Editor’s Note: Every Monday through the draft we will have a Full Count Trends piece running here on SCOUT. Every weekend I will look at three players who had a strong weekend and two who had a down week or had their draft stock impacted by something negative (health or otherwise). I am looking at a full count from the hitter's perceptive, so players on the rise will be in the three-balls category and those who have had negative performances or health news will be in the two-strikes category. Think of this feature as a running stock watch on draft prospects. A player in the two-strikes category may recover in plenty of time before the draft commences. You will also likely see names jump into the three-balls category that may not have a high profile yet but will be worth watching in the lead-up to the draft.
We are at less than two months until the 2015 MLB draft. Instead of merely looking at which players had the best weekend, I thought this week we would do a trends piece focused on play over the last month and which players are rising the most and which players have seen hits to their value. I am going to try and focus on players I have not had the chance to talk about as much this year. I will be taking this angle with the trends pieces for the next two weeks. This week I am focused on hitters; next week I will focus on pitchers.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas – Benintendi is a player I was more familiar with than many to start the year. The reason was rather simple: he was an Ohio kid and every year I wrote about the top players in the state of Ohio as it related to the draft. As a prep player, Benintendi, in my opinion, had a chance to be drafted. Not only was he a very good athlete, but he also a natural with the bat. He set the state of Ohio’s all-time hit record in his four years at school. His hometown team, the Reds, drafted him in the 31st round. Three years later, they no doubt wish they had managed to sign him. I liked Benintendi as a high school player and wrote back then that I thought he could have the potential to be a future leadoff hitter. Consequently, I did not expect to see him leading the NCAA in homeruns, as he is right now. He will turn 21 in July and is draft-eligible as a sophomore. He was not on the radar before the year began and now I think he will go in the first round this year. That is quite a rise.
Scott Kingery, 2B, Arizona – Kingery’s teammate Kevin Newman could have also made this space, but I have been talking about Newman since the year began and have not had a mock draft where he was not in the first round. Kingery is currently leading the nation in batting averaging by 25 points over the second place hitter. His on-base percentage isn’t as high because he doesn’t walk much, but he hasn’t struck out much either. Last year he actually walked quite a bit but this year. he has become very aggressive. He is a sub-six foot middle infielder who doesn’t have great speed or plus athleticism, so he didn’t get much publicity to start the year. The numbers have helped, but Kingery looks like a solid hitter who can stick at second and with the potential to be at least average with the glove. There is value in that and a real chance Kingery could be a starting second baseman down the line for any number of teams. From a guy who was an afterthought to a possible first rounder and worst case second rounder, it’s been a nice change for Kingery.
Taylor Ward, C, Fresno State – I have often mentioned that shortstops rise on draft day but the same can be said about catchers. This class is the weakest I can ever recall at the catcher position. There is a chance that only one will go in round one and some people do not think that player, Chris Betts, can stick there. If I had to bet on who the second catcher off the board would be, I would pick Ward. He is a legitimate catcher who has a strong arm and a good glove. I have no problem projecting that not only will he stay at catcher, but he should be an above-average defender, maybe plus. In college, he has hit and shown a little pop from the right side. He walks more than he strikes out and the only skill that projects to be below-average is his speed. Ward was not a name on most lists to start the year. I think he goes no later than the second round thanks to positional value on draft day, especially in a class that is lacking catching talent. I would not be shocked to see him go as early as the compensation round.
Chris Shaw, 1B, Boston College – Shaw came into the year as one of the top-five college bats in this class, according to most experts. He is an impressive physical specimen with the potential for plus power from the left side. The rest of skills are average or below, yet the natural power in his frame was enough to make him seem a lock in the first round at the start of the season. Shaw has shown this power all year, as he was up to number five overall in homeruns this year. The reason he is sliding is injury. His injury did not make headlines like those to fellow top prospects Brady Aiken or Mike Matuella, but it is a significant injury, nonetheless. Shaw broke the hamate bone in his hand. It’s something that should not sideline him for too long, although his college baseball career could be over. The problem with hamate injuries is that they seem to sap the power for most hitters. It can take over a year before the power returns, which basically makes this one of the worst injuries he could suffer. First baseman, in general, are not as valuable, this injury hurts his value even more.
Gio Brusa, OF, Pacific – Brusa has been known for a while as a possible top-three round selection. After high school, he slid to the 37th round, where he was selected by the Atlanta Braves, and ended up at Pacific. There were several reports that the Red Sox tried multiple times to convince him to agree to a pre-draft deal. I cannot really describe his first two years at Pacific as anything other than disappointing for a player of his caliber. The skill-set is very tempting: easy plus power thanks to plus bat speed and strength. In addition, he has the chance to be an above-average hitter, but his eye at the plate is clearly a below-average skill. He has struck-out in more than 20% of his at bats during his college years. This summer, he killed it in the Cape Cod League. He hit .322 and led the league in slugging at .545. His Cape season was viewed as the breakout people had been waiting for. He was viewed as a first-rounder who could move up thanks to his power and abilities. This season, Brusa has not had a bad year. It’s the best one of his college career, but it is not the breakout many had hoped for after his Cape performance. When a player like Brusa plays at a small school like Pacific, more is expected of him, fair or not. He will face less pro prospects than players at bigger schools. Brusa will get drafted in the top five rounds because of his potential. His size and power will make him an intriguing player even if he is yet to put it together through three years of school.