MLB Draft Bites: Week 4 – One Groome and Four Backstops

Feature Photo:  Jason Groome, LHP, Barnegat (Barnegat, NJ)

Week four of 2080 Baseball’s MLB Draft Bites series takes a look at the season debut of the top prep lefty in the class, as well as four collegiate catchers making their mark, courtesy of Nick J. Faleris. Nick rounds out the entry with updates on three more strong performances by 2016 MLB Draft-eligible collegiate players.

Player Spotlights

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

Last week 2080 Baseball detailed the first start of the year by potential first overall selection Riley Pint (RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, KS)). This week Groome took the mound for his first start of the year, and the 17-year-old wunderkind did not disappoint. On a cold and crisp day in New Jersey, the Vanderbilt commit filled up the strike zone with low-90s fastballs, numerous 94s and a couple 95s, showing not only advanced control (he threw 42 of his 59 pitches for strikes) but quality command, spotting the heater to all four quadrants. Groome mixed in his present plus mid-70s curveball, as well, which while not at its best, was still better than you tend to see from most top prep prospects.

While he won’t need a third offering to carve through his New Jersey high school opposition this spring, Groome does posses a solid mid- to upper-70s changeup, for which he also demonstrates a high level of comfort. The motion and arm action is silky, and there is plenty of additional strength to come as the body continues towards maturation.

The start itself was dominant, with Groome striking out 10 hitters in four innings while allowing one hit, and one walk before plunking his last batter faced to start the fifth inning. Overall it was a worthy response to Pint’s explosive first start, and as the weather warms in the Garden State, so too should Groome’s velocity rise to the mid-90s levels she showed on last year’s showcase circuit.

Logan Ice, C, Oregon St. Univ.
Ht/Wt: 5’11″/191 | B/T: S/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 0m

A Puyallup, Washington native, the previously undrafted Ice has steadily grown his game over his time in Corvallis, enjoying an offensive breakout at the best possible time in this, his draft-eligible junior year. While he has cooled off some as the Beavers entered conference play, the jump in his draft stock will be slow to fade, particularly considering the paucity of well-rounded collegiate catchers capable of providing production from both sides of the plate.

His series against the Washington Huskies last weekend was another solid entry on his draft resume, with the balanced bat going 3-for-11 with a double and two walks, showing a solid feel for the zone. On the year, Ice has slashed .373/.490/.760 thus far, with 15 of his 28 hits going for extra bases (including five home runs, four triples and six doubles).

On the defensive side Ice is a solid receiver with a capable catch-and-throw game. While he doesn’t stand out for his work with the leather, he moves well side-to-side and is generally comfortable in his skin behind the dish, giving him a good shot to stick there long term at the next level. If he can continue his impressive offensive output for the balance of the season, Ice seems like a lock to go in the first 60 picks or so, with a chance to come off the board in Round 1.

Chris Okey, C, Clemson Univ.
Ht/Wt: 5’11″/195 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 5m

Defensively, Okey grades out solidly across the board, showing an advanced feel for the craft and showing natural actions behind the dish. In fact, last summer at the USA Baseball National Training Complex, when the Collegiate National Team took on the Pan Am Team (composed of current pro players), Okey caught for the Pan Am arms without the slightest hint of discomfort. Entering the spring there was some question as to Okey’s overall projection, with evaluators comfortable in his chops at the two-spot, but less sold on his future production with the lumber.

After a slow start to his spring, Okey has come alive with the bat, with another strong performance in this past weekend’s in-conference series against Pittsburgh, going 5-for-10 with a double, three walks and just one strikeout, raising his season slash line to .348/.467/.554 through 29 games. Okey shows good balance through his swing, and has cut down on his empty swings this spring, working well gap-to-gap with a little over-the-fence pop to boot.

With an average-to above-average glove, adequate catch-and-throw game, and potential average hit and power tool, Okey has a chance to grow into a first-division catcher at the pro ranks, with the ability to move as quickly through a pro system as his bat will take him. Positive signs this spring make it easier to be bullish now than last summer. Time will tell if he is able to maintain the momentum he’s currently building through the end of conference play. He’s an early round target at present, with a chance to come off the board in the first 40 picks.

