Editor’s Note: Every week 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.
The college baseball season is underway and here is our first Full Count Trends of the year. After a long wait, baseball is back and this past weekend kicked off the Division I college schedule. The weather around the country seemed to agree with the return of baseball and for once we started out a season without a number of rain or snow outs.
This was a hard week for the ranks, because there were so many players I could have listed in either the strikes or balls section. There were not a ton of middle-of-the-road performances over the weekend. Consequently, I had to leave off both halves of the top pitching matchup in the country this weekend: Connor Jones of Virginia vs. Kent State’s Eric Lauer. Jones showed why he was a likely top-10, pick going seven innings, walking none, and allowing just three hits, while striking out eight. On the other side this was a big start for Lauer against top competition and his command left him. I saw this issue last year in person with Lauer who went from excelling to getting a bit too fine with his command and missing around the plate. He ended up only going four innings against UVa with a wild pitch, a hit batter, and five walks. Not what he wanted to show in one of his few starts against a major program this year.
I want to stress that again it is very early, and while I am making statements here about perceived value and changes in value, anything here could come back to look very silly after we get a month in, let alone two months in. Either way, this is where I see things standing for these players right now.
JaVon Shelby, 3B, Kentucky
Shelby is a player who has flown under the radar and you have to wonder why. His dad [John Shelby] played in the majors, won two World Series, and his now a coach for the Milwaukee Brewers. His older brother was also drafted and bounced around the minors. His cousin is Josh Harrison, who has been an All-Star for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Shelby has performed well at Kentucky, leading the team in several categories a year ago. He showed a good eye at the plate and while he struck out more than he walked, he walked a lot. Shelby showed some pop, as well, with 12 doubles and nine home runs, which was a team high last year. I think most people can deal with high strikeouts when it comes with walks and pop. The right-hander is not a big kid but his bat speed generates a lot of hard contact. He is the best player that no one talks about.
Shelby was on fire all weekend. I’m not sure anyone can top what he did. On Sunday, he went 3-for-5 and his average dropped. Over the course of three games, he was 8-for-12 with six runs scored, four doubles, two home runs, and two walks. He didn’t strikeout once all weekend either. Shelby was a force in the middle of the lineup for the Wildcats.
Shelby has not been mentioned anywhere I have read or heard about outside of ProspectJunkies’ Burke Granger. Shelby is a plus athlete whose bloodlines are excellent. He has some of the best bat speed in college baseball which allows for surprising power. Shelby has played second and will play third base this year. As an added bonus, he won’t turn 21 until May, making him young for his grade, as well. So my question is why are we not talking about this kid? One reason might be that he didn’t play great on the Cape, but, at end of the day, he plays well in the best conference in college baseball and he has athleticism, youth and bloodlines. I think that should be enough. Consider this a name to watch, much like when I told people about Andrew Benintendi last March. Like Benintendi, Shelby is a guy who could go from afterthought to top-15 pick, especially in a draft that that is lacking college bats.
Corey Ray, OF, Louisville
Corey Ray has started the year as the top college hitter in the country and that makes me happy. Ray is an undersized hitter, but people are not knocking him down just because of his size. This is a step in the right direction for what has often been a sized-obsessed scouting community.
Ray is a likely centerfielder who has a little bit of pop and a solid eye at the plate. This weekend, he faced lesser competition, and he feasted off of it. Over the course of the weekend, Ray went 6-for-9 with a double, two home runs, three walks, six stolen bases and nine runs scored. He hit lead-off and mostly played left field for a Louisville team which is ranked second in the nation. The only person who could keep him off the bases was Dan McDonnell, the coach at Louisville. He pulled Ray out of each game for a rest once the game was well in hand.
Ray has always been a toolsy player, but starting last year he seemed to put everything together. He has continued to improve and impress. He really stole the show among hitters on Team USA this summer. Ray has a chance to sneak up into the top-three picks if a team decides they want to grab a productive college player even though he is sub six feet tall.
Robert Tyler, RHP, Georgia
Robert Tyler of Georgia is a player who is coming back from injury and has missed time every year due to injury. He has appeared in just 22 games over his college career, including his Friday start. I included him at the back of my most recent mock draft because of his potential helium this year. At the start of the summer, he was talked up some, but seemed to fall as the summer went on and others took the spotlight. Tyler was nothing short of stunning on Friday. He only went five innings because of a pitch count but struck out 13 of the 17 batters he faced. It was a new single-game strikeout record for him. Tyler allowed just one hit and walk against Georgia Southern.
Tyler has the ability to rise to the top of the board if he can continue to have performances like this one. This class is weak at the top, and Tyler has the stuff to be one of the first five players off the board. Teams are always going to take a chance on a 6’4” pitcher who has hit triple digits. After his most recent performance, Tyler is one of the names to watch and is one of the few I could legitimately see having a chance to be the first pick in this draft. It is just one start but it is exactly what he needed to show.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
Kyle Funkhouser was the 35th player taken in the 2015 MLB draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was the second of two college arms the Dodgers selected. According to reports, he turned down somewhere between $1.5 to 2 million to return for his senior year. For those that are unfamiliar that bonus total would have placed him amongst the top-30 for players who signed. It was still less than he was willing to take. This, to a degree, is understandable as he was talked about as a likely top-10 pick for large stretches of his junior year.
The reason he fell was partly caused by a May swoon and the fact that his advisor, Scott Boras, advised him to not release his medicals. There were concerns he might have been hurt, though this seems to not have been the case. This was in addition to Funkhouser looking like the same mid-rotation starter who is built to eat innings but with command issues and lots of inconsistency.
On Friday, he started against Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and showed why the pitcher win is a bad evaluation stat. He went just five innings, giving up two runs on seven hits and four walks. He struck out just three. His team scored 21 runs so it was a game that was not in doubt. Yet when a powerhouse faces a lesser team, you expect the senior ace to dominant that squad and not be average. It is just one start but looked like more of the same, and makes one wonder if he will end up with a smaller bonus than he turned down.
Alec Hansen, RHP, Oklahoma
Alec Hansen has been talked up as much as any player in this draft. His stuff is the best in the class, and he has been a force at times as a pitcher for Oklahoma. The problem is both his command and control are well below-average. In many respects, Hansen is exactly what I often warn about and shades of Jeff Hoffman a few years ago. Hansen has the size, velocity and stuff to fit the bill for the perfect pitcher. Yet with his command and control issues, he is a very big risk for a possible number one overall pick. There are some pitchers who never seem to properly harness their stuff and perform.
On Saturday, Hansen took the mound for Oklahoma. He lasted just one inning against Northeastern. He faced a total of nine batters and six reached base. He allowed a hit, walked four and hit one batter. Hansen managed to strike out just one, and he also had a wild pitch. His walk rate last year was unsustainably high for pitcher success, and this year started off on the wrong note. I get why people love him, but my question is if he continues with the inconsistency, command and control issues, how comfortable would you feel taking him in the top-10 picks?