Tag: Nick Howard

State of the Systems: NL Central

Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Fall Stars GameThis offseason I will be working on a series that examines the strengths and weaknesses of each of the 30 farm systems in Major League Baseball. The series will be broken up into 6 parts, with each section focusing on one division at a time. These are not prospect rankings, but rather a general outlook and a diagnosis on the overall health of the organization. I will also shed some light on some of the top prospects in each organization who are starting to generate some hype. The statistics, heights, and weights that are cited in this piece are courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. Unfortunately I will not be able to write about all of the prospects that I want to get to here, but if you have any particular questions I will be glad to answer them in the comment section.

Here is the State of the NL East

Chicago Cubs
No system in recent memory has had quite the same crop of talented young hitters, with the Royals system five years ago as the closest comparison. However, that Royals system should serve as a reminder that not all of these guys will immediately become all-stars. What makes this Cubs brigade even scarier is that so many of these guys are up-the-middle athletes. While guys like Baez, Soler, Russell, and Bryant get most of the attention, the Cubs have a second wave in the lower minors that is also extremely impressive. They grabbed some high upside international bats in last year’s July 2 market, including Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez. They also stashed away some quality arms in this past draft. The only big piece they are missing is a frontline starter, although that could be solved by a trade or free agent acquisition this winter.

Top Hitter: Kris Bryant, 3B — AGE: 22 HT: 6-2 WT: 215 B/T: R/R                         
Simply put, Bryant had one hell of a season. Splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A Bryant posted a triple slash of .325/.438/.661 and hit 43 home runs, edging Joey Gallo by one homer in an epic minor league home run race. Bryant also made some really good adjustments this season to his swing and approach. He elevated and narrowed his stance to the point where he looks a lot more comfortable. The stance better suits his style of hitting and really allows him to take advantage of the loft he generates from his long limbs and extremely high finish. There is still relatively little movement in his lower half, but he generates a lot of torque through his midsection. His hands follow the classic V-pattern that most sluggers his size possess, and his is especially pronounced. Given the the length and path of the swing, it is no surprise that Bryant struggles to make contact at times. Strikeout will always be part of his game, but this does not necessarily mean that he will hit for a low average. Bryant has elite control of the strike zone and a very advanced approach at the plate.

Top Pitcher: C.J. Edwards, RHP — AGE: 22 HT: 6-2 WT: 165 B/T: R/R
The former Round No. 48 pick came over to the Cubs as the centerpiece of the Matt Garza trade two summers ago. If you haven’t read the incredible story of Edwards’ career, you should stop reading this and go read that now.Edwards is extremely skinny and durability is a concern, although it looks like he is finally starting to fill out a little bit. He works in the 91-95 MPH range and has an athletic delivery, but what really sets him apart is the life on his fastball. His fastball has glove-side run and explosive life that makes it seem like it is speeding up as it approaches the plate. His curveball is inconsistent but when it is on, it is a dynamite pitch that features power and vertical depth. Edwards missed a substantial part of the season with a shoulder injury, but looked good in the Arizona Fall League.

Riser: Kyle Schwarber, C — AGE: 21 HT: 6-0 WT: 240 B/T: L/R
Schwarber played on the Cape for  parts of two summers, and he was definitely one of the most fun players to watch both years. He also got off to a torrid start in his professional career and slugged at a .634 clip after signing.  The swing takes some getting used to. He is built like a bowling ball, and really squats down at the plate, to the point where it looks like he is sitting down in a chair. Schwarber is country strong, with tremendous strength in his forearms and in his lower half. He incorporates that strength by using a big load that really allows him to tap into his power. Schwarber’s hands stay level through the zone and he has the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the field. He looked like a middle-of-the-order type hitter. He isn’t the most agile defender behind the plate, and I didn’t think he looked like a catcher, but catcher defense is extremely hard to evaluate and I am not going to pretend to know where his defensive home will be. If he moves out from behind the plate and focuses on hitting, he could rocket through the minors.

Cincinnati Reds
This is not an especially deep system and the Reds might be in trouble after 2015 when several of their big-ticket players will be eligible for free agency. But at the top there are some guys who could be impact players. Robert Stephenson headlines the system despite having a tough season in Double-A. Some of the Reds top prospects from the 2013 draft saw their stock slip in their first pro season, and the struggles of guys like Phil Ervin and Michael Lorenzen were noticeable. The Reds went college-heavy in the 2014 draft and acquired some players who could contribute relatively quickly. Ben Lively, Nick Howard, Nick Traveiso, and Daniel Corcino could all become factors in the rotation at some point, although probably in the back half.

Top Hitter: Jesse Winker, OF — AGE: 20 HT: 6-3 WT: 210 B/T: L/L
Winker had a freaky season where he suffered from a concussion and was also involved in a car accident that injured his wrist and prematurely ended his season. When he was on the field he was very effective, slugging .580 for Bakersfield and then earning a promotion to Pensacola. Winker is one of the better pure hitters in the minors. He has a very loose, handsy swing that looks rhythmical when he is in a groove. He has impressive power from the left side, but struggles a little bit and rolls over sometimes when he tries to go the opposite way. In limited action this year he drew walks at a 16 percent clip and profiles as an on-base machine. He put up stats to match the tools in the Arizona Fall League. Defensively he does not have the best reputation in the outfield, but his bat could profile at a corner spot or even first base.

