Alex Lange (Photo by Bruce Thorson)

2017 MLB Draft: Big Board Part 3

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

Note*- Height, Weight, Age, and Zepp Labs data for all prep players is thanks to the Perfect Game website

51- 41 can be found here

40-31 can be found here

30. MJ Melendez, C, Westminster Christian HS (FL)

There is nothing riskier in the draft than a prep catcher. I would argue that they are a bigger risk than a pitcher. So for me to put one in the top 30 means that I have to have confidence in both ceiling and floor. Melendez is in his first year at Westminster Christian, because his father just became the coach this year at Florida International. Melendez follows a common refrain for the prep players I have mentioned so far in these ranks. He has a ton of tools. He has elite pop times and arm strength numbers behind the plate. His bat speed measurements are also elite and, judging by Zepp labs data, is one of the best in this class. It is not often you see bat speed impact numbers at 100 or more mph.  His speed numbers are also above average. There are concerns about how hard Melendez might be to sign, as he is committed to his father's program. His tools at the catcher position, along with being a coach's son at a position of scarcity, are what made Melendez pop for me, lame pun intended. There is a chance Melendez has no intention of signing, and there are some concerns about his hit tool as well. 

29. Brady McConnell, SS, Merritt Island HS (FL)

Brady McConnell had a strong NHSI, so the arrow is going to be pointing up. The fact that he is also a shortstop, in a class that is not very strong in shortstops, at least in terms of first round talent, should also help his stock. The fact that he turns 19 in May must be mentioned, as it is something teams notice. McConnell, though, is more than his age, much more. He profiles as a plus bat at the shortstop position. He is a very good runner, with plus speed and plus bat speed. He is a bigger kid, at 6’3”, which, combined with his bat speed, makes me think he should end up with average power, maybe more if he bulks up as he goes through the minors. My first thought when I was thinking of a comp was Trea Turner, with a little less speed. This is not a knock on McConnell, Turner is just exceptionally fast. McConnell has the potential to be a top 10 offensive shortstop, while providing value with his glove as well. He is a well-rounded player at a position that always rises on draft day.

28. Jacob Heatherly, LHP, Cullman HS (AL)

I saw a few different heights listed for Heatherly and, since a few inches have such an effect on how a player is viewed, I went to the source. The lesson I learned is that, when in doubt, I should always trust that PGcrosschecker will have correct height and weight data. Heatherly is 6’3”, but the differences in height make me think there is recent growth, which would also typically mean a chance for a jump in velocity. Heatherly is compared to Braxton Garrett often. Both are first round lefties from Alabama who happen to be similar in size and both have advanced secondary stuff. Heatherly is a plus athlete who shows three potential above average to plus pitches. He has an advanced feel for those pitches, which makes him a safer prep arm. The one knock here for some will be age, as he turns 19 in May. For me, I see too many positives to overlook; as a matter of fact, as I wrote this, I find myself thinking this is too low. Athletic, left handed pitchers with three above average to plus pitches are rare and valuable.

27. Brendon Little, LHP, State JC of Florida Manatee-Sarasota

Little is a lefty with excellent velocity and a bit of mystery. He had a strong Cape after barely playing as a freshman for North Carolina. He transferred to a JUCO school so that he doesn’t have to sit out and is draft eligible as a 20 year old. I think he is being a little overrated by many, myself included. The mystery of a lefty who sits 93-96 and has such a limited college track record is intriguing for this former cold weather arm. My concern is that he is very raw still and has shown control and command issues. There are also concerns that his secondary stuff is not as strong. An athletic lefty, with a clean delivery, who throws hard and has growth potential, is pretty much what general managers dreams are made of. He belongs in a world that must be strong and his floor is low.

26. Pavin Smith, 1B, Virginia

If Smith went to virtually any other Division One school, he would be higher in my rankings. It is just that the program has such an odd history in terms of player’s struggles once they’re drafted. He has one of my favorite stats this year. In 141 plate appearances, he has struck out just three times. This means he has struck out just 2% of the time he has come to the plate. His power numbers have jumped this year, as he has set a new career high in home runs already, with 10, and his ISO is nearly 100 points higher than a year ago. Virginia is a pitchers park, so his numbers this year have been impressive all around. Smith gets knocked for being a first baseman, though he is not a bad athlete and I wonder if he could play outfield if pushed. The bigger problem for me is that he plays for a top program that has produced just one everyday player in the school's entire draft history---Ryan Zimmerman.

