MLB Draft Bites: Week 3 – Enter the Prep Prospects

Feature Photo:  Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, KS)

Week 3 of  MLB Draft Bites features continuing coverage of some of the top collegians in this year’s MLB Draft class, while we also fold in profiles of 10 top high school prospects, as their schools begin the spring season. 2080’s Nick J. Faleris, Chris King and Corey Turner provide the write-ups, and Faleris rounds out this week’s edition with highlights of some recent performances by five more players on evaluators’ radar for the 2016 draft.

Player Spotlights

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

The cross-checker’s text read simply, “I was there for Pint. It was silly good!” This in reference to the first start of the season for the LSU commit and Kansas native, who began his final push towards draft day in spectacular fashion. Pint kicked off his season by hitting a grand slam in the top of the first inning – and that was perhaps the least impressive accomplishment of the day as far as evaluators were concerned.

The highly-coveted righty cruised through three innings sitting at an effortless 93 to 96 mph, and touching 99 with his fastball, while generally locating it well around the zone. After a rocky conclusion to the 2015 summer showcase circuit, where he struggled to consistently execute his offerings, Pint’s first live look this spring saw his upper-80s changeup thrown with feel and effectiveness, and his low-80s curveball come with hard bite.

The mechanics were more efficient and better repeated, while the stuff continued to display in electric fashion. It was a 1.1 type of performance for the right-hander, and one of the more impressive flag-planting moments we’ve seen thus far from the players jockeying to be the first to come off the board in June. –Nick J. Faleris

Austin Bergner, RHP, Windermere Prep (Windermere, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’4″/180 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date): 19y, 1m

Committed to the University of North Carolina, Bergner is the top ranked right-handed pitcher in the state of Florida by Perfect Game, and one of the most debated arms in the 2016 draft class. The tall and lanky righty was routinely sitting in the low-to middle 90’s throughout the 2014 and 2015 season while running it up as high as 95 to 96 mph at times, but so far this year he has been more in the 88-to-92 range.

The projectable righty still shows a quick arm, but he is now cutting his arm off short and it has affected his ability to stay loose and find his release point on a consistent basis. In the start I took in less than two weeks ago, Bergner wasn’t blowing the fastball by anybody like I’ve seen him do in the past. He had to elevate it to generate the movement he has been known to have. When the heater was at the thighs or lower, it got flat and was hit around a good bit.

Even without peak velocity, Bergner still has a nice mix of off-speed offerings that he can turn to. He’s got a legit traditional curveball that he pairs up with a hard, fading changeup. His hammer has been known as a true out pitch for some time now, but it was nice to see him show even more confidence spinning it. He used it in any count to right and left-handed hitters alike and was able to locate it for strikes or get batters to chase it down and out of the zone. It was easily his best pitch on the day.

There is still a lot of projection and upside with Bergner, with the continued growth of his second and third pitches being crucial to his development at the next level. –Chris King

Buddy Reed, CF, Univ. of Florida
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 | B/T: S/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 1m

Reed, who played on Team USA last summer, is one of the most athletic position players in the 2016 draft. With a plus arm and plus range that is guided by plus plus foot speed, he undoubtedly has the defensive tools to play a very good center field at the professional level. His biggest question mark is his bat, which has been fueled by his inability to identify and layoff spin, especially from the left side.

After a rather slow start to the 2016 season, he flashed glimpses of his offensive potential in my look against Missouri two weekends ago. Reed started with a single that he turned into a double out of the box on Friday, then followed that up with three hits (two from the right side, one from the left side) on Sunday including a two-run home run. Despite being raw with the bat, Reed’s athleticism and high ceiling has solidified him as a first-round talent this June. –Corey Turner

Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (Florence, AL)
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/190 | B/T: R/L | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 10m

As impressive as Pint’s performance was last week, the biggest jump in draft stock might have materialized one day later and approximately 1,000 miles to the east. In the second contest of the 2016 USA Baseball National High School Invitational, Vandy commit Braxton Garrett toed the rubber opposite fellow Perfect Game All-American Zach Hess in front of scores of area scouts, cross-checkers and scouting directors at Coleman Field – the feature venue at the national training complex.

Garrett’s performance was perhaps his most dominant to date at a high-level scouting event, with the lefty feeding opponents a steady diet of low-90s heat out of a three-quarters slot, pounding the knees and the corners throughout and elevating when needed. His low-80s 1-to-7 curveball was lethal, showing crisp action, and his mid-80s changeup easily graded as an above-average offering, showing significant arm speed, deception, and tumble.