Top Pitcher: Robert Stephenson, RHP — AGE: 21 HT: 6-3 WT: 195 B/T: R/R
In terms of raw stuff, Stephenson can match anyone in the minors. He has an ideal pitcher’s frame at 6-f00t-3 and with long levers. He gets great extension on his fastball and has a lightning quick arm. His heater can touch the upper-90’s MPH, but it is a lot more effective when he commands it at a slightly lower level. His power curve is an equally overwhelming offering for him when it is on. His change up is inconsistent, but still has swing-and-miss potential. The biggest thing holding Stephenson back right now is command, particularly fastball command. He struggled mightily at Double-A Pensacola where he walked about five batters per nine. Stephenson has a huge ceiling but he still has a lot of development ahead of him. It might be in his best interest to return to Double-A next season.

Riser: Nick Howard, RHP — AGE: 21 HT: 6-3 WT: 215 B/T: R/R
Due to an overcrowded Virginia rotation, Howard moved to the closer’s role this spring, where he excelled and became one of the most dominant pitchers in college baseball. However, given his body and deep four-pitch-mix, the Reds intend to use him as a starter. Howard certainly has the repertoire to do this. He fastball operates in the mid-90’s MPH and he possesses two breaking balls that vary in shape, but both possess late, sharp bite. The Red’s may have to tinker with his mechanics a little bit as he looses feel for his delivery at times. This is usually when he looses some of the sharpness off his pitches.

Milwaukee Brewers
his system ranked among the game’s worst a few years back, but has really improved over the last twelve months. The system has prioritized finding dynamic, two sport athletes and developing them into solid baseball players. That strategy is going to lead to some misses, but it is also going to result in some “hits”. As a result of that strategy there is not a lot of depth in this system, but there is some very intriguing talent at the top. The evolution of a guy like Tyrone Taylor is an example of what can happen when one of those types of players is successfully developed. The Brewers took this approach to an extreme level in the 2014 draft where the grabbed three high ceiling talents with their first three selections in Kodi Medeiros, Monte Harrison, and Jake  Gatewood. All three carry extreme risk factors, but even if they can get just one of them to reach their ceilings, this draft could be a coup for them. They were also aggressive in the past international signing period and they shelled out over 3 million dollars  to Gilbert Lara, one of top power bats on the market.

Top Hitter: Tyrone Taylor, OF — AGE: 20 HT: 6-0 WT: 185  B/T: R/R
With the exception of maybe his speed, nothing in Taylor’s game will really blow you away, but he has solid tools across the board. This is is the kind of player who falsely get identified as a “five-tool player’ because he does everything fairly well, but he is more of a solid complementary piece than a true impact guy. He makes consistent contact with his short, compact swing and only struck out at a 10 percent clip in High-A. His power is presently his weakest tool, although there is a chance that some of his 36 doubles to will eventually go over the fence with added strength. Taylor is a premium athlete and should be able to handle center field. Depending on the development of the bat and approach at the plate, he could become a big league table-setter, with his floor as a fourth outfielder.

Top Pitcher: Kodi Medeiros, LHP — AGE: 18 HT: 6-2 WT: 180  B/T: L/L
The Brewers made a splash when they popped Medeiros No. 12 overall last June, but you have to give them credit for taking a risk on his tremendous ceiling. Medeiros is really hard to evaluate because he doesn’t look anything like any other pitcher. The native Hawaiian has a funky windup that generates tremendous deception and unbelievable horizontal movement on all his pitches. His slider is especially intriguing, as it features ridiculous sweeping movement that almost moves like a boomerang. The changeup is behind the other pitches, but still shows good potential. Plus he can also get up to 95 MPH from the left side. While the stuff is outrageous, it is hard to predict exactly what role he will end up in. Given his size, mechanics, and extremely low arm slot, he could end up in the pen, but it is very hard to predict. Sometimes the movement on his pitches is so extreme that it is difficult for him to throw for strikes. In his first 18 professional innings he walked 13 batters butted fanned 26.

Riser: Monte Harrison, OF — AGE: 18 HT: 6-3 WT: 200 B/T: R/R
There is no question that Harrison was the best athlete in last year’s draft. He was a Nebreska recruit that would have played both football and baseball had he gone to school. His dunk highlight reel isn’t too bad either. The tools are extremely raw, but their is a lot of projection to dream on. In his limited debut in the Arizona League he stole 32 bases in 34 attempts. He also showed a more polished approach than many would have believed, and drew walks at a 13.8 percent rate. Harrison is the type of quick-twitch athlete with the bat speed that may be indicative of future power potential, but it is a long way away. He has a tendency to collapse on his backfoot when he tries to pull the ball which squanders some of his power output. If everything comes together he has a monster ceiling, but he could need four or more years of development.

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates have usually had one of the premier farm systems in the game over the last several years, and while this one is not quite as loaded due to some graduations, there is still plenty for Bucs fans to be excited about. Tyler Glasnow flashed ace stuff and dominated the Florida State League and joins Jameson Taillon as another potential frontline arm in the system. Taillon missed the whole season with Tommy John but is now healthy and rehabbing to get back in 2015. There are bounty of other arms in the system including Nick Kingham, a 6-foot-5 righty with a powerful three-pitch mix. The Pirates got a haul in the 2013 draft when they got center fielder Austin Meadows and catcher Reese McGuire. Both got off to good starts in their professional careers.  There is a nice balance of hitters and pitchers and guys with high ceilings and  guys with high floors. Keep an eye on defensive specialist Elias Diaz who could be a replacement for the departed Russell Martin behind the plate.

