With the draft starting tomorrow, it is time to roll out my annual prospect list. This one, in many ways, has been my favorite to compile. For starters, I am very curious to see how my initial shot at rating high-schooler goes. I am optimistic about the younger guys on this list.
However, even if I had limited myself to just college players, this list still might have been my favorite. It does not look like there are many stars to be had in this draft, but there is some depth. It is a question of which guys will iron out their flaws, or which flaws aren't bad enough to limit a player's success. I am uneasy about several guys I left off the list, as well some I included. It was fun trying to line these guys up in an order that felt pretty good.
Here they are, the 25 prospects I like most in the 2010 MLB Rule 4 Draft:
25. Dylan Covey, RHP, Marantha HS (CA) - Covey is drawing comparisons to current Dodgers righty Chad Billingsley, and rightly so. Both have similar body types, wind-ups, and repertoires. Dylan's best pitch is a curve ball, which is considered one of the best in the draft, period. He is slipping on most draft boards after a rough start recently, but I think some rough patches are to be expected as a younger player learns to command a big-time breaking ball. Covey's arm slot is straight over the top, which means most of his movement should be vertical. In other words, he is not the type that usually runs big splits between lefties and righties. Between that, a potentially devastating curve, and a mature body, there are good reasons to think that Covey will be an MLB starting pitcher.
24. Jesse Hahn, RHP, Virginia Tech - Hahn's profile rose significantly last summer as a reliever in the esteemed Cape Cod League. His 6'7" frame seems built for power pitching, and the radar gun didn't lie, as he reached the upper 90s with his fastball time and time again. In college, Hahn is used as a starter, and he has put up good numbers in the ACC. The high strikeouts rates are there, as you would expect out of a power arm. However, he is a hit around just a bit more than you would like to see. Most think Hahn will end up in the bullpen, but I see enough in his breaking stuff to think he might be able to stick in the rotation with some tightening of his pitches and mechanics. Bottom line, there is definitely a spot in an organization for a power arm that has produced like Hahn.
23. Micah Gibbs, C, LSU - Gibbs has pinballed all over my list, though there has never been much doubt he would make the final cut. The intrigue is obvious when you have a switch-hitting catcher that has shown some life in his bat in the SEC. However, how much life is there? To date, there has not been much power, but that could develop. Gibbs isn't overly patient at the plate either, but I was inclined to "blame" that on good plate coverage. However, his average has dipped considerably near the end of the year. I can see Gibbs becoming a quietly productive backstop for years to come, similar to Gregg Zaun, but I could also see him being a combination of parts that don't quite add up to a valuable ballplayer. Welcome to the type of quandaries that the 2010 draft is filled with.
22. Asher Wojciechowski, RHP, The Citadel - Yes, I spelled Asher's name right (just double checked), and yes, he pitches for The Citadel! Like most any small school prospect, Wojciechowski has some awfully good numbers. However, he also pitched for the USA Baseball team last year, alongside all sorts of highly-regarded prospects, and more than held his own. He has a fastball that he throws in the 90s with good command, which isn't overly typical for a smaller school prospect. I like the way Asher goes after hitters, but I don't think his stuff is tremendous. As he gets to higher levels, I anticipate that he will be somewhat hittable. However, Wojciechowksi's whole package suggests that he is for real. I like his chances to become the type of starter that can be counted on for six solid innings almost every time he takes the mound.
21. Kyle Blair, RHP, San Diego - Kyle is not to be confused with Seth Blair, an Arizona State pitcher also draft eligible this year (and a pitcher many regard higher than Kyle). A fastball-slider combo have been Kyle's bread and butter, and he has used them to overpower the West Coast Conference for the past three years, as well as the Cape Cod league this past summer. Blair's production has been eerily consistent for my taste, which makes me wonder if he is what he is at this point. However, in his defense, he has been awfully good. Ultimately, Blair's production and slider were too good to leave off this list. Unless Blair shows an uncanny feel for a new off-speed pitch (preferably a change-up), I would move him to the bullpen and fast-track him for the majors.
