Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Reds Draft Class: Initial Impressions

Well, time for my initial impressions of the Reds draft, but first a few notes of interest regarding my shadow picks.

First, former Baseball America, and current, writer Jim Callis released his annual 10-round shadow draft. He stepped into the shoes of the Colorado Rockies and drafted their first ten rounds. In the supplemental first round, he grabbed Forrest Wall, the player I wanted the Reds to grab at 19th overall. After that, he grabbed two players that I wanted the Reds to draft, as they were good upside plays in the later rounds. He grabbed prep OF Trenton Kemp in the 7th round and Stanford RHP A.J. Vanegas in the 9th round, so obviously he also thought they brought good value to the table.

Second, baseball writer (his book, "Saving the Pitcher" is quite good) and injury expert Will Carroll, who is contractually precluded from offering opinions on draft-eligible players until after the draft, tweeted this nugget when RHP Joe Gatto signed with the Angels:

I watched a lot of video on the pitching prospects in the top 100 who would reasonably be available at 19th overall and Joe Gatto is the one who really stood out to me, too. His pitching mechanics were my favorite in the draft class and when you add in his strong arsenal it was easy for me to slot Joe Gatto into the 29th overall pick on my shadow draft. There's certainly more to pitching than mechanics and stuff, and Gatto certainly needs to improve his command, but there's a lot to like with Gatto.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my shadow draft, as I would have reeled in Forrest Wall (1.19), Joe Gatto (1.29), Carson Sands (2.58), Trenton Kemp (middle round), and A.J. Vanegas (middle round). I would have much preferred to land RHP Scott Blewett in round 2 instead of Carson Sands, but the Royals snatched him up two picks before we drafted in round 2. Forrest Wall, Joe Gatto, and Scott Blewett would have, in my view, been a real nice haul for my Shadow Draft Reds. Still, I managed to snatch up pretty good value in my shadow draft. I could very easily be wrong, but it seems like a few pundits also saw value where I was seeing it.

As for the Reds ACTUAL haul, here are my initial, off-the-cuff thoughts on some of their top picks:

rhp Nick Howard -- Two data points are a coincidence, three data points are a trend. This picks reveals that the Reds are now actively seeking out college relievers who they can convert into starting pitchers. They have done it previously with Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen, but this time feels a bit different.

The Reds drafted Tony Cingrani in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. They drafted Michael Lorenzen in the supplemental first round of the 2013 draft.

To me, picking Nick Howard 19th overall(!) feels like a reach. The earlier in the draft you select a player, the greater the opportunity cost of doing so. And, there's undoubtedly an additional measure of risk in drafting a player and immediately shifting his role. Howard has shown plus stuff pitching out of the bullpen, but how will that stuff play when he's pitching in the rotation every fifth day? It's difficult to know. It seems odd to me that they couldn't find a single player with the 19th overall pick whose value doesn't depend on an immediate change in roles.

It makes sense, in the later rounds, to draft college relievers who you think can be successfully converted into starting pitchers. There's value in that. You are spotting undervalued talent that others aren't seeing and grabbing it when the opportunity cost is lower; when you aren't passing up top-tier talent to acquire it.

Does it still make sense with the 19th overall pick? Or, is there a bit of hubris creeping into this pick? Is the organization starting to gain so much confidence in its ability to spot undervalued talent that it's now overvaluing it?

Based on the recent past, the organization has earned the benefit of the doubt here, as they have proven that they have a good eye for this type of conversion-talent, but this still has the feel of an overdraft to me.

3b Alex Blandino -- Oddly enough, I prefer the second player the Reds selected to the first.

Blandino played third base for the Stanford Cardinal. He is a good athlete and may have the ability to slide over to second base at the professional level. Such a move would immediately improve his value. That said, his calling card is going to be his hitting.

Blandino has loose, easy swing with very active and effective hands. He controls the strike zone well and makes consistent, hard contact. He has the potential for a plus hit tool, which could make him an impact player if he can pair it with good on-base ability and/or good power production.

Overall, the Blandino pick looks like a strong one for the Reds.

3b Taylor Sparks -- Taylor Sparks plays third base for UC Irvine and is still playing in the College World Series. He seems to bring better tools and greater athleticism to the table than Alex Blandino. At the same time, he seems to have less feel and fewer baseball skills than Blandino.

Sparks moves well in the field and has a strong arm. There's more risk in Sparks' game than Blandino's because (1) there's a lot of swing-and-miss in Sparks's hitting and (2) he doesn't control the strike zone very well.

Sparks could be an impact talent if he can increase his contact rate, if he can't then there's real flame-out risk.

rhp Wyatt Strahan -- Strahan was the Friday night starter for USC this year. He features a mid-90s fastball with good sink, a hard curveball that may be his out pitch, and a changeup with a bit of sink. He has clean, functional mechanics that could be more efficient. He stands pretty upright, uses a shorter stride, and has quick tempo. There is a wide spread of career outcomes for Strahan, with some speculating that he might end up in the bullpen. But, he's a solid college pitcher who could surprise if he makes some improvements in the professional ranks.

3b Gavin LaValley -- LaValley is a big guy. You don't hear this very often about a baseball player, but he played center on his high school football team. He tips the scales at 235 lbs and that's after losing 20-30 lbs prior to his senior season. On the plus side, LaValley has very, very good bat speed and tremendous raw power, which should be sufficient even if he's relegated to first base on the defensive spectrum. He's an intriguing bat-first prospect and looks like good value in round 4.

3b Montrell Marshall -- Currently, Marshall is notable largely for being Brandon Phillips' cousin, but he has the type of athleticism and makeup that could soon make him notable in his own right. On the downside, Marshall stands 6-5, leaving him with a lot of strike zone to cover and real risk in his contact rate. On the plus side, he has solid upside because of his raw tools.  

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Reds draft makes some sense. As per usual, they zig when I expect them to zag. And, again, as per usual, what they did makes some sense with the benefit of hindsight.

The Reds went college heavy in a draft that was stronger in prep prospects. However, that does make some sense, as the Reds really need certainty. They have had a number of prospects in their farm system regress, so they really did need some probability draft choices. Players likely to pan out. In addition, the farm system is a bit bare at the upper levels, so focusing on college players not only increases the probability, even at the expense of some upside, but also shortens the development curve. So, they can restock the upper levels of the minors a bit faster by bringing in college players.

While the Howard pick feels like a reach, I like the Blandino pick a lot. And, after the first round, they added a nice blend of probability and upside talent. The Reds have done a very nice job in the draft over the past decade and rarely miss on a first round pick. The organization has given us little reason to expect that to change with this draft class.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Final 2014 Reds Draft List

Here's the final list of the Reds' 2014 draft picks, courtesy of ESPN:

19. Cincinnati, Nick Howard, RHP, Virginia

29. Cincinnati, Alex Blandino, 3B, Stanford

58. Cincinnati, Taylor Sparks, 3B, UC Irvine

94. Cincinnati, Wyatt Strahan, RHP, Southern California

125. Cincinnati, Gavin LaValley, 3B, Carl Albert HS, Choctaw, Okla.

155. Cincinnati, Tejay Antone, RHP, Weatherford College

185. Cincinnati, Jose Lopez, RHP, Seton Hall

215. Cincinnati, Shane Mardirosian, 2B, Martin Luther King HS, Riverside, Calif.

245. Cincinnati, Brian O'Grady, 1B, Rutgers

275. Cincinnati, Brian Hunter, RHP, Hartford

305. Cincinnati, Seth Varner, LHP, Miami (Ohio)

335. Cincinnati, Mitch Trees, C, Sacred Heart Griffin HS, Springfield, Ill.

365. Cincinnati, Montrell Marshall, 3B, South Gwinnett HS, Snellville, Ga.

395. Cincinnati, Zachary Correll, RHP, Joseph Case HS, Swansea, Mass.

425. Cincinnati, Jacob Ehret, RHP, UCLA.

455. Cincinnati, Jimmy Pickens, RF, Michigan State

485. Cincinnati, Garrett Boulware, C, Clemson

515. Cincinnati, Jacob Moody, LHP, Memphis

545. Cincinnati, Roderick Bynum, CF, Monroe Catholic HS, Fairbanks, Alaska

575. Cincinnati, Isaac Anderson, RHP, Southern Idaho

605. Cincinnati, Conor Krauss, RHP, Seton Hall.

635. Cincinnati, Tyler Parmenter, RHP, Arizona.

665. Cincinnati, Robert Byckowski, 3B, Blyth Academy, Toronto.

695. Cincinnati, Ty Sterner, LHP, Rhode Island.

725. Cincinnati, Shane Crouse, RHP, Lake Sumter CC.

755. Cincinnati, Paul Kronenfeld, 1B, Catawba.

785. Cincinnati, Brennan Bernardino, LHP, CS Dominguez Hills.

815. Cincinnati, Jake Paulson, RHP, Oakland.

845. Cincinnati, Dustin Cook, RHP, San Jacinto College North.

875. Cincinnati, Michael Sullivan, LHP, Gloucester County College.

905. Cincinnati, Josciel Veras, SS, Cumberland.

935. Cincinnati, Joshua Palacios, CF, San Jacinto College North.

965. Cincinnati, Dalton Viner, RHP, San Jacinto College North.

995. Cincinnati, Jose Lopez, C, King HS, Tampa, Fla.

1025. Cincinnati, Keenan Kish, RHP, Florida.

1055. Cincinnati, Brandon Vicens, CF, American Heritage School, Miami Lakes, Fla.

1085. Cincinnati, Logan Browning, LHP, Lakeland (Fla.) Christian School.

1115. Cincinnati, Walker Whitworth, 2B, Ada (OKla.) HS.

1145. Cincinnati, Bo Tucker, LHP, Rome (Ga.) HS.

1175. Cincinnati, Seth Roadcap, C, Capital HS, Elkview, W.Va.

1205. Cincinnati, Michael Mediavilla, LHP, Mater Academy Charter School, Hialeah, Fla.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

"With the 19th and 29th picks In the 2014 draft, the Reds *should* draft...."

....2b Forrest Wall and rhp Joe Gatto. 

Well, in actuality, my draft board hierarchy goes something like this:

First two picks
Michael Conforto, of
Forrest Wall, 2b
Tyler Beede, rhp
Joe Gatto, rhp
Scott Blewett, rhp

2nd Round and Later
Matt Chapman, 3b
Jack Flaherty, rhp
Carson Sands, lhp
Trenton Kemp, of
Jace Fry, lhp
A.J. Vanegas, rhp

There's about a 1% chance that Conforto slips to 19th, still if that happens I want him in Cincinnati, so I've listed him here. Similar story on Beede, I like what he brings to the table, but he's unlikely to slip to the Reds at 19. Even if Beede is available, the draft is so deep in pitching that I'd rather see the Reds grab Forrest Wall.

Second baseman Forrest Wall is the right choice at the 19th pick. He has 65/70 speed and a 60 hit tool on the 20-80 scouting scale. The Reds need everything, but adding in another pure hitter to go along with Jesse Winker and another burner to go with Billy Hamilton might be ideal. If he develops as expected, and his shoulder regains sufficient strength, then he could be the future replacement for Brandon Phillips at second and the ideal second spot hitter between Hamilton and Joey Votto.

I've learned not to gamble on questionable hit tools in the first round, so here I'm gambling on a plus hit tool. A hitter who patterns his swing mechanics on Robbie Cano, has been compared by an AL scout to Chase Utley, and trained under the tutelage of Dante Bichette.

If I was a hitting coach, then I'd never teach anyone the swing mechanics that Wall uses, but they obviously work for both Cano and Wall, who declares himself a "rhythmic hitter". There is a great deal of movement to his swing, but he makes consistently hard contact and has a real ability to get the barrel of the bat on the ball. Further, there's some power projection to his game, which hasn't shown up very often in games, but he shows the power in batting practice.

There's real risk in Wall's shoulder problem, but it's risk that can be managed if the bat develops as expected. Develop the bat, figure out the shoulder as we go.

As for the 29th pick, I'm definitely hoping for RHP Joe Gatto. His mechanics, physical stature, arsenal of pitches, and projection remaining to his game make him the choice for me. After watching a lot of video of pitchers in this draft class, Gatto's stuff was among the most electric. His heavy, moving fastball and sharp, biting curve have the potential to be true plus offerings and establish a very high performance level for Gatto. It'll all come down to control and command for Gatto, which is no small concern, but there is a great deal to like.

If things break right, then I'm hoping that the Reds can grab two of Conforto, Wall, Beede, Gatto, and Blewett with their 19th and 29th picks. That would be a nice outcome.

Realistically, I'm hoping the Reds can grab Forrest Wall at 19 and Joe Gatto at 29. If Wall is off the board at 19, then I'd be content with Gatto and prep RHP Scott Blewett. Those are two high upside righthanded prep pitchers who would immediately add depth and upside to the system.

In round 2, I'd give real consideration to Cal State Fullerton 3b Matt Chapman and any of the pitchers listed above still remaining on the board.

Anyway, that's about all the news that's fit to print. So, it's almost draft time, go Reds go!

2014 MLB Draft, Players of Interest: Joe Gatto and Jack Flaherty

Joe Gatto
St. Augustine Prep High School, NJ
HT: 6-5 WT: 215
Position: RHP
B/T: R/R

I looked at a lot of the pitchers in the top 100 prospects likely to be available when the Reds picks roll around and Gatto seemed like the most electric.

His fastball is heavy, getting on hitters quickly from a largely over-the-top type arm slot, with velocity (90-93 mph and touching 95), downward plane, deception, and very good movement (sinking and tailing). Fastball effectiveness is a function of velocity, movement, downward plane, and command; Gatto already ticks three of those boxes. In addition to the heavy fastball, Gatto really spins a 12-to-6 curveball with good bite and depth. The curveball is inconsistent and needs to be better located, but it definitely flashes plus potential.  

In addition to very good stuff, Gatto also has impressive mechanics and a clean arm action. He does a nice job of incorporating his lower half into the delivery through a high leg kick, an aggressive stride, strong hip rotation, and delayed shoulder rotation. His arm action is also clean, maintaining good position relative to the shoulder and getting good extension out in front on release.

Here's a look at Gatto in action, courtesy of Big League Futures on YouTube:

Overall, Gatto is an exciting pitching prospect, one who flashes a dominating fastball that doesn't depend solely on velocity for its effectiveness. And, of course, he's likely to add velocity as he continues to fill out his frame.

The big question on Gatto is the command and whether he'll be able to locate his pitches where he wants. As of now, his command/control is a bit rough, but if he continues to develop the command, then he could be a top of the rotation arm. He's become one of my favorite arms in the draft class.

Jack Flaherty
Harvard Westlake High School, CA
HT: 6-3 WT: 190
Position: RHP
B/T: R/R

Jack Flaherty is a two-way player with a commitment to the University of North Carolina. He pitches, he plays third base. As of now, scouts prefer him as a starting pitcher.

He features a four-pitch mix, including a fastball that sits 88-92, a changeup with plus potential, a 78-80 mph slider with swing-and-miss potential, and a "get me over" curveball. He has a good feel for pitching and for each of his pitches. His command and control are above average for his age and experience level.

Flaherty is a name with a lot of buzz surrounding it heading into the draft, as a number of teams believe he has a good deal of projection to his game and a high likelihood of reaching it. It remains to be seen whether teams are willing to burn a first round pick on him, but a lot of teams are hoping he slips into round two.

As for pitching mechanics, Flaherty's are clean and functional. He throws the fastball from a three-quarter arm slot, but that arm slot occasionally gets higher when he throws his breaking pitches. That inconsistency will need to be ironed to avoid tipping off more advanced hitters. His arm action is clean, but he does throw with a bit of effort.

He incorporates his lower body into the delivery, but there is room for improved efficiency. And, his stride foot lands in a slightly closed off position, which results in him throwing slightly across his body and falling off to the first base side.

Overall, Flaherty has a solid foundation on which to develop a pitcher. His repertoire is solid with room for real improvement and his mechanics are clean and functional. It's not surprising that a lot of teams want a crack at drafting and developing him.

Here's Flaherty on the bump, courtesy of MaxPreps High School Sports on YouTube:

Flaherty has to be on the Reds short list, if not with their first pick, then with their second pick. There's a lot of projection to his game and seems like a reasonable chance that he attains some of it.