Top Hitter: Austin Meadows, OF — AGE: 18 HT: 6-3 WT: 200 B/T: L/L
Austin Meadows is blessed with so many natural gifts. Even in high school he was known as a guy who “looks the part getting off the bus” because he has a big league body. He has the kind of swing that you just can’t teach. His command of the strike zone is so far ahead of other players his age. Simply put, Austin Meadows is a natural. He has a very easy, pretty swing. His bat takes a direct route through the zone to the ball. There are no moving parts to throw him off; he is just focused on making contact. His weight transfer is simple but efficient. He doesn’t sell out for power and is comfortable driving balls from gap to gap. There are some who are concerned with his lack of power, but usually that is the last tool to manifest, and with his potential it should eventually come. He is a very fast runner for his size and could steal 15+ bases a year at his peak. Unfortunately Meadows missed a lot of time with a hamstring injury that could impact his ETA to the big leagues. He should probably return to the South Atlantic League to get at bats and work on his defense in centerfield. During the time he was on the field he was very productive, posting a .322/.338/.486 line.

Top Pitcher: Tyler Glasnow, RHP — AGE: 20 HT: 6-7 WT: 200 B/T: L/R
With his size and velocity it is no surprise that Glasnow totally overpowered hitters in the Florida State League. He registered a 1.74 ERA and averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine in 124 innings of work. He can dial his fastball up to 100 MPH but he is learning that he can control it better in the 92-95 MPH range.It is still nice to have triple-digits in back pocket when he needs it. In the rare instances that opposing hitters could catch up with his heat he could drop a hammer curve on them that is a true bat-misser. He has big hands that help him get pretty good feel for his changeup. It is a pitch that will probably continue to improve as he gets better. The problem with Glasnow is that he has a hard time controlling that big body. Walks have been a problem for him, but it is an even bigger problem when he misses in the zone. At the next level, hitters will be able to turn on his fastball, so Double-A will be a big test for him.

Riser: Josh Bell, OF — AGE: 21 HT: 6-2 WT: 235 B/T: B/R
Josh Bell had a breakout season with the bat that many expected, hitting .335 and posting a 153 wRC+ for Bradenton in the Florida State League. However, in my look at him this spring I came away pretty disappointed. He was not the elite athlete that I expected and his body looked a little soft. There are a lot of moving parts in his swing and he gets off balance when he really tries to square up on a pitch, which can leave him exposed to fastballs on the inner-third. The Pirates will continue to try him at first base given their crowded outfield situation, although he does have the arm for right field. Bell’s calling card is his power which is better from the left side. He could hit between 20-24 home runs annually.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals have been a machine in pumping out young talent, and there is no reason to believe that the “Cardinal Way” will end anytime soon. Part of the reason that St. Louis was willing to part with Shelby Miller is because they are confident that they already have his replacement in their organization. As usual, St. Louis is stacked with pitching prospects and no one is better at developing them than they are. In the 2014 draft they added talented RHP Luke Weaver and LHP Jack Flaherty to the mix. They also have Marco Gonzales who reached the big leagues just a year after being selected with the No. 19 pick in the draft. The southpaw should compete for a rotation spot in 2015 after pitching 34 impressive innings last season. The bats are not quite as impressive, but Stephen Piscotty leads the way and could also make an impact in 2015.

Top Hitter: Stephen Piscotty, OF — AGE: 23 HT: 6-3 WT: 210 B/T: R/R
Piscotty has been a consistent performer at every level and last year was more of the same as he slashed .288/.355/.406 for Memphis. He has a level swing from the right side. He has excellent barrel control and can hit the ball to the gaps and use the whole field. Piscotty’s bat doesn’t have middle-of-the-order power, but he should hit about 15 home runs and 30 doubles at his peak. Unfortunately the Stanford alum has moved to right field which hurts his profile a lot, although if he can continue to hit he could still be an everyday right fielder. The acquisition of Jason Heyward might delay Piscotty’s arrival a little bit, but with a good Spring Training he could force himself onto the roster.

Top Pitcher: Alexander Reyes, RHP —  AGE: 19 HT: 6-3 WT: 185 B/T: R/R
In an organization that has pumped out one electric arm after another, Reyes is the next man in line. Reyes has extremely quick, short arm action that enables him to hit 98 MPH with his fastball, with life that makes the ball seem like it is rising. His mechanics are very fluid and repeatable. He also features a curve ball that is very inconsistent, but a weapon for him when he finds the feel to spin it. Sometimes he will cast it and it well miss by a couple of feet. He has a very mature frame and a very physical lower-half, and his body looks like he could log a lot of innings. The command is the biggest thing standing in his way, and he has a tendency to miss a lot with his fastball, especially when he tries to climb the latter. Reyes definitely flashed swing and miss stuff during his first stint in full season ball, he averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine, but also averaged 5.0 walks.

Riser: Rob Kaminsky, LHP — AGE: 19 HT: 5-11 WT: 190 B/T: R/L
Kaminsky is a undersized lefty, with a slingshot delivery, but he will get your attention quick when he unleashes his nasty Uncle Chuck. He gets tremendous spin on the pitch and it has deep vertical break that he can control on both sides of the plate. There are times when he has better control of his curve than with his fastball. The young southpaw used this pitch to dominate hitters in the Midwest League, posting a 1.88 ERA in 18 starts. His fastball is at its best when he keeps it at knee level, which is imperative to his success given his height. If he misses just a little bit, his fastball will flatten up right in the strike zone given his lack of vertical plane. His fastball works in the 91-95 MPH range with a changeup that showed improvement although it is still behind his other two offerings. He throws from a drop and drive delivery that has a some hitches in it. Kaminsky may wind up in the bullpen but has a starter’s mentality and could develop into a solid No. 3 if he can make his mechanics work.

