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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 kicks off a four-part preview split up by college/high school and hitters/pitchers of the top prospects for the 2014 MLB Draft.
Given what I know right now, Rodon and Beede would both rank behind Stanford RHP Mark Appel and Oklahoma RHP Jonathan Gray, the top two prospects in this year's draft, and be in the same range as Nevada RHP Braden Shipley, a projected top 10 pick in my most recent mock draft. As you can read below, Rodon has the upside to be in the class of Appel and Gray if he regains the form of his freshman year. The depth of the 2013 and 2014 college pitching crops look pretty similar, but what makes 2014 a superior overall draft class is the high ceiling prep talent (breakdown coming soon). All that said, it's still very early, so take this breakdown as the first snapshot of a changing landscape, which I'll be updating a lot over the next 13 months.
Rodon was the big name in this group entering the spring, so I'll start with him. I saw him in late March this season an he told me after I watched a disappointing start (from a scouting perspective) that he's had soreness in the area around his throwing shoulder all spring and volunteered his velocity had been down all season. In the game I saw, he flashed a 94-96 mph heater with a plus slider in the first (roughly the stuff that gave him buzz as a freshman as a slam dunk #1 overall pick for 2014) and was 89-92 mph with a solid-average slider and diminished command the rest of the game. I'm told this has happened most of the season and he acknowledged as much. Rodon flashes two 65 or 70 pitches when he's right but his fringy changeup, height, lack of projection, lack of standout athleticism and vanishing stuff all are big hurdles to consistently showing and commanding that knockout stuff that could make him the #1 overall pick. Rodon is now the second-best college pitcher in the class for me right now, but, much like Sean Manaea in this year's draft, his stuff/health will be talked about a lot and if he can get things straightened out, he'll shoot to the top of this list.
After opting not to sign out of a Massachusetts high school as the 21st overall pick of the Blue Jays in the 2011 Draft, Tyler Beede was instantly a front-runner to go #1 overall in the 2014 Draft. He's slowly made progress for the Commodores, where he works 91-93, hitting 94 mph with a changeup that flashes plus at 79-82 mph and a slider he's added since he got to campus that also flashes plus at times, better than his average loopier curveball he used as a freshman. Beede could use more consistency to his stuff and his command comes and goes--not quite the pinpoint location you'd like to see for a top 5 pick. He's a soft #1 college pitcher right now as he has some work to do and there's two pitchers below him that with a couple strong summer outings could jump ahead of him.
The big name newcomer to the top of the list is Hartford lefty Sean Newcomb. Similar to Indiana State LHP Sean Manaea's rise last year, multiple sources have predicted Newcomb will have a coming-out party this summer with Team USA, with one scout saying he thinks Newcomb will go in the top 10 picks next June. Why are they so sure? The 6'5, 240 pound lefty hit 95 last summer in a very short stint on the Cape and has hit 97 this spring with comparisons to Jon Lester, if you're into that sort of thing. His upside is right there with Rodon and if he can show it with positive results over the summer, he could easily enter the spring as my top college pitcher, which is exactly what Manaea did before his current troubles.
Speaking of hard throwing lefties, I saw TCU's Brandon Finnegan early in the spring in a matchup with likely 2013 first round pick, Jacksonville RHP Chris Anderson. Finnegan, a 5'11 lefty, looked very similar to Scott Kazmir, working 93-95 mph early an hitting 96 with an above average 78-82 mph slurve and a changeup that was slightly above average at times. Later, he tired and sat 90-93 hitting 94 but I'm told he's been holding his velocity better later in the season and have confirmed he hit 98 mph recently with rumors he hit 100 mph. Finnegan's size is a concern due to his lack of plane and the stress that kind of arm speed puts on his body, but that electric stuff from the left side is very enticing. Plus, he's got a super Irish name and I can get behind that.
Jeff Hoffman is a lanky 6'4 athlete that's been up to 96 almost every outing this spring with an above average curveball, though he's gone through some growing pains with command and feel. Michael Cederoth and Nick Burdi have both hit a confirmed 100 mph on the gun this year, with rumors Burdi may have been a tick or two higher at times. Cederoth is a 6'6 righty with a three pitch mix, but his heater is the only plus tool he has to offer right now while Burdi is a reliever all the way with some effort to his delivery, a non-ideal arm action, a power/finesse switch that's broken but a above average hard slider that's been up to 92 mph.