2014 Draft, Players of Interest: Carson Sands and Scott Blewett

Carson Sands
North Florida Christian High School, FLA
HT: 6-3 WT: 205
Position: LHP
B/T: L/L

Carson Sands stands 6-3 and uses good mechanics with a clean arm action.

His fastball sits 90-92 and he commands it well to both sides of the strike zone. His changeup is solid average and has good movement. His curveball is inconsistent, but has improved over the last year and shows flashes of being an above average pitch.

Scouts feel like Sands might be maxed out, leaving him with minimal projection to his game. He has a good feel for all three pitches and can throw them all for strikes. If the draft doesn't fall to his liking, then he has committed to Florida State and could go the college route.

Here's a look at Sands in action, courtesy of Baseball Factory on YouTube:

Overall, Sands has clean and efficient mechanics and throws with minimal effort. His elbow maintains good position relative to the shoulder. He gets respectable differential between his hip rotation and shoulder rotation. though he could benefit from a delayed shoulder rotation and better incorporation of the lower half. He maintains good balance, due to good body control and tempo, throughout his delivery. Overall, his mechanics and lower effort level should reduce his injury risk.

Sands has a good feel for pitching and gets good marks for his makeup. He might be more "high floor" than "high ceiling", but if he refines his offspeed offerings or finds another gear on the fastball, then he could emerge as more than a mid/back of the rotation option.

Still, a southpaw with clean, efficient mechanics and good feel for three average-to-above average pitches has legitimate value.

Scott Blewett
Baker High School, N.Y.
HT: 6-6 WT: 235
Position: RHP
B/T: R/R

Scott Blewett is a cold weather pitching prospect who has a good deal of helium heading into the draft as more and more scouts get a look at him. He's one of the youngest pitchers in the draft class, which matters less for pitchers than for position players, as pitcher development is less linear, but it still bears mentioning.

Blewett is a tall, lanky, loose-limbed righthanded power pitcher. His height allows him to throw on a steep downward plane and release the ball closer to the hitter than shorter pitchers, which helps his 91-94 mph fastball play up. He also features a nice, tight breaking curveball that flashes plus and doesn't have the big waterballoon type hump to it, but remains inconsistent. And, like most high school pitchers, he has a show-me changeup for his third pitch that he hasn't used much and needs a good deal of work.

Blewett is a former hockey player who has good athleticism and coordination for a pitcher his size. That coordination gives him a bit more polish than one might expect from a prospect of his size and experience. 

Here's a look at Blewett in action, courtesy of Big League Futures on YouTube:

Blewett's size and stuff are intriguing, but the first thing I'd do upon drafting him is to extend the length of his stride. As of now, he's using a short stride that sees him almost walking towards homeplate on his follow-through, which doesn't maximizing the value of his height. The short stride prevents him from maximizing the generation of force from his lower half, as he's less aggressive driving to the plate and limited in his ability to get a full and complete rotation of the hips. So, I'd try to refine his lower half to increase his efficiency and allow him to generate the force with less effort.

That said, his overall mechanics are smooth and his arm action is clean. As a cold weather pitcher, he hasn't thrown a ton of innings, so he's probably a bit raw with a bit less wear and tear on his arm. There is a lot to currently like with Blewett and he has a great deal of projection to his game. As he continues to physically mature, he could add more and/or easier velocity to his fastball.

If things break right, Blewett could be an impact MLB pitcher. Blewett is high on my list. 

2014 Draft, Players of Note: Michael Conforto and Tyler Beede

Here are two players that I like, but who are likely to be off the board by the time the Reds draft, so we'll just take a quick spin.

Michael Conforto
Oregon State University
HT: 6-2 WT: 217
Position: OF
B/T: L/R

Conforto is one the best college bats in the draft class. He has a good hit tool, plus power, and a good disciplined approach. His offensive profile is one of power and patience, qualities were are both very much in vogue in Major League Baseball these days. Conforto has been rumored to go as high as the Cubs with the fourth overall pick.

On the season, Conforto rocked a ~.518 OBP and ~.578 SLG for the Beavers. Here's a look at him in action, courtesy rkyosh007 on YouTube:

Conforto uses a big uppercut swing with good balance that probably won't result in high batting averages, but should produce lots of walks and lots of home runs. As pitching velocity increases and strikeouts continue to dominate the major league game, good hitting is becoming more and more valuable. Good pitching is more abundant; good hitting is more scarce.

In college, Conforto faced a type of defensive shift that I've never seen before. When OSU was facing UC Irvine, the defense shifted the 3rd baseman to the outfield when Conforto hit, resulting in 3 infielders and 4 outfielders. Not sure if that is a compliment to his extra base hit ability or a knock on his ability to hit hard line drives to all fields. Regardless, it's interesting.

Conforto would be a great option for the Reds at 19, but is very, very unlikely to slide that far.

Tyler Beede
Vanderbilt University
HT: 6-4 WT: 215
Position: SP
B/T: R/R

I wanted the Reds to draft Tyler Beede coming out of high school, but the Blue Jays selected him before the Reds could even get a shot at him. In some ways, he's better than he was back then, having added velocity to the fastball and tighten his breaking ball. In other ways, he's not. The shaky command/control remains a real problem for Beede. He occasionally dominates the opposition by locating his plus arsenal exactly where he wants it; at other times he can't consistently find the strike zone. If he can't find functional command/control at one of the top pitching programs in college baseball, then is it likely that you'll find it in the professional ranks? Add in rumored concerns over possible wear-and-tear in his pitching shoulder and it's difficult to know exactly what to expect from Beede.

There is still a lot ot like with Beede. His stuff is top notch with all three pitches (fastball, changeup, curveball) all plus or with plus potential. His mechanics are clean, though not as efficient as they could be, lacking good differential between hip rotation and shoulder rotation. A better incorporation of the lower body into the motion would reduce stress on the arm and lead to possible improvements in velocity and command.

Still, if he's on the board, then I'd still like the Reds to grab him, but there are a few mystifying issues at work here.

Here's a look at Beede in action, courtesy of Big League Futures on YouTube:

2014 Draft, Player of Interest: Forrest Wall, 2b/OF

Forrest Wall
Orangewood Christian High School
Position: 2b/of
B/T: L/R
HT: 6-1 WT: 180
DOB: 11/20/1995

Some view Forrest Wall as having the best hit tool in the entire draft. The question mark on Wall is the health of his shoulder. If that question didn't exist, Wall would likely be rated much higher by pundits.

Wall patterns his hitting after Robinson Cano and it shows in his swing mechanics. Wall uses a lot of movement in his setup and swing, describing himself as a "rhythm hitter". He uses a double pump with his hands during his load, which is what Cano does, and has incorporated that as a timing mechanism.

Here's a look at Wall in action, courtesy of Baseball Instinct on YouTube:

Wall is a baseball rat who has drawn comparisons to Chase Utley and who hits daily at a hitting facility founded by Dante Bichette. Wall has spent a lot of time hitting with Bichette and his son, who helped mold his swing and approach at the plate. Wall is very comfortable using the entire field and has shown very good pitch recognition skills. He loves to swing the bat, but he has shown the ability to take disciplined ABs and work the count to gain count-leverage.

To date, Wall's power hasn't fully translated to games, but he does show the ability in batting practice to drive the ball out of the ballpark and he did out-homer MLB slugger Jose Bautista in a charity home run derby (for whatever that's worth). So, there is some power projection left to his game.

Wall's true prospect value is an ongoing debate due to the injuries he has suffered. Wall suffered a separated left (non-throwing) shoulder in March 2014, but that was minor, especially compared to the torn labrum injury he suffered in 2011 to his right (throwing) shoulder. Wall's arm strength still hasn't returned to its pre-injury strength, which is why he's been limited to second base.

Wall is a very good athlete with plus-plus speed, so if his arm strength were to return he would still be playing shortstop and might be able to stick there in the professional ranks.

In the MLB draft second baseman are rarely drafted highly and frequently not at all. Not surprisingly, (1) amateur teams typically slot their best athletes at shortstop and (2) MLB teams focus on drafting shortstops who can shift over to second base if they can't handle shortstop as they climb the ladder. So, few second basemen get drafted.