Omaha Preview

CWS_LogoPrimer: The College World Series pits the eight surviving teams in the NCAA tournament (64 teams) against each other in a double-elimination tournament. The teams are divided into two brackets and the winners of each bracket square off in a best of three series. The city of Omaha, Nebraska has hosted the tournament since 1950 and until 2010, it was played at the beloved Rosenblatt Stadium, a colorful bandbox that had a 335-foot power alley in left field. The tournament is now played in TD Ameritrade Park, a more modern park that heavily favors pitchers. In fact in 14 contests, just three balls left the yard last year in the CWS. As a result, pitching, speed, and defense have become critical, and the last two champions, Arizona and UCLA exemplified that brand of “small ball’ play.

Bracket One 

UC Irvine: The Anteaters are the closest thing to a “Cinderella” team in this tournament. As a No. 3 seed in the Corvallis Regional, they bounced Oregon State, the top team in the country, and then snuck by a powerful Oklahoma State team in the Super-Regionals. The Anteaters dropped eight of their last nine regular season games, but right now they are a hot. They don’t have a lot of elite talent, but they have some polished hitters and arms and they stick to their game plan. The Anteaters have a bona fide ace in Andrew Morales, an undersized righty who paced the country with 136 strike outs this year. Third baseman Taylor Sparks is the anchor of their offense. He controls the strike zone and he has a smooth right-handed swing. Although his power numbers slipped this season, he hit just five home runs after hitting 10 the year before, he did have eight triples and 16 doubles. However the X-factor for UC Irvine is actually their coach, the legendary Mike Gillespie who has won over 1,000 games and a National Championship with USC in 1998.

Texas: The Longhorns have some solid bats in their lineup, like shortstop CJ Hinojosa and center fielder Mark Payton, but their trademark is their deep pitching staff. Their starters won’t blow anybody away, but they are all veterans that have been starting for three plus years together. Much like the UCLA team that was crowned champions last year, they pitch to contact, and this stadium should help them. Starters Nathan Thornhill, Parker French, and Dillon Peters all posted sub-3.00 ERAs this season. Like that Bruins team from last year, they could surprise people as both the BBCOR bats and this stadium fit their style of play.

Vanderbilt: In just about any game they play, Vanderbilt will be the most talented team on the field. Over the past several years they have developed a reputation for persuading their top recruits to bypass big league money and to head to school. Their ace, Tyler Beede, was a bit of an enigma this year, although he has the best stuff of any pitcher in the CWS, and the Giants were confident enough in his talent to take him No. 14 overall in last week’s draft. Sophomores Walker Buehler and Carson Fulmer have actually posted better results and both are good enough to be Friday starters on almost any team. Together they fanned a combined 183 batters in 170 innings of work and are on track to be first rounders in 2015. Second baseman Dansby Swanson is the catalyst of their lineup and reached base at a .414 clip while stealing 18 bags. Freshman Brian Reynolds has emerged as a middle-of-the-order threat and slashed .343/.401/.494. The Commodores will be very hard to beat when they are playing well.

Louisville: The Cardinals are the only team with Omaha experience in this tournament, although their returning pitchers logged just five innings in the tournament last year. However, that experience should still give them a slight edge. The Cardinals are a very athletic team that can hit home runs but also reek havoc on the base pads. Senior Cole Sturgeon is the leader of their team, and hit .331 this year while also throwing quality innings out of the pen. Their top starter is Kyle Funkhouser, who after playing a minor role last year, went 13-2 with a 1.73 ERA. They have a lock-down closer in Nick Burdi, the No. 46 overall pick in the draft, who posted a 0.53 ERA this year. Burdi boasts a triple-digit fastball and is a can’t miss player to watch in this tournament.

Pick: Louisville

Bracket Two: 

Texas Tech: Texas Tech has lost just one game in this tournament and breezed by the College of Charleston in the Super Regionals. In fact in five tournament games, their staff has hurled four shutouts. Their lineup also has some pop, and they have as much power as anyone in this tournament. Sluggers Eric Gutierrez an Adam Kirsch combined for 22 home runs and 40 doubles. The Red Raiders won 48 games this year and appear to be peaking at the right time.

Texas Christian: The Horned Frogs also feature a loaded pitching staff. It includes Big-12 Pitcher of the Year Preston Morrison, and first round pick Brandon Finnegan. Finnegan has an electric fastball and slider combo that enabled him to strike out 129 batters this year. Sophomore Riley Ferrell was a weapon out of the pen and he possesses premium stuff and competitiveness. Ferrell could slide into TCU’s rotation next year to fill in for Finnegan, but this year he was extremely valuable in his role as he saved 15 games while allowing just three earned runs all year. In a tournament where pitching really does win championships, the Horned Frogs are poised for success.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have more than just one program riding on their backs — they have an entire conference. Wake Forest was the last, and only, ACC team to win a National Championship back in 1955. But Virginia has as good of a chance to end the 59-year title drought as any team in that span. They are top National Seed remaining, No. 3 heading into the tournament, and they do not have any glaring weaknesses. Their offense never evolved into the juggernaut it was supposed to be, but it is still very good. Derek Fisher and Mike Papi went back-to-back in the Competitive Balance Round of the draft, going No. 37 and No. 38, respectively. Papi has been particularly hot of late on the year has hit .311 with 11 home runs. But pitching and defense are the bread and butter of this team. They have two arms that could go in the top ten picks of next year’s draft in Josh Sborz and Nathan Kirby. The Cavs have what it takes to end this streak.

