I've written in the past (full archive) about how this year's draft is lacking in elite top-end talent and also that the back half of the first round was less settled than this point in past years. Some of that was due to an unusually cold late winter/early spring so scouts had to discount some early struggles. I'm writing this sitting in Scouting Baseball's Tampa headquarters and it's sunny, 70 and raining which means we're quickly closing in on summer. Likewise, the top and middle parts of the first round are starting to shake out. Here's some draft notes I've heard on the road to that end, first on a national basis, then some notes specific to the areas I've visited recently.
I've written reports, posted videos or written in notebooks about most of the players listed below. Check the full archive (LINK) for more details on these players.
- From talking to some of the double-digits of scouting directors that were in Cary for the NHSI tournament, it's looking like the top of the draft is starting to reach consensus. Right now, I've got the top group of talent being a top 5, containing Stanford righty Mark Appel, Oklahoma righty Jonathan Gray, Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea, Georgia prep outfielder Clint Frazier and San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant.
Some will be surprised to hear Frazier's fellow Atlanta-area prep outfielder Meadows not in that group. I go into detail on this topic on this week's podcast and in two NHSI wrapup pieces. The short version is that Meadows is slowly going from a toolsy center fielder with great tools to a guy that might end up a left fielder and isn't hitting quite as much as his tools would suggest, while also by no means performing terribly. The vagueness of that is intentional as I could absolutely see Meadows still going in the top 5 and I'm sure there's a couple teams that still have him there.
All that said, the point of the rankings is to jive my evaluations (where applicable) with those of the industry to reflect larger trends and the industry as a whole has Meadows a notch behind Frazier as a prospect right now, saying nothing of individual teams. Right now, it sounds like Appel is the consensus top prospect and Gray seems to be the most common choice for second best but Manaea, Bryant and Frazier all have cases to be made for the #2 spot.
- I spoke to a scouting director picking in the middle of the top 10 and he said he already has his list down to 10 players. I followed up, thinking he meant it was 10-12 with a chance for others to sneak it, but he said it was a hard 10. I'm betting if he told me the full list there would be a surprise or two in there but the point is that clubs near the top of the draft have now cut down their pref lists to a handful of players they are likely choosing from.
- One easy team/player connection that was made early in the process was Miami and Oklahoma prep catcher Jon Denney. The Marlins' scouting decision makers are largely from Oklahoma and have a track record of taking players high from the Sooner state when an appropriate prospect is available for them. Most directors and crosscheckers I've talked to have put Denney in that second group for picks six to ten or twelve and the Marlins pick at #6, so you're going to hear this one a lot more come June.
- The most persistent team/player connection floating around in Cary was the Pirates and North Carolina 3B Colin Moran. After drafting and not signing Mark Appel at the #8 pick last season, the Pirates pick at #9 and #14. Moran is also universally put in that second group with Denney, so he might not be on the board for Pittsburgh but they've had multiple high-level evaluators in to see Moran already and had one at the UNC game I attended last week.
- Pittsburgh isn't the only team hard on Moran as I counted a VP, director or crosschecker for nine of the clubs picking in the top twelve picks at the UNC game I attended last weekend. There's now talk that Moran's consistent left-handed bat and steady defense at third in an underwhelming draft could land him in the fifth to eighth pick area. Some scouts that see a corner guy with fringy at best current raw power are shocked by this but I keep getting told that in a down draft, clubs will take who they're comfortable with in lieu of tantalizing upside being on the board and Moran is easy to evaluate.
- A couple teams clearly made a point of bearing down on Meadows at NHSI and among them were the Pirates. Meadows makes a ton of sense for the Pirates at one of their picks and he's the kind of guy that you want a lot of looks at before taking, making NHSI's four games in four days versus quality opponents a must-attend.