Wall is an exception and that is a credit to his plus hit tool and diverse skill set. If the shoulder returns to full strength, then Wall could be the steal of the draft. Even if it doesn't, just so long as the arm strength is sufficient to hold down second base, centerfield, or leftfield, the bat and speed could make him an impact type talent.

Wall is a pure hitter with very good speed, profiling him as a top of the lineup tablesetter who could drop down to the middle of the lineup if his power develops.

It's difficult to find pure hitters. I learned long ago that it's not wise to gamble on questionable hit tools in the first round. The opposite probably applies here, as despite his shoulder issue it would be a very reasonable gamble for the Reds to wager on Wall's plus hit tool.

2014 Draft, Player of Interest: Jace Fry, lhp

Jace Fry, LHP
Oregon State University
DOB: 7/9/1993
HT: 6-1 WT: 195
B/T: L/L

Jace Fry is a polished southpaw who had good success in one of the top conferences in the collegiate game.

Fry works with a fastball, curveball, and changeup mix. His fastball sits 89-91 with good tail and sink. Fry can shape the curveball in different ways to give the hitters different looks. And, his changeup often has good sink.

Fry doesn't have stuff that will blow you away, but his pitching IQ and good control makes his average arsenal play up. He earned Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year honors with his performance in 2014.

In addition, Fry has solid mechanics. His elbow maintains good position relative to his elbow, he gets respectable differential between his hip rotation and shoulder rotation, takes a good stride length, and finishes in a balanced position.

Here's a look at Fry in action, courtesy of Kendall Rogers on YouTube:

All that said, there is a big red flag (at least for me) with Jace Fry. Fry has already undergone one Tommy John surgery. He had the surgery back in 2012 and came back with no ill effects, but in light of studies that have found that (1) a pitcher who had one TJ surgery will need another within 7 years and (2) that practically no amateur pitchers who have undergone TJ surgery have gone on to pitch as a starting pitcher at the MLB level and the risk with these TJ survivors is just too high.

So, for me, the opportunity cost that comes with selecting these guys is just too high in the early rounds. So, I wouldn't consider either Jeff Hoffman or Erik Fedde in the first round, but many teams are. Tommy John surgery is a traumatic injury and a clear indication that there are mechanical issues, workload issues, or both that need to be addressed and managed. There is a point in the draft where I would be comfortable starting to draft these guys, but it definitely wouldn't be in the first two rounds and likely not until the fourth round.

When the fourth round rolls around, I would probably be comfortable selecting a TJ guy, but prior to that I'd rather go with pitchers who don't have the telltale zipper on their elbow.

Fry is an interesting pitcher and he's the type you draft in hopes of improvement in velocity or breaking ball upon joining the professional ranks that takes him from "interesting" to "impact."

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 Draft, Player of Interest: Trenton Kemp, OF

Trenton Kemp, OF
Buchanan High School
DOB: 9/30/1995
HT: 6-2 WT: 190
B/T: R/R

In addition to professional hitters, another area where the Reds farm system is thin is pure athleticism. Buchanan High School outfielder Trenton Kemp provides that in spades.

Kemp attends Buchanan High School in Clovis, California. He lost a year and half of development time as he stopped playing baseball to focus on football. He spent that time working out to improve his speed, vertical leap, strength, and explosiveness to increase his chances of being offered a college football scholarship.

In that effort, he attended the U.S. Army National Football Combine where he posted the highest vertical, 37.5 inches, of all 537 participants. He ran the 40-yard dash in an unofficial 4.48 seconds, which was good for 97th percentile at the event. And, he flashed agility and quickness in posting a shuttle-run time that landed him in the 94th percentile at the event.

Not only can he run really fast and jump really high, but he's tremendously strong. At the event, he benched 185 pounds 23 times, which was the most of any player weighing less than 205.

Ultimately, he decided to return to baseball where his new freakish athleticism gives him very good upside. After returning to baseball and settling back into a hitting routine, the feel for the game started to return. He showed enough early in his junior season to receive a baseball scholarship offer to Fresno State. He committed to his hometown school and there's where he'll end up unless the MLB draft alters his plans.

It goes without saying that Kemp is a workout warrior (one with only 6% body fat who doesn't eat fast food or drink soda) who will never have trouble staying in tip top physical shape. That speaks to his dedication and commitment to improvement. It's very clear that he has very good physical strength, but the question is how effectively he can translate that strength and athleticism into baseball production.

Here's a look at how Kemp attempts to do just that, courtesy of Big League Futures on YouTube:

And, a slow-motion look at his swing mechanics:

Kemp uses a shoulder-width stance and takes a low stride forward to transfer his weight. He maintains good balance throughout the swing and gets good extension despite a relatively compact swing. One possible area of concern is that he loads his hands so deep that he risks falling into an arm-bar position with his left arm. The arm-bar would add length to his swing and make it difficult to handle and turn on pitches on the inner half. In addition, Kemp's swing path is somewhat flat, oriented more towards line drives than fly balls, which could impede his efforts to carry his power into games.

Kemp's compact swing makes him an intriguing prospect when paired with his power potential. Even if the power doesn't develop, his speed could be a real weapon if paired with a good hit tool. His athleticism gives him a lot of potential avenues to value.

On defense, Kemp has the speed to stick in center and while his arm strength hasn't been the greatest, he has adopted a long-toss program to strengthen it. His skill set should allow him to hold down a premier defensive position, which only serves to increase his value.

Ultimately, Kemp is highly athletic and relatively raw. That gives him a wider spread of career outcomes than most, as his ceiling is higher and his floor lower. The lost development time due to the football flirtation will put him behind the development curve, but he has the tools needed to catch up in a hurry. What he needs most is more ABs and to see more and more pitches.

Kemp is a boom or bust type prospect, but one who is intriguing outside of the first couple of rounds of the draft where the opportunity cost is lower and a gamble on pure athleticism and an underwhelming present hit-tool is more palatable.

The Reds could use more athleticism and electricity in the system and Kemp would bring an intriguing package of tools and a high ceiling to the system. 

2014 Draft, Player of Interest: Matt Chapman, 3b

Matt Chapman, 3b
Cal State Fullerton
HT: 6-2 WT: 215
DOB: 4/28/1993 (21)
B/T: R/R

The Reds have needs in every area of the farm system, but one asset they never seem to have enough of is professional hitters. As of late, the MLB team seem to give away far too many ABs. They never seem to have enough hitters who can grind ABs to gain count-leverage, rather than just flail away at whatever a pitcher flings up there.

Perhaps more than any attribute, a disciplined approach has to be drafted, rather than developed. Minor league hitters can make incremental improvements in approach, but, by and large, a hitter's approach is unchangeable.

That said, placing a slighter greater emphasis on drafting hitters who utilize a disciplined approach might be a wise move for the organization.

All of that leads us to Cal State Fullerton third baseman Matt Chapman. Chapman isn't in the top tier of draft-eligible prospects, Baseball America rates him as the 64th best draft prospect, but he offers up a nice blend of tools and skills.

Here is how he performed in his three years at Fullerton:

2012: .286/.340/.370 with 2 homers and a 29/12 K/BB ratio in 189 ABs
2013: .285/.415/.457 with 5 homers and a 29/34 K/BB ratio in 186 ABs
2014: .312/.412/.498 with 6 homers and a 26/27 K/BB ratio in 205 ABs

Chapman has been improving each season and is now showing a solid, though inconsistent, hit tool and the ability to control the strike zone. Chapman walks as much, if not more, than he whiffs, which speaks to strong plate discipline, pitch recognition, and contact ability. In addition, his power has been trending upwards. Overall, he provided a solid baseline of performance in his collegiate career, but he needs to continue to refine his hit tool to make hard contact more consistently.

Chapman's best tool is undoubtedly his arm, as, despite not pitching during his collegiate career, he has cranked his fastball up to 98 mph. Obviously, that arm strength will increase the number of plays he can convert into outs at the hot corner, but it might also make pitching a fallback option if he doesn't develop as a position player. It certainly worked for the A's and Sean Doolittle, so it might be a way to mitigate development risk.

In addition to his arm strength, Chapman is a good overall defender. First, he is technically sound, as evidenced by the first few groundballs he takes at the hot corner in the below video (~ 0:20 mark). He is setting up to field the ball with his right foot in front and his left foot slightly behind, which opens up his body for the throw to second base. If you compare that technique to the technique he uses on groundballs (i.e. around the 5:05 mark) when he is throwing to home or first, then you can see that his feet get more square when he's coming home or to first. He obviously understands the nuances of the position and is willing to put in the work to master them.

