2015 DRAFT: FIRST-ROUND TRACKER
Selection: Dansby Swanson, ss, Vanderbilt
A two-time state champion as a basketball player in high school, Swanson didn’t sign as a 38th-round pick of the Rockies in 2012. A broken foot and shoulder injury limited Swanson to just 11 games as a freshman at Vanderbilt. But he returned to full health as a sophomore and helped lead the Commodores to their first-ever national championship. He was named Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series and finished the summer with a strong showing for Team USA. Swanson again has produced at the plate this spring, but his most important development has been defensively. After playing second base as a sophomore, he has smoothly transitioned to shortstop for Vanderbilt. He has the athleticism, range and hands necessary for the position. Whether he has a true plus arm remains the subject of some debate, but scouts project he’ll stay at shortstop as a professional. Swanson is a well-rounded hitter. He has a quick, loose swing that allows him to produce hard contact to all fields. He is a patient hitter who knows how to work a walk and has a sound two-strike approach. He has some pop in his bat, especially when he can turn on the ball but gears his swing more for hitting line drives. He is a plus runner and knows how to steal bases. Swanson earns praise for his makeup and work ethic.
Selection: Alex Bregman, ss, Louisiana State
Bregman brings the longest track record of success of anyone in this draft class. He led USA Baseball’s 16U team to a gold medal in 2010, led the 18U team to another gold medal in 2011 and set the New Mexico single-season high school home run record as a junior. He’s earned Baseball America Freshman of the Year honors in 2013. If there is anything disappointing about Bregman’s career, it’s been the difficulty of topping his outstanding freshman season. His numbers this year are quite similar to what he produced in his LSU debut. Bregman is one of the safest picks in this year’s draft, as scouts are nearly unanimous that he should at the worst be a productive big league middle infielder. The debate revolves entirely over how much of an impact he will make. Blessed with excellent bat speed, Bregman has a flat bat path and contact-oriented swing that fits well with his excellent hand-eye coordination. This year, he’s walked significantly more than he’s struck out. He’s a tick above-average runner who has gotten more aggressive on the basepaths, leading the Southeastern Conference in stolen bases. He’s proven to be a very reliable shortstop and a number of evaluators believe he will be able to stick at shortstop as a pro with average range, an accurate, average arm and quality hands. Average isn’t enough at short for most teams, and Bregman projects as an above-average defender at second base. Wherever he goes, he’ll make his new team better with his follow-me approach.
Selection: Brendan Rodgers, ss, Lake Mary (Fla.) HS
Thanks to an impressive showing last summer, Rodgers entered this spring as the consensus top prospect in the draft class. He’s done nothing to lose that label and has a chance to become the first shortstop to go No. 1 overall since Carlos Correa in 2012. Rodgers combines impressive offensive potential with solid defensive ability. He has a good feel for hitting and has the potential to be a plus all-around hitter. His strength and elite bat speed mean he doesn’t have to sell out to drive the ball, and it isn’t out of the question that he eventually hits 25 or more home runs in the big leagues. While he runs well enough, he isn’t a burner. Defensively, Rodgers has good tools, but not all scouts are sold on him staying at shortstop. His arm strength, infield actions and hands are all good enough for the position if he is able to maintain his range as he physically matures. He is well-polished and makes the game look easy. That often gives the appearance of playing with a low-energy motor, but he makes that approach work. The state of Florida has produced several prep shortstops who have been selected in the top 10 in the last few years and Rodgers fits right in with a group that includes Manny Machado, Nick Gordon and Francisco Lindor. Rodgers, a Florida State commit, is probably most similar to Machado and as a shortstop with plus power potential is on track to match--if not exceed--his lofty draft status.
Selection: Dillon Tate, rhp, UC Santa Barbara
Lightly recruited out of Claremont (Calif.) High, Tate pitched just three innings in four appearances as a freshman for the Gauchos, though one of his nine outs that season was recorded against Kris Bryant on a 3-2 changeup. Tate’s confidence grew when he emerged as UC Santa Barbara’s closer as a sophomore and when he earned a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer. He made the transition to starting as a junior, and with the exception of a missed start due to a strained muscle in his neck, Tate hit few speed bumps in ascending draft charts this spring. Tate’s high-energy delivery, fast arm and athletic body deliver plus fastballs, sitting 94-96 mph and touching 97-98--especially early in games. He has some arm-side life that make his hard, plus slider even more effective. It’s his strikeout pitch, missing bats with late life and upper-80s velocity, scraping 89 mph. Tate’s changeup has improved the more he’s used it, and his cutter gives him a another wrinkle to throw at hitters from the same release point. Tate had doubled his 2014 innings total already, so scouts continue to watch how he holds up under a starter’s workload. He has adjusted to the role well, though, establishing a routine and holding his stuff deep into games and the season. His lack of an extensive track record is the biggest knock against him, but he still projects to be the first college pitcher drafted with a shot to go No. 1 overall.
