This is a companion piece to the free breakdown of the 2014 MLB Draft crop by tiers that ended up being so long I've split it into three parts that will run throughout the week (here's part two). Click on each player's name to see previous content, including more video and scouting reports. Also see the Rankings Index and July 2nd Index for previous similar articles along with my twitter feed for up to date news and analysis.
Carlos Rodon still has the top spot in my draft rankings, but he'll need to get past his customary early season warmup period quickly before scouts start thinking Jeff Hoffman could be the potential 1-1. Rodon was 90-93, touching 94 mph in his 2014 debut and was fine (compared to his previous level of performance), similar to what I saw from him last March. A source passed along that scouting directors from the White Sox (3rd overall pick) and Mariners (6th overall pick) were spotted at Rodon's start.
Hoffman continues his Cape breakout, sitting 93-96, hitting 97 with a plus hook and an improved changeup. Hoffman has a higher upside with more fastball, more life on the pitch, more projectability, a better changeup, at least the same command, better plane and better athleticism while Rodon is left-handed with a better breaking ball and a longer track record.
It's way too early to shift pre-season rankings, but if we're still seeing the same things a month from now, you'll start hearing about Rodon's 2013 shoulder stiffness, back problems that had him off some clubs boards in high school, some effort in the delivery and his maxed-out 6'0/235 frame. These things become more pertinent when the stuff is just above average (rather than plus-plus) and there's a worthy competitor with a growing track record of elite performance/stuff.
The dark horse in this equation for the #1 overall pick is Rodon's teammate SS Trea Turner. I interviewed he and Rodon after seeing them last spring and at that time had Turner as a superior prospect. Since then, Rodon regained his mid-90's fastball and plus-plus slider, shining in big moments in the college postseason and for Team USA over the summer. Turner turned in a great sophomore year but slumped with Team USA, bothered by wrist and ankle injuries, looking like the 2nd best shortstop on the club, behind LSU sophomore SS Alex Bregman.
I'm told that in week one, Turner looked like he's back into the top form I saw from him last spring. He showed off his 80 speed with a scorching mid-3 time to first base on a bunt, was sharp again at shortstop, where he will stick in the pros and was lashing line drives all over the field. Heading into the second weekend of the season, Turner's line (8-for-16, 2 walks, 0 strikeouts, 5-for-5 stealing bases) already resembles what he did his first two years for the Wolfpack. He has some work to do to gain on the two righties, but he's securely in the 3rd spot for me right now as the rare, dynamic college bat with tools and performance that we don't see very often anymore.
Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede was about the same in his 2014 debut as he's been the last few years, flashing three above average to plus pitches but below average to fringy command. It's enough to be elite in college baseball and go in the first round, but he's an easy top 10 pick if the command comes. Ole Miss RHP Chris Ellis has a much shorter track record of elite stuff but is 6'5/205 and also flashes three above average to plus pitches, though is less consistent than Beede. Scouts were enthused about his debut, as many of them didn't see his breakout on the Cape, but Ellis was up to 95 mph in relief late in 2013 as he came off the DL.
The third college righty I have grouped with Beede and Ellis is Florida State's Luke Weaver. He was down a tick or two in his debut from his peak form this summer, but Weaver's 90-94 mph heater was enough given his other skills. Weaver has solid-average command, and above average to plus changeup and a slider that improved this fall from fringy to flashing above average potential. TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan is just ahead of that group for me and the lefty worked 92-96, hitting 97 mph with an 82-84 slurve that flashed plus in his debut. The changeup is a little behind but was above average at times last year. Finnegan seems like the type that would struggle with command/changeup like many power arms or velocity dips due to his size, but he surprisingly doesn't. UNLV righty Erick Fedde also built on a solid summer sitting 92-95 mph and flashing a plus slider in his debut while LSU righty Aaron Nola continued his consistent dominance of the SEC, sitting 90-94 mph (as when I scouted him last spring).
Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost followed in Hoffman's footsteps and continues his Cape breakout for area scouts in his 2014 debut. The impeccably-named Pentecost got out of the gate quickly--10-for-22 with 4 doubles--and showed his solid-average speed and receiving skills with an above average arm are worthy of a top 15 pick right now. It's harder to draw much from an opening weekend for hitters, but I was told scouts liked what they saw from Virginia LF Derek Fisher. He's up to more of the same in the early going (7-for-15 with 2 doubles and a triple), but has been known to scouts much longer than Pentecost. Fisher has a big test next weekend that will be very heavily attended by scouts: a weekend series vs. East Carolina and Hoffman.