20. Kolbrin Vitek, 3B, Ball State - Kolbrin has shown a little bit of everything in college. He has some speed, power, hitting ability, and even has quite a bit of pitching experience. Undoubtedly, he is a solid athlete, and along with that, his production has increased noticeably at Ball State. Vitek may progress even quicker once he focuses solely on hitting, and he appears to have the skills to be a good defender at a number of positions. It is hard to say what Vitek won't be able to do, but also hard to pinpoint a clear strength. I have some questions about his ability to consistently make good contact, but the athletic ability and track record of improvement are enticing.
19. Rob Segedin, RF, Tulane - For me, Rob Segedin is a breath of fresh air. He is the type of guy I love to include on these lists. This year, for the Green Wave, Segedin's slash line is an absurd .434/.516/.788, with 33 walks and 20 strikeouts. Furthermore, in limited chances with both USA Baseball and the Cape Cod league, Segedin has posted good numbers. Watching video of Segedin, I think he has one of the better strokes in this draft class. He looks to me like the kind of guy who sprays line drives all over the field. Although Segedin's future is with a stick in his hands, he has pitched quite a bit in college. This is why most project him as a third baseman or right fielder as a pro. I have gone with the latter, though I would at least see what he can do at third, because that would boost his value.
18. Hunter Morris, 1B, Auburn - Morris has a gorgeous stroke from the left side with power, and that will be his ticket to the major leagues. He is a little aggressive for my taste, but I don't see big holes in his swing (both based on video and his numbers). He just needs to discern pitches he can smash from ones he can't to maximize his ability. Morris seems to be slipping on draft boards, and I can't find a good reason why. I think it is because there are fewer question marks around him than many others in this draft, so it might be a case of being out of sight and out of mind. It wouldn't surprise me if some team hasn't forgotten about him, and he goes higher than projected.
17. Justin O'Conner, C, Cowin HS (IN) - As Bob Ross (the happy painter) might say, this is my bravery test. O'Conner is this high on my draft board purely on potential. I am not sold on his hitting ability, but I like his bat speed and balance at the plate. He certainly could develop into a pretty solid hitter. Justin has played mostly shortstop in high school, where his best tool by far has been his arm. That's why many, including me, see him as a catcher. Granted, O'Conner would be a significant project with how little he has played behind the plate. However, he wouldn't be any farther behind other backstops in calling games, because few do until they are in the pros. His pure arm strength is an obvious asset, and if he can defend, then he can make the majors without prodigious hitting ability. If Justin puts it all together behind the plate, he could be something pretty good. My theory is that he has some room for things to go wrong though, given how many tools he has that fit nicely behind the plate. That's what got him to this spot on the draft board as much as what could happen if all goes right.
16. Chance Ruffin, RHP, Texas - ...And from one extreme of potential to the other. Not that Chance Ruffin has no potential, but there is not much hypothesizing to do about him. He has started and relieved in college, and shown some potential in both roles. Scouts seem to think that he is better suited for relieving, as does his college team apparently, since he has been the closer this year. Make no mistake, his numbers are insane as the closer, so he can certainly handle it. However, as with any pitcher, I like to see them prove that they cannot be a starter first. Ruffin has an assortment of pitches, which makes him unusual for a reliever, and could portend success as a starter. Either way, Ruffin is the son of big league pitcher Bruce Ruffin, has video game numbers in a major conference this year, and promising stuff. It is hard not to like that mix.
15. Rob Rasmussen, LHP, UCLA - Rob first caught my eye with a big Cape Cod league, but looking at his college numbers coming into this year, I wondered if he had just been hot. Based on Rasmussen's production this year, he found something. Although undersized, Rasmussen can reach back with his fastball and dial it up well into the 90s, but deception and command will have as much to do with his success as arm strength. My biggest concern with Rasmussen is that he is a bit of a one-year wonder, especially considering that highly regarded arms Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole pitch ahead of him in the UCLA rotation (watch out for both of them in 2011, particularly Cole). The target was never on Rasmussen's back thanks to them. However, Rob's command has clearly improved this year, and it is hard not to want a lefty from the Pac 10 that has produced like him.
