Feature Photo: Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA
The strength of this year’s draft class is collegiate starting pitching, and in this week’s MLB Draft Bites we spend some time highlighting a couple of those arms. Ryan Ozella takes a look at a UCLA righty looking to join his former teammate James Kaprielian (RHP, Yankees) in the first round. Additionally, Burke Granger provides notes on a Xavier lefty who could become the highest drafted Musketeer in school history. Nick Faleris adds thoughts on a couple of Missouri State infielders that could fit into the early rounds in both the 2017 and 2018 MLB Drafts.
MLB DRAFT SPOTLIGHTS
Zac Lowther, LHP, Xavier Univ. | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 235 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y 1m
Lowther set the stage for his junior campaign with a strong performance in the Cape Cod League last summer in which he posted a league best 54 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. Lowther entered the 2017 season as a potential Day One selection in the MLB Draft, and has done nothing this season to dissuade that trajectory. Broad shouldered but thick throughout his chest and legs, Lowther offers minimal remaining projection on his big frame.
Employing an abbreviated windup, Lowther gets great deception by staying closed throughout a compact delivery and mid- to low-3/4’s release point. Though the fastball possesses only fringe-average velocity at 88-to-89 mph and peaked at 91 mph, its effectiveness is amplified by Lowther’s ability to locate to both sides of the plate. While he does miss bats with his fastball, Lowther’s curveball is a true out-pitch to right- and left-handed hitters alike. With 1-to- shape and sharp snap, Lowther can get this pitch over for a strike early in counts, while also demonstrating the ability to bury it the dirt to generate swinging strikes in high-leverage situations. Lowther’s seldom-used changeup will require development as a professional to become an effective tool in neutralizing right-handed hitters if he’s going to continue as a starter. If that development doesn’t occur, Lowther still profiles with a conservative floor as a reliever, where his deception and plus curveball could play up in a specialty role out of the pen. In a Big East Conference showdown against Seton Hall on Thursday, Lowther surrendered just two hits over six innings while striking out nine Pirates, and allowed just one walk. Following the victory, Lowther’s record now stands at 3-2 with a 3.13 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 46 innings (13.89 SO/9). – Burke Granger
Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 180 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): (unk)
Canning’s dominant complete-game shutout against Stanford showed why he’s being discussed as a first day pick for the MLB Draft, scattering four hits and striking out 12. The svelte righty has long legs and arms, while showing plus athleticism in his wirey, quick-twitch body.
Canning came out confident, attacking hitters and showing competitive enthusiasm throughout the start. His small overhead motion starts the delivery with good rhythm, allowing him to consistently repeat and find balance. At the top of his motion he gets his knee high, hiding the baseball as it comes out of his glove smoothly to his back hip. Canning’s loose arm is short and compact, allowing his plus arm speed to fire through consistently at a high-3/4’s release point and finishing ready to pounce off the mound. Canning had good cadence on the mound and his offerings jump on hitters out of the deceptive delivery.
Canning worked with a four-pitch arsenal to both sides of the plate, showing plus command and executing all pitches in any count. The above-average fastball worked 93-to-94 mph for the first inning, before settling in at 92-to-93 mph through the rest of the game. Canning consistently pounded his fastball down in the zone, generating 10 groundouts, and he was able to throttle up the pitch when needed, getting added life through the top of the zone. His plus changeup, which worked in the 84-to-86 mph velocity band, was firm with late drop and good arm-speed deception. His mid-80s slider flashed plus as a putaway pitch, with late downward action that played both in and out of the zone. An average curveball rounded out the arsenal, with the offering showing 12-to-6 shape with depth and hard downer action. – Ryan Ozella
Sean Bouchard, 1B, UCLA | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 215 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y 0m
Bouchard continued to be an anchor for the Bruins’ lineup against Stanford (3-for-11 with three walks), adding to his breakout season (.333/.408/.592, 11 2B, 6 HRs) in a series win. The slender first baseman has a long frame with lean muscle mass, with the type of build that can continue to develop added strength without taking away his athleticism at the plate or in the field. Offensively, his swing has taken a big leap forward this year, currently leading UCLA in extra-base hits (18) and total bases (71).
Bouchard stands tall, keeping a wide balanced stance at the plate before utilizing a small load to create rhythm in the body and momentum in his swing. The small load allows his quick hands to stay loose as they work back into his shoulder before firing at the ball. Bouchard has feel for the barrel, taking pitches out over the plate into the opposite field while having enough speed and strength to pull his hands in and drive pitches to the pull-side gap. The swing looks more suited for doubles currently, but he flashed raw pull-side power when he was able to get some leverage and utilize his long arms to carry through the ball. Adding more strength and physical maturity could see those doubles start to carry up and out of the park.
Bouchard moves well out in the field, and utilizes soft hands to grab balls hit at him or thrown in the dirt. He’s accurate from a short arm angle and makes the necessary throws from first base. Though Bouchard is a fringe-average runner, he has a long, athletic stride, he moves well underway, and he’s capable of stretching for the extra base. At present, Bouchard looks like a fit somewhere on Day Two of the draft. – Ryan Ozella
Ryan Noda, 1B, Univ. of Cincinnati | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’3” / 217 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y 2m
In a draft class that is short on impact college position players, Cincinnati first basemen Ryan Noda has a profile that combines raw power, strike-zone awareness, and above-average defense that could elevate him into the range of an early- to-mid-Day Two selection. Noda has been a stalemate in the Bearcats lineup, over the past two seasons, starting 112 games. He turned heads at the Cape Cod League last summer where he hit five home runs while leading the circuit with 27 walks. Now a junior, Noda stumbled out of the gate, hitting just .143 through the season’s first 15 games, but he hit his stride shortly after, and is now slashing .279/.436/.558 while leading the Bearcats with six home runs and 22 walks.
