Feature Photo: Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP, Univ. of Louisville
POSITIONAL PREVIEW LINKS
It’s a fairly deep crop at the corner spots, including likely first rounders in Brendan McKay (Louisville), Evan White (Kentucky), Pavin Smith (Virginia), Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach HS), and Jake Burger (Missouri State), and a couple more that could sneak into the top 30 or so picks in Mark Vientos (American Heritage High School), Ryan Vilade (Stillwater High School) and Brent Rooker (Mississippi State). A nice collection of D-I and JuCo bats round out this year’s collection of talent, along with prep standout Jacob Gonzalez (Chaparral High School), who could ride a hot spring and big league bloodlines all the way to Day One selection.
Winding down one of the more storied collegiate careers ever, McKay is showing signs that he might be tiring after over 300 innings as the ace of the Louisville staff. In the final weeks of the regular season and through the ACC Tournament, McKay showed uncharacteristically shaky command, while also struggling to maintain his velocity deep into starts. At his best on the mound, McKay works 90-to-93 mph with a clean-and-easy delivery, a plus curveball with 1-to-7 movement and an average, but inconsistent changeup.
A legitimate two-way prospect, McKay is one of the best pure hitters in the class, showing significant feel for barrel as a smooth-swinging first basemen. Over 258 plate appearances, McKay has slashed .351/.473/.673, with 45 walks to just 35 strikeouts and 31 of his 72 hits going for extra bases. The one significant concern with McKay in the box is whether or not his power will play in-game at the highest level, as his pop was underwhelming with wood last summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and only a handful of his 17 home runs this Spring have come against top arms (Friday/Saturday starters). Regardless of whether he’s selected as a pitcher or a position player, he should be given the opportunity to hit this summer, as he’ll likely be shut down on the mound following the heavy collegiate workload. He’s in the mix for the Twins with the first overall pick and should be a lock to go somewhere in the top ten.
In a class that is light on impact collegiate position players, White is appealing because he stands out for both his glove and his bat. Not only is the Kentucky first-bagger is a double-plus defender at the three-spot, but he’s also athletic enough to handle outfield duties on a corner. While the versatility is an obvious benefit for any drafting team, the glove at first base could be special. One American League scout stated of White “[he] is the best amateur defender at first base that I’ve ever seen,” showing nimble footwork, preternaturally soft hands and a strong arm.
White’s bat projects as at least average, as he’s frequently able to barrel the ball, spraying line drives to all fields. The biggest question mark surrounding White entering this season was how much power he will eventual develop, and while he may never be an impact power bat, he did show well this spring, launching eight home runs and 23 doubles through the time of this writing, while slugging .629 and fueling a potent Wildcat offense. He’s a lock to go in the first round and could come off the board as high as the top ten.
A year after Virginia catcher-turned-first baseman Matt Thaiss (1B, Angels) leveraged his advanced approach (39:16 BB/ SO rate) into a $2.1 million bonus as the 16th overall selection by the Angels, Smith’s own ludicrous 36:9 SO/BB rate should be at least equally rewarded. Utilizing a mild load, level swing path, and quick wrists, Smith gets excellent plate coverage and produces loud contact to all fields. Though the profile is shy of true plus power, Smith has racked-up 12 home runs entering post-season play and has shown well enough with would in the past to project to at least average pop as a professional.
Smith is an asset defensively as well. Having spent the early part of his collegiate career in the outfield, Smith is more athletic than most of his peers at first base, with sound footwork and the soft hands needed to pick balls out of the dirt. He’s a below-average runner and is considered by most to be a first baseman at the next level, though it isn’t inconceivable a team could work him out in left field to see if there’s a fit. Smith is one of the top collegiate bats in the class and should be off the board somewhere in the first half of the first round.
A two-way standout for the powerhouse Huntington Beach program, Pratto’s loud spring has solidified his status as one of the best pure hitters in the entire draft class. He brings to the plate an advanced approach for a prep stick, as well as a calm demeanor and high level of comfort and confidence. He maintains a balanced swing with a good feel for contact across the quadrants, and there’s enough bat speed to generate consistent hard contact. His in-game power isn’t a mainstay yet, though the USC commit should grow into more regular over-the-fence pop as he gains reps and continues to mature physically.
