2016 MLB Draft: Early Candidates for 1.1

A.J. Puk, LHP, Univ. of Florida (Photo by Tim Casey)

As the calendar flips over to January, focus on the upcoming draft class begins to intensify, both within scouting departments across the game and amongst the analysts and evaluators working outside the four corners of the industry. 2080 Baseball begins its look at the 2016 MLB Draft at the top, examining the current favorites to come off the board with the first overall selection in June.

A.J. Puk, LHP, Univ. of Florida (Photo by Tim Casey)

A.J. Puk, LHP, Univ. of Florida (Photo by Tim Casey)

We begin our look at the top of the draft class by examining a collection of players currently jockeying for the top spot on draft boards. Our universe of 1.1 candidates was formed by polling folks familiar with this year’s collection of draft-eligible players, including evaluators on the public and the private side of the fence. The question posed to each participant was simple: What is your current “top five” for the 2016 MLB Draft class?

To complete the introduction to the very top of this year’s draft class, Corey Turner, Chris King and I provide brief write-ups of each player receiving votes during the polling process.

The Poll

The public participants included writers/evaluators/analysts from the 2080 Baseball staff and the talented folks at Perfect Game. The industry participants on the private side were area scouts/cross-checkers/special assignment scouts currently working for teams. The public and industry scores were tallied separately and then averaged together – all three columns are displayed for comparative purposes and ordered by Aggregate Score:

What is your current “top five” for the 2016 MLB Draft class?
Player School Position Public Score Industry Score Aggregate Score
A.J. Puk Univ. of Florida LHP 3.9 3.6 3.8
Jason Groome Barnegat HS (N.J.) LHP 4.2 3.4 3.8
Alec Hansen Univ. of Oklahoma RHP 1.8 2.8 2.3
Corey Ray Univ. of Louisville OF 1.5 2.4 2.0
Blake Rutherford Chaminade Prep. (Calif.) OF 1.6 1.6 1.6
Buddy Reed Univ. of Florida OF 1.3 0.2 0.8
Riley Pint St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.) RHP 0.2 0.6 0.4
Connor Jones Univ. of Virginia RHP 0.1 0.4 0.3
Kyle Lewis Mercer Univ. OF 0.4 0.0 0.2

Scores are averaged across all votes received based on the following values
1st = 5 points; 2nd = 4 points; 3rd = 3 points; 4th = 2 points; 5th = 1 point

The results show three tiers at present. A pair of southpaws – New Jersey prep product Jason Groome and University of Florida’s A.J. Puk – stand as the clear top two players on both the public and industry lists, with each omitted from just one ballot apiece. The second tier includes Sooner righty Alec Hansen, Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, and prep outfielder Blake Rutherford, with Florida center fielder Buddy Reed straddling the line between tiers two and three on the public list.

Reed, Riley Pint, Connor Jones, and Kyle Lewis all received votes, though none were present on more than a couple of ballots. Also mentioned in conversation on the industry side, but not receiving votes, were Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez and a pair of California high school outfielders in Mickey Moniak and Avery Tuck.

The Profiles

Tier 1 – The Southpaws

A.J. Puk, LHP, Univ. of Florida
Ht/Wt: 6’7″/225 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 1m

At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, Puk already has a mature frame with long levers, which he uses effectively to generate a long stride and launch toward the plate. He utilizes a clean, easy motion that includes a loose but long arm action out of a three-quarters slot, showing the ability to repeat his delivery while demonstrating solid body control.

Although Puk’s fastball velocity was erratic throughout the spring and the summer, it generally registers as a plus pitch, and has flashed plus-plus in the middle 90’s with run. His secondary pitches include a low-80’s slider that is a swing-and-miss type offering, and a fringy changeup that he continues to develop.

Puk has the upside of a future frontline starter, on his good days bringing a plus-plus fastball, plus slider, and a fringe-average changeup. He comes SEC battle-tested and has the combination of present talent and upside to rise quickly through a pro organization. –Corey Turner

Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat (Barnegat, NJ)

Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat HS (Barnegat, NJ)
Ht/Wt: 6’6″/180 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 17y, 9m

A lefty with a solid 180-pound frame, Groome has an ideal build that you look for in a front line starter. The arsenal is powerful and loud, but what’s even more impressive is his feel for pitching and the advanced command he shows with his dominant fastball/curveball combo.

The fastball sits easily in the low- to mid-90’s and can already climb as high as 96. The curveball will give him a second plus pitch and is already a capable bat-missing weapon that he wields with supreme confidence. His changeup isn’t a finished product, but it flashes promise and the feel is there to grow the offering in time.

