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.
I wanted to hit some new names for the top performers for this week. Instead of sticking with the known names who have excelled and continue to excel this year, like Brendan McKay, I wanted to go for some guys who might not be first round picks, but have performed well this year and had strong weekends. For the negatives, I did go with some names I have discussed before because they stood out to me.
Luke Heimlich, LHP, Oregon State
Heimlich had a bit of a breakout year last year for Oregon State. He moved from the pen to the rotation and ended up starting 11 games. He started this year, not just in the rotation, but also as the Friday night starter for one of the top teams in the country.
On Friday night, Heimlich faced Arizona State and went eight innings. He allowed just two hits, two walks, and had two wild pitches. He struck out eight of the 28 batters he faced. This season, across five starts, which cover 36.2 innings, he has given up a single run. Even more impressively, to me, he has given up just one extra-base hit all year, a double.
Heimlich was not a big name recruit when he came to Oregon State. He was not expected to be the Friday night starter either, with Drew Rasmussen ahead of him. He was not a player on my radar as a top three round selection, due to his height, 6’0”, and lack of strikeout numbers. This year, his strikeout rate has jumped over four strikeouts per nine from a year ago, up to 10.95 so far this year. Just being left handed is going to generate some notice, especially when tied to the performance that Heimlich has shown. His mix of a very low walk rate, nearly no hard hit balls, and a jump in strikeouts has made him pop.
John Gavin, LHP, Cal State, Fullerton
John Gavin was drafted back in 2014 out of high school. He did not enter this season with a lot of hype, after struggling on the Cape. He is actually the Sunday starter for Cal Fullerton, which puts him as the low man on his own staff. In spite of this, Gavin will get attention for the draft. He has the pedigree of a former pick, along with the fact that is a huge left hander. Gavin is listed at 6’6” and 245 pounds. No numbers I mention are going to matter more or be important than Gavin’s height and weight when it comes to the draft.
This weekend, we actually had an intern at this matchup and got pitch by pitch data for Gavin, so a big thanks to Kevin Jimenez for the data. Gavin was facing New Mexico, who have one of the better players in the country in terms of on base percentage in Luis Gonzalez. On Sunday, Gonzalez was not just the leadoff hitter for the Lobos, but also the starting pitcher. Gonzalez pitched well, allowing just one run on seven hits and no walks. Gavin was just better; he went eight innings, allowing no runs on just two hits and no walks. He struck out 14 of the 26 batters he faced. It was a great game, but my one concern was seeing him throw 123 pitches this early in the year. Fullerton has had a few arms who got over worked in the past, so I might be acting more sensitive to this than I typically would be.
Almost all of Gavin’s rate data is better this year. His strikeout rate has jumped to over nine, after being a little over six a year ago. His walk rate has dropped under two, after being over three last year. The data we had from the game had his fastball peaking at 92 and sitting 88-91. There aren’t a lot of left handers with the size and build of Gavin. His velocity isn’t high, but fits the acceptable range for a left hander, especially one who has displayed the control he has this year. Gavin is built like a natural innings eater. He has shown three pitches this year: fastball, change, and slider. Gavin likely isn’t going to be a high pick, but he is certainly an under the radar name to watch.
Sam Fragale, 1B, Virginia Tech
There are points where I write about players who are not likely top two round choices, because I do want to highlight player performances. Sam Fragale is a player who has played very well this year, but his draft stock is going to be limited.
This weekend, facing a tough Florida State squad, Fragale went 5 for 13, with a walk, triple, double, and a homerun. He struck out three times as well. The fact that Fragale went deep this weekend means he is now tied with Kevin Woodall Jr, Joey Bart, and Jake Burger for the NCAA lead in home runs. He leads the nation all by himself in total bases, showing that Fragale is more than just a player excelling with home runs this year.
Sam Fragale has hit more home runs this year than he has the last two years combined. Last year, Fragale played mostly third, but he has been playing first exclusively this year. The market is going to be very limited for Fragale, for a few reasons. The first and most significant is Fragale’s height. He is 5’10”, which makes him well undersized. The next issue is that he is a redshirt junior, which means that he will turn 23 this year, though it’s a late birthday, which makes it a little better. The fact is that playing first base will further limit his market. The last issue is that he strikes out a lot more than he walks, and rarely walks in general. Fragale’s performance should give him a chance to go in the top ten rounds. He is in the midst of a huge season, which has earned him some recognition this year.
Peter Solomon, RHP, Notre Dame
Solomon has had some talk as a potential top 20 pick this year. Instead, it has been a struggle for Solomon, who was moved from the rotation to the bullpen. If you were not a fan of Solomon, the big concern was that he was likely a reliever in the future. His struggles with control and command have been issues as well during his career. These issues have continued this year.
This weekend he pitched two innings in relief giving up three runs on two walks and two hits. He did not strikeout a batter. He has struck out just five more batters than he has walked this year and has given up as many hits as strikeouts. In addition, 25% of the hits Solomon has given up have been for extra bases.
Solomon broke out on the Cape this past summer. He pitched in ten games and was unhittable. He didn’t strike out a lot of guys, though, and walked players at a high rate, even for the Cape. The rate was down for him, though. Solomon’s strikeout rate last year was over 11; this year, it's closer to eight. His walk and hit rates have been pretty consistent from a year ago. Solomon had just nine starts last year and the hope was that he could step up this year. It is early to say a player is really hurting their value but, if the move to the pen is permanent, then Solomon is likely out of the first round discussion.
Taylor Walls, SS, Florida State
After going on about Taylor Walls and his fantastic walk rate last week, this week it was a major struggle for Walls, and Florida State in general, as Virginia Tech won two out of three games. Walls entered the weekend leading the nation in walks; he’s now tied with freshman teammate Tyler Daughtry, and his walk rate was honestly at an unsustainable pace.
This weekend, he went 1 for 11, with three strikeouts and just one walk. His walk to strikeout rate is still 2:1. His on base percentage is a very good .422, which is nearly half (.206) from just his walk totals so far this year.
Walls is a likely second baseman and his walk rate has been a plus skill that easily translates. He has not been hitting so far this year, which is an issue he shares with teammate Dylan Busby, who was also talked about as a relatively high draft pick this year. Walls is a potential switch hitting second baseman, who won’t turn 21 until July. He should still see his name called in the second or third round range. If he can start hitting like he did a year ago, then there is a chance for Walls to move up.