Here's the video clip, which is great, courtesy of Moore Sports Media on YouTube:

In addition to his good technique, you can also see that Chapman moves well. He has good agility and footwork, which enables him to get his body into proper position to field the ball, which he does with soft hands and smooth fielding actions.

At the plate, Chapman uses a slightly wider than shoulder-width stance and a short stride to transfer his weight. His pre-pitch approach is quiet with a small bat waggle. As for the swing itself, he checks a lot of the boxes you want to see. He gets the back elbow in close to the back hip, fires the hips, and firms up the front side. So, there's a nice foundation there.

His swing does seem a bit stiff and at times feels top-hand heavy. That gives his swing a bit of "push" to it and occasionally looks like he's trying to muscle the ball with his upper body rather than let the core provide the power to whip the bat through the zone. And, the heavier use of the top hand also helps explain his more line-drive oriented swing. Finally, his bat speed seems more solid/average than plus. So, there is some risk to his hitting and his hit tool.

Here's a better look at Chapman at the plate in game action, courtesy of CollegeBaseballBlog on YouTube:

Overall, Chapman is an intriguing prospect who provides a nice blend of tools and skills, takes disciplined ABs, and provides plus defense at the hot corner. Further, scouts describe him as hard nosed with a blue-collar mentality, so he's likely to get the most out of his abilities.

The Reds have a lot of needs down on the farm, but Chapman would bolster the position player ranks and potentially provide a much needed homegrown "professional hitter". There is some risk in his hit tool, but it's probably manageable given that he's not coming off the board in the first round. Ultimately, his power production will probably determine whether he develops into a true impact hitter, but his diversified skill set could make him a valuable player even without much power. He's worth a look.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

2014 MLB Draft Order

First Round
1. Houston Astros
2. Miami Marlins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Minnesota Twins
6. Seattle Mariners
7. Philadelphia Phillies
8. Colorado Rockies
9. Toronto Blue Jays
10. New York Mets
11. Toronto Blue Jays
12. Milwaukee Brewers
13. San Diego Padres
14. San Franicsco Giants
15. Los Angeles Angels
16. Arizona Diamondbacks
17. Kansas City Royals
18. Washington Nationals
19. Cincinnati Reds
20. Tampa Bay Rays
21. Cleveland Indians
22. Los Angeles Dodgers
23. Detroit Tigers
24. Pittsburgh Pirates
25. Oakland Athletics
26. Boston Red Sox
27. St. Louis Cardinals

28. Kansas City Royals
29. Cincinnati Reds (compensation for Shin Soo Choo)
30. Texas Rangers
31. Cleveland Indians
32. Atlanta Braves
33. Boston Red Sox
34. St.Louis Cardinals

Supplemental First Round
35. Colorado Rockies
36. Florida Marlins
37. Houston Astros (from the Orioles)
38. Cleveland Indians
39. Pittsburgh Pirates (via trade with Miami Marlins)
40. Kansas City Royals
41. Milwaukee Brewers

Second Round
42. Houston Astros
43. Miami Marlins
44. Chicago White Sox
45. Chicago Cubs
46. Minnesota Twins
47. Philadelphia Phillies
48. Colorado Rockies
49. Toronto Blue Jays
50. Milwaukee Brewers
51. San Diego Padres
52. San Francisco Giants
53. Los Angeles Angels
54. Arizona Diamondbacks
55. New York Yankees
56. Kansas City Royals
57. Washington Nationals
58. Cincinnati Reds
59. Texas Rangers
60. Tampa Bay Rays
61. Cleveland Indians
62. Los Angeles Dodgers
63. Detroit Tigers
64. Pittsburgh Pirates
65. Oakland Athletics
66. Atlanta Braves
67. Boston Red Sox
68. St.Louis Cardinals

Supplemental Second Round
69. Arizona Diamondbacks
70. Arizona Diamondbacks
71. St.Louis Cardinals
72. Tampa Bay Rays
73. Pittsburgh Pirates
74. Seattle Mariners

Third Round
75. Houston Astros
76. Miami Marlins
77. Chicago White Sox
78. Chicago Cubs
79. Minnesota Twins
80. Seattle Mariners
81. Philadelphia Phillies
82. Colorado Rockies
83. Toronto Blue Jays
84. New York Mets
85. Milwaukee Brewers
86. San Diego Padres
87. San Francisco Giants
88. Los Angeles Angels
89. Arizona Diamondbacks
90. Baltimore Orioles
91. New York Yankees
92. Kansas City Royals
93. Washington Nationals
94. Cincinnati Reds
95. Texas Rangers
96. Tampa Bay Rays
97. Cleveland Indians
98. Los Angeles Dodgers
99. Detroit Tigers
100. Pittsburgh Pirates
101. Oakland Athletics
102. Atlanta Braves
103. Boston Red Sox
104. St.Louis Cardinals

Supplemental Third Round
105. Miami Marlins

Rounds 4-30
Houston Astros
Miami Marlins
Chicago White Sox
Chicago Cubs
Minnesota Twins
Seattle Mariners
Philadelphia Phillies
Colorado Rockies
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Mets
Milwaukee Brewers
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Los Angeles Angels
Arizona Diamondbacks
Baltimore Orioles
New York Yankees
Kansas City Royals
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Texas Rangers
Tampa Bay Rays
Cleveland Indians
Los Angeles Dodgers
Detroit Tigers
Pittsburgh Pirates
Oakland Athletics
Atlanta Braves
Boston Red Sox
St. Louis Cardinals

Actual Draft vs. "Shadow Draft": A Retrospective

One of the fun parts of the baseball offseason is that we get a break from the day-to-day grind of the season, which affords us some time to reflect, clean out the closet, and dust off old thoughts for re-examination. So, it's probably a good time to revisit my "shadow draft picks" of the past.

Starting in 2005, when draft time rolled around, I began to analyze the draft eligible prospects and determine which one I would select if I was in charge of the Reds draft. So, in short, these picks are what I would have done at the time of each draft, not what I would have done with the benefit of perfect hindsight. So, not surprisingly, there are both significant hits and misses, but the picks are what they are. No sense trying to sweep the bad ones under the rug, rather I've tried to learn from my missteps and use that experience in the future.

Of course, I didn't start this blog until 2007, so my draft thoughts existed only on message boards until the 2008 draft rolled around, but I'm including those early message board picks anyway for posterity sake. Besides, it makes the post that much more fun. Anyway, the Reds' picks are in red, while my picks are in orange. And, off we go.....

2005: Jay Bruce vs. Ricky Romero

This was the first time I really looked into the draft and picked out the player I wanted the Reds to select. Of course, those with a sharp eye and a keen memory will recall that Ricky Romero was selected 6th by the Blue Jays, while the Reds didn't select Jay Bruce until their 12th overall pick rolled around. So, in my first effort, there were clearly a few kinks to be worked out, as I selected a player the Reds couldn't possibly have drafted. In future go-arounds, I only selected a player that was actually available to the Reds with their first pick, but I'm including this one anyway.

The 2005 draft was an epic one, filled with potential impact talent from the top of the first round all the way down to the bottom. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting at least a couple of legitimate first round prospects. But, my pick, until just recently, was one of the few flame-outs in the first round.

I followed Ricky Romero at Cal State Fullerton and loved his bulldog mentality and offspeed offerings. He had a nice curveball and a quality changeup. He also had a good understanding of how to pitch. He was the guy I wanted the perennially pitching-starved Reds to land. Of course, Romero was already off the board by the time the Reds went in another direction. And, that's probably a good thing, as even with Romero's recent breakthrough at the MLB level, I have a hard time arguing with the Reds' choice of Jay Bruce, who seems a quality player on the field and a quality person off of it.

Romero is becoming the pitcher I thought he could be, but Bruce has the potential to be a superstar talent.

2006: Drew Stubbs vs. Tim Lincecum

In the 2006 draft class, there was only one player I wanted the Reds to land and I flooded the ESPN Reds message board saying just that. Unfortunately, the Reds evidently didn't read it, as that was one time where I was actually right.

