I wouldn't say my draft list is a joke. I spend some legitimate time on it and do what I can to bring my own perspective and insights. However, quite frankly, if my draft board outperforms anybody's (especially an MLB team's) then they need to reconsider how they are using their resources. Me, volunteering maybe 15 hours of my time with only publicly available data and videos, should never beat out a professional scouting department.
The scary thing, to me at least, is that I probably could run a pretty decent draft with the info I gather most years. Let that thought sit in as I unveil my 2014 top 27, the shortest list in a while because of the shortest first round in a while. Enjoy!
27. Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger HS (CA) - Ortiz features a power fastball and power breaking ball which together make him one of the most productive pitchers in this year's prep class. That is no small accomplishment because this draft class features a ton of really good prep pitchers. There have been some concerns with Ortiz's conditioning but his physique improved considerably this season. All things considered, he looks like a future closer to me if he reaches his full potential.
26. Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (TX) - You will have a very hard time finding a list with Kolek lower. He's in the discussion for the first overall pick, and the rumors I'm reading suggest he won't make it past the White Sox at third overall. I came into this process assuming I would rank Kolek first overall but the more I thought about him and where he should rank he slipped down my draft board. The case for Kolek is pretty simple: he's blessed with a phenomenal arm. Kolek hits 100mph in high school with stunning ease. Some say he is the hardest prep thrower they've ever seen. That arm strength was why I expected to put him first overall on my draft board. However, when I watched some video of him pitching, all I saw was throwing. I saw no pitching. Kolek throws really hard all the time. The good news is that his fastball is so overwhelming that it's enough to destroy prep batters. It won't be enough as a professional. I still like Kolek, but this draft class is loaded with pitchers who throw nearly as hard as Kolek with more command, better off-speed pitches, and a better feel for pitching.
25. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Sandalwood HS (FL) - Reid-Foley bounced all around my rankings and if I kept thinking about this list he would probably bounce around some more. His skill set has a hard time standing out in this year's crowded prep crowd, which is both his greatest strength and weakness. Reid-Foley throws pretty hard (into the low 90s) but doesn't have elite velocity. He's got good breaking stuff. He also has good command. Reid-Foley does a little bit of everything well but has no signature thing, like Tyler Kolek's blazing velocity for instance.
24. Spencer Adams, RHP, White County HS (GA) - I seem to be a bit higher on Adams than other rankings I've seen, though not much higher. I think he will sneak into the first round one way or another. Adams has a prototypical pitcher's body - tall, long limbs, and easy, repeatable mechanics. I like him a ton because he also plays basketball, which suggests tremendous athleticism and the potential for rapid growth as he focuses on baseball. It's the same formula that catapulted Taijuan Walker to where he is in the Mariners system today. Adams doesn't throw quite as hard as Walker, but he could add some velocity in time. Adams already has a simple wind up, and he has a breaking ball that flashes as a good pitch.
23. Aaron Brown, LHP, Pepperdine - Brown also plays the outfield at Pepperdine but his future is on the mound. He hits for power and not much else. Brown is already an accomplished pitcher and I like his potential to develop more than most college lefties as he focuses only on pitching. It also helps that Brown does not have to rely on "pitchability" (basically some mix of command and the ability to zig when a batter wants to zag). He has a good arm.
22. Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly - Imhof is sort of like the collegiate version of Sean Reid-Foley. He's easy to lose in the mix because the college ranks have a crazy number of good left-handed starting pitchers. Imhoff cuts an imposing figure on the mound at 6'6" and each year at Cal Poly has figured out how to leverage his frame into better and better results. Imhof held his own on Team USA last summer and followed up with a terrific junior campaign. The significant growth from year to year makes me wonder how high Imhof's ceiling is. Maybe he's found it, maybe there are a few more major steps forward to come.
21. Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville - There was some noise that Louisville would transition Burdi to the starting rotation this year, but they kept him at closer where he slammed the door (again) all season long. Burdi features a fastball that sits in the upper 90s that could get him to the majors in a hurry if he stays a reliever. I would keep him in the bullpen if I was the team drafting him.
20. Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco - Finally, a position player! I think this is a bit of a down year for bats, but really it's hard to tell because this is definitely a great year for pitching. Zimmer brings an intriguing power/speed combo to the ballpark, though with some contact issues. His skill set reminds me some of Chris Young (the outfielder, not the Mariners pitcher/savior of the rotation.)
19. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford - I've seen some whispers that Newcomb could be the Mariners pick at number six. That's a bit high for him if you ask me, though not a bad pick. Newcomb has great stuff, namely a fastball that can reach 95 or so from the left side. Also, while Newcomb is a pitcher from a small school, he held his own in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer. Usually someone like Newcomb would be higher on my board but there's simply so many quality arms this year.
18. Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville - Freeland and Newcomb are essentially interchangeable on my board, though they are not the same pitcher. Freeland doesn't have Newcomb's pure power (though Freeland throws in the low 90s so he's not a soft tosser). He possesses stunning command. Freeland's skill set outperformed Newcomb in the Cape Cod League so I went with him above Newcomb here.
17. Jacob Lindgren, LHP, Mississippi State - I've seen Lindgren cracking top 100 lists but I am higher on him than most. To start with, Lindgren's production is comparable to both the guys below him on my list, Newcomb and Freeland, but he got his results in a major conference at a larger school. He was overpowering as a reliever this year, though not exactly a revelation given how productive he was as a starting pitcher his sophomore year. Lindgren features a fastball in the low to mid 90s (depending on if he is starting or relieving) and a nasty curveball that lefties in particular struggle against. I would try Lindgren as a starter but he should make a good bullpen lefty if starting doesn't work out.
16. A.J. Reed, 1B, Kentucky - Reed is a classic slugging first base prospect. He will hit singers. He will also strike out. No college bat has more power than Reed, hence his ranking on this list. I wouldn't be annoyed if the Mariners took him, though it would be a reach and Reed's contact issues give him so bust potential. Reed pitches some for Kentucky too so perhaps there is some more growth to come at the plate. He's a better hitter than pitcher so there isn't much doubt he should play first base as a pro.
15. Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU - Nola is a pretty popular pick for the Mariners at number six in mock drafts. While he wouldn't be a bad pick I'm not sure he would be a good one either. Nola had a magical season at LSU that capped off a remarkably productive college career. Nola's greatest asset is his command, though to say he is a soft-tosser when he throws in the low 90s would be disingenuous. Still, Nola's breaking stuff isn't too special (other than his ability to place it), though his three-quarters delivery seems to add some deception. He profiles as a guy that could make it to the majors very fast but doesn't have much of a ceiling. Still, Nola might be the safest bet in the whole draft to make a contribution as a starting pitcher - just quite unlikely to ever anchor a staff. I'd like to see the Mariners go for some star power; Safeco Field can help guys less than Nola perform like Nola.
14. Daniel Gossett, RHP, Clemson - Much like Lindgren, I see Gossett popping up later on most prospect lists and few seem as high on him as me. In general, I think ACC prospects get undervalued. It is the best baseball conference in the nation. Gossett's scouting report reads similar to Nola's - righty with good command, relatively mediocre stuff (a low 90s fastball and solid change up) and great command. His numbers are very similar to Nola's too, but he performed in a tougher conference. Clemson's team isn't as good as LSU's, and Nola also had a long scoreless innings streak that generated buzz. I think these are the main reasons that Nola is better known than Gossett. Niether of those facts mean much going forward. In my eyes, Nola and Gossett are pretty much the same pitching prospect, though Nola is likely to go in the top 10 and Gossett has a good chance to wait until day 2 to get drafted.