Selection: Kyle Tucker, of, Plant HS, Tampa
Tucker became Plant’s all-time home run leader this spring, breaking the record set by his older brother Preston Tucker. While Preston went on to star at Florida for four years before reaching the major leagues with the Astros this season, Kyle is expected to go high enough in the draft to keep him from following in his brother’s footsteps to Gainesville. Tucker is leaner and more athletic than his brother, but still has big power potential. Though he has a bit of an unorthodox swing, he makes consistent hard contact thanks to his feel for the strike zone and advanced approach. His power is best to the pull side now, but he projects to be able to drive the ball out to all fields as he physically matures. Tucker plays center field now and has a chance to stay there thanks to his routes and instincts. But he’s more likely to end up in a corner in the long run, as he fills out his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame. He has enough arm strength to profile in right field if he does have to change positions. Like his brother, Tucker earns praise for his makeup and gamer mentality.
Selection: Tyler Jay, lhp, Illinois
Jay was a prep punter and punt returner in football and has a muscular and athletic, 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame. He has taken off as Illinois’ closer during the Illini’s storybook 2015 season, which included a 24-game win streak. Jay first emerged as the closer as a sophomore, earning a spot with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team as the only lefthander in the bullpen. While he excels in a short-relief role, he’s held firm stuff over extended outings, such as a five-inning early season start against Lamar and a six-inning outing at Penn State. He ranked second in the nation in ERA and was overpowering hitters with a 92-96 mph fastball from a quick-armed, high-energy delivery with a long stride and deception. Scouts were mixed on whether or not Jay could start, but he maintained similar velocity when extended, and he’s shown a four-pitch mix. His low-80s slider earns “wipeout” designation from scouts, while he locates both an average curveball and change. Jay was trending toward the top half of the first round and could be the first player from the draft class to reach the majors if he stays in a relief role.
7. Red Sox
Selection: Andrew Benintendi, of, Arkansas
A draft-eligible sophomore, Benintendi’s draft stock has skyrocketed this spring thanks to the loudest season of any college player. Benintendi ranks among the top 10 in Division I in batting average and on-base percentage, and leads the nation in slugging percentage while playing in the always competitive Southeastern Conference. Benintendi was off many teams’ radars. He didn’t play summer ball last year and some scouts may not have even realized he was draft eligible at the start of the year. But a who’s-who of scouting directors and front-office officials are flying in to see him now as they realize he may be the best combination of athleticism and production in this college class. A very productive but slight outfielder (and basketball guard) in high school, he’s added excellent strength these past two years. He has extremely strong forearms and has shown plus raw power that plays in games, with the ability to drive the ball to all fields but with most of his home runs coming to his pull side. And he does it with a very balanced approach and excellent pitch recognition. He’s striking out in only 11 percent of plate appearances, while getting extra-base hits in 13 percent of his plate appearances. He is also a legitimate center fielder with above-average to plus run times and excellent reads and instincts. The only real knocks on Benintendi are his size (he’s 5-foot-10) and the lack of a lengthy track record.
8. White Sox
Selection: Carson Fulmer, rhp, Vanderbilt
Fulmer began his college career as Vanderbilt’s closer before transitioning to the rotation in the middle of his sophomore season, helping lead the Commodores to their first national championship. After a successful stint with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, he became Vanderbilt’s No. 1 starter as a junior and continued to dominate opponents. Despite his outstanding track record, scouts remain mixed on Fulmer. Listed at 6-feet, 195 pounds, he is undersized for a righthander and has a high-effort, high-energy delivery. Those factors lead some to see him as a future reliever. But he has a starter’s arsenal and has excelled in that role, both for Vanderbilt and Team USA. His fastball sits in the mid 90s, regularly reaching 97 mph, and he holds his velocity deep into games. His power curveball can be a plus pitch and his changeup has above-average potential. He has improved his control this year, but his delivery means he will likely never have better than average command. He earns praise for his makeup and work ethic. Some team will likely give Fulmer a chance to start and hope he can follow fellow Vanderbilt product Sonny Gray’s path to success as a big league starter despite his stature. But if a team sends out Fulmer as a reliever, he could fly through the minor leagues.
Selection: Ian Happ, of, Cincinnati
From the day he stepped on campus, Happ has been the best hitter in the Bearcats’ lineup and he’s been one of the best players in the Cape Cod League each of the past two summers. But this year, Happ has had to carry the Bearcats lineup. There have been days when he’s the only player in the lineup who isn’t a freshman. Happ has played right field and center field primarily this season, but he’s played second base on occasion, played third base in the past and has even played shortstop briefly. His eventual landing spot defensively will cause a lot of debate in draft meetings. Teams that believe Happ can develop as an offensive second baseman will likely value him higher than teams who are convinced he’ll stay in the outfield. At second base, Happ is not particularly fluid, and he’d need to put in the work as a pro to stick in the dirt. As an outfielder, Happ likely will end up in left field because of his fringe-average arm. Most scouts believe he lacks the range to handle center field as a pro. At the plate, Happ has fewer questions. A switch-hitter, he shows excellent bat speed from both batters’ boxes. He projects as a plus hitter with average power, and he’s an above-average runner, though he needs refinement on the bases.
