Feature Photo: Keston Hiura, OF/2B, Univ. of California – Irvine
POSITIONAL PREVIEW LINKS
Corner outfielders almost always struggle to draw attention in draft rooms. With so much pressure riding on the bat, it’s easy for decision makers to shy away from a profile that leaves little room for developmental hiccups, instead opting for up-the-middle talents who could follow a multitude of developmental paths. The 2017 crop of corner outfielders includes a couple of impact collegians who could slide into the outfield at the pro ranks in Keston Hiura (UC Irvine) and Evan White (Kentucky), as well as perhaps the draft’s highest riser this spring in North Davidson High School’s Austin Beck. Tristen Lutz (Martin High School) has wowed scouts with his size and athleticism, while Heliot Ramos (Leadership Christian Academy) has established himself as the best prep talent in Puerto Rico this year.
Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC Irvine
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 20y, 10m
Nursing an arm injury, Hiura was limited to DH duties for the duration of the spring, leading to questions about his future position and whether he’ll require surgery after the draft. The USA Baseball Collegiate National Team alum is regarded as having one of the better bats in this class and the numbers corroborate that assessment, with Hiura slashing .442/.567/.693 with 50 walks to just 38 strikeouts across 262 plate appearances this season. In addition to the plus hit tool, Hiura also flashes above-average power, capable of hitting 20 home runs annually at the next level.
Defensively, Hiura has logged time in the outfield and at second base in the past, with evaluators split as to where they think he fits best as a pro. The path of least resistance may be on the grass, where Hiura would likely require less developmental attention and his bat could push him quickly through a minor league system. Though the potential for surgery is a dark cloud hanging over the profile, Hiura won’t turn 21 until August, making missed time less of a concern. Even with the positional questions Hiura is an elite talent and could come off the board as early as one of the top ten picks.
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 picks.
Austin Beck, OF, North Davidson (Davidson, NC)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 6m
After injuring his leg in his 2016 high school state playoffs, Beck was forced to sit out the entire showcase circuit last summer while recovering from surgery on his ACL. This spring he has rocketed up draft boards off the strength of his true five-tool profile and projects as a lock to go in the first round, and perhaps as high as the top five overall picks. Beck has plus bat speed and easy plus raw power, with an ability to drive the ball out of the park from pole to pole in game action. He draws mixed reviews for his pitch-ID and tracking and get noisy through his load with periodic inconsistencies in his trigger and barrel path. Proponents see an above-average hit tool at maturity while more conservative evaluators question how quickly Beck will be able to adapt to more advanced pro arms and quality secondaries.
In the field the UNC commit has plenty of speed for center field, registering as a clean plus runner. His routes and his reads off of the bat are still a work in progress, with some evaluators believing Beck, along with his plus arm, fit better in right field long term. With Beck missing the showcase circuit last summer and evaluators missing out on the opportunity to observe him working with wood against the top talents in the class, decision makers will have a tough call to make on draft day in determining where Beck ultimately ranks against his peers. Workouts will be particularly important for the Carolina prep product, and based on reports that have trickled out from various organizations it appears he is performing well enough in his private showings to secure a selection in the top half of the first round. He’s one of the few players in the draft class with true all-star potential.
Tristen Lutz, OF, Martin (Arlington, TX)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 9m
Lutz is a physical specimen with plus raw power and big-time bat speed. For a big body, he stays relatively short to contact, working with natural loft in his finish and easy carry when he gets into one. Lutz moves well enough to handle center field at present but is a better fit in right at the next level where his solid speed, plus arm, and power profile are a natural fit.
While a corner-0outfield profile isn’t an easy first round fit for a prep bat, Lutz’s offensive upside makes him easily one of the top talents in the draft class, placing him squarely in consideration for teams in the back-half of the first round. With a chance to hit for solid average to go with 25-plus home runs annually and enough speed and leather to be an asset on an outfield corner, he’s a lock to come off the board on Day One.
Heliot Ramos, OF, Leadership Christian Academy (Guaynabo, PR)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/188 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 17y, 9m
Considered by many to be the top draft-eligible talent in Puerto Rico this year, Ramos has used a strong showing this spring to push himself into first round discussions, with his name being mentioned as high as the top twenty picks or so. Ramos’s calling card is his plus power and speed – a combination that proponents view as a foundation for an above-average center field profile. More cautious evaluators point to inconsistent routes and reads and view Ramos more as a future corner talent with more than enough bat power to carry the profile.
He’s on the young side, as Ramos won’t turn 18 years old until the end of the summer, with plenty of projection left in his frame to continue to add additional strength. While capable of putting a charge into the ball, his bat speed can be inconsistent from showing to showing, and it might take some extra time in the lower levels for him to grow into his game and adjust to higher-level competition. Regardless, his combination of power and speed make him a potential impact contributor at the next level and a good fit for the top two rounds.
NAMES TO KNOW
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 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.
