With the draft less than a week away, it is time for me to offer up a list of players who could really improve the Mariners' future. These 25 players would be great acquisitions for any franchise, but I have tailored the list with the M's needs in mind (check out my previous post to see where I think they need help). I got the idea to start looking at prospects a couple days before last year's draft, to see if I could identify good prospects. In about six hours of searching online, I came up with a list of 15 guys the M's should look at, and a year later the list looks as good now as it did when I created it (it doesn't hurt that my number one guy, Tim Lincecum, really is the dominant starter that I was convinced he would be).
After such an encouraging first year, I've taken it to the next level. I looked at every college conference, and used my 100-point rating scale that I had not created as of last year's draft. I've also taken the time to adjust player's statistics based on the strength of their conference. Basically, this year's search is way more encompassing, and way more thorough. Despite these major changes, the principles I use to rate prospects remain the same. First of all, this list only includes college prospects, simply because all I have are statistics. Though I do prefer college prospects to high school ones, there are way too many great players that make the jump from high school to the pros to ignore. I'm certainly not mad that the M's drafted both Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez straight out of high school.
Once I had players rated based on this year's statistics, I looked at their past performances. Like last year, I gave preference to guys who have performed at a consistently high level. When guys had disappointing years, I preferred players who had more reasonable explanations. Basically, my whole theory on professional prospects is that the best players in college will tend to be the best ones in the pros. I try to minimize "projectability" (whatever that is), though I admittedly favor contact hitters and power pitchers.
Experts say that this year's draft does not have much to offer in the college ranks, but I think that's a little overblown. I don't think it's ridiculously weak; more than anything it points out how strong last year's college crop was. As a result, I don't expect many on my list to go in the first round. Finally, I present you 25 guys the M's should be looking at this year:
25. David Newmann, SP, Texas A&M - Newmann, a southpaw, posted great numbers in the Big 12 this year, though it would have been nicer to see him work deeper into games. The biggest concern about him is his injury history, considering he missed the 2005 and 2006 seasons thanks to Tommy John surgery (this may explain why he didn't work deeper into games). The good news is that Tommy John surgery is the least troublesome of any major arm injury, since the risk of re-injury is as great as if he had never had the surgery. Also, it's quite possible that Newmann is yet to fully recover, meaning he could become unexpectedly stronger. Ultimately, it's difficult to project what Newmann will do, given the injury and only one year of major college experience. He's a bit of a wild card, but an intriguing one.
24. Josh Donaldson, C, Auburn - He batted .338 this year with a .441 OBP, 29 extra base hits in 201 at-bats, and 17 stolen bases to boot. Though Donaldson had always posted solid numbers, nothing indicated he would explode like he did this year. He had never shown he had speed until this year, and ultimately it is the speed he flashed that got him on this list. It gives him the potential to be a real dynamic offensive player.
23. Dominic de la Osa, SS/OF, Vanderbilt - Like Donaldson, de la Osa really flourished this year with a .383 AVG, .454 OBP, 15 home runs, and 16 stolen bases, showing an impressive blend of speed, power, and contact in his offensive game. Dominic has shown rapid, but steady, improvement at Vanderbilt, which inclines me to believe that he will continue his upward trend. His defensive versatility is an added bonus.
22. Todd Frazier, SS, Rutgers - I sound like a broken record. Frazier this year batted .376 with a .502 OBP, 18 home runs, and 21 stolen bases, showing a dynamic offensive game! However, Frazier has performed at a much higher level throughout his college career than Donaldson and de la Osa, while also showing steady improvement. My biggest concern with Frazier is that he has been strikeout-prone throughout his college career, but the rest of his tools cannot be ignored.
21. Corey Brown, OF, Oklahoma State - Brown is one of the toughest prospects to evaluate in the entire draft. One one hand, he batted .367 with a .506 OBP, 18 home runs, and 17 stolen bases, and he has shown this incredible combination of average, power, and speed his entire college career. On the other hand, he also struck out an astronomical 50 times this year, and has always struck out a ton. Generally, switching from aluminum to wood bats decreases a player's power and increases their strikeouts, so the concerns are obvious. However, Brown has somehow produced at an extremely high level for three years in college, so there's reason to believe he can continue to be productive in the pros. I would have rated him higher if the Mariners did not have both Adam Jones and Wladimir Balentien in the system already.