Selection: Cornelius Randolph, ss, Griffin (Ga.) HS
Scouts became very familiar with Griffin (Ga.) High in 2008 when Tim Beckham was the first overall pick in the draft. Now, Randolph has them coming back to the Atlanta area school to see another likely first-rounder. Unlike Beckham, Randolph will not stay at shortstop as a professional. But his natural hitting ability is such that questions about his future position haven’t done much to dissuade scouts. He is a disciplined hitter with an excellent feel for the strike zone. There is some swing-and-miss in his game, but when he’s at his best he stays balanced and drives the ball to all fields. He has the strength and bat speed necessary to hit for above-average power, giving him a chance to be one of the best all-around hitters in the draft class. While scouts are sure Randolph isn’t a shortstop, they aren’t quite sure where he’ll settle defensively. Some believe his hands and arm are good enough that he could become a capable third baseman if he works to improve his infield actions. Others see him as a future left fielder, where he could concentrate on his hitting. No matter where the Clemson recruit ends up defensively, Randolph’s main attraction will be his hitting ability.
Selection: Tyler Stephenson, c, Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.) HS
Stephenson didn’t attend many of the big summer showcases last year, instead focusing on playing summer ball in the competitive East Cobb program. That kept him out of the spotlight, but not off of scouts’ radars, and he also was one of the stars of the WWBA World Championships last fall. He missed a few weeks this spring due to an oblique injury, but played well in his return and subsequently shot up draft boards, even generating some buzz as a potential first overall pick. In a class that is light on catching, the Georgia Tech commit stands out. Stephenson is big for a catcher (listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds), but he is an excellent defender. He is very quiet behind the plate and frames pitches well thanks to his strong, soft hands. He has plus arm strength and once he gets his footwork down has the potential to be an above-average defender. Offensively, he creates raw power thanks to his strength. There is some length to his swing and he didn’t hit all that well with a wood bat last summer. But his advanced skills behind the plate will allow a team to be patient as he figures things out offensively.
Selection: Josh Naylor, 1b, St. Joan of Arc Catholic SS, Mississauga, Ont., Canada
The value of power in today’s game is higher than it has been in quite some time, allowing players like Naylor to really stick out. Like Demi Orimoloye, Naylor has a long track record as a member of both the Canadian Junior National Team and the Ontario Blue Jays. He erupted onto the national scouting scene at a very early age and has been famous since his early high school days, as he often played with older prospects. He has elite bat speed and power, but with a thick body that lacks projection, Naylor is a first-base only prospect, putting a lot of pressure on his lefthanded bat. His best tool is his plus-plus raw power, which allows him to shine in a batting practice session, though he showed some swing-and-miss last summer. He can get pull happy, as he often extends early and punishes baseballs before they get deep into the hitting zone. While Naylor has an above-average arm, his lack of foot speed limits him to first base. There are some questions about his maturity, but Naylor is a likeable kid who gets along with teammates well. He is committed to Texas Tech.
Selection: Garrett Whitley, of, Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS
Following his junior year at Niskayuna (N.Y.) High, Whitley was a fast-twitch athlete, with a raw swing and tools that he wasn’t quite able to use yet. Whitley’s tools earned him a spot on the Northeast’s Area Code and East Coast Pro teams, where he took advantage of instruction from pro scouts and blossomed into a first-round talent. Whitley held his own at both events, loosening up his wrists and showing off even more bat speed, while showing surprisingly advanced pitch recognition skills for a player from upstate New York. With wide shoulders and powerful hands, Whitley is now able to impact the ball with authority, and he’s beginning to tap into the natural power in his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame. The Wake Forest commit mixes his impressive pitch recognition and timing with elite bat speed, giving him all the materials to develop into a plus hitter with above-average potential. What separates Whitley is his plus speed; despite his physically mature frame, Whitley records plus run times to first base and takes gazelle-like strides in center field. The only tool of Whitley’s that doesn’t project as plus is his throwing arm. Some evaluators grade it as average while others have seen a fringe-average arm. Whitley has an impressive sixth tool in his makeup, which he’s evidenced with the ability to receive coaching and implement changes.
Selection: Kolby Allard, lhp, San Clemente (Calif.) HS
A UCLA recruit, Allard continued a recent trend of top-rated pitchers coming up injured prior to the National High School Invitational, joining other elite arms like Jordan Sheffield, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito. Allard’s issue was a stress reaction in his back, less of a concern than the arm injuries that felled other prospects this year around the country. Allard was the youngest player on USA Baseball’s 18U National Team last summer, helping the team win a gold medal, and has compiled a long track record for a high school pitcher that made him the top arm in the class entering the spring. He has a firm fastball that has touched 96 mph and sits in the low 90s. He does it easy with a feel for the strike zone. Allard has the hand speed to throw a tight, plus downer curveball, which was considered one of the best in the last last summer. He’d made just two starts before coming up injured this spring. Allard had begun workouts to potentially return to the field in early May, and scouts were speculating he could get back on a mound for some private workouts before the draft, but clubs likely were going to have to consider last summer’s performance and this spring’s medical reports as the key information for where to rank Allard.
