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I saw Indiana St. LHP Sean Manaea's season debut versus Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne in the Bulldog Classic in Huntsville, AL (scouting report and video coming very soon). The temperature was in the 40's at first pitch and it was the first start for a cold weather guy on a pitch count, but Manaea's velocity, which would routinely get up to 97 late in starts on the Cape, was down around 88-92 before he was pulled in the 4th inning. He walked three and had some control issues but also flashed #1 overall pick stuff in the 1st inning. Scouts considered this start a push given the conditions.
The other consensus top arm in the draft, Stanford righty Mark Appel also didn't have a great day. The Cardinal had a tough 5-1 loss to perennial power Rice and Appel's performance was spotty, not bouncing back too strong in his first start since a disastrous super regional start at Florida St. I was in the house that night to see Appel start strong then meltdown and he again started strong this weekend versus Rice, up to 97 with three above average pitches, then steadily lost the zip on his fastball, topping out at 93 in the 5th, having trouble with command late in the game. I will be at the Stanford-Fresno State series this weekend and am eager to see if Appel can recover.
Scouts this weekend even complained that the top college prospect in the country, 2014 draft-eligible sophomore lefty from North Carolina State Carlos Rodon had a tough night, striking out 8 but giving up three homers in an opening night 6-3 loss to Appalachian State.
Not all the top pitching prospects disappointed, as a few held serve. Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek and Florida righty Jonathon Crawford both were on pitch counts and looked a bit rusty but showed the top 10 potential scouts have come to expect. Ole Miss righty Bobby Wahl is also in the top-15 pick discussion and had the best performance of the bunch with 8 strikeouts, no runs and 6 base runners allowed in 6.1 innings while topping out at 95 mph.
This quick rundown of some of the top college arms in the draft is indicative of the draft as a whole. There is talent, but there isn't a slam-dunk All-Star in the bunch and there isn't a prep talent with top-pick-type tools, as there normally is at least one player like this in most drafts. I've found in compiling my top 50 that the top 15-20 picks are fine, but in the 20's, I can't find enough players that belong there. Scouts have echoed this sentiment but chalk it up to an unsettled class that is deep in late-rising college pitching that will take some time to settle.
I subscribe to this theory for two reasons. First, I think the depth of a draft is defined by the top 10-15 picks—the truly elite players—and everything beyond that is essentially the same in every draft, regardless of how it looks early in the season or even on draft day (more on this theory later). This year, the top 10-15 picks are weak but have fine depth and that is all you need to know to deem this a weaker draft. The second reason is that a number of college pitchers came relatively out of nowhere into first round consideration on opening weekend, so the prediction is already coming true.
The guy scouts were really buzzing about this weekend was Jacksonville University RHP Chris Anderson. Anderson was masterful in his first outing of the year for the Dolphins, allowing one hit and no runs over seven innings with 13 strikeouts in front of a number of high-level evaluators. The 6'4, 225 pound righty from a Minnesota high school was on follow lists as a possible top-5 round pick entering the year as a big guy with feel for three pitches but has taken a step forward, hitting 96 in his first start.
Among the other arms taking a step forward in the early going are UC Irvine RHP Andrew Thurman, who like Anderson was a solid starting prospect whose velo jumped a few ticks and now have scouts projecting him in the late first round as a possible mid-rotation starter. Tulane RHP Tony Rizzotti was a lesser-known name that also was also excellent in his first start, hitting 96 with a power three-pitch mix that now has crosschecker and scouting directors scrambling to see the potential first rounder. Nevada RHP Braden Shipley also put up eye-catching velo, hitting 96, though his command and secondary pitches need some work for him to enter first round consideration like Anderson, Thurman and Rizzotti.
One college bat that I saw a lot of this week, Notre Dame 3B Eric Jagielo (report and video on the way) also took a step forward. Scouts think he has a chance to stick at third base and his plus left-handed power showed up this weekend with two homers, including an opposite field bomb to tie the game in the bottom of the 9th against Florida Gulf Coast, a game the Irish won in the 10th inning. Jagielo is now also in first round consideration after shoring up some concerns about his contact ability with a consistent stroke.
Lastly, there are an unusual number of high-profile pitchers injured in the early going that, if they can recover before draft day, will further prop up the pitching depth in this class. Florida righty Karsten Whitson has top 10 pick stuff but has struggled with arm injuries for the last year. He had his shoulder cleaned up by Dr. James Andrews this week and will miss the rest of the season, but could be an intriguing draft and follow for teams, as he could be cleared to throw around draft day.
Stanford righty A.J. Vanegas is a power arm with late first round stuff but is shelved for a number of weeks with a back injury. Scouts prefer Ohio State two-way standout Josh Dezse on the mound but he will be out at least the first two months of the season with a stress reaction in his back. Arkansas righty Colby Suggs and Minnesota lefty D.J. Snelten are two high-profile relievers also sat out opening weekend and Texas prep righty Kohl Stewart will also miss the first few weeks of the season with a dinged-up shoulder.