I saw Aaron Nola and wrote a full report a few weeks ago. In short, his fastball-curveball combo is above average to plus with a usable changeup and good feel but his low three-quarters slot and 6'1 frame will dampen his draft stock. Trevor Megill is a giant 6'8 lefty that gets into the 90's with a four pitch mix and some feel while Sam Coonrod is a more conventionally-sized righty that flashes power stuff at a small school. Seminoles starter Luke Weaver was a projection righty that passed on signing with the Blue Jays as a 19th round pick out of high school and delivered on some of the promise this spring as he worked into the weekend rotation late in the year. He's flashed an above average fastball up to 95 mph and an above average to plus changeup as part of a three pitch mix with good command that's produced big numbers this season.
Daniel Mengden and A.J. Reed are both solid two way college players but Reed has a chance to be a professional as a hitter, while Mengden is more likely to stick on the mound in the pros with a lively sinker and solid-average stuff. Reed is similar to former Florida LHP/1B and Red Sox 2012 first rounder Brian Johnson, as a big lefty with three pitches and feel on the mound for average stuff along with left-handed raw power. Reed is a little more fluid at the plate than Johnson and has slightly less stuff, which is why an area scout told me today he's still evaluating Reed as a hitter and pitcher, while Johnson was always a better prospect as a pitcher.
Others Of Note
Johnson's former teammate just misses the list, Florida righty reliever Ryan Harris. Harris has been up to 97 mph for me, working 92-95 most of the time with a curveball that flashes above average but his delivery makes him a reliever long-term. Notre Dame righty Pat Connaughton hasn't cracked the weekend rotation through two seasons and has been hit around a good bit. Last I saw him with the Irish, he was hit around again as well but flashed three above average pitches from a 6'5 frame with some projection. If he can get his command and consistency together, he could be a top 50 pick.
Cal Poly LHP Matt Imoff has been up to 95, UT-Arlington RHP Zach Thompson has been up to 94 with a good breaking ball while Alabama RHP Spencer Turnbull is 6'5, 230 and still has a ways to go but is progressing and comfortably sits in the low 90's.
Three relievers, two from Mississippi, are showing top round potential, North Carolina RHP Mason McCullough, Ole Miss RHP Chris Ellis and Mississippi State RHP Jonathan Holder. Holder's stuff was down a bit when I saw him, but he'll hit 94 mph with a slightly above average curveball from a high slot while word is Ellis has been 93-95 coming off an injury while McCullough sits 92-96 hitting 98 mph closing for the Tar Heels, but lacks offspeed and command to go higher right now.
Another pair from Mississippi, Ole Miss RHP Hawtin Buchanan and Mississippi State RHP Brandon Woodruff, have both shown top 50 pick potential but missed significant time this year with injuries. Buchanan is 6'8 and has been up to 96 mph but needs to work on his consistency while Woodruff was up to 95 with crisp offspeed before his velo dropped off and he went on the shelf.
Kentucky RHP Chandler Shepherd was a 41st rounder of the White Sox in 2011 but opted to turn down the money to head to Lexington. Shepherd threw the most relief innings on the staff this season (53 regular season innings) and could take a rotation spot in his draft year with senior LHP Jerad Grundy and 2013 Draft top 5 round prospect junior LHP Corey Littrell likely moving on. The lanky 6'2 right will work 88-92 mph but his velo tailed off some for me after about 30 pitches, likely in part due to his slim build. Shepherd's heater also flashed plus sinking life when down in the zone, but was a flat sitting duck up in the zone. He showed a 76-79 mph curveball that flashed above average potential and good 11-to-5 shape along with an 81-82 mph changeup that was average at times. He's got a clean arm action and efficient delivery that could take a big step forward as a junior.
As for some other lefties around the country, Ben Smith of Coastal Carolina will flash an average fastball and changeup while using an above average hook as an out pitch, LHP Jacob Lindgren of Mississippi State has solid command of average stuff and LHP John Hochstatter of Stanford is a 6'4 lefty that lives in the high 80's but can spin an above average breaking ball.
Fresno State RHP Derick Velazquez is a projectable 6'4 with an average fastball-slider combo and usable changeup that looks to have more in the tank as he fills out his lanky frame. Other names to monitor in the top five rounds include RHP Jordan Ramsey of UNC-Wilmington, RHP John Curtiss, RHP Parker French and LHP Dillon Peters of Texas, RHP Austin Robichaux of Louisiana-Lafayette and RHP Jake Reed of Oregon.