I saw the first two games of Alabama-LSU this weekend and LSU's 37-4 record isn't coming from a team full of grinders short on tools. Juniors RHP Ryan Eades, 2B Jacoby Jones, RHP Nick Rumbelow and C Ty Ross were all well in top 10 round consideration coming into the spring and the Tigers have some interesting senior signs along with toolsy underclassmen
2013 Draft Eligibles
- Ryan Eades was very impressive for stretches but also proved to be more hittable than he should be, lasting only four innings versus Alabama. He sat 91-94 with a heater that was pretty straight and was up in the zone more than you'd like to see, although he did elevate with purpose late in the count effectively. Eades' 77-79 mph curveball flashed plus but was average, flat and up in the zone too often later in his outing. Early on, he showed an ability to locate it in the zone and bury it as a chase pitch, something scouts love to see from college pitchers. His changeup was 79-80 mph and was a total non-factor, a 30 pitch on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is major league average. In this outing, Eades looked like he had a good chance to be a reliever long-term, but it was a bad outing overall, so I don't want to take too much away from it. Industry buzz is that Eades won't last through the sandwich round (there are 33 first round picks, 6 sandwich round picks this year) and even that doesn't seem unreasonable given the elements of a #3 starter or closer that I saw.
- JaCoby Jones is a huge conundrum to scouts. The 6'3, 200 pound second baseman has the hands, arm and quickness to play anywhere on the field, has above average raw power and speed and a smooth, fluid swing but simply can't make contact enough for scouts to justify taking him in the top few rounds. The elements are here for a perennial All-Star but Jones' .243/.364/.368 line this year isn't out of line with what he's done his whole career. The question is how many club's swing gurus think they can fix him, as scouts have largely given up on Jones. I think he's a fit in the 4th-6th round due purely to his huge upside, but nothing would surprise me here, including him going in the late rounds or undrafted after telling teams he wants to return for his senior year to improve his draft stock.
- Nick Rumbelow is pretty easy to evaluate. He's a power right hander reliever with a smallish 6'0, 180 pound frame, a good bit of effort to his delivery and a plus fastball that sits 92-94 mph. His command could be better and his 81-85 mph curveball is too short and he doesn't finish it often enough to make it any more than an average pitch down the road. He fits in the latter stages of the top 10 rounds and has a lot of similarities to former LSU reliever and Yankees 6th rounder last year, Nick Goody.
- Ty Ross has a sturdy 6'2, 210 pound frame almost ideal for catching, along with solid receiving skills and an above average arm. Ross also has some pop at the plate but, like Jones, still hasn't addressed his contact concerns, with a similar .213/.302/.295 line. He hit a big homer this weekend and has 45 raw power but his bat path is steep in and out of the zone and he has some trouble identifying off-speed stuff. He may be best served to return for his senior year, but, if signable, he's a top 10 round talent despite his lack of production this year.
- 1B Mason Katz and LF Raph Rhymes are similar as steady senior cogs in the LSU lineup that are short on tools. Katz has a little more pop than Rhymes, but still only 40 raw power, way too short for an everyday first baseman. That said, Katz hits (.397/.483/.742 this season) and uses the whole field with a repeatable swing, making him a solid senior sign that could make it to the upper levels of a minor league system with an outside shot to have a cup of coffee in the bigs, an 8th-12th round fit. In the current CBA, cheap senior signs are more of a necessity to stay under the draft bonus pool, so players like Katz could get pushed as high as the 5th round, with a bonus more in line with the 8th-12th round, likely in the five figures. Rhymes hits for contact but isn't very strong and his power is also very short for his position. Rhymes can be a solid organizational player (minor league roster filler) that's likely drafted, like fellow LSU senior, reliever Joey Bourgeois (6'1 righty with 88-90 mph fastball and fringy curveball).
2014 Draft Eligibles
- Aaron Nola is the Tigers Friday starter and their only sophomore worth mentioning as a notable draft prospect, but he brings plenty to the table. Nola continues in his brother's footsteps (former Tiger shortstop Austin was a 5th rounder of the Marlins last year) and the LSU tradition of starting pitching going in the top 50 picks (Kevin Gausman went 4th overall to Baltimore last year and Eades should crack the top 50 picks this year). I was told he was rail thin, sitting 85-88 mph with a fringy breaking ball as a prep senior, but he's taken a huge step forward on campus. He sat 90-93, hitting 94 mph with curveball at 77-79 mph that could be a plus pitch and was consistently above average all night. Nola creates life on his heater from his low three quarters arm slot, as you can see above. There isn't a long track record of big league starters with arm slots that low (Bumgarner, Masterson, C. Zambrano are a few that come to mind) but Nola has the stuff to potentially make it work. Nola's 84-85 mph changeup is a work in progress but he shows some ability to turn it over, which is much easier for him than many other young pitchers given the life created by arm slot. The 2014 draft is much deeper than this year's class with a strength in college power arms, so Nola is a mid first round to early second round type talent, but there's still over a year for that to change.
2015 Draft Eligibles
- I tweeted midway through the second game of the series that freshman SS Alex Bregman was the best player on the field by a wide margin. I didn't see him as an amateur, but after looking at some video and asking around, it's clear that he's improved since last June's draft. This explains a lot because I watch high school players regularly and was shocked a talent like this went unsigned through the draft process. Bregman is listed at 6'0, 190 pounds now and looks to have gotten a little bigger, a little stronger and a little faster since high school, exactly as personal trainer Daft Punk was hoping.
In batting practice, Bregman at first glance doesn't look to be quick enough to play shortstop. He's a little thicker than big league shortstops and his high socks and high tops make him look squattier and more heavy-footed than he is. He's the only shortstop I've seen charge every ball that's hit to him that isn't doing it to make up for a below average arm. Bregman is a 55 runner once he gets going, with a 55 arm and the hands and footwork to stay at shortstop. His first step is a little slow and he could be quicker laterally, but his instincts, arm and aggressiveness give him a chance to stick at shortstop long-term and no scouts thought he could coming out of high school. Second base would be the best fit as a profile if he has to move, although there's still a chance scouts may want to try him at catcher, a position he tried in high school and could be better suited to now.
At the plate, Bregman has simple swing mechanics that he repeats well and he just hits every kind of pitch everywhere in the zone. This is enforced by his .414/.460/.644 performance this season and multiple moments in the Alabama series, like when he took a back foot slider way in on his hands out to left field. He has 45 raw power right now (12-15 homers annually in the big leagues) but he makes so much contact that it will likely play up in games and his raw power could still increase with added strength or some swing adjustments. Put all that together and you have a guy that could play middle infield with an above average bat after potentially laying waste to the SEC for three years. That would be a slam dunk first rounder and potentially very high, but that's still two years away.
- CF Mark Laird and C Chris Chinea both showed some promise in a short look. One scout described Laird as a 90 runner (off the charts on the 20-80 scouting scale) and the 6'1, 172 pound left-handed hitter is rail thin, needing to add strength to be more than a slap hitter. As he bulks up, he'll be one to watch, to see if he adds some power and keeps his speed, potentially making him a rich man. Chinea is a guy I saw some of as a prep player in Florida last year when scouts were commenting that he just didn't improve as a senior in high school after showing two-way promise as an underclassmen. He didn't play in the games I saw, but showed power in BP that could produce double digit homers in the big leagues, some agility and catch-and-throw skills. Chinea will need to tone down his swing some, but has top five round potential.