2012′s first choice (Carlos Correa) ranking No. 11 on our High School Top 100 the previous fall. Manaea, Giolito and Purke almost certainly would have gone in the top 10 if healthy, and Giolito was one of six of the players mentioned above taken in the 11-20 range.

Overall, that looks like a pretty good track record to me. But I suspect that Bill and most of you reading this are more interested in my projections for 2014, so let’s get to those.

While next year’s draft class is a definite improvement over those of the last two years, I came up with nine guys I thought clearly belonged but agonized over the final spot. Both John Manuel and Aaron Fitt are bullish on Louisiana State righthander Austin Nola, so I let them talk me into putting him at No. 10:

1. Carlos Rodon, lhp, North Carolina State
Spectacular summer with Team USA cements him as clear top prospect for now.
2. Jeff Hoffman, rhp, East Carolina
Starred in Cape Cod League last two summers with mid-90s fastball, big-breaking curve.
3. Tyler Kolek, rhp, Shepherd (Texas) HS
His size (6-foot-6, 250-pounds), consistent upper-90s fastball make him the top prep prospect.
4. Trea Turner, ss, North Carolina State
More than just a burner, he also offers hitting prowess and the ability to stick at shortstop.
5. Alex Jackson, c/of, Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego
Plays a premium position, has some of the best power potential in the 2014 crop.
6. Jacob Gatewood, ss, Clovis (Calif.) HS
Put on a show during Home Run Derby at Citi Field, may wind up at third base down the road.
7. Tyler Beede, rhp, Vanderbilt
Can make hitters swing and miss with three pitches but can’t always control and command them.
8. Touki Toussaint, rhp, Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian HS
Has struggled with command this summer but his premium stuff is impossible to deny.
9. Brady Aiken, lhp/of, Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego
Projectable athlete could have three plus pitches in time, reminds me of Trey Ball at same stage.
10. Aaron Nola, rhp, Louisiana State
With his solid fastball, plus changeup and impressive pitchability, he’ll move quickly in pro ball.

How impressive has Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager’s 2013 campaign been? Is he Los Angeles’ top prospect in your eyes? Would you start him in Double-A in 2014?

Dustin Nosler
Stockton, Calif.

Have Corey Seager’s chances of staying at shortstop changed at all?

Jason Ramirez
Morgan Hill, Calif.

“Impressive” doesn’t quite do Seager’s season justice. In his first full year as a pro after signing for $2.35 million as the 18th overall choice in the 2012 draft, he hit .309/.389/.529 in the low Class A Midwest League. The only MWL player with a higher OPS is Byron Buxton (.990), who just happens to be the best prospect in baseball.

The Dodgers moved Seager to high Class A two weeks ago, and while he’s batting just .200 there, he has three homers and a respectable .742 OPS and he’s controlling the strike zone. He’s just 19, and scouts think he has more upside than his brother Kyle, an all-star-caliber third baseman with the Mariners. When Kyle was 19, he batted .308/.349/.398 as a freshman at North Carolina.

Seager is Los Angeles’ top prospect, ahead of outfielder Joc Pederson and lefthander Julio Urias. Based on his development so far, Seager looks like he’ll be ready for Double-A next year and could reach Dodger Stadium at some point in 2015.

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Seager is far bigger than the typical shortstop. He has good hands and arm strength, and he has committed just 13 errors in 87 games at short this year, but he projects as a below-average runner whose range will be lacking. He’ll eventually move to third base and has the tools to be an all-star there.

Where would lefthander Miguel Sulbaran rank among Twins minor leaguers? I’m surprised Minnesota got a kid that young with numbers that good in exchange for Drew Butera. Is Sulbaran’s ceiling not very high?

Brian Hylden
Fargo, N.D.

Butera is severely challenged as a hitter and fell to fourth on the Twins’ big league depth chart at catcher, so they didn’t have any problem dealing him to the Dodgers at the July 31 trade deadline. Two weeks later, Minnesota received Sulbaran as the player to be named later.

Signed in March 2011 out of Venezuela, Sulbaran has had a solid year as a 19-year-old in the low Class A Midwest League. Before the trade, he went 6-4, 3.01 in 23 games (16 starts) with Great Lakes, posting an 85-27 K-BB ratio and a .250 opponent average in 93 innings.

Sulbaran throws a lot of strikes but doesn’t have anything that projects as an out pitch. He has an averagish fastball with some life to it, and he also throws a decent curveball, slider and changeup. His 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame leaves little room for projection and also creates questions about his long-term durability as a starter.

The Twins system may be thinner in lefthanders than at any other position, and Sulbaran can make a case for being as good as any southpaw prospect in the organization. But his ceiling is probably No. 4 starter, and I don’t think he’ll rank in the upper half of BA’s Minnesota Top 30 Prospects list in the 2014 Prospect Handbook.

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