Ole Miss: No team had more players drafted than Ole Miss did, nine, in last week’s draft. This speaks to the depth and talent that the Rebels have on their squad. This team is all about power, with a number of players in this lineup who can really slug. They connected for 42 home runs, 14 of which were hit by first baseman Sikes Orvis. The ability to hit the long ball will give this team an element that the other clubs lack, and it will be interesting to see how their power plays in this environment. Since the change in ballparks, teams that have scored over five runs are 21-0.

Pick: Virginia 

Top Players in College World Series

  1. Brandon Finnegan, LHP — TCU
  2. Tyler Beede, RHP — Vanderbilt
  3. Nathan Kirby, LHP — Virginia
  4. Mike Papi, 1B — Virginia
  5. Kyle Funkhouser, RHP — Louisville
  6. Carson Fulmer RHP, Vanderbilt
  7. Dansby Swanson, 2B — Vanderbilt
  8. Nick Howard, RHP — Virginia
  9. Nick Burdi, RHP — Louisville
  10. J.B. Woodman, OF — Ole Miss


National Champion: Virginia 

Draft Watch: Regionals Weekend

5_6NolaPitcherCorvallis: Oregon State, UNLV, UC Irvine, North Dakota State
The top-ranked Beavers were rewarded with a pretty soft field of competition, and getting to the Super Regionals should be a cakewalk for them. Michael Conforto is the clear top prospect in this pool, and arguably the best pure hitter in all of college baseball, although he cooled off a bit at the end of the season. If UNLV’s Eric Fedde had not gone down with Tommy John this would have been a lot more interesting matchup, but the Fedde-less Rebels do not pose as much of a threat without their ace.

Sillwater: Oklahoma State, Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Binghamton
This Regional in not necessarily loaded with elite draft talent, but should be pretty competitive. Keep an eye on Cal State Fullerton, although they are the No. 3 team here and had a really disappointing season, they are still very talented and have enough elite arms to make a run. The Titan’s big bats Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis didn’t have monster years like some expected, but they still have plenty of power and slugged .516 and .521, respectively. Their draft stock has slipped a bit, but Champman could still go in Round No. 2 with Davis probably being a factor early on on Day Two.

Houston, Texas: Rice, Texas, Texas A&M,George Mason
There will be plenty of Texas pride on display at this weekend, with three powerhouse programs from the Lone Star State colliding at Rice’s Reckling Park. The Owls will be tough to beat though, with legendary coach Wayne Graham at the helm and their ace Zach Lemond back in the rotation. Before this year Lemond had been a closer a closer, but he stepped into the rotation and was very, very effective, posting a 1.38 ERA. Lemond missed time because of shoulder inflamation and probably projects better as a reliever, but team’s will still be very intrigued by his pitchability and mid-90’s MPH fastball.

Baton Rouge: Louisiana State, Houston, Bryant, Southeastern Louisiana
Louisiana State may just be the nation’s hottest team, after taking down Florida last weekend to be crowned SEC champions. With co-aces Aaron Nola and Jared Poche at the top of their rotation, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they would loose two games. Nola, who owns a 1.49 ERA and a 10-1 record, is also about to make a lot of money. With his stellar performance this year and improved fastball velocity he is a lock to go in the top 10 picks. The Cubs were reportedly in attendance to see his last start, where he topped out at 96 MPH, and they own the No. 4 overall pick. He almost certainly won’t get past the Phillies at No. 7.

Tallahassee: Florida State, Alabama, Kennesaw State, Georgia Southern
This is perhaps the most exciting regional, both in terms of draft prospects and the level of competition. Each team features a potetianl top three round talent — Luke Weaver of FSU, Spencer Turnbull of Alabama, Max Pentecost of Kennesaw State, and Sam Howard of Georgia Southern. Pentecost had a huge summer on the Cape where his athletic skill set, albeit a lighter version, drew comparisons to Buster Posey. He has done nothing but rake this year, slashing .423/.477/.634 while also hitting 9 homeruns. There has even been some talk that the Cubs could take him on an under-slot deal. Also, with southpaw Sam Howard as their ace, watch out for Georgia Southern, as they could potentially upset No. 1 FSU on Friday.

Louisville: Louisville, Kentucky, Kansas, Kent State
The Louisville Regional will pit two intrastate rivals against each other, Louisville and Kentucky, in what should be a very compelling matchup. The Wildcats’ A.J. Reed, the front-runner for the Golden Spikes award, is the most feared slugger in the country. He has a smooth, left-handed swing and relies on his massive strength to his mammoth home runs. This year he has hit an incredible .351/.491/.768 and has launched 23 home runs. Reed doubles as a pitcher, and has been nearly as dominant on the mound, posting a 2.10 ERA. With the power to hit 25-30 home runs annually, Reed has a bat that will play at first base and should probably go in Round No. 1. Closer Nick Burdi is the X-factor for Louisville, and on the year he has struck out 57 batters in 32 innings while allowing just two earned runs.

Nashville: Vanderbilt, Oregon, Clemson, Xavier
The Commodores have a talented array of underclassmen with power arms, but if they want to get back to Omaha, they will need their ace Tyler Beede to regain his form. Beede’s stock has been plummeting lately and on the year he has allowed 41 free passes in 90 innings. He has had trouble with his fastball command and he routinely leaves his curve up in the zone. Out of high school he was a Round No. 1 pick, but if he has another poor outing he just might fall out of it this time around.