Conner Uselton, OF, Southmoore (Oklahoma City, OK)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/190 B/T: R/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 19y, 0m
A 2016 Perfect Game and Under Armour All-American, Uselton also stood out on USA Baseball’s 18U club last summer/fall. His best tool is his plus raw power, which shows both during pre-game BP and in game action. There’s good leverage in Uselton’s swing, and he has no trouble lifting the ball to the pull side or carrying the opposite field gap. While his load can get deep, adding significant length to his barrel path, he generally has enough bat speed to make up for it (though some question whether he’ll be able to stay afloat against more advanced arms without shortening things up).
While the hit tool may not pop off of the page at the next level, there’s no question he has the power to be an impact offensive talent. That makes a shift to an outfield corner – a move many evaluators see in his future as the body continues to mature and he likely loses a step from his present above-average speed – a non-issue. Already 19 years old, Uselton has the freedom to pursue his commitment to Oklahoma State and reenter the draft in two years as a draft eligible sophomore should he drop too far in the draft – a path also available to fellow Sooner State standout and potential future Cowboy Ryan Vilade.
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.
Mason House, OF, Whitehouse (Whitehouse, TX)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/190 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 9m
House has enjoyed a very loud spring against overmatched high school competition this spring, showing good bat speed and plus raw power from the left side. His lack of experience on the showcase or travel ball circuit leaves some question as to how his athleticism and bat speed will play against high-end velocity and more advanced secondary stuff, with some evaluators questioning the refinement in his approach in the box.
Defensively, he’s a comfortable fit on an outfield corner with enough arm to potentially stick in right long term. Proponents believe he moves well enough, and shows clean enough reads off the bat, to try and stick in center field. A bit of a wild card on draft day, House could come off the board as early as the supplemental-first round to a team that really likes the left-handed stroke, though given the limited track record a more conservative projection would have him landing somewhere in the second or third round.
Calvin Mitchell, OF, Rancho Bernardo (San Diego, CA)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/190 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 5m
One of the more impressive prep power bats on the showcase circuit last summer, Mitchell has struggled some this spring demonstrating the same impact potential in the box. Proponents believe this is just a case of Mitchell pressing some in his draft-eligible season, and that some simple clean-up to the swing to help him get back to a full-field approach is all that’s needed for the University of San Diego commit to rediscover his ability to make loud contact from pole to pole.
Mitchell is a solid athlete who, at his best, can show you an average hit tool and above-average raw power to go with a solid glove and arm on the corner. An in-game fringe-average runner, Mitchell should be able to handle an outfield corner without being a liability at the next level. His current draft stock fits somewhere in the second to fourth round, with a chance to come off the board in the second half of Day One to a club that believes in the power they saw last summer.
Daulton Varsho, C, Univ. of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
Ht/Wt: 5’10”/200 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 2m
Varsho made a name for himself last summer in the Northwoods League, where he finished second in the wood bat summer league in home runs (15) while batting .321 and drawing more walks (45) than strikeouts (36) over his 290 plate appearances. His performance was enough to draw evaluators out to UW-Milwaukee this Spring, where the athletic catcher continued to put on an offensive display, slashing .362/.490/.643 with 11 home runs and a 46:39 strikeout rate over 249 plate appearances.
Varsho has a non-traditional profile as a catcher, possessing plus speed down the line and athletic actions to go with a below-average arm, opening the door for some playing time in left field at the next level and potentially fitting long term as a 120-game talent that can give you 50 nights behind the plate and the rest in the outfield or as a DH. There’s plenty of juice in the bat and a chance for the Horizon League standout to grow into an average power and hit tool at maturity, making him an interesting option to come off the board much earlier than expected to a team that believes in the profile, and particularly a team that values versatility. He could hear his name called as early as the second round.
Jacob Pearson, OF, West Monroe (West Monroe, LA)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/195 | B/T: L/R | Age (as of 2016 draft date): 19y, 0m
An LSU commit, Pearson has a strong, athletic frame that is already pretty well filled in, offering only limited future projection. His approach at the plate is simple, with the lefty bat eschewing a stride for a simple toe tap and rotating though to clears his hips and transfer energy to his front foot with a quiet head and precision balance. The result is a smooth, natural uppercut swing that produces hard contact to the pull side while also showing the ability to control the barrel in shooting balls the other way.
Pearson has a well-below-average arm that will likely limit him to left field, though he mitigates the impact with a quick release and sound mechanics that produce solid accuracy and carry. He’s an above-average runner with speed that plays both on the grass and the base paths alike. An LSU commit, Pearson would be eligible for the draft again in two years should he opt to take his game to Baton Rouge this fall. He likely fits somewhere in the third-to-fifth round range, though teams who really like the bat and believe he could reach his upside as an above-average hit and power producer could nab him even earlier.
Daniel Cabrera, OF, Parkview Baptist (Baton Rouge, LA)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/180 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 9m
Cabrera draws mixed reviews from evaluators, with some viewing him as a solid – but not impactful – bat limited to left field at the next level and others projecting a chance for a plus hit tool and 15-plus home run power to go with a solid glove on the corner. Cabrera showed well on the showcase circuit and then with a talented GBG Marucci club in Jupiter last fall, utilizing a quiet and deceptively violent stroke that comes with good balance and an ability to drive the ball to the gaps with ease.