Selection: Trenton Clark, of, Richland HS, North Richland Hills, Texas
Clark’s batting grip is a little unorthodox. He eschews batting gloves and he holds his thumbs on the bat like he’s gripping a golf club. It has always worked for him and few who have seen him doubt his ability to hit. One evaluator called him the best high school bat to come out of Texas in the past five years. He’s battled blisters and ankle problems but has still managed to impress this spring, thanks to excellent bat speed and a long track record of performing both on the showcase circuit and internationally. Clark has 70 speed on the 20-to-80 scouting scale at his best, and unlike most of the rest of top of the prep outfield class, Clark should remain in center field for the long-term. He gets good jumps to go with his excellent speed and he has plenty of arm for center. He’s already pretty well filled out physically. He projects as an above-average hitter with future average power. He has an excellent batting eye that allows him to draw walks. He could profile as a top-of-the-order table setter who can get on base and steal, but he has enough pop to end up in the middle of the lineup. Clark has impressed for years with his feel for the game, his leadership qualities and his knack for performing on the biggest stages. He’s committed to Texas Tech.
Selection: James Kaprielian, rhp, UCLA
Kaprielian shined for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, pitching through a family tragedy after his mother died at age 58 from breast cancer in June. His mother encouraged him to keep his commitment before she passed away, and Kaprielian had a strong summer, including dominating Taiwan in a July 4 start in which he tossed 12 strikeouts. Kaprielian knows how to finish hitters off when he’s ahead in the count, with a plus curveball as his best pitch. He can land it, vary the shape of it and bury it as a chase pitch, and his feel for the curve is his strongest attribute. He has dabbled with a slider as well but has focused on the fastball, curveball and solid-average changeup for most of the spring. Kaprielian ranked No. 73 on the BA500 out of high school in 2012, spurning the Mariners, who took him with a 40th-round flier. His fastball velocity was among the reasons Kaprielian didn’t sign out of high school, as he topped out at 92, and his fastball velocity remains a question this spring. While he sat 93-95 in a relief role during UCLA’s 2013 national championship run, Kaprielian generally pitches with a fairly flat, straight 90-91 mph four-seam fastball. He doesn’t throw a two-seamer. In several April and May starts, his velocity improved, bumping 95 and holding 92-93 deeper into games. That could push the polished, 6-foot-4, 200-pounder into the top half of the first round.
Selection: Brady Aiken, lhp, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Aiken jumped to the front of the 2014 draft class when his velocity ticked up during his senior season at Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego. The Astros selected him first overall and worked out an agreement to sign him for $6.5 million. That fell apart after a difference of opinion of what an MRI of his elbow taken in a post-draft physical showed, and Aiken ultimately turned down a reported $5 million deal, becoming the first No. 1 overall pick not to sign in more than 30 years. After considerable fallout from the ordeal, Aiken chose to pitch for IMG Academy’s postgrad team along with Jacob Nix, whose own deal with the Astros was scuttled when Aiken’s deal fell apart. Aiken threw just 13 pitches in his first start for IMG. He exited the game with an injury and had Tommy John surgery six days later. Aiken had no physical problems leading up to the 2014 draft and, when he was healthy, had as much promise as anyone. His fastball touched 97 mph and sat in the low 90s. He located the pitch well to both sides of the plate while mixing in a plus curveball, a promising changeup and a developing slider. He has a clean, fluid delivery, an ideal pitcher’s frame and plenty of athleticism. Now, however, Aiken won’t be able to pitch again until 2016 and is the biggest wildcard in the draft. What teams think of his medical reports and the deal that can be struck will determine when and where he goes.
Selection: Phil Bickford, rhp, JC of Southern Nevada
Bickford was a potential first-round pick entering 2013 after a strong Area Cod Games performance, and his velocity jumped that spring while pitching at Oaks Christian High in Westlake Village, Calif. He wound up hitting 95-96 mph regularly with an ideal 6-foot-4, 195-pound body, and the Blue Jays drafted him 10th overall. However, Toronto couldn’t come to terms with Bickford, who wound up going to Cal State Fullerton for one season, going 6-3, 2.13 in 76 innings. Bickford had a strong summer in the Cape Cod League and decided to transfer to JC of Southern Nevada to enter the 2015 draft, a prudent move in a weak draft class. However, Bickford hasn’t consistently reached the 93-96 mph velocity he showed working in a relief role last summer in the Cape, more frequently sitting in the low 90s albeit with late sinking life. His power breaking ball flashed plus last summer but has remained inconsistent this spring, and his changeup remains in its nascent stages. However, he had a strong spring at CSN, as its known locally, winning Scenic West Athletic Conference pitcher of the year honors during a 9-1, 1.48 campaign that included a staggering 151 strikeouts in 79 innings. He had seven double-digit strikeout games against inferior wood-bat competition. Bickford’s signability was tough to gauge in 2013, as was his makeup, but he hasn’t made a four-year college commitment this spring and is expected to be signable this time around.