25. Ryan Vilade, 3B/SS, Stillwater HS (OK)

Vilade’s father is an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, after being a coach for the Rangers organization for four years. His father has been coaching or scouting since 1998. Vilade’s swing looks like the swing of a kid whose father has been a hitting coach. It's an easy swing, with good bat speed. Vilade is a strong athlete in general and has the arm for third and good speed. I would try him at short until I am sure he can’t stick there. There is a chance that, as he bulks up, he moves to third, but he is a smart, well coached player who I think has a good chance to stick at short. His swing and bat speed should produce at least average power, with a good chance at above average. Much like players with athleticism and youth, the sons of coaches tend to move up my lists. Vilade is often called smart and instinctive. I think one could easily just say he has been well coached and raised in the game.

24. Alex Lange, RHP, LSU

I have not been as high on Lange as most others, even after his strong freshman year. In fairness, the common comp with Lange is former LSU pitcher Aaron Nola, who I was also not as high on as the rest of the industry. I was higher on Nola because, at the same point, Nola had better command, control, and consistency than Lange. Lange suffers a bit because he was so good as a freshman. If he had struggled as a freshman and then posted the numbers he did as a sophomore, he might be better regarded, since he would be improving instead of taking a step back. This year, he has improved, which can be seen in his rate data improving nearly across the board; only his hit per nine has gone up. Lange is in the second tier of college arms in this class. In this grouping, it is very much an eye of the beholder situation in terms of what arm is preferred. The potential for two plus pitches will see Lange drafted in the first 30 picks this year.

23. Garrett Mitchell, OF, Orange Lutheran HS (CA)

So, the big knock with Mitchell is the fact that he has diabetes. While this should not be a big deal, it will be. Recent sports history has shown this to be a concern or listed as a negative, even though it should be a non-factor. Diabetes being an issue for an athlete is less about the condition and more about the player themselves and their ability to take responsibility and monitor themselves. If you can’t trust a kid to monitor his own health, then can you really trust them to develop as a baseball player? I can’t see either of these things being an issue for Mitchell. Mitchell is a player that would be described as a toolbox. He is one of the fast runners in this class and combines it with a strong arm, which allows him to profile at any spot in the outfield. Of course, centerfield is where he is likely to end up once drafted. I think he has plus power potential ability, but the question is will he hit enough? I am sure I sound like a broken record with the number of extremely toolsy outfielders in this class. I have Mitchell as the third best of this deep group of prep outfielders. His power/speed combo keeps me coming back to him as one of the best in this class.

22. Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA

I would place UCLA in the top five schools in terms of college pitcher development. One has to go back to 2005 to find the last time a pitcher from UCLA did not get taken in the top ten rounds. 2005 was also John Savage’s first year as a head coach of UCLA, so there might be a reason for that. Canning is the most recent top pick from this program. One scout this year compared Canning to Zack Greinke, which I obviously don’t agree with or he would be much higher on the list. This being said, I am still a fan of Canning, who has shown excellent control in college. This year, his walk rate has nearly doubled, .01 away from doubling. His strikeout rate has jumped up over 11 this year and the reports have mentioned that his velocity is up to 96 this year. The knock on Canning is his size. He is listed at 6’1”, and, while his velocity is up, it is still not the upper tier velocity that can make smaller arms rise. Undersized right handed pitchers without elite velocity have been a market inefficiency. Canning reminds me of Daulton Jefferies, from a year ago. Canning has shown more strikeout ability at UCLA, but both are undersized right handers who are complete pitchers. Canning is a safe bet to not only make it to the majors, but be a quick through the minors arm as well. 

21. Tristan Beck, RHP, Stanford

Mr. Beck is a hard player to place. This marks the second year in a row that a potential top ten pick, and Stanford’s top starter, has missed significant time with injury. Beck should pitch this year, after suffering a stress fracture in his back. The hope is that we will see him pitch sometime in the month of April. Beck did not pitch last summer and is a draft eligible sophomore, so part of the problem is how little teams have had the chance to see him. Beck is big, at 6’4”, but needs to add weight, which should see his fastball climb from a low 90’s to mid 90’s pitch. He is an exceptionally smart individual and will likely be described as a cerebral pitcher down the road. As a freshman, he took over the Friday night starter job for Stanford and showed strong control and command. His strikeout rate was ok and one would have expected a jump this year, as a sophomore. Beck had a strong freshman year and was the most talked about draft eligible starter in this class, to start the year. The injury has kept him off the radar which, in a class this deep in college starters, has hurt his value. Beck’s likely outcome as a two or three starter should see him drafted, as long as teams feel his back is fine.       

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