2014 MLB Draft Podcasts: Jim Callis
Putting A Spin On Traditional Reports
I wanted to put a twist on the traditional scouting reports you can now find all over the internet. I've seen well over 75% of my top 150 players, so I'll provide video of each of them, grade their tools/pitches, give the pertinent biographical info, but also give you the multi-year perspective of what their talent tells us. In talking to lots of data types around the game about what scouts are missing most in the pre-draft evaluations, I keep hearing that the recency bias in draft rooms is maddening. "Forget that Brandon Finnegan has had three above average to plus pitches and good command for two years, his shoulder was tender two weeks ago, move him down 10 spots!" Maybe that reactionary response is instructive in some circumstances of the momentum arrow changing directions right before the draft, but it's incredibly unlikely that fate is lining things up for you that neatly.
One instructive example: the Orioles #5 overall pick in 2009, husky NorCal prep RHP Matt Hobgood threw 88-92 for over a year, then 90-94 in the middle of the season, then 94-98 for the weeks before the draft, then was 88-92 or injured the rest of his career. Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor and Mike Leake were the next three picks and Shelby Miller would've signed for near slot. This pre-draft mirage (positive or negative) happens much more often than a new level of performance or slight stiffness leading to a major injury happening as you're entering the draft room. So, along with the standard scouting report stuff, I've expanded the reports for the top players in the draft to address the multi-year history that we now can have (thanks to showcase baseball) even on high school players, then denote a specific section to view the player in light of the 30,000 foot view of their career's trajectory.
Things To Keep In Mind
Something to know when looking at the biographical data is the importance of age, as popularized by Rany Jazayerli in two articles back in 2011. Nearly every team in baseball discusses age in their draft room now, when it previously would only be brought up occasionally in even the most stats-inclined draft rooms before the article. The average age for high school players is about 18.1 or 18.2, while for college players it's right around 21.0.
A useful concept I've been using for doing my rankings this year is, instead of projecting what a player could be at maturity (age 25 or so), projecting what I think he'll be like in 2-3 years. It's industry practice to grade tools for what they'll be at maturity, but having such a long time horizon often leads to discussions getting sidetracked by "well, yeah, technically he may never get to AA, maybe the #1 overall pick never gets out of A-Ball, maybe everyone gets hurt in rookie ball and quits" rather than focusing on things that could reasonably happen in a medium time frame. With scouts doing pro coverage of minor league teams every summer, they're very aware of what works and what they like in A-Ball and AA prospects, while they often don't scout the big leagues at all, so this frame of reference is much more relatable to their knowledge base, as well.
This helped me in the recent shuffle in the top 10 of my rankings. I realized that I think Aaron Nola could be a #4 starter next April while Tyler Kolek has at least a 50/50 chance of his elbow blowing out and isn't as advanced as most top 10 pick prep arms of recent years. That 2-3 year horizon made it clear that Nola was more valuable to me, while looking at "peak" performance in peak years made Kolek's size and velocity seem impossible for Nola to match in the long-term. I could continue working out why I shuffled the players like I did, but it basically came from looking at them slightly differently that I was trained to and talking to more scouts to fill in holes on things I didn't get to see this spring. Hopefully the reports give you the information to understand the rankings and also maybe tweak them to make your own.
The 20-80 Scale
Another thing to note is that the 20-80 scouting grades for each player are presented as present/future, with only the only exception being the hit grade. Since every amateur hitter is a present 20 hitter in the big leagues, I (along with many MLB organizations) use a peer grade for the present hit tool. What that means is you grade the player's hitting performance (not the tools) against his peers (similarly talented players of similar age against similar competition).
The use of this is 1) to think of players in terms of production and not just raw ability, as a means to be more accurate for 2) projecting players to be good big league hitters due to big league hitting tools (bat speed, mechanics, strength, etc) along with approach and results. One of the MLB organizations that was first to use this system said the scout couldn't give a future hit grade over 10 points above the present peer grade, as a way to keep a scout from projecting a hitter essentially learning how to hit after signing for a large bonus. This, along with years of history on prep players thanks to showcase baseball, is why studies have shown that teams are getting better at drafting the best players in the highest slots of the draft over time.
Some other things to know so you can fully understand the reports, include the 20-80 scale. I assume regular readers of the site are well-versed in this but the casual draft reader that wants to know who his team drafted may not, so here's a quick rundown in chart form:
This table shows the kind of player inferred by various 20-80 grades (used in 5 point increments) as Future Values (FV) to sum up a player's potential (i.e a 55 FV hitter is "above average regular"), along with the term that is used on the 20-80 scale for specific tool grades (i.e. 60 raw power is called "plus"). The WAR value means that, for example, a player with a FV of 70 is expected to have a peak WAR at maturity of 5.0 WAR. It also leaves out some numbers to be concise in some places (75, 65 are little used and obvious by their surroundings) and because they aren't used in other places (20, 25, 30, 35 aren't used for prospect ranking purposes and aren't often used for grading tools for prospects, either). Since 50 is the most common grade when dealing with prospects, I and other scouts will often use solid-average (52.5) and fringe-average or fringy (47.5) to further sort out many tools that would otherwise be tough to separate.