Selection: Kevin Newman, ss, Arizona
Undrafted after his high school career in Poway, Calif., Newman became the first two-time Cape Cod League batting champ last summer. A strong junior season catapulted Newman into a certain first-round selection, and his combination of hitting ability and middle-of-the-diamond profile could put him in the first 10 selections. Newman is a pure hitter who controls the strike zone, walking more than he strikes out, but doesn’t yet hit for a lot of power. Scouts are convinced the bat will play in the pro game, primarily because his quick hands work so well that he’s able to start the hands so far forward. He may add more gap power as he matures, but his college track record is that of a singles hitter, with two career homers (one Cape, one with Arizona). He struggled in Pacific-12 Conference play when he was pitched hard inside, batting just .279/.328/.378 heading into the final two weeks of conference play. Scouts are mixed on his shortstop defense and even his arm strength, with some grading the latter average and others above-average. He’s not flashy but has good instincts that maximize his arm, range and footwork. He also maximizes his average to above-average speed, and Newman consistently runs and plays hard. He’s earned comparisons from players from Adam Kennedy for those who see him moving to second to Chris Gomez and, on the high end, Alan Trammell.
Selection: Richie Martin, ss, Florida
Drafted out of high school by the Mariners in the 38th round, Martin is now part of an unusually large crop of college shortstops with a chance to stay at the position as professionals. In the past, Martin has sometimes gotten himself into trouble by trying to do too much in the field. But this year he has done a better job of letting his athleticism take over and is playing the position with ease. He has plenty of range, soft hands and enough arm strength, though it doesn’t always earn true plus grades. Martin impressed scouts offensively last summer in the Cape Cod League. He set the Bourne record with a .364 batting average, which ranked second only to Kevin Newman (another well-regarded college shortstop). He has shown more power this year and there’s probably even more waiting to be unlocked in his lithe 6-foot, 185-pound frame, but his game remains based on getting on base. He sprays line drives to all fields, controls the strike zone and has above-average speed, giving him the profile of a top-of-the-order hitter. Martin is very young for his class and won’t turn 21 until December, giving him more projection than most college position players.
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One of this year’s biggest draft mysteries is finally resolved.
Selection: Ashe Russell, rhp, Cathedral Catholic HS, Indianapolis
In a draft where many of the top young arms have struggled to stay healthy, Russell has consistently been the same high-octane arm that impressed scouts last summer on the showcase circuit. Russell is blessed with a very quick arm that has consistently sat at 92-94 mph and has touched 97 at his best. That fastball seems to explode from his hand and he gets good extension. But even more than the velocity, the late boring action of Russell’s fastball makes it a plus pitch and one that should generate lots of ground balls. His low three-quarters arm slot also helps the action of his above-average, low-80s slider. Russell’s arm action isn’t as clean as some of the other top high school arms because his delivery has plenty of length in the back and he’s struggled to hit his spots at times. Last summer his release point wandered as well. His changeup is still largely in its nascent stages because he hasn’t really needed it much yet. Russell has plenty of size (6-foot-4) and he has room to grow into a lanky frame that has room to add weight. Russell has a long ways to go, but he has all the pieces to be a solid mid-rotation starter--and possibly more. He’s committed to Texas A&M.
Selection: Beau Burrows, rhp, Weatherford (Texas) HS
Burrows’ combination of excellent fastball velocity--consistently 93-95 mph last summer and he’s touched 97-98 this spring--and potential for a pair of solid secondary offerings makes him one of the more intriguing high school pitchers in this class. Scouts have seen him light up radar guns with a plus fastball ever since the summer after his sophomore season. A product of the Texas Baseball Ranch’s training program under the tutelage of pitching coach Flint Wallace, Burrows has demonstrated an excellent ability to self-diagnose and continually improve his delivery and his approach over the past few years. And he’s extremely competitive. Scouts harbor concerns about his size--most evaluators believe he’s 6-foot, not 6-foot-2 as he’s often been listed--but do like his broad shoulders. Some scouts have also worried about his delivery, which has cleaned up but still involves an extreme amount of tilt as he reaches his release point. He’s worked through a blister problem this spring. Burrows can rip off a plus 80 mph curveball, and his changeup has quickly gone from a distant third pitch to become a very useable weapon against lefthanders that flashes plus at its best with some late tumble. Scouts who don’t like short righthanders will see him as a power reliever, but teams that have seen Sonny Gray’s success may be intrigued by his polished assortment. He’s committed to Texas A&M.