For me, despite his short stature, Tim Lincecum was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball and the best offspeed pitch among all the draft eligible college pitchers. Additionally, he struck out everybody at the University of Washington, posting strike out rates of 12.9, 11.3, and 14.3 respectively in his three years there. He was clearly the most electric pitcher in the draft and had a massive upside.

There were two main knocks against Lincecum heading into that draft: his mechanics and his height. Personally, I've always loved his mechanics. They're complicated, but he throws with his body better than the vast majority of pitchers. And, as for height, I hate the scouting bias against short righthanded pitchers. If you can pitch, then you can pitch, regardless of height. Lincecum is the guy I wanted and he was on the board when the Reds picked. Unfortunately, the Reds went in another direction, reeling in Drew Stubbs.

Stubbs has a lot of tools and could develop into a dual threat, as he has impact ability on both offense and defense. If Stubbs can perform as he did in the final two months of 2010, then he'll begin to reward the Reds for passing on a two-time Cy Young award winner and start making the fan base forget the massive opportunity cost that came along with his selection.

2007: Devin Mesoraco vs. Pete Kozma

Unfortunately, I couldn't carry the success of my 2006 pick into the 2007 draft. Additionally, while Ricky Romero's recent emergence makes my 2005 pick look more defensible, Mesoraco's recent explosion makes this 2007 pick look even worse.

The Reds had the 15th overall pick and went with Devin Mesoraco, while shortstop Pete Kozma went off the board with the Cardinals 18th overall pick.

Heading into the draft, few prospects had as much helium as Devin. Coming from a cold weather school and off a TJ surgery, Mesoraco wasn't projected to be a first rounder, but a strong season propelled him up the ranks.

Kozma was more of a high floor, low ceiling type player. He lacked any real plus tools, but had some nice skills and a feel for the game, which in a somewhat less than inspiring draft class seemed to be a decent option. Unfortunately, as of now, both the Cardinals and I have whiffed on this pick, as his bat hasn't developed and he's a long shot to emerge as a legitimate big league shortstop. So, obviously, his floor no longer seems quite as high as it once did, while his ceiling has remained largely the same.

On the other hand, Mesoraco finally broke out in 2010 and looks ready to emerge as an impact bat at a premier defensive position. Finding a catcher that can actually hit is a tremendous value, so the Reds certainly made the right decision here. In the final analysis, Mesoraco might prove to be the best offensive catcher the Reds have had since Johnny Bench.

Having learned my lesson, Kozma was the last time I went with the safe, high-floor type player in the first round. The first round is where you have the best chance to land the impact talent, so limiting yourself to a lower-ceiling player hardly seems like the right strategy in most draft classes. Lesson learned.

2008: Yonder Alonso vs. Casey Kelly

Well, here's the first pick of the blog era and I went with Casey Kelly here and here. In hindsight the pick looks pretty good, but in the interests of full disclosure I must say that I liked Kelly more as a shortstop and wanted to see what he could do with a couple of years as a full-time position player. He had good baseball bloodlines, very good athleticism, played plus defense at short, and had good pop in his bat. However, there were questions about his bat, so I viewed his pitching ability as a nice way to manage the performance risk that came with his hit tool. There is an old scouting adage that you don't gamble on a questionable "hit tool" in the first round. So, maybe that rang true in this case, but I still would have liked to see what Kelly could do as a shortstop before switching him to pitching full time. It's not easy to find a potentially plus defensive shortstop who can be an impact hitter on offense. He already had solid power, so it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that he could develop into a capable hitter at the professional level.

The BoSox were able to grab Kelly with the 30th overall pick (due in part to signability concerns) and successfully convert him into a full-time pitcher, while the Reds grabbed Yonder Alonso with the 7th overall pick.

The Reds clearly went with the player they deemed to be the best available, which is usually a sound draft philosophy, but in hindsight I wonder if it was the right decision. Obviously, Joey Votto had already emerged as a good, young first baseman with a strong offensive profile. So, it clearly wasn't an area of need and Yonder was never a realistic option to switch defensive positions, which meant he was blocked as soon as he stepped into the organization. And, if the Reds don't do something with Yonder in 2011 to extract some value from the pick (trade or play), then the organization's questionable ability to extract value from a blocked prospect may make this less than the ideal pick.

As it stands, Yonder looks like a nice, well-rounded hitter with good on-base skills and solid power potential. Not a bad pick, but even a couple of years after he was drafted, it remains unclear how exactly he fits into the organizational plans.

2009: Mike Leake vs. Shelby Miller

This pick is one that I have pondered quite a bit since it happened. At the time, I locked in on Shelby Miller as the pitcher with the best combination of stuff and mechanics. I loved the velocity and how cleanly he generated it. There was no doubt that he was the guy I wanted the Reds to take. In fact, I had him pegged as the third best prospect in the draft behind Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. At draft time, there were other high school pitchers who were rated higher and ultimately were drafted higher, including Zach Wheeler (6th to the Giants) Jacob Turner (9th to the Tigers), Tyler Matzek (11th to the Rockies), and Matt Purke (14th to the Rangers), but I preferred Miller to all of them. His upside was just too massive for me to see anyone else as a legitimate option.

Miller ultimately went off the board with the Cardinals 17th overall pick, which was a while after the Reds selected Mike Leake with the 8th overall pick. Realistically speaking, Miller's first full season couldn't possibly have gone better. The Cards kept him in low-A all season long and he posted a 3.62 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 2.8 BB/9, and a 12.1 K/9 in 104.1 innings. It was a dominating performance and one that has him on the #1 starter development path.

Obviously, Leake has been a great success story and after the draft the pick started to grow on me. I still would have gone with Miller, but Leake was becoming more intriguing. I never suspected that he'd be able to jump over the minors entirely, but I loved the polish and the understanding of how to pitch.

Of course, the question then was whether Leake's higher floor/lower ceiling were the better pick over Miller's lower floor/higher ceiling. And, that's a question with which I still wrestle.

Just how valuable is a pitcher who can bypass the minors entirely? What exactly are the advantages? Is it worth selecting a #2/3 starter who can jump straight to the majors over a potential #1 starter who will need significant time in the minors?

Well, obviously, there has to be some kind of "time value" of prospects at work. When you are talking about money, a dollar today is worth much more than a dollar a year from now for two reasons. First, the devaluing caused by inflation. Second, you can invest the dollar and earn interest on it. But, what's the advantage in pitching prospects?

Obviously, the value doesn't change at the MLB level, as regardless when each player arrives, you'll control their rights for 6 seasons. However, the value lies in the reduced injury risk and the non-existent performance risk. If a pitcher is good enough to jump right to the majors, then there really is no performance risk to the pick. Additionally, and here is the real difference, if the pitcher can jump right to the majors, then you eliminate a substantial amount of injury risk. A pitcher that has to develop in the minors is still subject to injury risk, but his minor league performance simply doesn't directly benefit the organization. Production at the MLB level is all that really matters, so getting an immediate return on your pick substantially cuts the chances of injury in the minors ruining a draft pick's future MLB production. If the pitcher is going to pitch and be exposed to injury risk, then it's preferable that he do it at the MLB level where the production actually counts.

At this point, I'm still not sure how to properly determine the value of a draft pick who jumps right to the Majors like Mike Leake against a prospect who must spend several years in the minors like Shelby Miller.

I guess, in the end, it still comes down to the likelihood that Miller will reach his ceiling and be significantly better than Mike Leake at the MLB level. If he can, then he is clearly the better pick. And, every year of development that passes with Miller still on track cuts the risk that he'll get injured or fail to develop. As it was at the time of the draft, Miller has more risk and more reward, while Leake is the sure thing. It's still too close to call at this point, but I'm sticking with Miller and his #1 starter upside.

2010: Yasmani Grandal vs. Chris Sale

In the 2010 draft, Chris Sale was actually the first prospect on whom I did in-depth research and a full write-up, and he was ultimately the guy I wanted the Reds to land. His fastball and changeup were both rated among the very best of the draft eligible college pitchers and he had very good polish to go with them. His strikeout and walk rates were among the very best in the country, so you had both upside and polish. There were/are some questions about his arm action, but I never saw anything about which to worry. Some thought there was too much snap in his arm action, but I don't really see it. I would like to see him incorporate more leg drive, but overall I was comfortable with his mechanics. After I was done looking into the draft crop, Sale was still sitting atop my list.