- I've heard the Yankees connected to Texas prep CF Billy McKinney and Fresno State RF Aaron Judge this spring and after they had top scouts in the house to see South Carolina prep C Nick Ciuffo and California prep 3B Ryan McMahon impress at NHSI, it's safe to say they'll be in the Bombers thoughts as well. The Yankees are in a rare position this year with a bundle of late first round picks (#27, #32, #33) where they can afford to go cheap and spend on a player with a high price tag and/or take some chances. Ciuffo and McKinney aren't huge risks but McMahon is an upside play and Judge has the loudest tools of any player the Yankees have had a chance to draft in years. If the Yanks could get three of those four bats with their first rounder, it would be a nice haul for scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.
- A number of players have been popping up this spring, all of these player locks to be on next week's updated Draft Top 50. Texas prep righty Kohl Stewart answered questions about his football-related shoulder injury and velocity by blowing away hitters early in the season with a 92-94 mph fastball and four-pitch mix. North Carolina prep righty Hunter Harvey hit 97 mph earlier in the spring and showed me a plus hook when I saw him last week. Nevada righty Braden Shipley has high-end athlete bloodlines (cousin is NFL wide receiver Jordan Shipley) and the converted infielder is a great athlete with a knockout plus fastball-changeup combination. Mississippi junior college shortstop Tim Anderson has shown premium quick-twitch athleticism and has crosscheckers scrambling to evaluate him after he came out of nowhere. California prep lefty Matt Krook has hit 95 and shown an above average breaking ball, clean arm action and projectable frame. Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe has always been intriguing tools guy but his .439/.504/.847 line this year underlines the progress his skills have made.
- Likewise, a number of players have regressed so far this spring, but still have some time to recover before draft day. The disappointment of NHSI was Tennessee prep RHP Jordan Sheffield being a late scratch for his start. Scouts have told me Sheffield showed premium stuff in his early season scrimmage appearances, but he now hasn't pitched in over three weeks due to soreness in his forearm/elbow that he'll need to square away or the Vanderbilt program will be very happy to get him on campus. Arkansas righty Ryne Stanek may have been miscast as a top-5 pick and after a slow start to the year, he's flashed a knockout fastball-slider combination but is looking more like a mid first round option now. Ole Miss righty Bobby Wahl will show near Stanek-level stuff when he's right, but Wahl has had a blister on his throwing hand to explain his 2013 command struggles and stuff inconsistencies. Wahl can still work his way back into the middle of the first round with a solid finish to the season. Florida righty Jonathon Crawford showed 1-1 quality stuff in 2012 that has been down a notch this spring. As a shorter righty without an ideal delivery, some scouts said this was inevitable and right now Crawford seems like a late first round pick. I've heard from a few sources that Washington prep catcher Reese McGuire and Texas prep righty Casey Shane came out noticeably overweight early in the season, though it's still early enough to recover before crunch time. Louisiana prep lefty Garrett Williams pitched 88-91 mph early in a heavily scouted game last month but finished 83-87 mph in an outing that has scouts concerned. California prep lefty Stephen Gonsalves has plateaued, still not developing a semblance of a usable breaking ball and scouts now feel that he's likely to go to school with even a third round selection looking unlikely.
- Here's some quick hits on a couple players I've been hearing about that didn't fit into the above categories. California prep lefty Ian Clarkin has continued showing consistent above average stuff and playability, seeming ticketed for the sandwich round. Stanford righty A.J. Vanegas returned much quicker than expected from a back injury and hit 97 mph over the weekend. Vanegas has a long medical history and some command and changeup issues that have many projecting him as a reliever, but if he can show his usual fastball-curveball combo, he could sneak into the late second round. Wisconsin-Milwaukee draft-eligible sophomore righty Josh Uhen has hit 96 mph recently but is more of a mid-round arm strength guy. Arizona junior college lefty Stephen Tarpley transferred from USC and has been known to scouts for awhile, but there's some talk he's taken a step forward and could also play his way into the 2nd round. Lastly, Oklahoma prep infielder Drew Ward has a bit of a split camp, of which I'm on the low side, but his raw tools have enticed enough teams that he also could work his way into the 2nd round with a solid finish to the season.
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