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2014 MLB Draft Previews: College Pitchers, Prep Pitchers, College Hitters, Prep Hitters
Before I jump into the draft bunker completely and start pumping out regional previews, scouting reports, etc. every day until the draft, I thought this would be a good time to take a step back and look forward. While I've been touching base with scouts and industry insiders all season about the 2013 draft, I've also been collecting notes on 2014 and 2015 draft prospects as well. They've now piled up and it's best to offload what I have so far. Keep in mind this is obviously incomplete information at this very early juncture, but this is a good look at many of the top names and how the class looks as a whole. This piece is part two of a four-part preview (see the links above), split up by college/high school and hitters/pitchers of the top prospects for the 2014 MLB Draft.
An early look at the college bats has the 2014 crop the same to a little weaker than 2013, which has a sneaky deep crop of college bats. I've got Trea Turner as a true 1-1 candidate, in the same general area as Kris Bryant while Derek Fisher has a chance to be as good as Colin Moran (though Fisher has a lot of work to do), but Kyle Schwarber won't be D.J. Peterson and things start to separate from there. As I said in the college pitching preview, it's obviously still very early to get a great feel for this class, but I think overall, the 2013 college hitter crop's depth is getting a bad rap since the draft class as a whole lacks a franchise talent, so even a slightly lesser crop in 2014 is a good sign.
Trea Turner has taken a long path to likely top 10 pick and possible #1 overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. He was a little-known late riser as a senior from a south Florida high school that passed on a six figure offer from the Pirates as a 20th round pick. I talked to him earlier this season after a solid game early in his return from an ankle injury. He described how he knew he was just a physically weaker, slap-hitting, one dimensional prospect in high school that couldn't get calls returned from his dream school, Florida State. Some elite athletes aren't developed when they turn 18 and especially the slim-bodied, up-the-middle type athletes often have to add some bulk and develop physically before it all comes together.
Turner was a standout as a freshman playing third base and hitting .336/.432/.459 with more walks than strikeouts and going 57-for-61 on stolen bases. While he's missed some time as a sophomore, he's taken another step forward, hitting .393/.476/.613 with 29 BB, 21 K and 23-for-28 on the bases. The difference is this year Turner has been playing shortstop and he's gotten stronger and smoother as an athlete. He's an 80 runner that even coming off an ankle injury has the actions and lateral quickness to stick at shortstop long-term where his above average to plus arm plays. He's a fluid athlete with a smooth swing and a good sense of the strike zone, leaving his only weakness being his lack of raw power. His game power is developed thanks to his sound swing and advanced approach but his power ceiling is in the low double digits annually, which is below average but more than enough given his well-rounded tools and polish.
Without much reservation and despite what's looking like a very strong prep class, Turner is the #1 player on my board for the 2014 Draft. I was told by some sources before I saw Turner that I'd like him more than the much more heralded N.C. State LHP Carlos Rodon (broken down here) and I found it hard to believe, but they were absolutely correct. In this situation, I've talked to the player a good bit and to some scouts that know him as well and he earns raves for his makeup. He's also a great interview, so seriously go listen to that episode of the podcast because this guy is going to be a star.
Derek Fisher was a much higher profile prospect than Turner in the same 2011 prep draft class, turning down significant money in the 6th round from the Texas Rangers. Fisher was a big name for awhile in high school, but as a cold weather prospect from Pennsylvania that had an iffy spring and serious swing-and-miss questions, his seven figure price tag limited his options. His freshman year in Charlottesville followed this narrative, as he hit .288 with 22 walks and 61 strikeouts in 219 AB despite flashing upside with 11 doubles, 8 triples and 7 homers as a toolshed with a center field profile. Fisher has made some adjustments at the plate this spring, hitting .309/.423/.533 with 23 BB and 30 K. There's a lot to like here with a 6'3, 210 pound left-handed hitting athlete that flashes above average speed and power with some aptitude for making adjustments. That said, he lacks instincts in the field and on the bases, likely moving him to a corner in pro ball with an average arm giving him a chance to stick in right field, but possibly limiting him to left.
I haven't scouted Kyle Schwarber yet, but the people that have can't stop raving about his bat. The squatty lefty hitter catches now but likely won't stick there long-term and would then likely be limited to first base fit long-term but the above average bat and power stand out, while his sophomore year numbers aren't bad either: .381/.469/.670, 33 BB, 25 K, 13 HR.