Pratto’s also a prospect on the mound, where he can work into the low 90s with his heater and shows an easy arm and feel for a quality breaking ball. His future at the pro ranks almost certainly as a hitter, and he looks to be a safe bet to be selected early on Day One, with some teams considering him as high as the top half of the first round.
Jake Burger, 3B/1B, Missouri State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/220 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 2m
During his tenure at Missouri State, Burger has consistently shown as one of the best power bats at the collegiate ranks, slugging 43 ding-dongs over the past two seasons with 100 of his 240 hits going for extra bases during that span. He’s more raw strength than bat speed but has a good feel for the strike zone and tracks well, allowing him to maintain solid contact rates. There are some concerns that the average bat speed will lead to struggles with top-level arms, though proponents are confident the power will play even if the hit tool plays down a bit.
Burger is an adequate glove at the hot corner and has a good chance to stick there at the next level, though his offensive profile should be able able to carry the profile even if he needs to shift across the diamond to first base at some point. With power always at a premium, Burger seems set to slot somewhere in the first round, most likely in the middle 15 picks.
NAMES TO KNOW
Vientos has been an integral cog this spring for American Heritage – a national powerhouse that consistently produces D-I and pro prospects alike (notable alums include Eric Hosmer (1B, Royals), who was selected third overall in 2008, and Zach Collins (C, White Sox), who was selected 10th overall last season out of the University of Miami). Vientos is still growing into his frame but already shows above-average bat speed, which he uses to generate solid-average raw power. One of the younger players in the class, it’s easy to dream on above-average to plus power at maturity, to go long with a hit tool that projects to average.
Vientos plays shortstop currently, though he projects better to third base due to his broad frame and below-average foot speed. His hands and arm should play at the corner, where his offensive profile would likewise fit well. A team that believes the bat is ready for pro ball could pop him as early as the first round, and he’s a good bet to come off the board somewhere on Day One provided he’s signable.
Ryan Vilade, 3B/2B, Stillwater (Stillwater, OK)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 4m
A 2016 Perfect Game All-American, Vilade boasts impressive raw power and good bat speed through a leveraged swing with good torque through the core and good lower-half strength. The Oklahoma State commit can struggle squaring up the ball when his load gets deep and the swing gets long, but he’s generally clean through his mechanical checkpoints and can sting the ball to the gaps when he’s on. As the body continues to mature he should grow into above-average power with an ability to drive the ball deep to the oppo gap.
Defensively, Vilade lacks the foot speed and range to hold down shortstop at the next level, but there’s solid agility in the profile and he shows both the hands and arm strength to fit at third base or second base, long term. Vilade’s father James Vilade is an assistant coach at Oklahoma State, perhaps making the collegiate route more enticing for the young slugger. On pure talent, he fits comfortably as a potential Day One name, and teams convinced he’s a good bet to reach his power upside could pop him as early as the supplemental-first round.
Brent Rooker, 1B/RF, Mississippi State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/215 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 22y, 7m
Following his sophomore season, the Twins made Rooker a 38th-round selection. He didn’t sign, of course, and that decision will end up paying dividends on draft day. Now a redshirt junior, Rooker is old for this draft class – older in fact than several current major leaguers. That maturity has come in handy, as Rooker is hitting like a grown man this season. Not only is he leading the SEC in all three slash categories by comfortable margins at .404/.505/.843, he also holds he edge in hits (90), RBIs (76), doubles (29), and home runs (21) while even tying 80-grade runner Jeren Kendall (OF, Vanderbilt) for the league lead in steals with 18. Combining raw strength with moderate bat speed, Rooker makes loud contact, leading many to believe that he’ll continue to hit for above-average power as a professional.
Rooker profiles best as a first baseman at the next level, but there’s an outside shot he could hold his own in an outfield corner thanks to solid foot speed. Though his older age works against the value in his profile the likelihood he’ll be willing to sign quickly, combined with his monstrously productive spring with Mississippi State, could make him a perfect fit for a team with multiple picks on Day One looking to save a bit. Expect Rooker to come off the board in the second round, if not a bit earlier.