In that draft, Sale was selected by the Chicago White Sox with the 13th overall pick. Somewhat surprisingly, the Sox moved Sale all the way up to the majors after only 10.1 minor league innings. The Sox fast-tracked him as a reliever and he performed very well, posting a 32/10 K/BB ratio in his 23.1 Major League innings. Once again, the question emerges about the value of a player skipping the minors almost entirely, though in this case my pick would get whatever boost comes along with it. The Sox used Sale in their push for the playoffs and it's hard not to wonder how much the Reds would have benefited from having two hard throwing southpaws (Aroldis and Sale) in the postseason. Obviously, for a team in the hunt for the playoffs, getting an immediate return on a draft pick is of even greater value.

Regardless, the Reds had the 12th overall pick, which they used to select Yasmani Grandal. Grandal was the second Miami Hurricane that the team had selected with its first pick in the last three drafts. Obviously, they feel they have good scouting coverage down there. Thus far, Grandal has played only in the Arizona rookie league, where he posted a slash line of .286/.394/.321 in 33 plate appearances. Obviously, the on-base skill is impressive, but the sample size is too small to reveal anything of value. The selection of Grandal gives the Reds some of the best catching depth in all of the minor leagues, as he could develop into a solid defensive catcher with an impact bat. It'll be interesting to see how he performs in full season ball and how he'll fit into an organization where Mesoraco is making a big splash much farther up the ladder. Given Grandal's polish, his career is very likely to overlap with Mesoraco's at the Major League Level. So, once again, the Reds could have a blocked Hurricane in the system.

As for Sale, the White Sox are now wrestling with the question of whether to develop him as a starting pitcher or to continue to ride him at the MLB level as a reliever. Obviously, he has more value as a starter, but the Sox may not see it that way. If the Reds had grabbed him, I would have wanted him developed as a starter, as I see nothing that would prevent him from becoming a good one.

As with almost all of the aforementioned players, it's too soon to tell which player will prove to be the more valuable pick, but I still prefer Sale to Grandal. Hopefully, Yasmani proves me wrong.

2011: Robert Stephenson vs. Jason Esposito

Well, for the first time since I've started doing these draft write-ups the Reds had a pick outside the top 15. In fact, they had number 27 overall, which makes it more challenging to find impact talent. However, given the impressive depth of talent in the 2011 draft class, the Reds were able to land a high upside arm that undoubtedly would have gone higher in the typical draft class.

Stephenson stands 6-2 and tips the scale at 190 lbs with a wiry frame and plus makeup/intelligence. He features a big time fastball that tickles 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting, 12-to-6 curveball that is inconsistent. And, like seemingly all power arms coming out of high school, he has a mediocre change-up. Power pitchers in high school typically dominate with the hard stuff and rarely need to develop that third pitch, typically the change-up, because they can simply overpower high school hitters. Additionally, the change-up is materially different from the power stuff, as it requires touch and feel, while power stuff does not. So, the change-up frequently gets neglected.

The only potential red flag on Stephenson is his pitching mechanics, which are somewhat inefficient due to a shorter stride, less than ideal hip rotation, and an occasionally cutting short the deceleration of his pitching arm.

That said, Stephenson has a great deal of positives going for him and the Reds probably did very well, as you don't frequently get this type of upside so late in the draft. The stuff and makeup are there, but he'll need to refine his mechanics and continue to polish his secondary offerings as he climbs the ladder. Still, hard to argue with, or be disappointed by, this pick by the Reds and, frankly, it'll be difficult to top.  

As for my pick, after looking back at my previous selections, this is the first time I haven't gone with a starting pitcher or a shortstop. So, I'm breaking new ground here. Evidently, in the first round I favor high ceiling, impact pitchers and players who handle the premier defensive positions. It wasn't an intentional, but given the value of top flight starting pitching and the scarcity of legitimate hitters at the premier defensive positions it seems a more than defensible strategy. 

Of course, my top choice and the guy I was highest on actually WAS a pitcher, namely RHP Tyler Beede, followed by LHP Chris Reed, and RHP Jose Fernandez. I love Beede's blend of stuff, command, pitching IQ, and clean mechanics. Beede wasn't really projected by anyone to be selected in the first round, much less before the Reds picked, so I was really surprised when the Blue Jays popped him before the Reds even had a shot. That said, my shadow pick of Jason Esposito will be seen as a stretch by many and admittedly it may well be, but with the aforementioned three draftees (surprisingly) off the board I went with my gut. I've always liked what I've seen in Esposito and remain bullish on his future.

I first saw Esposito play as a sophomore and was impressed right from the get go. In fact, I was convinced at the time that he was a lock to a top 15 pick when draft eligible. Unfortunately, his junior season was a bit of a step backward and he slipped down the draft board, which serves as a cautionary tale that you can't expect linear improvement/development from college players. The knocks on Esposito were two fold: (1) his swing was mechanical and (2) he added weight to the lower half. 

Admittedly, I can see the reason for concern on both issues. Esposito has a well balanced, fundamentally sound swing, but it can look mechanical at times. He also did look slightly stockier in his junior season than he did as a sophomore, but the added weight to the lower half doesn't diminish his potential to be a plus defender at third with a very good arm. So, right there, he's somewhat ahead of the game, as his bat won't need to carry his glove like many offensive-first third sackers. For me, the concerns about his swing/offense were somewhat lessened by the fact that his glove is an asset, not a liability.

2012: Nick Travieso vs. Matthew Smoral

Southpaw Matthew Smoral was not only at the top of my wish list for the Reds (which also included shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder David Dahl), but also one of my favorite pitchers in the draft class. So, he was my clear choice when the Reds' 14th overall pick rolled around, but the organization ultimately went with a different high school pitcher, righthander Nick Travieso. So, this one boils down to a battle of the high school pitchers, which makes it far too early to call, especially since Smoral didn't throw a pitch in anger in 2012.

I didn't realize just how risky the pick of Smoral was until looking back months after the draft, so I can understand how he slipped out of the first round. He missed his senior season due to a stress fracture of the foot, so there was limited time for organizations to get a feel for him and no current track record on which to evaluate him. Regardless, I was sufficiently impressed by the combination of stuff, clean pitching mechanics, and physical stature. All of those factors struck me as giving him a very high ceiling. Although, it didn't factor into my decision, another thumb on the scale in Smoral's favor is that he was drafted out of an Ohio high school.

As for Nick Travieso, he had quite a bit of helium heading into the draft, largely as a result of a spike in velocity. That spike drove his fastball velocity up into the mid-90s. His secondary offerings are largely unrefined, which, when coupled with the high degree of effort in his delivery, led many to project him as a reliever at the upper levels. Even so, he's an intriguing arm to add to the quality stable of pitching prospects in the system and a bit more development time could bear out the organization's decision to select him with the 14th overall pick.

As high school pitching prospects, Travieso and Smoral both come with significant inherent risk (injury and performance), but both also have significant upside. It's way too soon to make any judgments on the picks, as there aren't really even any early returns. The Jays (wisely) didn't have Smoral throw a pitch in anger in 2012, while Travieso only logged 21.0 innings in the Arizona rookie league.

Now, it's up to the player development departments of the respective organizations to shape their careers and turn them into impact Major Leaguers. Personally, I'd still place all my money on Smoral, but it'll be interesting to see what 2013 reveals. 

2013: Phil Ervin vs. Aaron Judge

My shadow draft pick for the Reds in the 2013 draft was Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge was third on my draft queue, which consisted of RHP Chris Anderson, OF Billy McKinney, OF Aaron Judge, 3b Eric Jagielo, and OF Austin Wilson.  The Dodgers grabbed Anderson and the A's snatched up McKinney, making Judge, a mountain of a man with tremendous athleticism, my shadow pick for the Reds.

Judge's height was a concern, but it was a concern mitigated by his plus athleticism (a three sport star in high school with offers to play tight-end at the collegiate level) and the fact that his approach was contact-oriented. The question on Aaron Judge wasn't, as it usually is with taller hitters, whether he would make enough contact, but rather whether he'd hit for power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needed to lengthen his swing to carry his power from batting practice into game action.