Bloomington: Indiana, Indiana State, Stanford,Youngstown State
After a slugglish start, Indiana’s big bats heated up enough for the Hoosiers to secure a National Seed and to for them to host a regional. Catcher Kyle Schwarber is a Round No. 1 talent who has also been one of college baseball best performers, terrorizing Big-10 pitchers to the tune of .340 average with 12 home runs. Neither Schwarber’s swing or body is pretty, but he has an unbelievable knack for getting the barrel on the ball and has game-changing power. Teammates Dustin DeMuth and Sam Travis will give him plenty of protection.

Gainsville: Florida, Long Beach State, North Carolina, Charleston
Florida does not have the star power that they have had in recent years, but this might be the most well-rounded Gator team ever. They vastly exceeded expectations this year and finished with a 21-9 record in the SEC and the No. 2 overall ranking in the country. Backstop Taylor Gushue is their top prospect, a strong thrower with a balanced approach at the plate, but with a large crop of college catchers ahead of him, he might get pushed into Rounds No. 4 or No. 5.

Coral Gables: Miami, Texas Tech, Columbia, Bethune-Cookman
Similarly, the Miami Hurricanes also exceeded expectations this year and have evolved into one of the country’s premier teams. They have a really solid core of freshman that have performed well under pressure, but they also feature a deep veteran rotation. Lefties Chris Diaz and Andrew Suarez went a combined 14-3 and were the staples of that rotation. Both are draft-eligible and will probably go somewhere in Rounds No. 4-6 next week.

Cal Poly, Arizona State, Pepperdine, Sacramento State
Cal Poly had an unbelievable season in which they stormed to a 45-10 mark and a Big West Championship. A large part of their success can be attributed their ace Matt Imhoff who has emerged as a potential Round No. 1 talent. The strongly built southpaw pounds all quadrants of the strike zone and generates good plane on his lively fastball. His stuff is not overpowering but has a pretty high floor. He reminds some of a left-handed Brandon Workman.

Fort Worth: Texas Christian, Dallas Baptist, Sam Houston State, Siena
The Horned Frogs have won 27 of their last 30 contests, and at this pace they could very well be Omaha Bound. Their top prospect is Brandon Finnegan, a lefty with a lethal fastball-slider combination that enables him to miss plenty of bats. He is undersized for a starter, but is very athletic and can run his fastball up into the upper-90’s MPH. TCU has also relied heavily on Preston Morrison, who’s stuff is more sedate, but his performance has been anything but. Morrison earned Big-10 Pitcher of the Year Honors and compiled a minuscule 1.25 ERA. However, to get to the Super-Regionals, TCU will have to get past Dallas Baptist, who won the Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Lafayette: Louisiana Lafayette, Mississippi State, San Diego State, Jackson
Louisiana-Lafayette won more games, 53, than any other team. They are an offensive juggernaut that as a team hit an astonishing .317. They will have to face some pretty good competition. Mississippi State was last year’s runner-up in the NCAA Championship and San Diego State is immensely talented. SDSU’s Michael Cederoth has had mixed results this spring, but he does have an elite arm that can touch triple-digits with his fastball. He is a polarizing player and opinions on him are split, but a good showing could help propel him back into Round No. 2.

Oxford; Mississippi, Washington, Georgia Tech, Jacksonville State
I was very surprised to see that Washington didn’t get to host a regional. They had a very deserving season and have a brand new ballpark that they would be more than willing to show off. Anyway, the are the No. 2 seed in this pool and will have to get by Ole Miss to get to the next round. The Rebels are a battle-tested squad that finished an impressive 19-11 in the SEC.

Columbia: South Carolina, Maryland, Old Dominion, Campbell
The Gamecocks have dealt with injury after injury, but as always, they are primed for a deep run in this tournament. Grayson Greiner, the leader of this team, has head a very solid season in which he has gotten on base at a .404 clip and has improved behind the plate. However, Mayland is a very legitimate threat and they are led by senior Jake Stinnett who has a lively heater that enabled him to record 123 strikeouts this year. Stinnet could be a very nice under-slot option for a team somewhere in Round No. 2.

Charlottesville: Virginia, Arkansas, Liberty, Bucknell
Finally, the Virginia Cavaliers will get to host a regional after a stellar year. The Cavaliers never really broke out with the bats like they were expected too, but with two potential Round No. 1 guys in Derek Fisher and Mike Papi, this could be the week that they finally do. Their pitching has been phenomenal. Nathan Kirby is arguably the best arm for next year’s class and has led the staff with a 1.48 ERA. He has a good trackrecord and top-of-the-rotation stuff. Closer Nick Howard has also had a lot of helium lately and could here his name called on Day One of the draft.

Draft Watch: Florida Preps

Baseball3AFinals_51514_4This weekend many of the top high school seniors from the Sunshine State will be assembled in Sebring (Fl.) for the annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association Classic. There will be numerous draft prospects on display, however the two top prepsters from Flordia, Touki Toussaint and Nick Gordon, will be absent from the event. The players will be divided into an East, West, South, and North squads and each team will have the opportunity to play two exhibition games. Furthermore, the players will have a chance to workout in front of scouts, run 60-yard dashes, and take batting practice.

The North Squad features a duo of pitching prospects that are potential day one picks. Sean Reid- Foley of Sandalwood High School is one of the best high school pitchers in the class and his impressive four-pitch mix gives him the upside of a potential No.3 or even No. 2 starter. Reid-Foley is a bulldog on the mound and can dial his heater up into the mid-90’s MPH. He throws two breaking balls as well as a changeup. Additionally, Reid-Foley will be joined by North Florida Christian High School’s Carson Sands, who has had a big spring to improve his draft stock. Sands has seen an uptick in his velocity this spring and has a deceptive delivery that makes the ball hard to pick up out of his hand. In any other class, he would have a shot at going in Round No. 1, but with so many other elite southpaws in this class, Sands will probably fit more in Round No. 2.

