Baseball America

Ask BA: Which Draft Prospects Have 80 Tools?

North Carolina’s run as college baseball’s No. 1 team ended (at least temporarily) this week. The Tar Heels lost a weekend series at Georgia Tech and have dropped four of their last 10 games following a 39-2 start, so they slipped to No. 3 in our latest Top 25. They had held onto the No. 1 ranking for 13 straight weeks, one shy of the record Stanford set at the outset of the 1998 season.

That Cardinal team shockingly didn’t make it to the College World Series, or even past the third round of an NCAA regional tournament it hosted. The Tar Heels will look to avoid a similar fate as they try to claim their first national championship and end a 58-year title drought for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

What are the 80 tools in this year’s draft?

Roger Whitehead
Greenville, S.C.

Matt McPhearson

Matt McPhearson (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Evaluators rarely break out the top grade on the 20-80 scouting scale, but I believe there are three tools worthy of an 80 among the top prospects in the 2013 draft. Those three are Oklahoma righthander Jonathan Gray’s fastball, San Diego third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant’s power and Maryland high school outfielder Matt McPhearson’s speed.

Gray (No. 1 on our Top 100 Draft Prospects list) has a fastball that’s notable for more than just its velocity, which is plenty notable because he operates at 94-97 mph and reaches 100 as a starter. His heater also has heavy sinking life and he has upgraded his command of the pitch.

Bryant’s (No. 3 on our Draft Top 100) power has been apparent for a while. It made him a borderline first-round pick coming out of a Nevada high school in 2010, though his signability scared teams off. We noted in our Preseason All-America coverage that he had the most usable pop in his draft class, but he has found a new level as a junior.

Bryant hit three homers over the weekend, boosting his total to 28, a school record and nine more than any other player in NCAA Division I. He has outhomered 228 of the 296 teams in Division I. His combination of bat speed, strength, pitch recognition, discipline and barrelability give him elite power.

McPhearson (he’ll be near the top of our Draft 101-250 Prospects list on Friday) is the fastest player in his draft class, though he has been slowed by a tender hamstring this spring. When healthy, he has been clocked as quick as 6.22 seconds in the 60-yard dash, which earns him comparisons to Michael Bourn and Ben Revere.

In the latest mock drafts, I keep seeing the Mets linked to college bats such as North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran, New Mexico corner infielder D.J. Peterson and Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe. But if Austin Meadows falls to No. 11, do you think New York would be interested?

Said Rahman
New York

Will the Mets draft someone at No. 11 who will make it worth them not signing Michael Bourn?

Mark Ethe
New York

It’s still too early to achieve much precision with first-round projections this far in advance of the draft, though I did unveil 2013 v1.0 last Thursday. I have heard the Mets linked more to college bats than any other demographic, which could indicate New York’s true interest but also could reflect that the best options at No. 11 likely will be college hitters.

If Meadows (No. 5 on our Draft Top 100) is available at No. 11, the Mets would have to consider him. Not only would he likely be the best available player (at least on BA’s current draft board) but he also would fill a position of great need for New York. That said, the Mets have taken high school position players Brandon Nimmo and Gavin Cecchini with their last two first-rounders and might pounce if one of the better college pitchers (Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea, Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek) were available.

Though the Mets would have tried to appeal to MLB for an exemption, draft rules would have dictated that New York forfeit its first-round pick to sign Bourn. As dreadful as the Mets’ center fielders have been this year—and “dreadful” might be kind considering their collective .182/.217/.280 production—matching the four-year, $48 million contact the Indians wouldn’t have been in New York’s best interest.

That’s a reasonable price for what Bourn has provided in terms of center-field defense, speed and on-base ability in recent seasons, but the Mets don’t need long-term investments in 30-year-olds when they’re still a couple of years away from contending. They’re better off keeping their options open until they’re ready to win, and better off drafting a high-ceiling player at No. 11 whom they can cost-control for six major league seasons.

Former Louisiana State lefthander/outfielder Chad Jones recently announced he would end his attempted football comeback from a terrible car accident to focus on baseball. What are his chances? Obviously, his health will be the most important variable, but he was talented enough to be drafted a couple of times in the past.

Tim Cutsforth
Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Jones was an exceptional athlete who showed first-round potential as both an outfielder and a lefthanded pitcher despite never focusing on baseball. He was a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder with above-average power potential, speed and arm strength as a right fielder, not to mention an 88-93 mph fastball and power slider on the mound. He played key roles in LSU’s football national championship in 2007 and College World Series title in 2009.

In 2009, he opened the season as a semi-regular outfielder for the Tigers. But after he took six weeks off for spring football practice, he returned to the baseball team only to find that freshman Mikie Mahtook (who would blossom into a first-round pick) had taken his outfield job. Though he hadn’t pitched in two years, Jones was gifted enough to shift gears and join the bullpen. He made crucial scoreless appearances in both of LSU’s wins over Texas in the final round of the CWS.

We ranked Jones 92nd among draft prospects in 2007, when he was coming out of Southern Lab High in Baton Rouge and fell to the Astros in the 13th round because of signability issues. The New York Giants signed him as a safety in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, and that June the Brewers took a flier on him in the 50th round. Jones never played in the NFL, however, because he nearly lost his left leg after getting hurt in a one-car accident on June 25, 2010.

Jones has had 18 surgeries since, and the Giants released him in May 2012. Now 24, he reportedly will attempt a comeback in baseball, a sport in which he’s currently a free agent. While it remains to be seen how much his leg injury has cost him in terms of physical ability, he was so gifted that he’s definitely worth a look.

Because he has had just 48 at-bats in game situations since high school, and none since 2009, I’d think his chances would be better on the mound. He showed two plus pitches on short notice in 2009, and if he could regain his fastball and his slider, he’d have a future as a reliever.

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