Feature Photo: Jeren Kendall, CF, Vanderbilt Univ.
In this week’s MLB Draft Bites, Burke Granger checks in with notes on a couple of Vandy first-round candidates, Ryan Ozella shares thoughts on a couple of Toreros looking to carve out a spot on draft boards, and Spencer Hansen touches on a Pac 12 backstop who has started the 2017 season strong. Additionally, Nick J. Faleris shares some quick hits on the USA Baseball National High School Invitational, as well as a recent Virginia/Louisville series packed with Day One draft candidates.
MLB DRAFT SPOTLIGHTS
Jeren Kendall, CF, Vanderbilt Univ. | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’0” 190 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 4m
The son of Jeremy Kendall, (OF, Phillies MiLB, 1992-1996), Jeren delayed his professional career after the Red Sox made him a 30th-round selection in 2014, instead following through on his commitment to Vanderbilt. Kendall primarily played right field throughout the first two years of his collegiate career in deference to center fielder Bryan Reynolds, whom the San Francisco Giants nabbed as their second-round selection in 2016. A potential up-the-middle defender with upside on the offensive side, as well, Kendall’s skill set makes him a most appealing draft-day option in a down college position-player class.
His standout tool is his borderline-elite speed, evidenced by a 3.85 second home-to-first time from the left side on a cold, wet evening this past weekend in Lexington, Kentucky. Kendall’s speed plays up once on the bases, as well, as he’s successfully swiped bags at an 80.3% clip over his career at Vandy (57 bases in 71 tries), including 11-of-13 attempts through his first 30 games of 2017. Kendall is an instinctual defender, getting good reads off the bat, and he pairs his glove with an average arm, making him a safe bet to stay in center field long term. At the plate, he can hit to all fields, utilizing quick wrists, good extension, and natural loft. He’s currently tied for the Southeastern Conference lead in home runs with 10. On the season, Kendall is slashing .325/.418/.667, though he’s struck out a team-high 32 times due to an at-times overly-aggressive approach and swing that pulls the barrel in and out of the hit zone quickly. A preseason first-round favorite, Kendall appears to be holding course on that projection, and he should be one of the first collegiate bats selected come June. – Burke Granger
Kyle Wright, RHP, Vanderbilt Univ. | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 9m
After earning Freshman All-American honors in a bullpen role in 2015, Wright stepped into the rotation last season and shined as the Commodores most reliable starter, finishing with an 8-4 record, 3.09 ERA, and 10.32 SO/9 ratio. Last season’s success earned Wright a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team where he continued to impress, ending the summer with a 2-0 record, 2.20 ERA, and .228 batting average against in 16 innings spread out over five appearances. Standing 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Wright is out of central casting to play the role of a frontline starter. While he’ll occasionally mix up his arm angle, Wright primarily throws from a high-3/4’s slot, leveraging his frame and creating downhill plane. Wright’s fastball generally sits at 93-to-96 mph early in games, touching 97mph at times, before settling into the 91-to-94 mph range in the middle innings. In addition to his four-seam fastball, Wright throws both a two-seamer with arm-side run, and a cutter which will break plenty of bats of left-handers as a professional. He generates swings and misses with a sharp, late-breaking low- to mid-80s slider with vertical movement. He’ll also show a quality curveball with slurvy action – though the pitch lacked consistent sharpness and depth last weekend against Kentucky – and a changeup that should be solid average at maturity.