The South All Star team will feature a myriad of Rounds No. 3-6 prospects, but the player who really stands out on this team is Milton Ramos from American Heratige High School, a program that has churned out Round No. 1 picks Eric Hosmer and Deven Marrero in recent years. Ramos is a defensive whiz at short, and has drawn a lot of comparisons to Oscar Mercado from last year’s draft. He makes agile plays to his left and right, is adept at positioning himself, and plays with flair. With the bat, he is not as impressive. He has good bat control, but is rail thin and needs to add strength to avoid being overpowered by premium velocity. Ramos should probably go in Round No. 2, but could sneak into the Compensatory Round on an under-slot deal.

The East Team is the most prospect-laden squad in the tournament. It is headlined by Forrest Wall (pictured), a rare high school second baseman prospect, out of Orangewood Christian High School. He has the potential to be an up-the-middle player with a complete offensive package. He uses the whole field, keeps his barrel through the zone, and has a little pop. He is a quick-twitch athlete, and a burner on the base pads. He could steal 30+ bags annually. J.J. Schwarz, Foster Griffin, Tate Blackman, and Adam Haseley also represent East Florida and could be in play in Rounds No. 2 and No. 3.

Finally, the West Team features a number of talented arms, including Kieth Weisenberg, Cobi Johnson, and Garret Cave. Weisnberg is a name to really keep an eye on, as a righthander with a tremendous ceiling. A good showing at this event could propel him up team’s draft boards. He has a clean delivery and easy arm speed, and a 6-foot-4 frame that should allow him to add strength. With the helium he has been getting lately, Weisenberg could go in the Compensatory or Competitive Balance Round if a team really likes him.

This is also a big weekend for college baseball. With the majority of conferences in the middle of their tournaments, there should be a lot of premium baseball televised this weekend that will appeal to both draft and college fans alike. It is hard to predict an exact schedule given the variability in the nature of these tournaments, but no matter what, it is worth looking out for.

The ACC schedule is more concrete, with all games planned out until the championship on Sunday. The marquee matchup will take place on Saturday  between two likely National Seeds, Florida State and Virginia. The Cavaliers went to Tallahassee earlier this year and took two out of three, so the ‘Noles will be looking for redemption. A lot of attention this year has been put on Virginia’s big boppers Derek Fisher and Mike Papi, but teammate Nick Howard could go earlier in the draft than both of them. Because their rotation is so deep, Howard moved to the bullpen this year and he has exceeded expectations in every possible way. He is averaging 17 strikeouts per 9 — nearly two an inning. Howard can run his fastball up to 98 MPH in relief and has the repertoire to go back to a starter’s role, but his delivery needs work. He could rocket through the minors as a reliever, but his stuff will make it tantalizing to put him in the rotation, although that would be more of a project.

In the SEC tournament Ole Miss and Arkansas will be squaring off in a big matchup as they build their resumes before the NCAA tournament. The spotlight will be on Razorback second baseman Brian Anderson, one of the toolsiest and most underrated players in this class. Anderson has also played the outfield this year, where he profiles better in the future. Anderson has serious power, although he really hasn’t tapped into it yet, great athleticism, and an elite arm. His skill set is pretty comparable to Hunter Renfore from last year if you look at him as a right fielder. On the year Anderson has slashed .315/.388/.479.

Since returning from a shoulder stiffness injury, Texas Christian’s ace Brandon Finnegan hasn’t been as sharp as he was earlier this year, however he still has a shot at going in the top-15 picks. Finnegan will be on the bump on Saturday when TCU faces the winner of Friday’s game between Baylor and West Virginia. The undersized lefty has an electric fastball and a slider that he learned from Carlos Rodon that enable him to be a power pitcher despite his size. Finnegan has to prove to scouts that he is healthy this week. There are a wide range of scenarios of where he could go in this draft, but he has been linked to the Cubs at No. 4 on a possible under slot deal.

Scouting Derek Fisher, UVA prospects

FisherPIWhen I first laid eyes on Derek Fisher he was an awkwardly muscular, acne ridden high-schooler wearing a jersey that was two sizes too big. This past weekend, I saw a body-beautiful outfielder who’s as tooled-up as any position player in college baseball.

The physically striking Fisher currently patrols left field for the Cavaliers, not because his skill set relegates him to a corner, but rather because Virginia has superior options at other positions. A pro club will at least give the 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Fisher a look in center field as he has the requisite speed and arm strength for the position. The legs grade out just beneath plus-plus –- I had Fisher timed at 4.03 and 4-flat down the line from the left side, albeit with a little bit of a jailbreak –- more than enough to run down balls in the gaps, while his arm grades out around average. There’s room to solidify that throwing grade if Fisher’s sometimes-awkward throwing mechanics are made to be more efficient. Despite Fisher’s up-the-middle physical capabilities, there are serious questions about his feel for defense. His reads don’t always come instantaneously and his routes to balls are often circuitous and inefficient.

Whether or not the ills Fisher displays at times in left field follow him to center or right remain to be seen — some players just read the ball better from different spots in the outfield — but it would obviously be a boon for his value if he were to stick in center.