14. Reggie Golden, OF, Wetumpka HS (AL) - Golden is the antithesis of a safe college pick. He is considered a classic five-tool talent, but raw. The scouting reports I have read generally agree that Reggie's raw power and speed are special, but his swing gets out of control, and he needs more seasoning in general to refine his skills. However, when I saw the video, I saw a couple things that make me think he is more capable than most of developing. First of all, his body is already well developed. He is 5'11" and stout. Golden's body should not fill out much more, which is probably the biggest reason scouts think he will not outgrow his speed. Second, Reggie's stroke is compact. He keeps two hands on the bat the whole time, and generates his power mostly through firming up his front side (a good thing) and twisting his core (also a good thing). I haven't seen anyone else as high on Golden as me, so I may be setting myself up for a Wily Mo Pena-sized letdown, but I think Golden's upper bound is Andruw Jones (in his prime), though Ron Gant is a more realistic comparison.
13. Matt Harvey, RHP, North Carolina - Harvey was highly regarded out of high school, and in many ways, he is the same guy people liked back then. He still has an electric fastball, but he has not developed as much as you would like to see. His college career is marked by inconsistency, though this year has been quite good. Some of that inconsistency is likely due to his ongoing odyssey to find what breaking pitches work best for him. In the end, Harvey's arm is undeniably great, and he has shown an ability to shut ACC hitters down. He should be capable of finding a home in the back end of a bullpen at worst, and at the front of a rotation at best. It is a question of how consistently his best stuff will show up.
12. Christian Colon, SS, Cal State Fullerton - Colon is another guy that has gone all over my draft board. As a member of the USA baseball team, he performed the best of any position player, pacing the team in home runs and stolen bases. However, the sample size in that setting is limited, and that's where the problems start. The production I would expect from a guy that put up sterling numbers in an international tournament are not there for Colon this year. However, the numbers aren't bad either. He has shown some speed, and some power, and has not struck out much (which I always like). Sometimes I wonder if Colon has a little bit of everything, or not enough of anything. It certainly helps that he plays a premium position, and in the end, I have decided to go with the law of large groups. Everyone considers him a safe bet, so if I go with that, I think he has a little bit of everything.
11. Deck McGuire, RHP, Georgia Tech - McGuire is what he is, and that is a good-looking pitcher. He is 6'6" with a sturdy build. He has a body built for pitching. I worry some about command with taller bodies, but McGuire's walk rate is low, so no worries there. Deck doesn't have one pitch that stands out, but his overall mix is good, he knows what he is doing with his mix, and he throws strikes. I think he is close to a finished product, which means he could fly through the minors. That also means he may not get a whole bunch better than he is now though. It's hard to see McGuire being worse than a fourth starter, or better than a second one.
10. Addison Reed, RHP, San Diego State - I think every draft board features a player that a particular person has fallen in love with. For me, it's this guy, Addison Reed. He got some attention as a sophomore last year, thanks largely to being the closer for Stephen Strasburg's team. Scouts couldn't help but notice his mid 90s heat out of the bullpen, and perfect save percentage. Of course, Strasburg moved on, and is now on the precipice of making the Nationals an attraction. Back at San Diego State, Reed was surprisingly moved from the bullpen into Strasburg's vacated ace role. Armed with a newly learned change-up to go with a fastball and slider, Reed has flourished. His fastball sits in the low 90s as a starter, and most agree that his slider isn't quite as sharp, but still effective. Reed's delivery is deceptive, and while he throws across his body, he doesn't stress his elbow, and he has exhibited plenty of command. Furthermore, the change-up gives him a legitimate off-speed offering for left-handers, which is probably why he has found surprising success as a starter. Reed shows no fear on the mound, and I am intrigued by his surprising results as a starter this year. Few doubt he could make the majors quickly as a reliever, but I like his upside as a starter too.
9. Gary Brown, CF, Cal State Fullerton - Here is another guy that has given me fits throughout this process, and a guy that many are having a hard time deciding what they think about him. Brown's game is all about speed, and nobody doubts that he can (and will) run wild as a professional. It is everything else about him that is hard to figure out. His hitting has drawn mixed reviews, mostly around his questionable power, and questionable plate discipline. His stance is rather closed, and his swing seems to be geared towards slapping at the ball more than driving it. That's fine with me, given Brown's speed, as long as he hits enough line drives. Given his 20 doubles, 8 triples, and 6 home runs this year, I think he can hit enough line drives. However, what's even harder to figure out is Brown's plate discipline. It is non-existent; he has just 9 walks in 210 at-bats. However, he also is batting .438! Most worry that he is not patient enough to be a leadoff hitter, but for me the numbers are inconclusive. He also has only struck out 12 times, with the high batting average, and a good collection of extra base hits. Gary Brown, much more often than not, has swung at pitches he can square up. It just so happens that a ton of the pitches he has seen this year were worth swinging at, which indicates to me that he probably has good plate coverage. Lastly, there are also questions about Brown's defense. He has experience at second base and center field, but is pretty raw in both spots. I think his pure speed, along with experience and coaching, will allow him to be a good defender in center field. Ultimately, Brown's game, especially at the plate, is hard to project. Does his production and approach indicate great strengths or great flaws? It could be either, but I would not put him this high if I did not like what I see. Brown's speed alone is one of the best tools any player has in this draft, and he has a blend of skills that could make him an impact leadoff hitter. Best case scenario, I think he is a bit weaker version of Ichiro, and worst case I think he is more of a Scott Podsednik or Juan Pierre.
