Son of Ex-Big Leaguer No. 1 On List,
But Focus On Heisman Winner Winston
The 2015 baseball draft is still two college and high-school seasons away, so a lot can transpire with the top prospects in the class between now and then. But no player may end up generating more curiosity and intrigue among scouts over the next 18 months than Florida State’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston.
In addition to his obvious skills in football, Winston, an unsigned 15th-round pick of the Texas Rangers out of an Alabama high school in 2012, has considerable talent on the baseball field and conceivably could become a first-rounder in the 2015 draft—as either a pitcher or position player.
Winston would obviously have to devote significant attention to baseball over the next two seasons at FSU for that to occur, but he at least saw considerable time on the field in 2013 as a true freshman, unlike in football where he was red-shirted his first year on campus. In 119 at-bats for the Seminoles last spring, playing mostly in right field, he hit .235-0-9 with 10 extra-base hits, along with 22 walks and 33 strikeouts. In 27 innings on the mound, spread over 17 relief appearances, he went 1-2, 3.00 with 12 walks and 21 strikeouts, along with two saves.
While he failed to go deep even once as a freshman, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Winston has considerable untapped power potential, along with above-average raw speed and arm strength. He topped out at 97 mph in outings against national powers Miami and North Carolina, while mixing in a quality slider.
Winston is scheduled to play as meaningful a role in 2014 for the Seminoles as his time permits, but has been penciled in initially as the team’s DH and primary closer. He could easily see significant playing time again in right field with the significant strides he made as a freshman in his routes to balls.
It remains to be seen if Winston makes the same quantum leap forward as a baseball prospect over the next two years as he did in football this fall, when he became just the second freshman in history to win the Heisman. But it’s not unprecedented for a Heisman Trophy winner to cast his lot with baseball as former Auburn running back Bo Jackson, the 1985 winner and No. 1 pick in the NFL draft the following year, went on to a successful big-league career.
Additionally, Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman winner out of Texas, and another Florida State QB, Chris Weinke, the 2000 winner, both played professional baseball prior to winning college football’s most-prestigious individual award.
While Winston, ranked No. 13 on the accompanying list of the Top 200 Prospects for the 2015 Draft, as compiled by Perfect Game, is the most intriguing name in that class, most of the early attention at this point focuses on Georgia prep outfielder Daz Cameron, Florida prep shortstop Brendan Rogers and Texas Christian righthander Riley Ferrell, ranked 1-2-3 by PG.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Cameron has some notoriety of his own as he is the son of Mike Cameron, who accumulated 278 home runs and 297 stolen bases in a 17-year big-league career, and was a three-time Gold-Glove winner in center field. The younger Cameron possesses a lot of his father’s natural talent and may actually have more raw power potential with his exceptional bat speed, though may also be a step slower on the bases.
The rapidly-emerging Rodgers also has one of the fastest bats in the prep ranks, and stands out equally for his advanced approach. Despite just entering his junior season at Florida’s Lake Mary High, he has no glaring holes in his game.
Ferrell has emerged as the top college talent in the 2015 class, even as he went undrafted out of a Texas high school in 2012 and didn’t overly distinguish himself as a freshman at TCU, going 0-2, 2.20 in 23 relief appearances, mostly as a set-up man. But the 6-foot-1, 210-pound righthander was a revelation in a late-inning role in summer ball, first in a trial run for the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League and ultimately in a dominating stint with USA Baseball’s college-national team.
With a fastball that peaked at 98 mph and a slider at 87, Ferrell’s raw arm strength is the best of any pitcher in the 2015 draft class. His arm action and aggressive approach to pitching may be geared now for a closer or once-through-the-rotation role, though it’s possible he could start down the road if he can develop his changeup into a reliable third pitch.
Typical of Ferrell’s overnight emergence into an elite talent, most of the other top prospects in the 2015 college class were also little or no factor in the 2012 draft, which represented the first such draft under baseball’s current Basic Agreement. While the agreement targeted a general reduction in signing bonuses to college and high-school talent, it also emphasized a more systematic signing of players selected in the first 10 rounds.
Predictably, a record-low nine players taken in the first 10 rounds of the 2012 draft went unsigned, including Stanford righthander Mark Appel, who was selected eighth overall and subsequently became the No. 1 pick in the draft a year later.
Only four of the nine remain unsigned, with the highest such pick being Missouri sophomore righthander Alec Rash, a second-round of the Phillies. The others are Southern California lefthander Kyle Twomey (Athletics, third round), Arkansas lefthander Colin Poche (Orioles, fifth round) and California outfielder Nick Halamandaris (Mariners, eighth round), but only Poche projects as even a late first-rounder in 2015 at this point. He ranks No. 23 on the attached list.
In past drafts, premium unsigned picks out of high school would typically monopolize the top of the college draft board three years later, or whenever they were next eligible for selection.
Led by Ferrell, the strength of the college crop in the 2015 draft appears to be pitching, with Virginia lefthander Nathan Kirby, Arizona State righthander Ryan Burr, Oregon lefthander Cole Irvin and Louisville righthander Kyle Funkhouser, all sophomores, also ranked in the top 10 overall. Much of the elite-level college pitching, in fact, is heavily concentrated at a handful of power programs. Arizona State, UCLA, TCU and Vanderbilt all boast three arms in the Top 100.
The strength of the current high-school junior class, meanwhile, is found in a deep crop of shortstops. Rogers leads the pack at No. 2 overall, but others like Georgia’s Jahmai Jones, Pennsylvania’s John Aiello and Colorado’s Nick Shumpert also project as possible selections in the top half of the first round in 2015.
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