Offensively, Fisher shows impact bat speed and hand quickness with a simple, almost passive bent ankle stride. In batting practice Fisher shows solid-average power, though he’ll collapse his back side to get to it. In games, his swing plane is much more contact/groundball oriented and level. Fisher showed some issues with recognition of secondary stuff on Friday but tracked well the rest of the weekend. There are mechanical adjustments to be made here — lengthen the stride, emphasize torque, cut out the soft front ankle roll that occurs during contact, maybe alter the bat path to squeeze more power out of him — which makes projecting Fisher’s offensive potential rather difficult. He appears to have the athleticism to make adjustments like this and be an average hitter with solid-average power.

Still, Fisher requires more developmental attention than your typical college hitter and that fact will likely play Draft Stock Tug-of-War with his status as one of the draft’s few bonafide first round, everyday college talents. Former UConn outfielder and current Astros prospect, George Springer, was another toolsy college outfielder who lacked typical college polish and was covered with mechanical question marks. Things are working out fine there. Fisher isn’t quite as powerful and explosive as Springer and has different things to correct, but Springer is evidence that college players don’t necessarily come out of the NCAA kiln fired and done. We have to grade out Fisher based on his ultimate ceiling, and ceiling he has.

Present/Future Grades
Hit: 35/50
Raw Power: 50/55
Speed: 65/65
Fielding: 40/50
Arm: 50/55
Overall Future Projection: 60 (First-division player)

There’s more risk and variability here than you’ll usually see with a college bat. If everything comes together and Fisher can play center field, the ceiling is that of an All Star. Realistically, he profiles as an average everyday left fielder who may have some superlative seasons during his prime.

Other UVA Notables
Connor Jones (RHP)
The freshman reliever was pumping in sinking fastballs in the 88-91 mph range with a playable two-plane slider that sat between 79-81 out of the bullpen on Saturday. He showed good feel for locating the slider away from righties and got some swings and misses with it. The arm strength and athleticism are here. Check back in a few years after Jones deepens the repertoire.

Nathan Kirby (LHP)
Friday’s starter, Kirby pitched with a fastball that ranged anywhere from 87-92 mph and what, from my vantage point, looked to be nice armside run. The sophomore relied heavily on his secondaries, especially a loopy 11-5 curveball in the upper 70s, to get through a day in which he didn’t have the greatest command. He also showed a changeup in the low 80s. I’d like to see Kirby pitch off the fastball more. There might be a backend starter or swingman type in here, maybe more if he fills out some and adds velo. The 6-foot-2, 185 pound Kirby has another year to grow and develop before anyone truly makes an assessment.

Nick Howard (RHP)
The Hoo’s closer came in on Friday and sat 92-95 with the fastball and showed a curveball that had nice depth but noticeably slower arm speed than the heater. He’ll be drafted fairly high on arm strength alone by a team that thinks they can tighten up the curveball or get him to come around the side of it a bit and see if it’ll slide.

Jeff Sborz (RHP)
Another underclassman, Sborz sat 90-93 mph as Saturday’s starter and showed an inconsistent but intriguing curveball in the upper 70s. He’s a bit stiff and he looks like a reliever now but, 2015 is a long way away.

Mike Papi (1B/OF)
Papi doesn’t really look the part until he gets in the cage and shows the smoothest, most polished, left-handed stroke on the team. He has excellent control over the bat and sneaky, fringe-average pull power. His weight will be a tad heavy on the front foot at times but the bat has a solid average ceiling. He’s stuck at first base right now — where a 55 bat and 45 power don’t quite profile — thanks to an embarrassment of riches in UVA’s outfield but he has the arm and legs to play right field in pro ball.

Whether he has the feel for the position is unbeknownst to me as I have yet to see him play there. It’s his best shot at an everyday role. He may get popped in round two or three this June.

Brandon Downes (CF)
The star of Friday’s game -– he ripped two homers off of Jeff Hoffman – is another guy to watch out for in the early rounds come June. The right-handed hitting Downes showed playable bat speed and impressed with his ability to drop and pull the bat head down and in and still spank velocity. Despite simple, toe-tapping footwork, Downes looks like he’s going to swing and miss some because of some hand-eye and head movement issues, something we saw more of on Saturday. He’s an average runner –- 4.27 from the right side – who plays a pretty good center field. If a club thinks he can stick –- I’m cautiously optimistic about it, though I don’t think he’s elite there or anything – then he’ll be an early draft pick. He has a fringe-average regular ceiling for me, likely a fourth outfielder type.

Branden Cogswell (2B)
A fine defensive second baseman, Cogswell doesn’t look like he’ll hit for enough power to profile as an everyday player there. The bat is quick and in my opinion he’ll make enough contact and take good enough at-bats that in a few years I’ll be forced to tell people again that he doesn’t have enough power to profile at second everyday.However, if he can play some shortstop he’s got a chance to make it as a utility option. I’m not sure he has the arm to do it.

Daniel Pinero (SS)
At 6-foot-6, Pinero is the biggest player I’ve ever seen for whom I give any shot at playing shortstop. The gangly Canadian freshman looks freakishly natural and comfortable bending at the knees and waist to keep low to the infield dirt as he vacuums up grounders and shows soft and smooth hands and actions. Even though he’s likely to fill out and slow down a good deal more, I’d still project him to stick at short if it weren’t for fringe, underwhelming arm strength.

Offensively, players with levers as long as this are prone to strikeouts, and Pinero will be no different. You can already see issues with inconsistent bat speed and swing length. There is, however, a ton of power projection left here, and balls were screaming off Pinero’s bat when he squared them this weekend. He might hit enough to profile at third base, where’d he could be a plus defender despite the arm.

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