Garrett’s outing spanned eight innings and resulted in 11 strikeouts, no walks, and just four hits, with over 70% of his pitches going for strikes. Once thought to be a good bet to go in the top 60 or so picks, Garrett’s lights-out performance in front of rows of decision-makers may have firmly established his first-round bona fides. –Nick J. Faleris

Bo Bichette, SS, Lakewood (St. Petersburg, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/200 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 3m

Currently playing shortstop for Lakewood High School, second base is the more likely destination for Bichette in the future. No matter where he ends up playing, there is no denying the potential in the bat that he carries. Easily possessing some of the best bat speed in this draft class, Bichette has also been a one of the most aggressive hitters you’ll see throughout his high school career. The Arizona State commit can really let his hands fly, firing the barrel through the zone with speed and control. He is a strongly-built kid and the strength really shows up from wrists all the way up his arms.

Through 18 games this spring Bichette has abused opponent arms to the tune of a .569/.686/1.372 slash line, with 18 walks vs. nine strikeouts, and with half of his 36 hits going for extra basses (10 home runs, three triples and five doubles).

While he can generate big pull-side power off of his bat speed alone, Bichette doesn’t shy away from muscling up and swinging with intent to destroy the ball. It can be a scary combination for opposing pitchers to face but has also gotten Bichette into trouble at times, leading him to some swings-and-misses against more advanced arms able to exploit his aggressiveness. More often than not, he makes it work at this level, but evaluators will be tasked with trying to determine whether contact might become an issue as he climbs the pro ranks. –Chris King

Shuan Anderson, RHP, Univ. of Florida
Ht/Wt: 6’5/230 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of 2016 draft date): 21y, 7m

After only seeing action in sixteen games totaling 22 IP in 2015, Anderson has already appeared in 11 games in 2016, including all three games in the Missouri series that I attended. The big righty earned a win in Friday night’s extra-inning game where he only needed 12 pitches to strikeout the side, and he followed it up with back-to-back saves on Saturday and Sunday.

Anderson showed three quality pitches, each of which have swing-and-miss potential, but he most frequently put hitters away with his two power breaking balls—a big curveball with sharp, downer action and a hard slider with late bite. His fastball registered 91 to 93 mph, but is more of a secondary pitch, comprising just 37% of his pitches that weekend. While relief arms aren’t generally in high demand at the very top of the draft, Anderson could jump up draft boards into the top few rounds with continued dominance in high-leverage situations this spring. –Corey Turner

Zack Hess, RHP, Liberty Christian Acad. (Lynchburg, VA)
Ht/Wt: 6’6″/200 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 19y, 3m

Committed with Pint to LSU, Hess put together an impressive start of his own against Garrett, showcasing a hard low-90s fastball that reached 94 mph multiple times through his 7.2 innings of work and a solid mid- to upper-70s slider that reached 80 mph on occasion.

The well-built 6’6″ righty has a long, sweeping arm action on the backside and attacks hitters out of a tough three-quarters slot given his impressive wingspan, creating an uncomfortable at bat for right-handed hitters in particular. He gets some natural cut on his fastball, and there’s enough juice in the wrist to create solid spin on his breaking ball. Additionally, he shows enough feel to manipulate the speed and depth, allowing the pitch to play as a deeper, slurvier offering towards the low-end of his velo band, and a harder true slider as it approaches the 80 mph mark.

Because of the effort in his delivery and questions about future command and effectiveness of his off-speed offerings, Hess gets some “relief profile” tags from evaluators. Still, outings like his 10 strikeout, two hit, two walk performance at the USA Baseball National Training Complex keep the hope of a rotational future alive, and there’s little question he would be counted upon as an important cog in the weekend rotation should he happen to make it on campus to Coach Mainieri and the Tigers in Baton Rouge. –Nick J. Faleris

Kep Brown, OF, Spartanburg Methodist CC
Ht/Wt: 6’5″/210 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 18y, 11m

Brown was a highly-touted player heading into last year’s draft, but an unfortunate and ill-timed achilles injury caused him to slip once the names started getting called on draft day. Once committed to the University of Miami, Brown decided to go the JUCO route this season to keep himself draft eligible for 2016, and through the first couple months of the season it appears that strategy is paying off. Through 35 games this spring, Brown is slashing .283/.374/.593 to go along with 10 home runs.

As impressive as he’s been so far this season, the work he’s putting in off the field has been even more so. Brown is starting to mature at the plate and evolve his approach. Taking a walk isn’t foreign to him anymore. He is showing patience and discipline that hasn’t always been there, and his power has evolved as well. Brown is emerging as a legit in-game threat to drive the ball over the wall to any part of the park now, not just to his pull-side. There is still some swing and miss in there, but the swing is constantly getting better, so more contact down the road is a strong likelihood which should scare pitchers from coast to coast.

