* * * * *
* * * * *
CREAM OF THE CROP
(Potential First Round Targets)
Nick Lodolo, LHP, Texas Christian Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’6”/185 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2019 MLB Draft): 21y, 4m
Background: The 41st overall pick in the 2016 draft (Pirates), Lodolo turned down a reported $1.75 bonus, instead following through on his commitment to TCU. After a pair of decent seasons in Fort Worth, the southpaw elevated his game this spring, establishing himself as the top pitcher in the class. While the Horned Frogs have had an up and down season, Lodolo has been excellent throughout, logging a 2.36 ERA and 131 strikeouts compared to just 25 walks in 103 innings.
Notes: Long and lean with an athletic build, Lodolo looks the part of a frontline starting pitcher and has the deep arsenal to match. There’s deception in his delivery, as he hides the grip in his windup, keeping his front shoulder closed late in the process while still ensuring his release is synced up with his foot strike. Working from a ¾ arm slot, he gets downhill with his fastball, a 92-to-94 mph offering with sink that he can spot to either side of the plate. He throws a lot of breaking balls, sweeping and slurvy at 80-to-83 mph with depth. While he doesn’t go to the changeup often, it’s shown above average potential, capable of missing bats with arm side fade. In a down year for college pitching, Lodolo represents the best bet to stick in a rotation, with #3 starter upside.
Background: Thompson burst onto the scene early in his collegiate career, shining as a midweek starter as a freshman, as he pitched to an 8-3 record, 3.45 ERA and with 96 strikeouts over 75.2 innings. After missing considerable time as a sophomore with an injured throwing elbow, he struggled to match his freshman success upon his return, posting a 4.94 ERA and 5.81 BB/9 rate in 31 innings. His summer with the Collegiate National Team was a microcosm of his first two years of school as held opponents to a .107 batting average over 8.2 scoreless innings but he walked five hitters in the process. He took tremendous strides as a junior, logging 90 innings and cutting his walk rate to 3.40. While the Wildcats struggled mightily in conference play, winning just six SEC games all season, Thompson was the winning pitcher in five of those games.
Notes: He’s well-proportioned at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, with minimal projection remaining. Utilizing a smooth low-effort delivery, he keeps hitters off balance with a four-pitch mix. The fastball sits 91-to-94 (touching 96) with late cutting action and below average command. His best secondary offering is a tight mid-80s slider with moderate depth, that flashes above average. His average changeup has glove-side movement, and he does an adequate job of replicating his fastball arm speed. He’ll mix up his arm angle on his low 70’s curveball, coming over the top as opposed to his typical mid-three quarters slot. After quieting some concerns about his durability and pitching in the zone with more regularity, Thompson will be one of the first arms off the board.
John Doxakis, LHP, Texas A&M Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/215 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2019 MLB Draft): 20y, 9m
Background: Doxakis impressed this spring, showing quality attributes of both a future rotation piece and potential late-inning, high leverage weapon out of the pen. The lefty compiled a 7-4 record for the Aggies while limiting opponents to a .207 average over 104.2 innings of work and posting a nice rate trio of 9.9 SO/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 4.4 SO/BB.
Notes: The A&M ace utilizes a high energy, high effort delivery that is mitigated some by its simplicity. Perhaps best described as a “tempest in a phonebooth”, the lefty moves from a simple step-and-turn kickoff to an up-tempo leg lift and quick release on his offerings. There’s a lot going on and it is not the easiest of motions to track from the box and not the most comfortable of at bats for a hitter – particularly from the left side. Doxakis’s best offering is his 79-to-85 mph slider, which he uses masterfully and aggressively in and out of the zone. He’s one of the best in this college class at backdooring his breaking ball and can utilize both a true three-quarters and slightly lower-three-quarters slot for both the slide piece and his low-90s heater. Doxakis has no issue maintaining his stuff over the course of a long start, and while the effort in his arm (and his extreme high-energy mound presence) may portend a shift to the pen, where his fastball probably ticks up a half-grade in short blowout spurts, there’s plenty of evidence he can stick in a rotation so long as the shorter rest at the pro ranks doesn’t negatively impact him too greatly. Though not often needed, he’s competent with a changeup and has the necessary skills to tackle a starter’s role at the next level. He profiles as a potential solid #4 starter with an obvious fallback of late-inning fastball/slider reliever.
Ethan Small, LHP, Mississippi State Univ.