Selection: Nick Plummer, of, Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Over the span of one week last summer, Plummer went from a national unknown to consideration as one of the top prospects in the draft class. Plummer made a very loud national debut at the East Coast Pro event and carried that success through the rest of the showcase circuit. A bout with mono caused him to lose some weight, but he showed no ill effects this spring. The Kentucky recruit is expected to be the first first-round pick from Michigan since catcher David Parrish was selected in 2000. Perhaps more notably, he’ll become only the third Michigan high school player taken in the top-five rounds this century. Plummer has one of the most advanced approaches among this year’s high school hitters with a relatively simple set-up, bat speed and some leverage that gives him plus pull power. Generally his swing is geared more to driving the ball up the middle with a compact stroke that gives him good plate coverage. He does a good job of recognizing breaking balls already. At 5-foot-11, he’s compactly but solidly built. Plummer projects as a potentially plus hitter with average to plus power. An average runner, few evaluators see him sticking in center field for long as a pro. His below-average arm leads most to believe he’ll end up in left field.
Selection: Walker Buehler, rhp, Vanderbilt
Buehler had a busy summer last year. After helping Vanderbilt win its first national championship, he pitched briefly for Team USA and was then named co-MVP of the playoffs in the Cape Cod League after helping Yarmouth-Dennis to the championship. Elbow soreness delayed his start to his junior season at Vanderbilt, but he’s pitched well since rejoining the Commodores rotation. At his best, Buehler has four above-average offerings. He throws his fastball in the low-to-mid 90s, though it doesn’t have a ton of life. That, in addition to his clean arm action, allows him to pound the strike zone, but also makes it a bit easier for hitters to square the pitch up if he misses in the zone. His curveball and slider both show promise and he has a good feel for spinning the baseball, but they run together at times. He gets good fading action on his changeup. Though at a listed 6-foot-2, 175 pounds, Buehler is taller than teammate Carson Fulmer, he isn’t very physical and also lacks ideal size for a righthander. Scouts have more confidence that Buehler will be able to remain in the rotation, however, thanks to his deep arsenal, athleticism and more polished delivery.
Selection: D.J. Stewart, of, Florida State
The Yankees drafted Stewart in the 28th round in 2012 out of Jacksonville’s Bolles School, where he had won five state championships (three in football, two in baseball). He chose not to sign and went on to Florida State, where he has built a strong track record of success. He was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year as a sophomore and led the league in all three triple-slash categories with a line of .351/.472/.557, and in 2015 he was leading the nation with 62 walks and ranked third with a .525 OBP as the season neared its close. Stewart has a quick swing, good plate discipline and the strength to drive the ball, and he’d set a new career high with 12 home runs. He has managed to make his unorthodox stance work in college, but scouts aren’t sold that it will work at the next level. He crouches very low at the plate, which can make it tougher for him to unleash his raw power. Many scouts believe that if he just stands up a little taller, he’ll be able to turn on inside pitches with more consistency and tap into more of his power. Stewart is listed at 6-feet, 230 pounds, but has more athleticism than his frame suggests. He was a running back in high school and his fringe-average speed allows him to cover ground well in the outfield. His below-average arm strength likely limits him to left field, but his powerful bat fits that profile.
Selection: Taylor Ward, c, Fresno State
An unsigned 31st-round pick out of high school in 2012 (Rays), Ward became a part-time starter as a freshman with Fresno State. He was the everyday backstop his final two seasons and emerged on the national scene as the top defensive catcher for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer. He shared time with Miami’s Zach Collins and Clemson’s Chris Okey, showing solid rather than spectacular receiving skills to go with one of the best throwing arms in the country. Ward earns consistent plus grades and 65s from teams that use the 20-80 scale, as his throws are accurate and true. He’s thrown out 37 percent of basestealers this season after nabbing 40 percent in 2014. Ward’s athletic 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame and arm strength would play on the mound if he doesn’t hit enough to stick behind the plate, and scouts have their doubts about his bat. He’s hit 13 home runs the last two seasons combined and has decent pull power, though he lacks a natural feel for hitting. Position scarcity, solid production (.290/.417/.495 line for Fresno State) and his throwing arm should make Ward one of the first college catchers off the board, likely no later than the third round.
While he doesn’t exactly have big league bloodlines, Mike Nikorak has seen first-hand what it takes to succeed at a high level of competition. His older brother Steve Nikorak played at Temple before a brief stint in the White Sox system and playing in the independent Can Am League in 2014. The younger Nikorak has quickly harnessed his natural arm strength to become one of the top prep pitchers in this year’s class. After battling command issues at times as a junior, Nikorak emerged with elite velocity on the showcase circuit, flashing plus-plus velocity and showing feel for a breaking ball and changeup. Nikorak didn’t maintain his stuff deep into outings, but he did exactly what scouts could have asked of him in the winter, hitting the weight room and adding meat to his 6-foot-3 frame, developing into an imposing power pitcher. With a clean arm action and outstanding athleticism, the 6-foot-5, 215-pounder has peaked at 97 mph this spring, with flashes of above-average offspeed stuff and command of his three-pitch mix. Nikorak will need to tighten his curveball, which has lacked consistency, and develop the stamina to hold his velocity deep into outings, but he has the potential to develop into an impact starter at the major league level.