I'm happy to gamble on plus athleticism, a compact swing with good plate discipline, and massive power potential, even if it comes packaged along with a very large, and difficult to protect, strike zone. Judge felt like a prospect who could provide positive value on both sides of the ball with the potential to be a true impact hitter at the plate with the type of power that is getting more and more difficult to find.

Instead of Judge, the Reds rolled the dice on another righthanded hitting outfielder, Phil Ervin from Samford University. Ervin headed into the draft as a player who had hit .300 pretty much everywhere he played. He seemed the type who could roll out of bed and hit .300 without much difficulty. In addition, he brought good speed and athleticism to the table.

I wasn't as high on Ervin as the Reds because it felt like there was a real danger of him being a tweener (not enough bat for a corner outfield spot and not enough glove for centerfield). I like the idea of adding a plus hit tool to the system, but without power or the ability to stay in center Ervin would likely fall short of being an impact player.

The early returns on Ervin, however, indicate that there's a reasonable chance that he'll stick in centerfield. If he can stick in centerfield and continue to hit around .300, then the Reds will likely reap a nice return on this investment. However, I still feel like Judge has a higher upside and is the more likely of the two to be a true impact talent.

It remains to be seen which righthanded hitting outfielder was the better selection.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Prospect of Note: Jake Lamb, 3b, Arizona Diamondbacks

Jake Lamb
HT: 6-3, WT: 220 lb
B/T: L/R
DOB: 10/9/1990

Jake Lamb is a third base prospect in the Arizona Diamondback organization and one who is probably deserving of more respect. And, he'll likely be getting more this time next year if he simply manages to maintain some semblance of his current pace.

Collegiate Career

Lamb attended the University of Washington where he played three seasons before being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a junior in the 6th round of the 2012 draft.

2010: .347/.413/.475 with 4 HRs and a 18/5/36 BB/HBP/K ratio in 202 ABs
2011: .311/.371/.434 with 3 HRs and a 13/9/32 BB/HBP/K ratio in 212 ABs
2012: .321/.429/.442 with 3 HRs and a 30/8/26 BB/HBP/K ratio in 190 ABs

Photo courtesy of Joshua Bessex

Overall, it was a solid baseline of performance, but one lacking in any areas of standout production. MLB teams frequently want to see a carrying tool, something that can really drive a player's value all the way to the majors. Something rare, something scarce. Lamb was more of a well-rounded, jack of all trades type. Case in point, Lamb never managed to earn All Pac 12 Honors, but did wrangle Honorable Mention in all three of his collegiate seasons.

While the lack of a carrying tool may preclude being drafted in the first few rounds, it doesn't completely condemn a prospect's chances. It just means that he probably has a bit more work to do to get there, as he'll need improvement in an area or two to be Major League worthy. However, the well-rounded skills that already serve as his foundation could boost him into an impact player if he makes a key improvement or two. The Diamondbacks immediately got to work trying to make that improvement happen.

Professional Career

Lamb struggled to tap into his power potential when he was at the UW, but the Diamondbacks started working to refine his swing and unlock his power. After never cracking the .500 slugging percentage barrier in college with metal bats, Lamb immediately slugged .539 in 2012 with Pioneer League Missoula and again in 2013 with a .548 mark in a season spent largely with Visalia in high-A ball.

Lamb flashed more power with wood bats in the professional ranks than he did with metal in the collegiate game. And, he continues to demonstrate the ability to hit for average and control the strike zone.

2012: .329/.390/.539/.930 with 51/24 K/BB ratio in 315 PAs in rookie Pioneer League
2013: .302/.421/.548/.969 with 75/50 K/BB ratio in 304 PAs in (substantially) high-A
2014: .305/.385/.533/.918 with 48/21 K/BB ratio in 226 PAs in double-A

His minor league performance is establishing him as a complete hitter who could be above average in any or all three parts of the slash line. Further, add in above-average defense at the hot corner and Lamb could be the type of player who provides positive value on both sides of the ball.

Swing Mechanics

While the Diamondbacks made refinements to Lamb's swing, it's unclear exactly what they did. However, Lamb has taken a clear step forward offensively and I wonder if they adjusted the way he loaded his hands. His pre-pitch hand position is very high and it's not difficult to envision that position impacting the way he subsequently loaded his hands. If he was loading his hands too high and/or too far back, then he was adding length to his swing by increasing the distance his hands had to travel to get the bat to the point of contact. Further, such a problem could have sapped his power production by making it easier to tie him up on inside pitches and more difficult for him to pull the ball with power.

You can see the high hand position in the following Spring Training photo:

Given that he frequently starts from such a high hand position, proper loading of the hands becomes even more important because it establishes the starting point for his hands in the swing. His stellar minor league performance to date means that his hand load is working, though more advanced pitchers, featuring better velocity and command, might still prove problematic on the inner half of the plate. That bears watching but hasn't materialized yet.

Furthermore, after he loads his hands, Lamb takes a  very short, direct hand path to the point of contact, which serves to tighten up his swing and keep his body compact to maximize the rotational force generated by the firing of the hips in the swing.

Here's a look at his direct path to the pitch:

Lamb effectively utilizes "bat lag" in his swing, which is a positive component of the swing that involves the barrel of the bat lagging behind the hands. The longer the hitter can maintain that lag, the more power will be generated by the swing. When the bat emerges from the lag position, the barrel comes around and into the point of contact.

Lamb maintains a small "lag angle" (the angle between the right forearm and the bat) in his swing. Lamb's smaller "lag angle" gives his swing a steeper angle of attack, caused by his higher hand position and a more straight-line (rather than rounded) hand arc path. Due to his higher hand position, Lamb's hands move down towards the ground fairly severely in a straight-line-like direction before somewhat abruptly moving forward in a straight-line-like direction to meet the pitch. This less rounded hand arc path, and the smaller lag angle it creates, helps him generate good power by delaying the release of the barrel in the swing. It remains to be seen if the higher initial hand position and the subsequent steeper angle of attack will be problematic, but early returns are certainly good.

Lamb maintains a nice, compact upper-body position until he reaches a strong point of contact position, as seen below:

Lamb does a nice job of firming up his front side, which allows the force he generates to rotate around his body and be transferred through the bat to the ball. Overall, his position at the point of contact is strong and balanced and should allow him to sustain his new found ability to drive the ball, though his bat speed still seems something short of plus.

Here's a look at him in action, courtesy of minorleaguebaseball on YouTube:

Given that Lamb has solid swing mechanics and a disciplined approach, his success at the plate will now be be determined by pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination. He needs to identify pitches early and consistently get the barrel of the bat on the pitch. If he can do that, then his swing mechanics will typically take care of the rest.  

In the field, Lamb has smooth movements, soft fielding actions, and a strong arm. He should be an asset at an important defensive position, giving him a solid boost to his overall value, as defense rarely slumps.

Final Thoughts

Based on his well-rounded game, swing mechanics, and the production he is putting up, Lamb seems like a prospect who deserves more hype than he's getting. However, he is bumping up against two common concerns in the prospect evaluation game: "draft position" and "age vs. level."

When a prospect is drafted in a middle round or late, then he constantly has to disprove that initial label. Highly drafted prospects get the benefit of the doubt, later drafted prospects just get the doubt. However, if Lamb continues to hit like he has, then he's going to start climbing prospect lists.

Further, Lamb is undoubtedly meeting skepticism about his age against the level of competition. As a polished college hitter, he should be effective in handling the lower levels of the minors. However, it's something of a "damned if you do, damned if you don't situation", as if you hit well then it's simply expected, but if you don't hit well then it's a negative mark. 

Overall, Lamb seems like an impressive prospect who should be getting better marks than he has to date.

1. Lamb has multiple value-drivers (hitting, smart baserunning, and above-average defense)
2. Lamb's hitting profile is that of a disciplined-hitter
3. Lamb's power production is emerging, which is the carrying-tool that he lacked coming out of college

1. Higher hand-position, possible susceptibility to good velocity on the inner half
2. Bat speed seems more solid/average than plus
3. Strikeout rate, while respectable, is still worth watching as he climbs the ladder

In short, it seems like there are multiple avenues that will lead Lamb to a productive MLB career, even though there are still some wrong turns that need to be avoided on his development path. If he continues on his current offensive pace for the rest of 2014, then he'll undoubtedly be taking a significant jump up the rankings on those prospect lists.