8. Chris Sale, LHP, Florida Gulf Coast - Sale is another guy that has moved around my draft board a fair amount. He is intriguing in a couple ways. First of all, it's not every day an elite college pitcher is found at Florida Gulf Coast. Second, it's not every day a wiry 6'6" southpaw develops out of nowhere (Sale wasn't drafted in any round out of high school). It is easy to look at Sale's frame and think he will fill out, so many project him to throw harder as a pro. However, personally I would hope that Sale stays about as big as he currently is. His windup is a rather unorthodox sidearm motion, which doesn't stress his arm much, but is not conducive for good command. However, Chris's walk rates are quite low, and remained low against more advanced competition in the Cape Cod league over the summer. Since Sale can throw quality strikes from his arm slot, his throwing motion is probably his greatest weapon. It gives his pitches unique movement, and a level of deception that seems destined to destroy all lefties that face him. There is little doubt that Chris can be a devastating specialty lefty, but that isn't what got him this spot on my list, and it won't be what gets him drafted in the first round. His value is ultimately tied to how well he can get right-handers out with his stuff. I think his deception and command are good places to start, and with a decent change or two-seamer, he will be just fine.
7. Alex Wimmers, RHP, Ohio State - Watch Wimmers snap off one of his curveballs, and you will want him on your team. It is an old-fashioned, over-the-top, slow-motion, 12 to 6 Uncle Charlie. It is gorgeous, and highly effective according to the numbers he has put up in the Big 10 throughout his career. His build and wind-up remind me of Roy Oswalt, but that's about where the comparisons stop. Wimmers also has a fastball, but it is not nearly as explosive as Oswalt's. Seriously, check out Alex's curveball in action. It's fun to watch.
6. Barret Loux, RHP, Texas A&M - The consensus is that Wimmers is better than Loux, and I would not be surprised of Wimmers ends up being better. I have had a hard time separating these two pitchers. Loux doesn't have any one pitch as enticing as Wimmers's curve, but he has a mix of solid offerings that he knows how to use. He also has a bigger, sturdier build, and he uses it to pitch downhill. Combine that with slightly better production in a slightly better conference, and Loux goes slightly ahead of Wimmers on this list, despite the nostalgic allure I have for Alex's classic fastball-curve combo.
5. Manny Machado, SS, Miami Brito HS (FL) - It is funny reading scouting reports about Machado. They all start out with something to the effect of "it is easy to look a tall, athletic prep shortstop out of Miami, and draw comparisons to Alex Rodriguez like many are, but that's unfair..." Truth be told, I am yet to find anyone that has called Machado the next A-Rod, but everyone seems to say that everyone else compares him to A-Rod. Frankly, the comparison is more valid than most are willing to admit. Machado's body type is similar to Rodriguez, and he emulates Rodriguez. Wouldn't you agree that his swing is eerily reminiscent of A-Rod's? There are the inevitable questions about whether Manny will outgrow shortstop, but he looks athletic enough to me to be given a chance. There are also questions about his speed, but the video linked to above shows him hitting a pair of triples. Machado probably won't blaze around the basepaths, but I think he is a victim of a smooth stride. He doesn't look like he is going very fast, even if he is. Everything about the way Machado plays baseball looks rather smooth and effortless. Watching video of him, I was constantly surprised at what he hit, how hard he hit it, how fast he got to the base, how hard he threw the ball, etc. Machado looks like a natural on the diamond, and his production and athletic ability back that up.