Selection: Mike Soroka, rhp, Bishop Carroll HS, Calgary, Alberta
There hasn’t been a player out of Alberta selected in the top 100 picks since the Red Sox picked Chris Reitsma 34th overall in 1996. While Soroka probably won’t go that high, he should end up off the board in the first few rounds in June. Armed with three pitches, Soroka attacks hitters with a low-90s fastball that he can spot down and to both sides of the plate. His best pitch is his above-average curveball, which projects as a plus pitch. In a spring start against the Toronto Blue Jays, Soroka’s breaking ball froze righthanded hitters, including star catcher Russell Martin. The pitch is as tight as any breaking ball in this class, and breaks very late as it drops into the bottom of the strike zone with 12-to-6 or 11-to-5 shape. Soroka also has feel for a changeup, which scouts see as a potential average pitch. There’s some concern about the across-body finish to his arm action, but he has no history of arm trouble and has a physical, 6-foot-5 body. Soroka projects as a middle of the rotation starter, though he is a strong student and may be tough to sign away from his commitment to California.
29. Blue Jays
Selection: Jon Harris, rhp, Missouri State
Harris turned down the Blue Jays’ offer as a 33rd-round pick out of high school. It was a wise choice, as Harris was physically immature and unable to maintain his velocity. He stepped into the Bears’ weekend rotation as a freshman and had immediate success. He’s now a significantly more physical pitcher, and the fastball that quickly dipped to the mid-80s when he was in high school now sits at 91-93 mph touches 95. Harris mixes in a pair of breaking balls, a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus and a solid-average slider that he is able to throw for strikes. His changeup is a potentially average pitch as well, and some scouts have seen each secondary pitch flash plus. Harris missed two starts with an ankle injury but pitched a complete-game shutout in his return from injury, answering any questions about his health. Harris has pitched deep into games consistently this year. He’s worked into the eighth inning of eight of his last nine starts and was averaging 110 pitches an outing this year. Harris’ control is still shaky at times--he’s walked 3.2 batters per nine innings but he also generates lots of swings and misses (10.8 strikeouts per nine innings).
Selection: Kyle Holder, ss, San Diego
A San Diego prep product, Holder intended to play baseball and basketball at local Grossmont JC before realizing as a freshman that his future lay in baseball. That spring was the first time he ever focused just on baseball, and he began to emerge as a prospect. He had a strong summer in the Cape Cod League last year for Cotuit, then was San Diego’s leading hitter for most of this spring, further increasing his draft stock. The athletic 6-foot-1, 185-pounder doesn’t run better than average and has an uphill lefthanded swing path, which one scout compared to a cricket swing. However, Holder has shown a knack for the barrel this spring and makes consistent contact. He’s unlikely to make an impact offensively but should defensively, where scouts give him grades ranging from 55 to 70. He has an average-to-plus arm to go with excellent, instinctive actions and footwork. Holder has short-area quickness makes playing shortstop look easy and smooth. He’s earned comparisons to glove-first American shortstops of recent vintage from Walt Weiss and Gary DiSarcina to Brendan Ryan.
Selection: Chris Shaw, of/1b, Boston College
A good summer in the Cape Cod League can do wonders for a player’s draft stock. Shaw entered last summer as a known commodity, as he had already begun to tap into his elite offensive potential with a strong sophomore year at Boston College. On the Cape, Shaw showed off his most impressive tool, his plus-plus lefthanded power, leading the league with eight homers. Shaw home runs became legendary, with reports of 450-foot bombs to dead center. Still, Shaw entered the spring with significant question marks on how much his hit tool would allow his power to play. He started to answer those questions this spring, leading some evaluators to give him average grades for his bat. Shaw then broke his hamate bone in his right hand in April. He returned quickly and had yet to show the same power he had pre-injury. Defensively, Shaw plays right field for the Eagles, but many scouts project him to move to first base at the pro level. Shaw does have enough arm strength to handle left field, but the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder’s slow feet have scouts pessimistic about his ability to handle the outfield. The team who takes Shaw will likely be a team that was convicted about his bat prior to his hamate injury.