13. Kodi Medeiros, LHP, Waiakea HS (HI) - I like Medeiros more than most, sort of. Really I just value his skill set more than most. Few argue with Kodi's electric stuff. He generates insane movement on all his pitches, and his sidearm delivery makes the pitches even tougher to pick up. Medeiros has the nastiest stuff of any pitcher in this draft, college arms included. However, he also has trouble commanding his pitches, didn't face very stiff competition, and looks like the type of pitcher that could break down early in his career. Medeiros is a polarizing prospect, but I've got enough of the Seahawks mentality in me to love him. Don't worry about the faults, worry about the strengths. Medeiros has some unreal stuff from the left side. Watch how much trouble the catcher has because he keeps underestimating how much the ball will move. The catcher is Jakson Reetz, a very good prospect in his own right likely to be drafted on day 2, or potentially near the end of day 1:
12. Trea Turner, SS, NC State - Turner's spot on my big board has as much to do with position scarcity as it does his talent. Turner flashed blazing speed on the base paths as a freshman, and his speed is still his best tool. Everything else about Turner is largely unspectacular, but he also boasts no liabilities. Decent bat, decent power, decent patience, decent defense...solid all around. He does all of that at shortstop though, so all his tools play up considerably. There aren't many shortstops, even in the Major Leagues, with the mix of tools that Turner possesses. He could be a good leadoff hitter, which at shortstop carries significant value. He's another popular name linked to the Mariners, and depending on how the draft goes, I could be rather content with him at number six.
11. Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (FL) - Gordon has emerged as a consensus top-5 pick so I have some explaining as to why I have him ranked this low. Gordon didn't look all that good in summer showcase events, which is where all the Youtube videos come from, so he started completely off of my board. However, scouts say he fixed some of the flaws he showed at the plate in the summer, and the production he had his senior year backs that up. At the end of the day Gordon is a borderline five-tool talent at a premium defensive position. I saw an extremely raw batter in summer showcases, but his senior season quelled some of my concerns. Gordon will get billed a "can't miss" phenom if he goes in the top 5, but that's an exaggeration. There are holes and concerns, particularly with his approach and consistency at the plate, but his talent is more than worth taking a chance on.
10. Michael Chavis, 3B, Sprayberry HS (GA) - Chavis plays shortstop but I think his home will be at third base. Chavis has a great bat and his body type suggests he will fill out and lose some of the mobility that lets him range around at shortstop for the time being. With that said, Chavis already carries a big stick and more size will bring more power. There's also a strong record of shortstops becoming elite defenders at third base. Evan Longoria and Manny Machado come to mind.
9. Touiki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs Christian Academy (FL) - Toussaint, in my opinion, has the most upside of any prospect in this entire draft. I hope you are sitting down before you watch him unleash his curve ball (first one snaps off around the 31 second mark):
Medeiros has the most electric stuff of any pitcher in this draft, but Toussaint's curve ball is the deadliest pitch in the entire draft. It's absurd, and as it turns out, Toussaint hasn't quite figured out how to command it yet. That's partly because Toussaint is also a starting outfielder on his prep team, and would be a legitimate pro prospect as an outfielder. However, that curve ball is the reason everyone believes he is a pitcher (well, that and because his fastball gets into the upper 90s).
What's even more amazing about Toussaint is that he didn't start pitching until 4 or 5 years ago. He got a much later start than other elite prospects. This is partly due to his back story. Toussaint is Haitian, and he says he learned to deal with draft prep pressure from watching his father, a high ranking politician in Haiti. Toussaint wasn't a child in the United States' hyper-competitive elite sports culture which tends to identify athletic talent early on.
This will be my longest write up on any prospect, if you haven't guessed by now. Toussaint is my favorite prospect in the 2014 draft. His coaches say he lights up a room with his positive energy, and why wouldn't he be happy with his crazy athletic ability and even crazier curve ball? Toussaint is still quite raw, and too raw for me to rationally put him atop this year's big board. However, I hope Toussaint lands in an organization that knows how to cultivate pitching prospects because I want to see him harness all his potential.
8. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU - Finnegan is relatively short. He might be six feet tall, he might not be. However, he brings the heat, touching 95mph throughout his starts and complimenting his fastball with some nice off speed offerings. Finnegan has been a productive college pitcher and was one of the better arms for Team USA last summer. He profiles as a guy who could fly through a minor league farm system.