Wright has struggled more than expected thus far in 2017, with hitters batting .296 against him – good for 45 hits in just 37 innings of work, to go along with 16 walks over that same span. He was roughed up by a hot-hitting University of Kentucky team in his most recent outing, failing to locate his fastball, too often leaving it up, having it catch too much of the plate. He allowed seven runs on nine hits over five innings, taking the loss, while walking four and striking out four. Though the production has not been there for Wright – he now holds a 1-4 record and 5.59 ERA for the season – the stuff and the track record should still have him firmly planted in the first round, though he’ll likely need to tighten up his performances if he’s to be one of the first couple of collegiate arms called on draft day, as he was projected to be in the preseason. – Burke Granger
Riley Adams, C, Univ. of San Diego | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/225 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft) 20y, 11m
A three-year performer at the University of San Diego, Adams shows off a lean athletic build including a high waist, wide shoulders, and long legs. He has present strength in his upper half, and he should be able to continue maturing physically without affecting his overall build or pushing him off the catcher position. He utilizes a relaxed stance, keeping his front arm tight to the body throughout the swing, allowing his hands to quickly attack the ball. The bat follows a short upward path, generating easy loft and backspin, and he flashes solid-plus raw power to the pull side during BP, with balls jumping to left-center field. While the swing works to help lift balls with consistency, the path can open up holes down and away, and he can show a willingness to chase off-speed pitches in the dirt when he falls behind (as evidenced in his five strikeouts in 16 plate appearances in a recent series against Santa Clara University).
Defensively, Adams showed many positives. Tall fore the position, he keeps a low target with a soft receiving hand and shows the ability to frame balls higher in the zone. He moves well laterally and is quick to smother and block balls into the dirt. Adams showcased an above-average arm against Santa Clara, taking a tough curveball low and away and putting it on the bag accurately to get a quick runner with a 2.0 pop time. He neutralized the run game all weekend, keeping balls in front of him and being quick to his feet after blocking. Though hitting just .255 through 26 games in 2017, Adams’s pop (.256 ISO) and ability to work a walk (.381 OBP) are each attractive qualities in a catcher and, combined with a solid defensive profile, those qualities could help to push him up draft boards this June. – Ryan Ozella
Hunter Mercado-Hood, RF, Univ. of San Diego | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/190 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft) 22y, 3m
Mercado-Hood, a senior outfielder, had a superb series against Santa Clara slashing .636/.750/1.727 (including three doubles and three home runs) while both driving in and scoring eight runs. The outfielder shows an athletic, mature body that utilizes quick-twitch muscles throughout. Mercado-Hood’s swing is loose and simple, with smooth mechanics and quick hands driving a compact path for the barrel, keeping the bat level through the zone, and allowing the outfielder to finish with solid extension and lift. The compact swing matched with his present strength helps to generate significant game power, driving extra-base hits into the pull gap and over the fence. He shows an advanced approach at the plate that plays to his strengths of attacking middle-in and leveraging his pull-side power while laying off stuff on the outer half.
On the base paths, Mercado-Hood showed a quick first step, with the ability to grab the extra base and to score from first on balls hit into the gaps. He showed fringe-average speed down the line (4.25 second home-to-first time), but then stole second on an outside fastball that made the fringy speed look like an anomaly. Now slashing .354/.440/.667 on the year, a continued strong showing this season could easily push the outfielder into the top ten rounds as a senior sign, and perhaps fairly early into Day Two of the draft if all goes well. Here is some recent video of Mercado-Hood from the Toreros’ series against Santa Clara. – Ryan Ozella
Joey Morgan, C, Univ. of Washington | 2017 Draft Class
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft) 20y, 9m
In what was an abnormally sunny weekend in Seattle, it was Washington catcher Joey Morgan that shined brightest. The junior continued his torrid start to 2017 in which he’s slashing .322/.433/.425. Morgan has an advanced feel for the game that stands out, most importantly, behind the plate. With room to improve his average foot speed and hands, Morgan still manages to consistently pop 2.00-2.03 seconds to second base with good carry and above-average accuracy. He’s nailed upwards of 75% of would-be basestealers this season. Morgan should see improvement in the actions behind the plate based on his overall athleticism and good hand-eye coordination.
The calling card for Morgan’s offensive profile is his approach. He has a keen sense of the strike zone and stays within his abilities, while rarely expanding the zone. Morgan has drawn 14 walks while striking out just 16 times in 87 at-bats. Morgan displayed average bat speed with below-average in-game power that plays more to the gaps than as over-the-fence pop. He displays fringe-average present speed but there’s enough there to go first-to-third, and to steal the occasional base – an added bonus from the catcher position.