Ht/Wt: 6’3”/214 B/T: L/L Age (as of 2019 MLB Draft): 22y, 4m
Background: A redshirt junior, Small was popped in the 26th Round of the 2018 MLB Draft last June by the Diamondbacks, but opted to return to Starkville for another year. That decision appears to have paid off, as the lefty has dazzled to the tune of a 9-2 record with a 1.88 ERA and a whopping 160 strikeouts in 96 innings of work. Opposing hitters have mustered just a .160 average against the southpaw over 371 plate appearances.
Notes: A Tommy John recipient as an underclassman, Small has bounced back with slightly softer stuff than he showed earlier in his career, but significantly better consistency and command. He works anywhere from 88-to-93 mph with his fastball, changing speeds and peppering all four quadrants to effectively keep hitters off balance and unable to sit on a particular swing zone. There’s lots to like about the pitch path, as he comes with good angle to the plate and a high release that gets downhill easily. His fastball path doesn’t leave tons of room for swing-plane overlap and results in lots of empty swings and soft contact despite its average velocity. His changeup is a plus weapon, playing out of the same slot with arm speed deception and fade, while his curve serves as a quality change-of-pace weapon against same side bats and a strike-stealer when dropped in the zone early in counts. Small grades out well on the college analytics side thanks to his ability to pound the zone and avoid hard contact while missing lots of bats. He’s a first round quality producer that gets dinged slightly for his “advanced age” and the profile qualifies as a relatively safe bet to be a productive big league arm in some capacity. He projects well as a future #4 starter.
BEST OF THE REST
(Potential Day One Targets)
Graeme Stinson (LHP, Duke Univ. | Video): Stinson entered the spring as a potential top 10 pick but has been limited to fewer than 20 innings of work, and none since March. When healthy, Stinson works into the mid 90s with a quality fastball and backs it up with the best slider in the class – an 83-to-86 mph, two-plane monster with sharp action and excellent depth. The Duke ace will be at the mercy of his medicals, come draft day, but assuming nothing uncommon or chronic he should warrant strong consideration in the first 75 picks.
Spencer Jones (LHP/1B, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, CA) | Video | Video 2): A two-way standout already sporting a big 6-foot-7, 210 frame, Jones has impact potential both on the bump and in the box. A strong showing at the end of the summer – both out in Long Beach at the Area Code Games and in San Diego at Perfect Game’s All-American Classic – solidified Jones’s spot as a high-follow across big league draft lists. Unfortunately, a minor procedure on his elbow this spring held him out of action, leaving teams to work primarily off of summer and fall looks in setting his draft day value. A perceived strong Vanderbilt commitment complicates the situation some, as well, leading most to project him as a likely target for teams with extra picks and money. Jones can consistently work into the low-90s with excellent angle and life and will flash an above-average curve that showed improvement throughout the summer. He shows easy plus raw power, as well, to go with above-average speed. It’s one of the best upside profiles in the class.
Blake Walston (LHP, New Hanover (Wilmington, NC)): A pop-up arm this spring, Walston boasts good athleticism in a wide and projectable 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame. The NC State commit generally works into the low 90s early on, reaching as high as 95 mph this spring, and regularly settles in to the 87-91 mph range as his starts stretch on. His curve is a true 12-to-6 hammer with excellent depth and projects as an easy future plus offering. Walston oozes projection and it’s easy to envision him adding 5-plus miles-per-hour to his heater in short order as he continues to mature. There’s not tons of track record here, but Walston checks all the boxes for an eager dev staff and feels like a sure bet to bet off the board on Day One, and perhaps as high as the top 30 picks.
Hunter Barco (LHP, The Bolles School (Jacksonville, FL) | Video | Video 2): One of the better known prep talents entering last summer’s showcase circuit, Barco had his share of ups and downs throughout various events before righting the ship this spring and reestablishing himself as a worthy Day One target. Working primarily in the low-90s with his fastball, the Florida commit gets his heater to play up thanks to a future plus changeup that already plays as consistently average thanks to good deception and sharp dive. His slider shows flashes of above-average potential but has been an inconsistent weapon for him, requiring more consistent execution at release. He generally hits a uniform slot with all three offerings, providing additional complications for hitters, and already shows some feel for sequencing. It’s a second round profile that fits a back-end starter projection.