20. Adam Mills, SP, Charlotte - Here's another guy that's tough to evaluate. Mills averaged almost 8 innings a start this year, and posted a 0.80 WHIP with over a 10 K/9 IP. In addition, he's only allowed 1 home run all year! This year, Mills has been nothing short of phenomenal. However, though he has improved every year, nothing he had done indicated he would be this great. In fact, no year before this one would have even got him considered on this list. So, despite his flawless season, I have a hard time rating him much higher than this.
19. James Simmons, SP, UC-Riverside - This right-hander has good size (6'4"), and good numbers throughout his college career. Simmons is exactly the kind of pitching prospect I look for. He has no strength that jumps out, but no weakness either.
18. Cory Luebke, SP, Ohio State - I had a hard time deciding if Simmons or Luebke was better, so I ended up going with Luebke because my rating formula said he is better. There's plenty to like in a 6'4" southpaw from the Big 10.
17. Ross Detwiler, SP, Missouri State - Detwiler is a flame-throwing lefty who posted an 11.28 K/9 IP this year. Most have him very highly rated, and it wouldn't be surprising if he is gone before the Mariners even get to pick. Obviously, I'm not quite as high on him, though I do like him.
16. Josh Collmenter, SP, Central Michigan - Collmenter is big, burly right-hander who really lit up the Mid-American Conference this year. I thought long and hard about putting Detwiler above him, but Collmenter pitched over an inning more per start, and gave up fewer home runs and base-runners while still posting an admirable 9.41 K/9 IP.
15. James Adkins, SP, Tennessee - If there's one thing Adkins can do, it's strike out batters. Over his college career he has struggled with control issues, and even home runs to a certain extent, but he has always struck out hitters. However, his control has improved a bunch, and even his home run rate has improved. It seems like he is really starting to harness his stuff. The argument for putting Detwiler above Adkins is strong, and they do have similar college numbers. However, Adkins has compiled his numbers in a much tougher conference, the SEC.
14. Nick Chigges, SP, College of Charleston - Chigges has put up big numbers two straight years in a small conference. However, the Southern conference is stronger than many give it credit for and even when the statistics were adjusted, Chigges compared quite favorably to starters like Adkins, Collmenter, and Detwiler in my rating system. Chigges is likely to be the last guy drafted on my list, but whoever drafts him may have themselves a steal.
13. Mitch Canham, C, Oregon State - Catcher is not a high priority for the Mariners, but Canham might be too good to pass up. He's a complete offensive player, but what really caught my eye was a particular comment by Pat Casey, the head baseball coach at Oregon State. Said Casey, "Mitch is the best leader in the country - there’s nobody who has a leader better than Mitch Canham on and off the field. He’s the heart and soul of our club.” Now, Casey is probably a little jaded, but all indications are that Canham's intangibles are spectacular. On Canham's OSU bio page, he lists fishing and helping the community as his interests, and in high school he earned the team Sportsmanship award, as well as honors in math, social studies, and school in general (he accumulated a 3.98 GPA). Oh, and if that wasn't enough, he's from Lake Stevens, Washington. So, though Canham's game is solid, it's all the intangibles that boost him up to this spot on the board.
12. Tony Thomas Jr., 2B, Florida State - How does a .439 AVG with 24 doubles, 6 triples, 9 homers, and 24 stolen bases sound out of a second baseman? My main concern with Thomas are his strikeouts, though he nearly cut them in half from his freshman to his junior season. Looking at his past production, he's probably not quite as good as his numbers suggest this year, but there's no denying that he has improved significantly in every facet of the game while in college. His numbers this year are indicative of both hard work and raw talent.
11. Josh Horton, SS, North Carolina - Even though Yuniesky Betancourt isn't going anywhere soon, shortstops are still a valuable commodity, and Horton is way too good of a talent to not put on the board. First off, he's great defensively. However, he's also a tremendous hitter, as he showed his sophomore year by batting .395 and winning the ACC batting title. This year, his batting average sunk to .333, but he has a .473 on-base percentage to go with it, and an astronomically low 7 strikeouts in 162 at-bats! He's even flashed some power with 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 6 homers on the year, and speed as well with 6 stolen bases. Looking at his numbers, I'm convinced his batting average has sunk solely due to bad luck. However, even if it didn't, it's still a .333 average. The bottom line is that Horton's offensive and defensive skills translate very well into the pros, making him a terrific prospect.
10. Travis Banwart, SP, Wichita State - The focus has been on Ross Detwiler in the Missouri Valley Conference, but Banwart should be getting just as much, if not more, attention. Banwart posted a lower WHIP and allowed fewer homers than Detwiler, while maintaining a high strikeout rate. In addition, Banwart pitched in the renowned Cape Cod League last summer, and was named to the league all-star team. He's even got great size at 6'4"! Yet, despite all the measurables and accolades, Banwart just isn't as highly regarded as Detwiler by most.