His over-the-fence pop is limited at present, but there’s plenty of bat speed and enough strength to project average power at maturity. His below-average speed and fringy arm will likely limit him to left field at the next level, putting added pressure on the bat reaching its lofty potential. A team who believes in Cabrera’s ability to barrel balls at the next level could take him as early as the second round, with the sweet-swinging lefty a potential bargain should he slip to the third or fourth round.
Riley Mahan, 2B/OF, Univ. of Kentucky
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/195 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 5m
Mahan stands out as one of the more athletic players on a Kentucky team that led the Southeastern Conference in most offensive categories. Mahan has slashed .339/.396/.626 at the time of this writing, while leading the team with 15 home runs and 159 total bases in 291 plate appearances. Utilizing a level, balanced swing, Mahan produces line drives to all fields and over-the-fence power to the pull side. Though not a burner, Mahan has first-step quickness that plays well on the bases and in the field, complementing his average speed.
After making 30 errors serving as the team’s starting shortstop last season, Mahan has transitioned to second base this season where he’s cut down on his miscues and generally seems more comfortable. Ultimately, Mahan may be best suited for the outfield where his athleticism can shine and his bat can accelerate his time table. He is likely to come off the board somewhere in the first few rounds on Day Two to a team valuing collegiate performance.
Cole Turney, OF, Travis (Richmond, TX)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/200 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 6m
Turney has a classic right-field profile, with a plus arm and solid reads off the bat to go with above-average raw power and a swing geared to lift and drive the ball. He’s an aggressive swinger who can get caught trying force hard fly ball contact rather than allowing the natural loft in his swing to take over. He has very good bat speed but can overswing, opening himself up to quality off-speed offerings and limiting his hit tool projection.
At his best, Turney looks like a potential 20 home run stick who can give you adequate defense in right and enough foot speed to hold his own on the basepaths (though he’ll never be a base-stealing threat). He profiles as a fit in the fourth-to-sixth round and could emerge as an early round target in three years should he elect to postpone pro ball for the time being, and continue his development at the University of Arkansas, where he’s committed for the fall.
Baron Radcliff, OF, Norcross (Norcross, GA)
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/220 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 18y, 4m
Radcliff can show you above-average straight-line speed, but struggles to tap into it in the outfield, where his wheels play closer to average. He’s still refining his reads and route running, and at present looks like a much better fit on a corner than in center field. His below-average arm would appear to limit him to left field, placing an emphasis on his offensive development.
There’s little question the Georgia Tech commit has the raw pop to fit on a corner, as Radcliff can show plus raw power during BP capable of producing moonshots to the pull side. In games, he has a little more trouble tapping into his juice, and would benefit from additional reps to help him refine his approach and more naturally leverage his strength to hit the ball with authority to all fields. The questions surrounding his ability to make consistent contact and tap into his power may be large enough to drop him into the fourth-to-sixth round range, at which point evaluators are uncertain whether Radcliff would be willing to forgo his commitment to the Yellow Jackets. There’s lots of potential impact in the barrel if he can find a way to get to his power more consistently, and a solid path for him to grow into an early-round draft target in three years with further growth at Georgia Tech.
Je’Von Carrier-Ward, OF, Gahr (Cerritos, CA)
Ht/Wt: 6’5”/190 B/T: L/R Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 17y, 7m
Though one of the more unrefined talents in the draft class, Carrier-Ward has a jarringly broad, projectable, athletic frame and build to go with plus speed and a nice developmental foundation that should give an organization plenty to work with. His reads are still a little raw in the outfield, but few believe he’ll have trouble growing into at least an average defender – most likely in right field as his massive frame continues to fill in.
At the plate, the Southern California commit has a chance to develop above-average power at maturity, and can already flash tape-measure shots in BP. He struggles mightily at present squaring up quality arms, and needs additional reps against top-tier arms to improve his pitch-ID and tracking. A patient team willing to roll the dice on Carrier-Ward’s significant upside and not turned off by the idea of the young outfielder spending a couple of years on the complex to bring his game up to speed could grab him a round or two ahead of his fourth-to-sixth round projection. He won’t turn 18 years old until next winter, making him a sneaky upside play for a team who believes in their development staff.
Quinn Brodey, OF, Stanford Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/195 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2017 MLB Draft): 21y, 6m
Brodey profiles as a bit of a tweener, with his foot speed and arm likely limiting him to left field at the next level and his average hit and power upside fitting more cleanly up the middle. An All-Star on the Cape last summer, the Stanford outfielder has enjoyed a solid-but-unspectacular spring, slashing .314/.371/.556 over 58 games. At his best, Brodey can show over-the-fence pop to the pull side and an ability to shoot the gaps, but his aggressive cuts can often lead to inconsistent content or balls put in play off of bad offerings.
The Cardinal outfielder should hear his name called somewhere in the fourth-to-sixth round, and he’ll need to refine his approach at the next level in order to get the most out of his tools. He could develop into a second-division regular or reserve option on the corner.