I caught a game of Austin Couino earlier this year and the smallish lefty-hitting center fielder is a tightly-wound quick-twitch athlete with surprising double digit homer power potential and above average speed. He's got some wildness to his game and rawness to his swing mechanics that should be fixable, along with the kind of moxie to keep it interesting:
Michael Conforto is the boring, long-performing corner bat that puts up solid numbers with a good bat, good eye, some power, has been on Team USA (and will again) and could get into the top 50 picks with a solid junior season. Mason Robbins has an advanced lefty bat that likely moves to right field but may have some profile issues. A couple teams were willing to pay him handsomely out of high school and he still may find that in 2014. Joey Pankake has the best name in the history of forever but some scouts preferred him as a pitcher coming out of high school. He's a good athlete with a chance to stick at short that's developed offensively from a raw bat speed guy with some strength to more polished as a sophomore, with a .323/.396/.523 line with 10 homers and 23 walks and strikeouts.
Alex Blandino and Matt Chapman are both smaller west coast third baseman with tools that have had awful springs but have shown scouts tools in the past. I saw Blandino early in the year and think there's some similarities to Virginia Tech's Chad Pinder, who is a solid 2nd rounder in this year's draft. Both have average power potential and a chance to profile best at second base given their size, quickness and hands. Chapman has a plus arm and solid hands at third with some raw power at the plate that's worth more if he makes enough contact to get to it. Austin Byler is a third baseman now that likely moves to right field or first base long-term and there's some swing-and-miss to his swing but his above average left-handed power will give him some margin for error. Virginia's Brandon Downes is a late-developing, long-limbed athlete from New Jersey with a center field profile. He has some swing-and-miss to his game but has above average arm strength and speed along with at least average power potential.
The Gators had a historic class of on-campus and recruited talent leave in the 2012 Draft (10 players in the top 3 rounds) but have much less draft-eligible talent for 2013 and a deep recruiting class that should have a better chance of getting to campus. In 2014, Florida will get back to their old ways, with a number of potential high round draft picks on the roster and they also have a least one recruit with the looks of a first rounder (details in the next installment of this series). Casey Turgeon is very similar to Nolan Fontana, the first pick of the second round to Houston in the 2012 draft. Turgeon has only played second in Gainesville (in deference to Fontana and now the even slicker Richie Martin) but some scouts think he could play short professionally. He has a solid eye and contact approach from the left side with surprising 45 raw power and a gamer attitude. Taylor Gushue hasn't gone through the draft process before, leaving high school a semester before he would've been draft eligible to get started with the Gators, so he'll likely be the youngest college junior in the draft. He's had some trouble with the stick and his approach his first two seasons, but he's got a chance to stick behind the plate long-term and flashes average raw power from both sides with a solid swing.
Others Of Note
Another guy to watch on that Florida team is Justin Shafer. He's pitched a good bit in relief his first two seasons and aggressively uses an average fastball-slider combo, but his future is as a corner bat. He's got enough arm for right field and flashes average raw power with some feel to hit. It isn't a first round type profile, but if the bat continues to progress, he could sneak into the second round. Yet another Gator hitter to monitor is IF Josh Tobias. He's had a tough two seasons in Gainesville and has gotten a little stiffer defensively and at the plate from when he was a bigger prospect in high school. Tobias has worked at second and third and is a better fit at third but his gap power fits better at second. There's some bat speed and some feel for the barrel, but the pure athleticism and looseness is lacking right now. If Tobias can regain some of that magic over the summer, he could also be factor in the top few rounds.
The third significant 2014 prospect for N.C. State is C Brett Austin. He didn't sign as the Padres sandwich round pick out of high school and is more raw than you'd think with that pedigree, but still has some upside. Austin is a switch-hitter with the power potential and arm strength to profile every day behind the plate, but there's still some rawness to work out offensively and defensively.
Joining Fisher and Downes in a potent UVA lineup is right fielder Mike Papi. The 6'3 lefty hitter put up some video game numbers this spring: .408/.546/.669 with 39 BB, 10 HBP and 21 K. He's more of a 2nd to 4th rounder as a right field profile with some power and arm strength but not quite the tooled-up athlete as his teammates. South Carolina C Grayson Grenier is very long for a catcher at 6'5 and has the arm to give him a chance but scouts think he moves to a corner where his above average power potential will profile but he has some understandable contact issues to work out.
Jordan Luplow of Fresno State is another guy that jumped out some for me in person earlier this season. He plays right field in deference to Aaron Judge and doesn't look it, but has above average speed and a chance to profile in center if his bat progresses. He takes an aggressive cut from and has below average raw power but he can wear out the gaps and gets the most out of his tools, though his offensive performance this season has been inconsistent.
Lastly, I feel like I have to address Kevin Cron of TCU. He was the third highest prep draftee to not sign (behind Beede and Austin) in the 2011 Draft, as a 3rd rounder of the Mariners. I saw him early in the season and thought he was stiff, awkward and off-balance with the game going too fast for him. He's still a big kid with huge power and it was my first time seeing him, so I asked around and scouts confirmed he's backed up some. Still, I didn't see a .208/.283/.281 disaster of a season coming for him. His stock is about as low as it can get right now, but the potential is there to leap back into the top 5 rounds with some work that Cron is no doubt already putting in with his frame and his swing.