4. Yasmani Grandal, C, Miami FL - Grandal has been near the top of my draft board from the beginning, and only cemented his spot as the season progressed. Out of high school, pro teams like Yasmani's defense, but wanted to see how much he would hit. In his three years at Miami, his hitting has come a very long way, to the point where he has arguably had the best season of any college hitter in the nation. A switch-hitting catcher with power potential and solid defense? Yes please, I'll take that. The biggest question mark with Grandal is if he can hit with wood. So far, he has not, and he has had some opportunities. In the end, I think the obvious progress he has made in college suggests that he has what it takes to make adjustments moving forward.
3. Jameson Taillon, RHP, The Woodlands HS (TX) - If you ask me, Taillon has clearly established himself as the premier prep player in this draft class. In the past few weeks, some have voiced concerns over him being a little more hittable in high school this year than they thought he should be, and also their have been some concerns voiced over his signability. Taillon has a college commitment to Rice, and he is an honor student while taking honors classes, and his family is littered with graduate level (and beyond) college degrees. The kid is a legitimate student, and legitimately cares about his education. He also is 6'8" with a fastball that sits in the mid 90s, and "compliments" that with a power curve. Taillon's stuff is built for high strikeout totals, and those have followed him wherever he has pitched. I think some people are starting to miss the forest through the trees with Taillon, because the upside is obvious. Jameson has what it takes to become an ace, and the makeup, moxy, and polish to suggest that he can develop in the pro environment.
2. Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Mississippi - For the past two or three weeks, it has been clear to me that Taillon would be my top-rated prep pitcher, and Pomeranz my top-rated college pitcher. Deciding who goes in front of the other has been very tough. Taillon undoubtedly has higher upside, but prep arms are such riskier picks than college ones. The tipping point for me was comparing Pomeranz's team USA numbers to Taillon's U-18 team USA numbers. Those are somewhat similar tournaments against similar pools of peers. Pomeranz and Taillon stood out in similar ways, with remarkably high strikeout rates. Throw in that Pomeranz is a left-hander, and the safer bet as a college prospect, and he got this spot. Drew had a slump near the end of the year that saw his stock drop, but he seems to have re-established his value. He never really lost much ground for me, because even a sub-par Pomeranz was able to go out and compete fairly well. Pomeranz's walk rate leaves a little to be desired, but he misses a ton of bats, and the contact against him isn't very solid. I can see him tossing similar lines to Scott Kazmir, back when Kazmir was good.
1. Bryce Harper, RF, College of Southern Nevada - I don't know how I feel about a kid essentially dropping out of high school to pursue baseball at 16 years old, but this isn't the place to make that commentary. Purely from a scouting standpoint, it was an excellent move. This past year, Harper has sold me and the entire baseball world on how special he is. He has 29 home runs this year, while mostly using a wood bat, and playing against players mostly three to four years older than him. The previous home run record at College of Southern Nevada was 12, just to give some further context. Harper wasn't just good for a 17-year-old, he was clearly the best player on the field. Currently, Harper plays catcher, but I would move him to right field for a couple reasons. The first is his demeanor. Some have cited character issues, but I think that is way too harsh. Looking at Harper's body, swing, and decision to leave high school, there is no doubt that he is dedicated to the game. However, he is aware of his prodigious strength, and seems willing to flaunt it from time to time. I think that will mellow out some as he gets older, but the focus on his power from the media is only going to intensify as he works his way towards the majors. I think there is a good chance Harper will fall in love with it, and I don't think that's an attitude conducive to working well with a pitching staff. However, it is not a problem at all from the outfield, where his power and speed would be better preserved anyway, and his cannon for an arm would be a real asset too. Even though Harper is very young, he looks to me like someone who will fly through a minor league system, especially if he is moved off of catcher. The power, stroke, and body are already there. He just needs a little time to figure out more advanced pitching, and how to play whatever position he ends up at. Harper is the textbook definition of a phenom, and a no-brainer for the top spot on this list.
I have to go with a final list at some point, so I am locking in now. Even as of a couple minutes ago, I was sliding some players around. Every draft has players that stand out in later rounds, but I think this one is especially susceptible to busts and surprises. The difference between pick 15 and pick 75 does not feel as big as it should be. With the character of this draft, I am almost thankful the Mariners had to give up their first round pick.