9. Will Kline, SP, Mississippi - Kline was named to the preseason Clemens Award Watch List, which honors the nation's top college pitcher, and he did not disappoint this season. Kline has made major improvements each year in college, and showed the ability to live up to high expectations this year. His ability to succeed in a tough conference like the SEC, coupled with how much he has risen in the last couple years, makes him a promising prospect.
8. Tony Watson, SP, Nebraska - Like Kline, Watson was on the preseason Clemens Award Watch List, but was also named a preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball NCBWA and Rivals.com. Obviously, to be this high on my board, he lived up to the hype. As if Watson did not have enough accolades, he also pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, where he was named to the all-star team. I wish Watson had a bit higher strikeout rate, but with each year he strikes out more and more batters, and the honors and awards were too much to put him below Kline or Banwart. A 6'4", 223-pound left-handed frame doesn't hurt either.
7. Nick Schmidt, SP, Arkansas - Speaking of tall, powerfully-built left-handers, Nick Schmidt is listed at 6'5", 230 pounds, and he has used his frame to overpower the SEC. This year, Schmidt had a 1.16 WHIP with 8.7 K/9 IP, which actually was well down from a rate that was around 12 K/9 IP last year. Ultimately, Schmidt slipped some this year, but he still had a great season. I had a hard time choosing between Schmidt and Watson, but I ultimately went with Schmidt because he has shown the ability to strikeout more batters.
6. Eric Sogard, 2B, Arizona State - This kid has it all. He doesn't strikeout much, hits for a high average, takes walks, has a little pop, and steals more than his share of bases. On top of that, he was voted the Pac-10 defensive player of the year. Even better, he's performed at this elite level for two years. There's not much more to ask for.
5. Bryan Henry, SP, Florida State - For four years, Bryan Henry has handled the ACC. He's got good size, impeccable numbers, and a great track record in a really good conference. It would have been nice to see a little more improvement out of Henry in his tenure as a Seminole, but he set the bar awfully high to start with.
4. Matt Wieters, C, Georgia Tech - If you are looking for a freak of nature, Matt Wieters is your man. He's 6'5", 230 pounds, switch hits, and pitches quite effectively as well, with a fastball that goes into the mid-90s. However, his real potential is as a hitter, as he's proven by posting an OPS well over 1.000 every year at Georgia Tech. I'm concerned about his size as a catcher, so I would personally move him to third base or right field. He should be athletic enough to handle either switch, and neither position would waste his golden arm. The Mariners probably shouldn't look too hard at this guy, because the odds are he's not making it to the 11th pick.
3. Tyler Mach, 2B, Oklahoma State - I'm not sure what it takes to get noticed sometimes. All Mach has done is post back-to-back 1.000+ OPS seasons, yet there is minimal buzz around him. His excellent power with a lack of strikeouts is a rare combination. In addition, though Mach attends Oklahoma State, he's also attended the UW and Edmonds CC, and he graduated from Kentlake High School in Kent, Washington.
2. David Price, SP, Vanderbilt - Price is the unquestioned top collegiate pitcher in this draft. Nobody had a season that compares to his this year. It will be surprising if the Devil Rays do not take him number one overall, and given their horrendous pitching staff, he's definitely the right pick for them.
1. Matt LaPorta, 1B, Florida - Just as I thought Lincecum was the perfect pick for the Mariners last year, I think LaPorta is the perfect pick this year. All indications are he will be available to take at the 11th pick, and I would be thrilled if the M's didn't let him fall any further. Due to a groin injury, LaPorta had a disappointing junior season, but he came back with a vengeance this year. The statistics are absurd: .423 batting average, .579 on-base, slugging over .800, 19 home runs, and only 15 strikeouts. Yes, LaPorta had more home runs than strikeouts. Many are concerned about his sub-par junior year, but all that dipped were his doubles and batting average, which given the pain that running with a strained groin would be, shouldn't be too surprising. There's also some concern over signability since his agent is Scott Boras, but the M's have shown the ability to negotiate with him, and LaPorta should be eager to sign since he is a college senior. He's easily the best power prospect in the draft, and he even plays a position the Mariners really need a prospect at. Matt LaPorta would be the perfect pick.
Like last year, I doubt the Mariners will pick any of the players I've listed. They seem to have a much different draft strategy than me. However, all these guys will be drafted and it will be interesting to see how their careers begin to unfold. If they're anything like last year's bunch, they'll be worth watching.