LA Times

2017 MLB Draft: Big Board Part 1

In the first installment of his Big Board, Jeff Ellis breaks down some of the top players expected to be taken in this year's draft.

51. Adam Halesey, OF/LHP, Virginia

My concerns with the Virginia program are well documented. I have explained my reasons multiple times, so no need to rehash it. Halesey has been a starter at Virginia since his freshman year. He has improved every year, but it is his home run and power increase, in general, which has caused his name to pop up more this spring. He has hit more home runs this season (eight, as of this writing) than he did the last two years combined (seven) in nearly 500 fewer at bats. His walk to strikeout rate has always been fairly strong and has shown improvement every year. The bonus is that, if he does not work out as a hitter, then you could always try him as a reliever, as he has been a starting pitcher for Virginia the last two years as well. 

50. Trevor Stephan, RHP, Arkansas

Stephan was an 18th round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox a year ago. I know for a fact they actively tried to sign him. My theory, which is completely unconfirmed, is that he was a fall back for the Red Sox if Groome failed to sign. He is a 6’5” 225 innings eater who, I have been told, has gotten up to 97, with positive reports on his slider. He has jumped from JUCO ranks to being the Saturday starter for the Razorbacks this spring. His walk (2.27) and strikeout (12.62) rates have been fantastic. He has the build, velocity, and performance that, I am sure, will start to get him more attention. His limited track record also means that there is a chance for more ceiling than one would normally expect of a pitcher who turns 22 this year. 

49. Zac Lowther, LHP, Xavier

It's ok by me if you want to call it an indicator of Ohio bias that I’m putting Lowther this high. This summer was a coming out party for Lowther, who lead the Cape in strikeouts. This season, his strikeout rate has jumped by over 5.5 per nine. The game I saw him against Ohio State was an impressive performance, where no one seemed to be able to make solid contact. The jump in his walk rate is a little bit of a concern. He is a pretty polished lefty, with good strikeout rates, who looks like a potential back of the rotation starter. Lowther will undoubtedly be the highest drafted player from Xavier, passing Seth Willoughby, who went in the fourth round (pick 138) to the Rockies in 2012.

48. Calvin Mitchell, OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA)

Mitchell does everything well, but nothing great. If you are very bullish on Mitchell, you might see a potential centerfielder with a plus hit tool. His hit tool is universally considered his best future tool. He is not the biggest guy, but has shown power, though it is likely an average tool. The consensus is that Mitchell will end up in left field, which does limit his value.  His swing is what will see Mitchell drafted but, with the limitations, there is a chance he ends up at San Diego for college. 

47. Logan Warmoth, SS, UNC

Warmoth has risen to the top of the college shortstop group. At the start of the year, he was behind bigger names like Dalton Guthrie of Florida and Kevin Smith of Maryland. He had out performed both players statistically throughout college, but had not gotten the attention of either player. He has continued to perform this year and his power has spiked as well. He has hit as many homeruns this year as the previous two years combined and he has been a starter since his freshman year. He has looked better defensively this year and has been a more effective base stealer. There is a question as to whether he will end up at short or second but, at either position, he is likely a plus bat for the position who won’t hurt you in the field. Warmoth is rising and, honestly, I expect he will be higher on my next ranking.

46. Bryce Bonnin, RHP, Barbers Hills HS (TX)

Bonnin is a player who has popped up a bit this spring. I heard about him first back in the fall, after an impressive performance in Jupiter as a pitcher. He was already committed to Arkansas as a shortstop, who could also play outfield. Then he hit 93 in the fall and is up to 96 this spring, according to reports. He had 16 innings as a pitcher before this year, so there is a lot more growth potential than in your typical high school arm. He also has a slider, which most project out as a possible plus pitch. The knock here is going to be size. Bonnin is listed at 6’1”, and under sized right handers often slide on draft day. There is a lot of upside with Bonnin, in spite of his size, because of his lack of experience, athleticism, and chance for two plus pitches. 

45. Hagen Danner, C/RHP, Huntington Beach HS (CA)

I am in the minority, and have been since this summer, where I prefer Danner as a catcher more than as a pitcher. I think the ceiling is a lot higher for Danner behind the plate. He isn’t the biggest pitcher and doesn’t possess big time velocity. He knows how to pitch and is a polished arm, with a safe floor. As a catcher, though, Danner obviously has the arm for the position, and shows some power with his bat. His potential as a plus defender at catcher, with average hit and power tools, is more valuable than his pitcher profile. The pitcher profile is certainly safer, but put me in the catcher camp for Danner. 

44. Alex Scherff. RHP, Colleyville HS (TX)

One thing I will mention a lot with players is their age relative to their draft class. This might not seem like a big deal, but it becomes a bigger one every year. It was seemingly the only knock on Blake Rutherford a year ago, though his slide was also partly because of bonus demands. Still, there are teams which always go for the youngest players in the draft. I mention this because Scherff is already 19. It was a big deal when Rutherford turned 19 last May, so it will be an issue in some places that Scherff turned 19 earlier this year. The other concern with Scherff is that he has transferred every year of high school. If his plans had worked out, he would be on his 4th school, instead of back at Colleyville, where he started out as a freshman. Now, it’s time for the fun stuff. Scherff looks the part of a pitcher, with his big frame. His fastball has hit 97 and sits in the 90’s. His changeup projects out as a plus pitch and is one of the best prep changeups in the class. I expect Scherff to get drafted this fall and sign; while there are issues, he has his share of fans. The ones I talked with were hoping that teams will nitpick Scherff to death and overlook the obvious talent. 

43. Stuart Fairchild, OF, Wake Forest

Fairchild is one of my dudes this year. He is a player I seem to be much higher on than everyone else. He has been on the radar since his prep days near Seattle, and was drafted by the Nationals in 2014. He is part of a very dangerous lineup for Wake Forest, which includes fellow likely high pick Gavin Sheets and maybe the best of the group, John Aiello, who should go high next year. Fairchild has been a consistent performer in college. He has shown gap power, speed, and a strong eye at the plate. Fairchild walks a lot and also strikes out a lot. He has always been a strong kid, and has already set a career high for home runs. I am not sure what more Fairchild can or needs to do, but I think he will be a steal for some team this year.  

42. Trevor Rogers, LHP, Carlsbad HS (NM)

There is no player in this class where their age is a bigger issue than Rogers. He will turn 20 this November, which means he is closer in age to JB Bukauskas, a college junior, than some fellow high school seniors. New Mexico is also not a hotbed for baseball, which means that Rogers is very raw. There is a chance Rogers might be 21 before he ends up in A-ball, if he gets drafted by a conservative team. The fact that he is this high speaks to the ceiling of Rogers. He is a 6’6” left hander, who hits 95, with an easy delivery that makes it likely he will add more velocity. His secondary stuff is a work in progress, as is his control and command. Right now, he is a big, athletic, lefty who is full of promise, but also one of the biggest risks, maybe the biggest of any player with first round talk.  

41. Nate Pearson, RHP, College of Central Florida   

If someone wanted to list Pearson as the top JUCO player in this year’s draft, I would not blame them. If not for my own internal bias of how high I was on Brendon Little to start the year, I might have done just that. The difference in control shown this year stands out as a reason to favor Pearson. Pearson is a 6’6” 245 pound behemoth. He has touched 100 and sits in the mid to high 90’s. This year, over 10 starts, he has walked just 17 batters, with a walk per nine of 13.06. The size and velocity, along with the control numbers, are intriguing. I would not be surprised at all if Pearson is not only the first JUCO player off the board, but a top 30 pick.  

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