Selection: Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3b, Concordia Luthern HS, Tomball, Texas
In the summer after his sophomore season, Hayes looked like he was headed in the wrong direction. He was too big to stick at third base and he didn’t have the top-of-the-charts power teams look for from a righthanded-hitting prep first baseman. To his credit, Hayes put in a lot of work, dropped 20 pounds thanks in part to a lot of swimming, and made himself into a third-base prospect. Hayes’ father Charlie had a 14-year big league career as a third baseman. Ke’Bryan has a similar skillset as a third baseman with more hitting ability than power. He shows average raw power in batting practice, then gears his swing for line drives in games. Hayes makes some spectacular plays at third base, especially coming in on the ball, and he has excellent hands. But he will have to be very careful to stay on top of his body as he’s already range limited; a move to first base would significantly increase the demands on his bat. Hayes has also improved his arm significantly over the past year to where it’s above-average at times. He’s a below-average runner but it’s no longer a significant impediment now that he’s lost some weight. Hayes’ feel for the game and excellent work ethic makes him one of the safer high school position players in this class and the Tennessee recruit is considered signable.
Selection: Nolan Watson, rhp, Lawrence North HS, Indianapolis
Watson was impressive but not overwhelming when scouts and recruiters saw him last summer, but he’s taken a significant step forward this spring. He largely sat at 85-88 mph during his junior season and bumped that up to sit in the upper 80s last summer in showcases. This spring he’s generally been sitting 90-93 mph with his fastball, touching 96 at his best. He also features a promising low-80s slider and has shown some feel for his developing changeup. His delivery shows no obvious red flags and he’s generally around the strike zone. If Watson’s stuff had remained at the level he showed last summer, he would likely have been the type of pitcher who heads off to school (Vanderbilt in his case), gets stronger and rockets up draft boards in three years after his stuff sharpens. But Watson’s big step forward has happened much more quickly to where he’s gone from a projectable righthander with an excellent frame (6-foot-3, 195 pounds) to having present stuff. Now he may go early enough in the draft to consider forgoing his college commitment.
Selection: Christin Stewart, of, Tennessee
Stewart had a prolific career at Providence Christian Academy (Lawrenceville, Ga.), where he set the state’s single-season home run record (26) as a junior and equaled the career home run record held by Micah Owings (69). Despite those feats, he went undrafted out of high school. He’s built a strong track record at Tennessee and added to it last summer, when he was the top offensive performer for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He hit .383/.474/.605 (leading the team in all three categories) with 12 doubles and two home runs in 25 games. Listed at 6-foot, 205 pounds, Stewart has a physical frame and produces above-average bat speed. That, combined with the natural leverage in his swing, translates into plus raw power. His swing gets long at times and he’s an aggressive hitter, a combination that leads to few walks and some swing-and-miss. Some scouts aren’t sure if Stewart has a true defensive home. He has below-average speed and arm strength, limiting him to left if he does stay in the outfield. No matter where he plays defensively, the main attraction will be his bat. He’ll need to prove his power will continue play at the next level, but that’s a familiar position for Stewart.
Selection: Kyle Funkhouser, rhp, Louisville
Barring something completely unexpected, Funkhouser will become the first Louisville player to be taken in the first round of the MLB draft. Trystan Manguson’s supplemental first-round selection in 2007 is currently the school’s top draftee. Funkhouser has a lengthy track record, including being the ace of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last summer, and has proven very durable. Thickly built at 6-foot-2, 235 pounds, Funkouser had made every start over the past two seasons and averages 111 pitches a start this season, having topped 100 pitches in 11 of his first 13 starts. Funkhouser’s control is well below-average for a first-round college arm. He’s improved his control as a junior, but his 3.7 walks per nine innings is a high number. Part of Funkhouser’s control issues come from the life of his fastball; sometimes it simply leaks out of the zone thanks to its excellent run. Funkhouser’s two-seam fastball is a potentially plus pitch. He pitches at 91-94 mph down in the zone with a two-seamer with plenty of bore and he gets excellent extension. He can elevate with a four-seamer that touches 96-97 mph when he needs it but it’s a truer pitch that’s easier to hit. The rest of Funkhouser’s assortment is solid. His slider shows flashes of developing into a plus pitch as he can throw it for strikes or bury it and he has shown a feel for using it to backdoor righthanded hitters. His curveball is more of a get-over pitch. He uses his changeup infrequently but it has a shown average potential. Funkhouser has a solid chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter who keeps the ball in the park. His stuff would seem to indicate that he has a higher ceiling, but so far he’s yet to show the command to unlock that potential consistently.
Selection: Ryan Mountcastle, ss, Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla.
Scouts coming into the Orlando area to see Brendan Rodgers don’t have to travel far to see another top high school infielder on the same trip. Mountcastle plays about 20 miles away from Rodgers and, while he doesn’t have the massive upside of the class’ top player, he is a solid prospect in his own right. Mountcastle stands out most for his hitting ability. His tremendous bat speed leads to elite exit velocity when he squares balls up, giving him above-average power. He has a loose swing and does a good job of making adjustments to make consistent contact. Defensively, Mountcastle isn’t as advanced. He plays shortstop in high school, but won’t stay there at the next level, whether that’s the minor leagues or Central Florida, where he’s committed for college. He’s played some third base in the past, but his below-average arm strength makes left field a more likely landing spot.