Greg Deichmann, RF/3B, LSU
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/210 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 22y, 0m
After bouncing around the infield and serving as the Tiger’s primary first baseman in 2016, Deichmann has found a home in right field this season, where he’s been an adequate defender. Broad shouldered and solidly built, Deichmann is an imposing figure who looks larger than his listed 210 pounds. At the plate, Deichmann unleashes a powerful but balanced stroke with tons of leverage a big power, particularly to the pull side. As of this writing, heading into NCAA Tournament play, Deichmann is slashing .330/.438/.638 with 19 home runs.
As a professional, Deichmann profiles as a bat-first corner outfielder where his average arm strength and fringe-average speed shouldn’t make him a liability. There are evaluators who would like to see him back in the infield, as well, and he could eventually fit back at third base with continued refinement in his footwork. Deichmann should come off the board somewhere in the top 75 picks, and perhaps as early as the supplemental-first round if there is a run on college bats.
Gavin Sheets, 1B, Wake Forest Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/235 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 1m
A 37th-round selection in 2014 by the Braves out of Gilman High School (Baltimore, MD), Sheets put his plans for professional baseball on hold, instead attending Wake Forest, where his contributions have steadily increased year-over-year. Teaming with 2016 first round pick Will Craig (3B, Pirates), Sheets slashed .326/.395/.496 with nine home runs last season, though he didn’t hit for much power with wood bats in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer, slugging just .368 over the 40-game season.
His power surge this spring, however, has been tough to ignore. Utilizing his extra-large frame, Sheets gets good extension on a powerful uppercut swing that helped him lead the ACC this season in both home runs (20) and RBIs (79). Sheets doesn’t stand out for his defense at first base, though he’s not a liability either, moving fairly well for his size. He fits well in the second round and, like Deichmann, could come off the board earlier if there is a run on college bats.
Joe Dunand, 3B, North Carolina State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/205 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 9m
After an impressive showing on the Cape last summer in which Dunand finished fifth in the league in batting (.327) and sixth in home runs (5), The NC State infielder has struggled with contact this Spring, striking out in almost 20% of his plate appearances, but the power continues to shine through. Dunand finished the year with 18 home runs and over half of his hits (33 of 60) going for extra bases. That power is the siren that’s sounding for Day One attention to Dunand.
A shortstop for the Wolfpack, Dunand is certain to shift to third base at the next level, where is limited range will do less damage to the overall profile and his left side arm should continue to play. A well-below-average runner, Dunand’s future value is tied inextricably to his bat, and while the power is enticing a team will need to believe in his ability to make enough contact in order to pull the trigger in the top 75 picks. Even if he drops to Day Two he should be off the board by the third round.
J.J. Matijevic, 1B, Univ. of Arizona
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/200 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 7m
Matijevic lacks impact raw power, but he makes consistent hard contact and is learning to turn on and drive the ball to the pull side, giving him a chance for average pop at maturity. There’s little question about the hit tool, as the Wildcat first baseman raked his way through the wood bat Cape Cod League last summer before doing an impressive amount of damage to baseball’s this Spring (as of this writing, slashing .383/.436/.633 with 10 home runs).
He’s an aggressive hitter that can expand the zone when behind in the count and he doesn’t walk as much as he should considering pitchers have good reason to pitch around him on the margins. He’s a below-average runner and defender, limited to first base, so the bat will need to carry the profile at the pro ranks. His track record and strong Spring should see him come off the board in the top three rounds.
Though he was more of a role player as a sophomore serving as the Cardinals part-time left fielder, Ellis has stepped up his game tremendously this season, hitting his way into Day One consideration. While Brendan McKay could be a top 10 overall pick as a hitter, Ellis is out-performing him heading into the NCAA Tournament, leading the Cardinals in batting average (.376) and slugging percentage (.728), while tying McKay for the team lead with 17 home runs. An aggressive hitter, Ellis jumps on fastballs early in the count, elevating the ball with ease thanks to a lofted swing with a high finish. He shows good feel for the zone and can work a walk, bringing balance to his approach.