Noda has an athletic frame with room to add weight as he matures. Eschewing batting gloves, Noda starts with his hands low in a slightly open stance before closing up with his stride and unleashing a powerful uppercut swing. He wraps the barrel around his head just slightly, which adds some length to the swing, which he mitigates with above-average bat speed. The wrap could be a contributing factor in contact issues. While Noda has aforementioned strike-zone awareness, there’s also some swing and miss to his game. For his career at Cincinnati, Noda has struck out in 26.4% of his plate appearances. Noda has logged time in the outfield early in his collegiate career and over the course of the summer, he profiles best as a first basemen where his soft hands and strong, accurate arm make him an above-average defender. On a recent mid-week game at Ohio State, Noda went 1-5 for with a double and a strikeout. – Burke Granger
Jake Burger, 3B/1B, Missouri State Univ. | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’2” / 210 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y 2m
One of the top power threats in the 2017 MLB Draft Class entering the season, Burger has met all expectations through 37 games, launching 16 home runs and slashing .364/.469/.769 – all while walking more than he has stuck out (25:19 BB:SO rate). Half of his 52 hits have gone for extra bases (10 doubles to go with his 16 home runs). This past week, including a weekend series against New Mexico and mid-week games against St. Louis and rival Missouri – all on the road – Burger put together a solid showing, going 6-for-20 with a pair of home runs, four walks and two strikeouts.
Burger’s swing comes with some length, including a near-full arm bar through his load, though the bat speed plays well enough to make up for it. There are some questions as to whether he will be able to maintain the same contact rates with wood, and his over-the-fence pop did not play as well in-game with wood last summer with the USA Collegiate National Team, but it’s likely teams will be willing to roll the dice considering the impressive output this spring against good competition. Defensively, Burger is deliberate and a little clunky in his actions at third base, opening up the possibility he could eventually have to shift off of the hot corner. He has the arm for third and the hands work okay, so odds are he will at least get a chance to stick at the pro ranks before a move is considered. Though a fringe- to below-average runner, he moves well enough to make an outfield corner an option if a move is required. Burger should figure into Day One consideration come June and perhaps as high as the first round. – Nick J. Faleris
Jeremy Eirman, SS, Missouri State Univ. | 2018 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’1” / 205 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2018 MLB Draft): 21, 9m
In addition to boasting one of the more entertaining collegiate bats in the 2017 MLB Draft Class, Missouri State has a pretty good 2018 draft-eligible talent kicking around the infield. After struggling offensively last summer on the Cape, middle infielder Jeremy Eirman has broken out in a big way this spring, slashing .351/.442/.730 over the first 37 games of the season while blasting 14 home runs, 12 doubles and a triple. This past week Eirman was a force, going 11-for-22 with two home runs, two doubles, and two walks in five games against New Mexico, St. Louis and Missouri, showcasing lots of hard contact and a steady glove at short.
Eirman has bat speed to spare, producing regular hard contact with good barrel acceleration through contact. He stays relatively short to the ball, but can get out on his front foot early at times, leading to empty swings and soft contact against quality secondary stuff. He should have no trouble sticking up the middle long term, and moves well enough to be an asset on the base paths, as well. He is ticketed to return to the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, once again as a member of the Bourne Braves, and figures to be a high-follow for early round consideration next June. – Nick J. Faleris
MLB DRAFT BITES
- Kentucky right fielder Tristan Pompey, younger brother of Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey, is on a white-hot tear at the plate. In a seven-day period ending April 16, the 2018 MLB Draft prospect has gone 17-for-27, including an 8-for-12 weekend with a double and two home runs against Missouri last weekend. The switch-hitting Pompey has a .371/.483/.573 slash line while leading the Wildcats in total bases (82), walks (27), while tying Riley Mahan in home runs with six. Here’s some video of Pompey from his April 1 game versus Vanderbilt. – Burke Granger
- We recently highlighted Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright, where we touched on his early season struggles. The big right-hander took a major step forward last weekend where he limited a loaded Florida lineup to just three hits and struck out 13 in a complete-game shutout. In a pitching duel with potential Top 10 overall pick in 2018, right-hander Brady Singer (8IP, 11H, 2R, 2ER, 1BB, 8SO), Wright made short work of the Gators, needing just 99 pitches (73 for strikes) to go the distance. Here’s video from Wright’s April 1 start versus Kentucky. – Burke Granger
- One of the top high school arms in the Midwest, Sam Carlson (RHP, Burnsville (Burnsville, MN) has impressed in the early goings this April, working in the low 90s with his lively fastball and reaching and high as 94 mph. His slider has wowed, as well, overwhelming Minnesota prep competition with low-80s velocity and very good bite. A Florida commit, Carlson’s ultimate landing spot in the June draft may come down to signability, as the Gators have been successful at getting cold weather arms to campus in past years. On pure talent, Carlson fits comfortably into Day One. Here’s video of Carlson from Jupiter on October 21, 2016. – Nick J. Faleris
- The Boras Classic kicked off this week out west, with two potential first-rounders facing off on Wednesday. Hagen Danner (RHP, Huntington Beach (Huntington Beach, CA)) got the better of Hunter Greene (SS/RHP, Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks, CA)), inducing two soft ground balls and a punchout on hard downer curveballs. Danner was dominant in the outing, working comfortably in the low 90s and reaching 94 mph in the early goings, while showcasing an impressive mid-70s curveball and quality low-80s changeup. He finished with ten strikeouts, allowing just one hit and two walks over six innings of work. We’ve got video of Danner from a March 30 start versus Merritt Island here, and Greene video from the 2016 Perfect Game All-American Classic here. – Nick J. Faleris