The thoughts and opinions listed here do not necessarily reflect those of Perfect Game USA. Patrick Ebert is affiliated with both Perfect Game USA and 5 Tool Talk, and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I always refrain from calling the draft a crap-shoot, a phrase used by fans to imply that you never know what you’re going to get from a player, no matter how highly touted. Knowing how much time and money are invested scouting amateur players, I know that things such as chance and luck don’t play as big of a part of a player’s success that so many others believe.
You’re not going to hit a home run on every first-round draft pick, and you also can’t underrate the importance of developing any kind of big-league player, from a staff ace to the 25th man on your favorite team’s roster. Of course it is significantly easier to find the bench player, but identifying big league talent is the name of the scouting game.
So much is stacked against young players, and so much can and often does go wrong along the way. From injury and personal issues to limited talents and the inability to make crucial adjustments, there are so many things that separate Major League baseball players from everyone else. And that’s why they’re there.
It all starts with tools. It is like the periodic table of elements in chemistry, knowing and understanding how all of those pieces come together to make up our surroundings.
Similar to the ‘big bang’ theory in science, the baseball draft poses scouts with an interesting balancing act known as ‘boom or bust.’ This phrase is usually reserved for players that are undeniably talented but sometimes painfully frustrating to watch. How much one team falls in love with a player’s potential often dictates how early said player may be selected.
I am going to identify a baker’s dozen of players that are eligible for this year’s draft that are among the more enigmatic while pointing out what makes their future potential as uncertain as it is appealing.
Bradley is actually quite polished for a high school pitcher, showing good fastball command and the ability to throw a hammer curve for strikes. His enigmatic qualities may not come in his abilities as a baseball player, but for his promise as a football player as one of the nation’s most promising quarterback recruits. The Oklahoma Sooners have a knack for making superstars out of quarterbacks at the college level, and that appeal may make signing Bradley away from the gridiron particularly difficult. He may be looking at the $5.25 million that Zach Lee got from the Dodgers to pass on a promising two-sport career at LSU a year ago. Teams are able to spread out big money over five years when signing two-sport athletes, but that is still a sizable chunk of change to contend with if that is Bradley’s aspiration.
Ryan Carpenter, Gonzaga
Carpenter has one of the easiest and repeatable deliveries of any pitcher eligible for this year’s draft, and he has solid stuff to complement his delivery and his athletic stature. If you have seen Carpenter at his best (such as earlier this season when he matched Texas A&M’s John Stilson pitch-for-pitch), you would think that he would be considered a lock for the first round. If you have seen him when he’s struggling with his command, like he did in his two starts after facing the Aggies, you may question his future potential. To his credit, he has been very strong in his last three starts, and so far this year has been consistently good as shown by his 3.10 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 42 innings of work. The 21 walks also point to his recurring control issues.
Zach Cone, Georgia
Built like a running back with an exciting blend of speed and power, Cone is one of the best athletes available for this year’s draft. He’s just barely hitting on the sunny side of .300 this season, but he is striking out at an alarming rate (24 in 29 games) after whiffing only 32 times all of last year. His sophomore year was pretty special, coming off of a strong summer on the Cape. During a frustrating year for the Bulldogs, Cone was a bright spot, hitting .363 with 29 extra-base hits, 13 steals in as many attempts and he committed only one error in centerfield. The strength, bat speed, foot speed and power potential are all there, but he needs to refine his approach while cutting down some holes in his swing to enjoy success at the next level.
I listed Kelly here due to his physical projection, as I don’t mean to imply that he is frustratingly enigmatic, but full of future potential. He isn’t the same type of athlete or pitcher that Kevin Gausman is, but he is similar to Gausman in that he is possibly the most projectable pitcher available for this year’s draft. That means the sky is truly the limit. Like Gausman, if Kelly doesn’t show enough to scouts this spring to convince a team to take him early enough to get him in the fold, he may be college bound. That could leave fans wondering how someone as talented as Kelly slipped three years from now. I’m not saying he will, but with a ridiculously deep draft when it comes to pitchers, much crazier things have happened in the past.
Mikie Mahtook. LSU
You may ask me why I have Mahtook listed here, who is enjoying a huge year for the Tigers, hitting above .400 with 10 home runs two weeks into conference play. He has already stolen 16 bases and has shown an improved ability to get on base. The numbers are all fine and good, but he will need to continue to prove that his bat is legit. Again, the numbers show that they are, but in the times I have seen him play I worry a little with his swing and his tendency to get over-aggressive. Like Cone, he is a special athlete that has five tool and first-round potential. However, since Mahtook is such a gifted athlete, if a team believed more in his ability to hit he likely would be a top 5-10 overall pick and not one considered to go in the lower half.