Defensively this season, Ellis is splitting time between third base and first base depending on whether McKay is on the mound. He has the glove to stick at third base long term, though his value at the next level will be centered on his offensive talents. He fits comfortably into the top three rounds and could be in play as early as the supplemental-first round.
Harrison has blossomed into a solid all-around talent through three years at Corvallis, earning a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team each of the last two summers and starting for the Beavers in all three of his seasons. A former catcher, Harrison has transitioned almost exclusively to first base, where he acquits himself well around the bag and profiles as an average defender.
In the box, Harrison boasts good balance and lots of leverage in his swing, producing regular hard contact and generating enough pop to effectively drive the oppo gap. His home run numbers aren’t eye-catching, but there’s plenty of raw strength in the swing and Harrison should have no difficulty producing average over-the-fence pop at the next level. While the door isn’t closed on his catching at the next level, most view him as a bat-first prospect at this point that could move quickly enough with the stick that it makes little sense to try and work him into shape behind the dish. He should be in play starting in the second round and is a good bet to come off the board in the top 100 picks.
Jacob Gonzalez, 3B/1B, Chaparral (Scottsdale, AZ)
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 11m
Though a bit on the older side of the high school draft class, Gonzalez has ridden a very strong spring up draft boards, landing squarely in the second to fourth round range. Son of long-time big leaguer Luis Gonzalez (OF, multiple teams, 1990-2008), Jacob shows an advanced approach at the plate and high level of comfort no matter the count. There’s some juice in the barrel, as well, with the broad-framed corner infielder capable of putting on impressive displays during BP, with over-the-fence pop beginning to manifest in-game with more regularity, as well.
Defensively, Gonzalez is capable at the hot corner at present, but his actions likely fall shy of what you want out of a first-division defender, making a shift to first base a distinct possibility. A team popping the TCU commit in the first three rounds will be doing so betting that the power and hit tools will play regardless of ultimate position. If he makes it on campus he’ll be draft eligible again in two years as a sophomore.
Dylan Busby, 3B/1B, Florida State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 6m
After a slow start to the season, Busby finished strong for the ‘Noles, highlighted by a loud week at the ACC Tournament in front of plenty of decision makers. The FSU third bagger was slashing .317/.406/.523 at the time of this writing, including a team-leading 14 home runs and 20 doubles. Busby’s barrel can come in and out of the zone quickly, leading some evaluators to question how much contact he will make wielding wood against better arms.
Proponents see him as a corner-utility option who can log time at third base, first base and left field, with a chance to hit 15-plus home runs annually to go with a couple dozen doubles. He’s an average runner that handles himself well on the bases and, while not an impact talent, could settle in as a net positive producer in all aspects of the game. There are warts, to be sure, but Busby has gotten hot at the right time, and he could sneak into the top three rounds.
Andrew Bechtold, 3B, Chipola JC (FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 2m
Bechtold is a solid athlete with average foot speed and quality footwork at the hot corner, leading some to question whether he might be a potential fit at the keystone, or even as a super-utility type at the next level. The power is a bit light for a corner spot, but Bechtold shows solid bat speed and good feel for the barrel, giving him a shot to hit for average and provide some on-base production to go with 10-to-15 home runs a year.
A team who sees the potential for defensive versatility and believes that Bechtold’s hit tool will play could grab him as early as the second round, and he profiles well anywhere in the top four rounds. Committed to LSU, Bechtold could follow in the footsteps of teammate Greg Deichmann and make another run at the draft at age 22 in 2018 if he slips too far into Day Two.
Will Toffey, 3B/1B, Vanderbilt Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 22y, 5m
After putting together a solid showing on the Cape last summer, Toffey produced a .354/.475/.602 slash line for the ‘Dores this spring, racking-up 12 home runs in the process while walking 48 times to just 30 strikeouts. The track record for production should help Toffey to come off the board in the top four-or-five rounds, though the physical tools lag behind the numbers. Toffey is a fringy runner with average bat speed, and while he controls the strike zone well at the collegiate level, there are evaluators who believe he simply won’t be able to keep up with more advanced power stuff at the next level.
The profile comes with a solid floor, as Toffey shows above-average hands and solid arm strength at the hot corner, and though not a burner he’s a heady runner who shouldn’t make many mistakes on the basepaths. A team looking for a college performer could nab Toffey as early as the third round, though the profile is probably a better fit a round or two behind that.