6'1/195, R/R, 17.65 on Draft Day
Fastball: 70/70, Slider: 55/55+, Changeup: 45/50, Command: 45/50
Scouting Report: I don't feel like I need to go that deep on Bukauskas in the report as he sent a letter a few weeks back telling teams he didn't want to be drafted, so he could go to UNC. The reason he re-classified (see above that he's the youngest prospect in the draft this year) from the 2015 class was to get to UNC faster, but then the smallish righty went from 89-91 hitting 93 over the summer/fall to pitching 93-96 and hitting 98-100 mph this spring, depending on which guns you trust. His solid-average slider now flashes plus and while the delivery isn't completely clean, Bukauskas is a very good athlete and doesn't really have trouble throwing strikes. The concern is that arms on kids this young and small that get into the high 90's every time out from a non-perfect delivery...well this usually doesn't end well, even though there hasn't been a hint of arm problems, yet. Some players have used the "don't draft me" ploy in a disingenuous effort to drop to the team that will pay them the most, but there's no indication that's what's happening here; we should see him high on draft lists again in 3 years when he'll still be months away from turning 21.
Take A Step Back: This is a crazy rare combination of age and velocity and the elements are here for a #2/3 starter, but if you're running a draft, would you put your job on the line that this kid throws 200 innings in the big leagues for multiple years? Because you can't justify taking a small prep righty that you already think is a reliever in the first round.
Projected Role: #3 Starter/Closer, 55-60 FV
6'4/190, R/R, 17.78 on Draft Day
Hit: 55/55, Power: 45/50+, Run: 60/55, Field: 45/50, Throw: 55/55+
Scouting Report: Forbes was a scout's favorite early last showcase season, going from unknown to potential first rounder and he's held that status for a year. He plays short everywhere, but his fringy hands and lanky 6'4 frame mean he'll have to move, but scouts disagree on where. Third base seems most natural, but some don't think he has the hands to play there, though I give him a good chance to do just that. Since he's a 60 runner, many say center field, but as Forbes puts on another 10-15 pounds, he'll likely lose a step and may not be able to stay there, so right field becomes the landing spot. Forbes will end up at one of those three spots, but what you're paying for is the precious feel to hit (despite not having the prettiest swing), the near best in class age, and that the projection and athleticism lead to game power. Forbes is more of a gap-to-gap type guy in games right now, but should be a 15-20 homer guy at maturity that hits at least .270 and has a good chance to play a premium position. Some scouts are turned off by the low-energy demeanor and pre-game antics his high school encourages, but most chalk it up to being a kid and don't worry, as he turns on the effort when it's needed.
Take A Step Back: This is the classic bet on a young projection prep bat in that you like the tools and body and actions, but aren't sure exactly what it will end up looking like. This is another prep bat I believe in and the usual suspects that take toolsy bats are all over Forbes in the 20s and 30s.
Projected Role: Solid Average Regular, 50-55 FV
30. Foster Griffin, LHP, First Academy HS (FL), Ole Miss commit
6'5/210, R/L, 18.98 on Draft Day
Fastball: 55/55+, Curveball: 50/55, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 50/55
Scouting Report: Griffin is a name that's been known to Florida scouts for awhile as his dual-sport teammate Ben DeLuzio went in the 3rd round to the Marlins last year, but didn't sign and is now starting for Florida State as a freshman. Griffin's teammate, CF/LHP Adam Haseley is also a 3rd-5th round prospect, but is considered a tough sign away from his commitment to Virginia. Griffin was mostly 88-91 with feel and an above average changeup last summer (top video), but he was old for the class and had a fringy at best breaking ball. This spring, Griffin came out hit, sitting 91-94 and hitting 95 mph after not throwing all fall and with a sharper curveball benefitting from the added arm speed. In the middle of the spring, Griffin was more 89-92 (middle video), but finished strong, hitting 95 mph in his last few prep starts and sitting 90-93 mph at the Sebring All-Star Game 10 days before the draft (bottom video). More teams are aware of age relative to class now, but since Griffin does everything above average and kids his size take a little longer to develop, most don't seem too worried about it in Griffin's case. There were some concerns that Griffin may be a tough sign but now that he fits in the 20-40 range, he's expected to sign if taken there.
Take A Step Back: Big, athletic lefty with very clean arm action has basically no red or even yellow flags, though lacks knockout plus pitch you'd like from a prep arm. A consistent spring of performance with some projection giving some room left to dream makes him a guy that near every team should have ranked in this general area.
Projected Role: #3/4 Starter, 55-60 FV
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