Harold Martinez, Miami
If there was an award handed out to the player that most resembles a big leaguer physically, Martinez may just take home that hardware. A former Aflac All-American that arrived at Miami with plenty of promise, he continues to struggle at the plate. His batting average is below .300 (.289) and he also has had difficulty driving the ball with only five extra base hits. 19 strikeouts in 97 at-bats isn’t terrible, but it also is an indication that he has a lot of work to do in his approach. There is still plenty of time for him to right the ship and pick off where he did a year ago when he hit 21 home runs, but at the mid-way point of the college season, it is time for that switch to be turned on.
Anthony Meo, Coastal Carolina
Meo falls into the ‘tweener category of someone that has been enjoying success as a starter at the college level, but may profile best as a closer when it’s all said and done. He has an electric arm with the ability to pump his fastball into the upper-90s while settling in around 93-96. His slider is an equally wicked pitch when he’s getting it over for strikes, and while he started this season off a little slow, he has been a lot more impressive in recent weeks. He has commanded the strike zone better this year, and has also maintained his velocity deep into ballgames. There are some concerns with his delivery, but the ball explodes out of his hand and he has a strong, sturdy frame. Right now it looks as though he could go in the 20-30 range come June, an area teams aren’t accustomed to being able to draft an arm as gifted as Meo’s.
Alex Meyer, Kentucky
Meyer defines the ‘boom or bust’ category better than any other pitcher listed here. A former Aflac All-American at the high school level, many felt that Meyer would have been a first-round pick in the 2008 draft. The Red Sox offered Meyer first-round money as a 20th rounder, but he still opted to go to college. Statistically it may appear that things are slowly but surely coming together for Meyer, who has a 3.10 ERA and has struck out 62 batters in 49 innings of work, but he has also walked 26. His stuff is as good as it has even been, with a mid-90s fastball that shows late movement and a nasty breaking pitch when he’s throwing it as well as he’s capable of. There has been some discussion that Meyer, due to his control issues, may be a better fit in a bullpen down the road, but he sustains his velocity too well for that to happen, and has shown the ability to settle down after his first couple innings of work.
Location is the reason Nimmo is on this list, but as the expression goes, ‘if you’re good enough, they will find you.’ Nimmo’s season begins this week in Arizona for spring break, as his American Legion team travels South for better weather and greater exposure. His in-season schedule begins on Saturday, April 16, playing several doubleheaders over the weekends leading into early May, appropriately named “Snowball Series” given the propensity for bad weather. If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, it may be even more difficult for scouts to get a good look at Nimmo, who has first-round talent and tools but a lot of uncertainty given his relative inexperience at larger showcase and tournament events.
Peter O’Brien, Bethune-Cookman
While location may hurt Nimmo, the level of competition may work against O’Brien. He did play and impress swinging a wood bat for Team USA last summer, leading the Collegiate National Team in homers (four) and slugging (.694). He is among the national leaders in dingers with nine so far this year as he continues to solidify his position as one of the best catchers available for this year’s draft. The fact that he’s hitting .283 with that many home runs point to somewhat of an all-or-nothing hitter, so his presence here on this boom-or-bust list is fitting. That said, his raw power potential is among the best of those that are draft eligible, and despite his five errors on the young season, I’m still a believer in his ability to stick behind the plate.
Starling’s situation is quite similar, and probably even more exaggerated, than Archie Bradley’s as listed above. Starling is undeniably talented, who would probably be one of the minor league’s better prospects as a hitter or as a pitcher at the next level. His true five tool talent likely means he is drafted as an outfielder, unless some team surprisingly Van Benschoten’s him and uses his talents on the mound. Like Bradley, Starling is expected to stick with baseball, either now or three years from now, but he knows as well as anyone that he can use his two-sport as leverage for a big payday.
Vogelbach is one of the most polished and dangerous hitters eligible for this year’s draft, as I don’t think too many teams question his potential with a bat in his hands. He routinely knocks the ball out of the park, and can put on an absolute display during batting practice. As good as his power looks, his body leaves a lot of question marks about how well he will hold up over time. These questions are ones that other players such as Prince Fielder, Jack Cust and Jaff Decker are all too familiar with. First basemen are frequently scrutinized given their positional inflexibility, but Vogelbach’s bat is good enough to silence whatever criticism he may receive.
B.A. Vollmuth, Southern Mississippi
Vollmuth joins Mahtook in a category of players that are enjoying tremendously successful seasons at the college level, yet are still clouded with questions about their future potential with a wood bat in their hands. Vollmuth has had little problems hitting for power during his college career, with nine already this season. However, his 27 strikeouts point to a big, aggressive swing, and his 10 errors at the shortstop may point to a need for a positional switch at the next level. The fact that he didn’t hit particularly well on the Cape last summer with a wood bat doesn’t help his case, and it’s been felt that with his size he likely would have to move off of shortstop regardless of how many/few errors he commits. He does continue to produce, putting up big power and run producing numbers, and is a big reason why Southern Miss is making some serious noise this year.