Reynaldo Rivera, 1B, Chipola JC (FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/250 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 20y, 0m
Across the diamond from Bechtold, Rivera provides plenty of raw power but a less-developed hit tool and a lot less athleticism. A well below-average runner, the slugging first baseman is limited exclusively to the three spot at the next level, making offensive production a must for the profile. Though he’s performed well this spring for Chipola, Rivera has coverage gaps in the zone, particularly on the inner-half, and can be exposed by better velocity.
A team looking for an upside power producer could tab Rivera as early as the third round. He’s committed to Mississippi State and will be just 20 years old on the date of the draft, giving him plenty of leverage and options if he’s willing to roll the dice on tackling D-I ball in an effort to up his stock. He profiles as a double-plus raw power bat who may never hit for much average at the highest levels, but as someone who could produce 20-plus home runs annually.
Sean Bouchard, 3B/1B, Univ. of California – Los Angeles
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 1m
Bouchard has struggled with contact throughout his three years at UCLA and lacks impact across his profile, though the young corner infielder has shown flashes of an average power tool and an improved approach in 2017. Bouchard shows a good understanding of the strike zone and is willing and able to work a walk, but his swing can get long and he swings through too many hittable pitches, which could embolden advanced arms to challenge him more frequently at the next level, eating into his on-base production.
He has a chance to handle third base and perhaps even left field at the next level, giving teams some options for deploying him. The profile fits in the fourth-or-fifth round range, though his struggles in the Cape Cod League last summer could push him lower.
Alex Toral, 1B, Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches, FL)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/220 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 4m
Toral has impressive raw power, but has struggled this spring to consistently flex that pop in-game. At his best, the Miami recruit shows an ability to produce hard contact to all fields and a swing that should grow into an over-the-fence threat in the near future. At present there are significant questions about contact, and whether he is ready to tackle pro arms.
With his defensive profile limited to first base, a team will have to really believe in the power in order to cough up the money, or draft slot, to sign him away from the Hurricanes. Assuming he makes his way to campus, Toral could emerge in three years as an impact bat after further refinement in his swing and approach.
A standout on the gridiron, Fuller is still unrefined on the diamond outside of his ability to show prodigious power in BP. He produces easy double-plus pop from the left side with big finish and lots of carry. In-game, Fuller has fluctuated between looking lost at times against better arms to showing surprising poise and strike zone awareness working the count and seeking out fastballs to drive.
He’s athletic enough to stick on an outfield corner, but might ultimately benefit from a shift to first base so that he can focus the bulk of his developmental efforts on improving his approach and contact rates. The upside is that of a middle-of-the-order power bat with 25-plus home run production, but that upside comes with significant risk of flameout. The risk will likely keep Fuller out of the first three rounds, but he could be gobbled up quickly starting in the fourth, and particularly by a team with some extra picks to spread around its risk.
As an underclassman, Schwarz had buzz as a potential first-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, though struggles with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, followed by an underwhelming Spring, have dropped his stock considerably. No longer a backstop, Schwarz handles himself well at first base with plenty of raw power for the profile to play there. His barrel pulls off plane on the regular, leading to longer gaps between hard contact than you’d like to see from a potential impact power bat, and limiting his overall offensive utility.
A team that believes they can get Schwarz back on track could find lots of value if he makes it out of the first five rounds. More likely, he finds a dance partner somewhere in the fourth-to-fifth round range based on his performance as an underclassman, and his potential to re-emerge as a 20-plus home run bat.
Chad Spanberger, 3B/1B, Univ. of Arkansas
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/235 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 7m
Spanberger stands out for his plus raw power, which has been apparent both this spring (20 home runs with Arkansas) as well as last summer (11 home runs in the wood bat California Collegiate Summer League). The big question for the Razorback slugger is whether he can make enough contact at the next level for that power to play. He can get overly aggressive in the box, and his bat speed is closer to average than plus, leading to plenty of empty swings. When he does square one up, it goes a long way. There should be a team in the fourth-to-sixth round range that’s willing to roll the dice on that upside.