Jeremy Martinez, C, Univ. of Southern California
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/200 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of 2016 draft date): 21y, 5m

As a high school underclassman, Martinez looked the part of a potential first round selection in the 2013 draft before a disappointing senior year at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA) dropped him all the way to the 37th Round, where the Cubs took a flier on trying to sign him away from his USC commitment. Now serving in his third year as the starting catcher for the Trojans, Martinez has steadily rebuilt his draft stock to the point where the Golden State prep product is looking the part of an early Day 2 target in this year’s class (likely in the 3rd-to-5th round at present).

Martinez is firmly built with a compact swing and a penchant for making contact, striking out just five times in his first 129 plate appearances this 2016 season. He’s an aggressive stick out of the three-hole in the Trojans lineup, willing to attack balls early in the count, and has shown an ability to drive the ball to the gaps, along with some pull side pop. The offensive package is more solid than impactful, but if he can show even moderate growth in his ability to more regularly search out and drive his pitches over the course of at bats he could provide steady down-order production to go with adequate actions behind the dish.

Over the past four seasons Martinez has seen his physique firm-up, but he’ll need to stay on top of his conditioning at the pro ranks in order to maintain his adequate mobility and agility.

Jake Rogers, C, Tulane Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 | B/T: R/R | Age (as of draft date): 21y, 1m

In his third year as the starting catcher for the Green Wave, Rogers continues to show as perhaps the best defensive backstop in the 2016 college class. The Canyon, Texas native routinely drops sub 1.85 pop times in-game, showing a quick release and strong accurate arm with carry. He moves with confidence and comfort behind the dish, squaring well on blocks. As a receiver he boasts a firm presentation and soft hands, making him an asset to any arm proficient and working to the margins.

The stick trails the glove by a fair amount at present, though he has shown a better feel for the barrel this spring than in previous years. He’s likely not more than a down-order bat at the next level, but with the potential to offer impact production with his arm and glove, the threshold for offensive production could be set pretty low. Not a burner, Rogers is a heady runner that shows an ability to take an extra base when presented the opportunity and is a clean 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts, including one in last weekend’s series against Connecticut.

Rogers currently projects to come off the board somewhere in the top five rounds or so, and could climb higher depending on his asking price.

MLB Draft Bites

Cavan Biggio (2B, Univ. of Notre Dame) continues to show an intriguing set of tools at the plate while stymying evaluators as to where he fits best defensively at the next level. This past weekend Biggio had his full area of offensive skills on display against visiting Wake Forest, going 4-for-8 with a home run and six walks, while striking out just once. He’ll flash solid power, especially to the pull side, but really makes his bones controlling the strike zone and working for a pitch to drive to the gaps. On the season he’s tallied 35 walks to just 14 strikeouts and current owns a .326/.522/.505 slash line.

♦ A focus of our previous MLB Draft Bites covering hot starts to the 2016 season, Will Craig (3B/RHP, Wake Forest) has continued to impress at the plate. The two-way standout squared-up Notre Dame pitching last weekend to the tune of a 6-for-13 series, including a 5-for-6 showing on Saturday. Craig is now slashing a jaw-dropping .475/.573/.950 on the year, with 20 of his 38 hits going for extra bases (including nine home runs and 11 doubles). He also threw a perfect inning in relief against the Irish, bringing his 2016 totals on the bump to 10 innings pitched, eight strikeouts and three walks, with opponents hitting just .171 against him.

♦ Draft-eligible sophomore Bryson Brigman (SS, Univ. of San Diego) put together a solid, if unspectacular, weekend against Loyola Marymount, going 4-for-13 with four singles and raising his season slash line to .385/.438/.480. Brigman shows the potential for an above-average hit tool to go with steady up-the-middle actions on the dirt and an arm that is adequate but may be stretched at the margins as a pro shortstop. At present he fits well as a target in the 3rd-to-5th rounds.