Should he improve upon what is already a solid defensive profile anchored by a strong mental approach and the ability to control his pitching staff, Morgan projects as a serviceable backup at the big league level with a chance to grow into a starter’s profile. While he doesn’t possess a present plus tool, there isn’t an aspect of his game that will hamper his development, either. Morgan has a quiet confidence and poise about the way he carries himself that will allow his present tools play up with potential to move through a minor league system quickly. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the youngest draft-eligible four-year collegians in the class, as Morgan won’t turn 21 years old until the end of the summer. He should be off the board by the end of Day Two – Spencer Hansen
MLB DRAFT BITES
- Orange Lutheran (Orange, CA) captured the title at USA Baseball’s National High School Invitational this past week/weekend, with TCU commit Triston Hanoian (SS) serving as a catalyst throughout the tournament, showing quality bat speed, a loose swing, and lots of hard contact through all four games – all of which was paired with a stellar glove at the six spot. Perfect Game All-American Garrett Mitchell (OF), a UCLA commit, showcased easy power out of a leveraged swing, stinging several balls. – Nick J. Faleris
- Dana Hills (Dana Point, CA) standout, Perfect Game All-American, and first-round candidate Hans Crouse (RHP) showcased a live arm on the first day of action, working primarily in the low-to-mid 90s with his heater and showing a mid- to upper-70s breaking ball with good bite. Crouse works with lots of funk and deception and there’s plenty of room in his projectable body to add strength as he matures. (VIDEO) – Nick J. Faleris
- Alabama commit Jacob Heatherly (LHP/OF), yet another Perfect Game All-American, squared off against Crouse, making hard contact on a couple of singles and showing quality stuff of his own on the bump. Heatherly worked in the low 90s with his fastball early on before settling into the 88-91 mph velocity band and paired with the heater a mid-70s curveball with solid depth but less consistent bite than he has shown in the past. – Nick J. Faleris
- Florida commit Brady McConnell (SS) was a force for Merritt Island (Merritt Island, FL), showing soft hands and a strong arm at shortstop and impact tools on the offensive side of the game. McConnell racked up several extra-base hits while showcasing impressive bat speed and blazing speed, clocking a sub-3.9 second home-to-first time from the right side and an eye-popping 3.68 home-to-first time on a jailbreak bunt. McConnell is among the top prep position players in the draft class, and he was a clear standout in front of a number of decision-makers during NHSI action. (VIDEO) – Nick J. Faleris
- Louisville traveled to Charlottesville for a big series against UVA, winning two of three behind the arm and bat of Brendan McKay (LHP/1B). McKay worked six strong innings on Friday night following a two-hour rain delay to start the evening, allowing just one run on six hits and two walks while striking out one. He had his usual plus control on display to go with a solid fastball/curveball combo. At the plate, the lefty went 4-for-12 on the weekend (VIDEO), hitting a key home run in Friday’s win. Evaluators are still split on whether McKay is a better prospect on the mound or as a hitter. Either way, he looks like a safe bet to come off the board in the first half of the first round. – Nick J. Faleris
- Despite several hard hit balls, Louisville shortstop Devin Hairston had just two hits on the weekend – both going for home runs (VIDEO). He also showed soft hands, quick actions and one of the fastest transfers you’ll see at shortstop, leaving the door open for a future at the six-spot at the next level (though his size, arm and range are likely a much cleaner fit at second base).
- UVA’s Pavin Smith (1B) was 4-for-11 in the Louisville series with a pair of walks and a mammoth pull-side homer on Saturday – his team-leading 10th of the year (VIDEO). Fellow potential Day One draft target Adam Haseley (OF) went 3-for-11 with a pair of walks and a well-struck opposite-field double, in addition to showing off solid reads off the bat and a good glove in center field (VIDEO). – Nick J. Faleris