Additionally, let’s not forget Groome is one of the youngest players in the draft. He won’t turn 18 until late August, making him over three years younger than Puk. –Chris King

 Tier 2 – Rounding-out the Top Five 

Alec Hansen, RHP, Univ. of Oklahoma
Ht/Wt: 6’7″/235 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 8m

Hansen has emerged as one of the top collegiate arms in the class thanks to his workhorse body and four offerings that can play average or better across the board. Hansen’s fastball is the eye-catcher, sitting in the middle 90s and touching 99 mph during fall workouts. The pitch comes on a tough downhill plane thanks to Hansen’s long limbs and high three-quarters release, making it tough to square up when kept down in the zone.

The Sooner ace throws two breaking balls – a mid-80s slider with some vertical action and a softer upper-70s curveball with depth but inconsistent bite. Hansen’s changeup will flash average but remains an unreliable offering at present. The raw material is here to develop into a front-end starter, though he will need to find a lot more consistency in pitch execution and command to realize that potential. Per one evaluator, Hansen experienced some forearm pain this fall and was shut down prior to conclusion of fall practices. –Nick J. Faleris

Corey Ray, OF, Univ. of Louisville
Ht/Wt: 5’11″/185 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 8m

A broad-framed, projectable talent in high school, Ray has built himself into a physical specimen capable of producing above-average raw power generated through quick hands and a muscular trunk. He controls the strike zone well and is comfortable working pole-to-pole, showing a penchant for loud contact and an ability to work to find his pitches.

Ray clocks well out of the box and shows a second gear once underway. He moves well in the outfield, to boot, and should get every opportunity to develop as a center fielder at the pro ranks, increasing his foundational value and allowing evaluators to project him as a potential five-tool contributor. –Nick J. Faleris

Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade Prep.

Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade College Prep. (Simi Valley, Calif.)
Ht/Wt: 6’2″/190 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date): 19y, 1m

Rutherford was mentioned by more than one evaluator as the top bat in the entire draft class, showing an ability to hit for average and power. His plate coverage is impressive, and he already demonstrates a good feel for the barrel, allowing him to drive the ball with regularity. Detractors worry he can get too pull-happy and will struggle when faced with better stuff.

Defensively, Rutherford is a capable center fielder, showing average run, a solid arm and ability to finish. Whether or not he outgrows center remains to be seen, though the high-waisted frame and trunk indicate he may be likely to thicken in the lower half and lose a few steps as he matures. Rutherford is one of the older high schoolers at the top of the class, which knocked down his value in the eyes of some evaluators. –Nick J. Faleris

Tier 3 – Also Receiving Votes

Buddy Reed, OF, Univ. of Florida
Ht/Wt: 6’4″/185 | B/T: S/L | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 1m

Reed is on the cusp of elite status, with five tools that could eventually play to average or better and a chance to stick as an up-the-middle defender in center. He’s a capable switch-hitter still working to refine his approach in the box and more regularly tap in to his solid-average power potential. A burner on the bases and in the grass, Reed provides solid foundational value and could develop into an impact defender with an improved first step. –Nick J. Faleris

Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Overland Park, Kan.)
Ht/Wt: 6’4″/195 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 7m

Pint is an arm strength righty, lighting up radar guns with upper-90s heat on the regular. His breaking ball is caught between a slider and power curve, occasionally flashing plus but coming with a high degree of volatility in execution and effectiveness. Pint’s still working to develop a consistent changeup, though he showed a handful of solid variations over the course of the summer scouting circuit. His mechanical struggles and corresponding control issues leave him as a polarizing prospect, with some evaluators staying far away and others advocating for 1.1 candidacy. –Nick J. Faleris

Connor Jones, RHP, Univ. of Virginia
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/200 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 8m

Jones was tabbed as a potential impact arm as a high school senior and has progressed steadily towards that projection over his first two years at UVA. His best offering is a plus low-to mid-90s fastball with plenty of dance, which he works well to the margins. He backs up the heater with an effective slider that comes with two-plane action and bite, a solid-average change-piece with fade, and a “show me” curveball he can drop in on hitters. He’s a mature arm with good poise on the bump. –Nick J. Faleris

Kyle Lewis, OF, Mercer Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’4″/195 | B/T: L/L | Age (as of draft date): 20y, 11m

Lewis was a big performance bat both last spring at Mercer and this past summer on the Cape. He boasts a big boy body with the athleticism and flexibility to avoid the label of a hulking base-clogger or outfield liability. Supporters point to an advanced approach at the plate and the ability to hit for power as the carrying tools to help him stand out in a deep group of collegiate outfielders. He profiles as a slugging right fielder who could find the home in the middle of a first division lineup while providing solid value with the glove. –Nick J. Faleris