7. Michael Conforto, LF, Oregon State - Conforto is a super local product, considering that he graduated from Redmond High School. He didn't get drafted out of high school, which is rare for a college slugger so high on draft boards as a junior. I'm not the only one high on him, though I have him a bit higher on my board than most. Conforto can flat-out rake. He hits for average and power with an advanced approach at the plate. He has a good feel for the strike zone and exhibits great plate coverage with his swing. The knock on Conforto is his athleticism, which likely limits him defensively to left field. This draft class has lots of defensive liabilities though, and few of them offer the kind of talent and skills at the plate that Conforto brings. He would be an interesting pick for the Mariners at six, though he is left handed, like just about every other impact bat the Mariners already have.
6. Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State - Pentecost surged up my draft board as my research unfolded. I have my worries about him because he played at a rather small school, but his video tape looks good, his Cape Cod numbers last summer were great, and scouts generally like his game. Most think Pentecost can stick behind the plate, which boosts his value. Most also think he projects as a doubles hitter though I think he has a bit more power than that. He certainly flashed more in the Cape Cod league last summer. Regardless, good hitters are hard to find at catcher, whether they are double hitters or something more.
5. Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State - The younger brother of White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie, Casey is likely to get drafted even higher than his older brother who is a former compensatory first round selection. Casey is a switch hitter that will play first base because he doesn't have the athleticism for really anywhere else. Gillaspie pretty much profiles to be everything the Mariners hope for Justin Smoak. Casey is a switch-hitter that has flashed above-average power with a great approach at the plate and sure hands with unspectacular range at first base. Gillaspie is a realistic target for the Mariners at the sixth pick and he is one of two college bats I would seriously consider if I were Jack Zduriencik.
4. Kyle Schwarber, C, Indiana - Here's the other college bat I would target if I were Z. Schwarber will likely be available for the Mariners. I'm a bit higher on him than most, though I'm not totally sure why. Schwarber has a great bat and he plays a premium position. There's significant doubt about Schwarber sticking at catcher but he might be athletic enough to handle a corner outfield spot, and should have a good enough bat for first base too. The Mariners could still use hitters and their biggest holes are in the corner outfield and first base. Either Schwarber fills an organizational need or he sticks at catcher where he becomes tantalizing trade bait (assuming Mike Zunino locks down catcher, which looks safe if you ask me). The only knock on Schwarber from a Mariners perspective, is that he's a left-handed bat.
3. Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA) - In a perfect world the Mariners get this guy right here, but I don't expect him to fall outside the top five. Jackson is likely the best power prospect in this draft. There are questions about whether he sticks as a catcher or not, though I personally think he can. His transfer on throws to second is impressively quick. I think the bigger question is if a team wants to keep Jackson's bat in the minors long enough to iron out all the intricacies of catching. I know I wouldn't. I'd put him in right field from day one and let him hit his way to the majors.
2. Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State - Rodon had a "down" season, although the bigger problem is that most probably had insane expectations of him. He emerged early on as the runaway top prospect in this class, though he never should have been given that title. Yes, the stuff is filthy, and he's left-handed to boot. However, while Rodon's strikeout totals have always been silly, his walk rates have always suggested some command issues. Control is still an issue but it continued to improve this year. I hope the team that drafts Rodon doesn't rush him.
1. Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (CA) - I think the argument over who's the top prospect in this draft is over. Aiken more or less came out of obscurity, especially in this loaded draft for pitchers. He gained velocity on his fastball this year but didn't lose command of his breaking pitches. Aiken has an overwhelming arsenal, especially for high school, because he's able to control all of his pitches and is liable to throw his breaking pitches at any time and throw them for strikes. That's what separates Aiken from his peers, and everyone in this draft for that matter. That and he's left handed. Never hurts to be left handed.
It seems fitting that the year of the Tommy John surgery would feature a draft loaded with pitchers, especially prep pitchers, the most likely to need those TJ surgeries down the road. I am curious to see if teams pick the best player available or go with the best at positions of need, because some team pretty early on is going to have a choice between a position player or higher ranked pitcher. Will some prep arms slide or not?