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Today is the final day of the regular season for most of the minor leagues. We still have the minor league playoffs to wrap up and the Arizona Fall League isn't far off, but the prospect season is just around the corner. We'll be announcing our Minor League Player of the Year soon and the league Top 20 Prospect lists will follow soon after.
Q: What’s your take on the 2015 draft in light of the (Phil) Bickford and (Brady) Aiken situations (assuming Aiken isn’t made a free agent and decides against attending UCLA)? I’ve heard a lot about Daz Cameron as a no-doubt 1-1 along the lines of Bryce Harper; Is that legit? As a Cubs fan I’m hoping 2015 is the last year the Cubs have a top-10 pick for quite a few years; How does the top of the draft look if Aiken and Bickford are factored in? As always, thanks for your insights!
BA: Thanks for the question, Tom. I could give you my take on how the first round would shape up, but at this point, it makes much more sense to let Clint Longenecker, our well-traveled draft writer, chime in. Longenecker has been all over the country this summer to see the top high school and college players in next year's draft class, and even more importantly, he's been checking the pulse of scouts and scouting directors. Here's his view of the 2015 class as the summer starts to wrap up:
There is no player currently in the 2015 draft class that the industry considers a “no-doubt 1-1” pick along the lines of Harper, whom you mentioned. The top of the draft class has a lot of uncertainty, which is not typical at this point in the draft calendar after all of the looks teams have had this summer.
Aiken is one of the most talented players in the class, but his medicals create significant uncertainty, not to mention the rumors that have come out in the last week or two about his status.
The top of this draft class will likely be pitcher-heavy as it was last year, as the top three players on Aaron Fitt’s Cape Cod Top 30 Prospects list are pitchers, as are three of the top four on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team list.
Phil Bickford, who has pedigree as a top-10 pick (2013), is not a favorite for 1-1, but does benefit from the uncertainty at the top. Bickford, who ranked sixth on the Cape list and was the fourth-ranked pitcher, will need to show improved velocity and secondary stuff in the rotation next spring to go in the top 10 picks. Although he was up to 97 in high school, that velocity spike was well-timed right before the draft, and has not played at that level in the rotation since, as his fastball was average in the rotation this spring. He worked out of the bullpen this summer, when his fastball was 92-95, touching 96. While touching 96 is impressive, it is less so out of the bullpen. The strong collection of Team USA relievers also accomplished or surpassed this feat: Dillon Tate (touched 99), Tyler Jay (97), Ryan Burr (96) and A.J. Minter (96).
Lining up just the college/junior college pitcher demographic, Bickford doesn't rank in the top 8 currently, placing behind the other Cape arms—Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt), Kyle Cody (Kentucky) and Cody Ponce (Cal Poly Pomona)—as well as the Team USA starters—Kyle Funkhouser (Louisville), Carson Fulmer (Vanderbilt), James Kaprielian (UCLA) and Jake Lemoine (Houston). Neither summer college league list includes potentially the top left and righthanded college pitchers in Nathan Kirby (Virginia) and Michael Matuella (Duke).
While Bickford was on the Cape this summer, he doesn’t have the typical benefit of pitching in the most-heavily scouted summer college league because scouts did not think he was going to be draft-eligible, and therefore were not bearing down on him as much as the draft-eligible players. His atypical path to becoming a part of the 2015 class has created information asymmetry compared to his draft peers.
The top group of college position players currently ranks behind the pitchers. That group includes the top three from Team USA—Dansby Swanson (Vanderbilt), Alex Bregman (LSU) and D.J. Stewart (Florida State)—and the top two for the Cape, Gio Brusa (Pacific) and Ian Happ (Cincinnati). All are talented and could go in the first round but each has questions to answer—if Swanson can successfully transition to shortstop, if Brusa can learn to control the zone better and perform at a level that is typically expected of a first-round college bat—before moving into the top 10, let alone top 5.
On the high school side, Florida shortstop Brendan Rodgers has positioned himself as the top prep position player in the eyes of many evaluators after a strong summer that includes an outstanding East Coast Pro showcase. Multiple scouting directors have mentioned him as a possible top-five pick, if not potentially higher. Daz Cameron is one of the top prep position players but did not have a summer where he separated himself from the rest of the class, including a subpar East Coast Pro that left evaluators searching for more.
One of the strengths of this draft class is high school bats and prep power. The class has significant outfield depth—Cameron, Nick Plummer (Mich.), Kyle Tucker (Fla.)—but lacks in the middle infield.
The prep pitching class is down from last year’s very strong crop. California lefthanders Kolby Allard and Justin Hooper have positioned themselves as the top prep southpaws, while the righthander demographic is a bit jumbled currently and is truly in the eyes of the beholder. The grouping of top righthanders includes Mike Nikorak (Pa.), Ashe Russell (Ind.), Donny Everett (Tenn.), Beau Burrows (Texas) and Chandler Day (Ohio).
The class will sort itself in the spring as it does every year, but there is less certainty than usual at this point in the draft calendar, which should make for an entertaining spring for draft watchers.