Draft Tracker: May 30
For the final installment of Draft Tracker this year, we take a look at each writer's "personal cheeseball" (#personalcheeseball) for this year's draft—players outside the Top 200 that we really like or believe in for one reason or another.
Brandon Miller, of, Samford
It's not going out on a limb to get excited about Miller, who leads NCAA Division I in home runs this spring with 22 as well as homers per game, after ranking 13th nationally with 16 last season. Miller helped lead Samford to the Southern Conference tournament championship and its first regional berth, and as a senior, he could be drafted early as a cost-saving measure.
Miller's best tools are his raw power and his arm strength, with grades for both ranging from 60-70 depending on the scout. At 6-foot-1, 208 pounds, he has present strength and is an average runner under way, so he should be able to fit the right field profile. In many ways, he's comparable to Rockies farmhand Kent Matthes, who played at Alabama and led the nation with 28 home runs (with the old bats) in 2009.
Like Matthes, Miller lacks a true feel for hitting, with 99 strikeouts and a modest .286 average in his two seasons for Samford. It's also less impressive that Miller has done it in the Southern Conference rather than the SEC. One crucial difference: Miller can play catcher and was drafted as a catcher in 2008 out of high school. He played there as a freshman in 2009 at Georgia Tech before transferring to Northwest Florida State JC for a season, where he again was drafted (as a catcher, by the Nationals). He's worked out for scouts there as a senior after pricing himself out of last year's draft (reportedly telling teams he would need seven figures to leave Samford). However, the Bulldogs trust 5-foot-7 senior Brad Moss (.321/.440/.390) defensively behind the plate, so Miller has gotten limited in-game looks in two seasons.
Miller's combination of size and arm strength, plus his history having played the position, makes catcher a natural option for the team that drafts him. His power potential could make him fit the backup catcher profile, and he might just hit enough to make it to the majors simply as an outfielder. —John Manuel
Taylor Ard, 1b, Washington State
The third time's a charm. Ard has been drafted twice before—in 2010 out of Mt. Hood (Ore.) CC in the 35th round by the Marlins and last year out of Washington State in the 25th round by the Red Sox. A redshirt junior, Ard is old for the college class, but scouts feel that he is ready to sign this time around.
Ard has a thick, muscular build at 6-foot-1 and 229 pounds and he's limited to first base. His calling card is his power. Ard is a solid hitter with above-average power to all fields. He was the only player in the Pacific-10 conference to hit double-digit home runs last year and was battled Oregon State freshman Michael Conforto for the Pac-12 lead this year.
Ard also has a good track record of hitting with wood—he raked at Mt. Hood, destroyed the West Coast League and had the fourth-most doubles in the Cape Cod League in 2010 (nine) and the fourth-most home runs there last summer (four), though his batting average was just .247 over those two summers. —Conor Glassey
Dakota Bacus, rhp, Indiana State
Bacus has gone from not making the team at Moline (Ill.) High in his first two prep seasons to becoming the ace of an Indiana State that won its first-ever outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title this spring. After spending two seasons at Southeastern (Iowa) CC, he opened 2012 by working at 86-88 mph with his fastball. As the weather heated up, so did Bacus, who pitched at 90-92 mph down the stretch.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder also has transformed the rolling curveball he had at Southeastern into a sharp slider that grades as a plus pitch at times. His changeup is a solid third pitch. Bacus throws strikes but doesn't get a ton of swings and misses, so he profiles as a No. 4 starter. His stuff could play up in a relief role, and his slider could give him the ceiling of a set-up man. —Jim Callis
Alex Swim, c, Elon
The 6-foot, 185-pound Swim has been an everyday player for the Phoenix since he walked on campus, starting 165 games in three seasons. He burst onto the scene as a freshman, hitting .310/.342/.403. His bat cooled as a sophomore, but he bounced back in 2012 by hitting .361/.402/.454 in 227 at-bats. Some scouts think his bat is light, citing he doesn't always hit the ball with authority, but he has been very difficult to strike out, fanning just 39 times in his career.
He also went on a 25-game hit streak during the season in which he hit .429 with 15 runs. Of the 25 games, 12 were of the multi-hit variety, and at one point he only had six games without a hit.
Scouts take interest because he provides solid defense behind the plate. He has a strong arm that could be improved if he shortens his release. He runs a tick above average and could be a fourth outfielder if he doesn't stick at catcher. —Nathan Rode
Tyler Heineman, c, UCLA
After playing sparingly for two years as Steve Rodriguez's backup, Heineman assumed the everyday job this spring and had a breakout season, hitting over .400 deep into the season before cooling off late.
"That kid has worked so hard, and he's improved," one area scout said. "He's having a great year. He's definitely opened a lot of people's eyes."
With a stocky 5-foot-10 build that evokes Mike LaValliere or a Molina brother, Heineman isn't a sexy prospect, but he is a hard-working, blue-collar player with a passion for the game. He's not a polished receiver but projects as an average defender with enough quickness to block balls in the dirt effectively. He handles pitchers well and controls the running game, thanks to an average arm and efficient transfer and release. Offensively, Heineman is a switch-hitter with a contact approach from both sides. He sprays the ball around the field and doesn't strike out much, but he doesn't offer any power. UCLA coach John Savage called him "the perfect two-hole hitter."
He profiles as a solid backup catcher in the big leagues.
"He's going to catch in the big leagues," a second area scout said. "He's going to catch a long time. He's just a gamer—he blocks, he handles pitchers, he can throw average if not a tick above-average. Judge a guy on his work ethic and what he's done up to this point. The guy's always been an underdog." —Aaron Fitt