Erik Miller (LHP, Stanford Univ.): Miller struggled some on the Cape last summer but has shown loud enough stuff this spring to fit comfortably into Day One consideration. The big-bodied lefty can reach the mid-to-upper-90s with his fastball, working more consistently in the 91-to-94 mph range, working downhill and with some angle. His slider is a potential plus offering, though he struggles at times to command it effectively. Miller can struggle with his mechanics and release, thanks in part to a longish arm action, and there’s at least moderate reliever risk in the profile.
Matt Cronin (LHP, Univ. of Arkansas | Video | Video 2): Cronin is the top “pure relief” prospect in the class, showcasing a plus fastball/curveball combo while racking up 12 saves for a talented Razorbacks club. Cronin utilizes a hard and true 92-to-96 mph heater to set-up a devasting mid-to-upper-70s hammer with big depth and nasty bite. He grades out well on the analytics front – both conventional and advanced – and profiles as a future bullpen anchor.
Tommy Henry (LHP, Univ. of Michigan | Video): While the Michigan lefty fell off some as the spring progressed, he turned plenty of heads during the early goings and capped the Big Ten season with a solid showing against Minnesota. At his best, Henry pumps low-90s gas that tops out around 94 mph and a nice secondary slider/changeup pairing that both play very well off the fastball – particularly his changeup, which comes with great pitch-plane overlap and late tumble. His regional start in Corvallis could carry a lot of weight as to where his Draft Day value ultimately settles.
TJ Sikkema (LHP, Univ. of Missouri | Video): A burly southpaw with a potent slider, Sikkema sported a sub-1.0 WHIP and 1.32 ERA this spring to go with a .175 BAA and over a strikeout per inning. He’s aggressive in the zone and throws on a very tough angle with varying slots, showing comfort in any count with his fastball, slider and changeup. Working mostly 89-to-92 mph with his fastball, Sikkema can reach the mid 90s when he needs it and both his slider and changeup project as at least above-average offerings. He currently projects as a quality back-end arm or late-inning weapon and is on a short list of collegiate arms that could significantly out-perform their current profile due to available dev paths.
Antoine Kelly (LHP, Wabash Valley JC (IL)): Kelly is a huge upside arm with tons of projection and a lot of developmental work ahead of him. With a medium broad 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame, the lefty has room to hang a good amount of additional strength as he matures and is already sturdy to the eye. The fastball sits at an easy 94-to-96 mph, touching higher, and it comes with minimal effort. The slider and changeup are both in their nascent stages and will require a good deal of developmental work at the next level. Kelly’s probably a little too raw to come off the board before the second round, but given the number of teams with multiple picks to spend it wouldn’t be shocking. He’s going to be sitting in the upper 90s, touching triple digits in the near future.
Brandon Williamson (LHP, Texas Christian Univ. | Video): The TCU lefty has a broad, projectable build with big paws and throws on a steep angle while working off the third base side of the rubber. Williamson brings low-90s heat, regularly touching 94 mph, and a hard low-80s slider to the bump when he’s operating at his best, and can flash a solid upper-70s curve and low-80s changeup, as well. He has the makings of a potential starter at the next level with room for the arsenal to bump at least half a grade across the board, but has dealt with some hip issues and can struggle at times to execute. He’s a nice dev play that offers mid-rotation upside if it all clicks but comes with a fair amount of risk.
Avery Short (LHP, Southport (Indianapolis, IN) | Video): One of the better high school arms in the Midwest, Short makes his money with an upper-70s 12-to-6 hook with good depth – a future plus offering that flashes already. He can also bring a solid average slider into the mix with shorter action and solid tilt, giving lefty bats two distinct breakers to track. The Louisville commit commands his offerings well – particularly by prep standards – and utilizes a repeatable set of mechanics, all of which help his average fastball and developing changeup to play up. He’s got the physical maturity to step right into a starter’s role at Louisville should he make it to campus and projects as a quality back-end arm at the pro ranks.
Erik Rivera (OF/LHP, Puerto Rico Baseball Academy (Gurabo, PR) | Video | Video 2): Rivera boasts impressive tools both as a power lefty bat and a hard throwing southpaw on the mound. There’s easy loft in the swing, but his cuts don’t generally track easily to pitch plane, limiting his contact band and leading to more empty swings than you’d like to see. He’s unrefined on the mound but can reach 97 mph with his fastball and has shown some feel for spinning a solid mid-70s curve that projects as a potential future above-average offering. There are starter traits here with a good chance for at least a nice 1-2 fastball/curve tandem that could play-up in relief.