When the draft rolls around this June, Brown will not only have a bat that teams will covet, but he will also be able to point to his makeup and work ethic for rehabbing through a tough injury and showing up with an improved all-around game for his 2016 junior college campaign. –Chris King

Zack Collins, C/1B, Univ. of Miami (FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’3″/220 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 4m

The Miami catcher has been red hot thus far in 2016, slashing .418/.587/.716 through just over 100 plate appearances, while walking 31 times compared to just 12 strikeouts. Collins has big power from the left side and a solid understanding of what he needs to do when he steps into the box, giving him middle-of-the-order upside at the next level – a particularly enticing proposition if he is able to stick behind the dish long term.

While Collins has made progress with his glove and arm, there is still work to be done in cleaning up his movements behind the plate while softening his receiving, and firming up his presentation. He has an adequate catch-and-throw arm, but he continues to lack consistency in his footwork and transfers, often pushing his throws off target and sapping some of their zip.

Collins looks the part of a day one draft talent if you believe he’s a catcher as a pro. Even if you’re skeptical, the impact power and offensive potential alone cold make him a sandwich-round target in a baseball climate that is placing an increased level of import on the ability to drive the ball. –Nick J. Faleris

Ryan Howard, SS, Univ. of Missouri
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/196 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 11m

A 31st-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2015 as a draft-eligible sophomore, Howard elected to return to Columbia for his junior year in an attempt to improve his draft stock. Thus far in 2016, the USA Baseball alum appears to have opened up his swing and traded his contact-oriented, singles approach in an effort to increase his leverage at the plate and grow his power. After play this weekend, Howard had amassed three home runs and four doubles on the year (compared to just five home runs and four doubles through the entire 2015 season), but the slight jump in impactful contact has come with an increase in strikeout, and less overall consistency at the plate.

Howard impressed last summer with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, sporting a .310/.344/.431 slash line while showing steady defense at shortstop, making his early-season struggles with Missouri a bit of a surprise. Hopefully, as the weather warms, so to will Howard’s bat, perhaps with the re-establishment of his previously disciplined approach. –Corey Turner

MLB Draft Bites

Zac Gallen (RHP, Univ. North Carolina) took the loss in the opening game of the Tar Heels’ series against the Ramblin’ Wreck of Georgia Tech, tossing five innings of three-run ball (only one of those runs being earned). Gallen allowed seven hits and no walks while striking out five Yellow Jackets on the strength of an 83-to-85 mph cutter and low-80s slider, each of which played effectively off of his 88-to-91 mph heater. Gallen showed his usual command and high level of comfort across his repertoire (which also includes a solid curveball and changeup), allowing his average stuff to play up. The Carolina ace has allowed just 27 hits and seven walks through his six starts this spring (spanning 42.1 IP), while averaging 10.4 SO/9 IP (49 total).

♦ Picking up the win against Gallen was Brandon Gold (RHP, Georgia Tech), who went 7.1 innings, allowing two runs on six hits and one walk while striking out five. Gold has now logged 37.1 innings over his six starts, striking out 36 batters and walking eight. The two-way talent sat in the upper-80s to low-90s with his heater (touching 92), while pounding the zone with a low-80s slider and mid-80s changeup with solid fade.

♦ Miami commit Colton Welker (SS, Stoneman Douglas (Pompano Beach, FL)) continued his strong senior campaign last week, going two for four with two round-trippers against Mater Academy Charter (his sixth and seventh home runs of the year). At present, Welker’s impressive approach and feel at the plate have earned him a slash line of .562/.638/1.104 through his first sixteen games, with 14 of his 27 hits going for extra bases. His actions are still a bit choppy and indecisive at short, but his hands and feet work well enough to give comfort that he can stay on the dirt at either second or third base, should he have to shift off the six spot.

♦ USA Baseball alum Chris Okey (C, Clemson Univ.) has begun to right the ship at the plate, going 9-for-14 this weekend in Coral Gables, launching two home runs and two doubles against the host Miami Hurricanes. With his outburst, Okey raised his season slash line to .326/.446/.554, with 16 walks and 21 strikeouts over 112 PAs. Okey’s glove and arm anchor his draft value, but a solid offensive showing this spring could help him move up draft boards over the next two months.

♦ On the other side of the coin, Hurricanes right fielder Willie Abreu (OF, Univ. of Miami (FL)) continued his early- season struggles, going 3-for-13 on the weekend against Clemson, striking out five times (one-third of his plate appearances). Abreu is currently slashing .262/.347/.500 three weeks into conference play, and will look to boost his production as Miami enters the meat of its season.