Kiley breaks down the industry buzz by projecting the top picks with the draft under a week away…
Putting A Spin On Traditional Reports
I wanted to put a twist on the traditional scouting reports you can now find all over the internet. I've seen well over 75% of my top 150 players, so I'll provide video of each of them, grade their tools/pitches, give the pertinent biographical info, but also give you the multi-year perspective of what their talent tells us. In talking to lots of data types around the game about what scouts are missing most in the pre-draft evaluations, I keep hearing that the recency bias in draft rooms is maddening. "Forget that Brandon Finnegan has had three plus pitches and good command for two years, his shoulder was tender two weeks ago, move him down 10 spots!" Maybe that reactionary response is instructive in some circumstances of the momentum arrow changing directions right before the draft, but it's incredibly unlikely that fate is lining things up for you that neatly.
One instructive example: the Orioles #5 overall pick in 2009, husky NorCal prep RHP Matt Hobgood threw 88-92 for over a year, then 90-94 in the middle of the season, then 94-98 for the weeks before the draft, then was 88-92 or injured the rest of his career. Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor and Mike Leake were the next three picks and Shelby Miller would've signed for near slot. This pre-draft mirage (positive or negative) happens much more often than a new level of performance or slight stiffness leading to a major injury happening as you're entering the draft room. So, along with the standard scouting report stuff, I've expanded the reports for the top players in the draft to address the multi-year history that we now can have (thanks to showcase baseball) even on high school players, then denote a specific section to view the player in light of the 30,000 foot view of their career's trajectory.
Things To Keep In Mind
Something to know when looking at the biographical data is the importance of age, as popularized by Rany Jazayerli in two articles back in 2011. Nearly every team in baseball discusses age in their draft room now, when it previously would only be brought up occasionally in even the most stats-inclined draft rooms before the article. The average age for high school players is about 18.1 or 18.2, while for college players it's right around 21.0.
A useful concept I've been using for doing my rankings this year is, instead of projecting what a player could be at maturity (age 25 or so), projecting what I think he'll be like in 2-3 years. It's industry practice to grade tools for what they'll be at maturity, but having such a long time horizon often leads to discussions getting sidetracked by "well, yeah, technically he may never get to AA, maybe the #1 overall pick never gets out of A-Ball, maybe everyone gets hurt in rookie ball and quits" rather than focusing on things that could reasonably happen in a medium time frame. With scouts doing pro coverage of minor league teams every summer, they're very aware of what works and what they like in A-Ball and AA prospects, while they often don't scout the big leagues at all, so this frame of reference is much more relatable to their knowledge base, as well.
This helped me in the recent shuffle in the top 10 of my rankings. I realized that I think Aaron Nola could be a #4 starter next April while Tyler Kolek has at least a 50/50 chance of his elbow blowing out and isn't as advanced as most top 10 pick prep arms of recent years. That 2-3 year horizon made it clear that Nola was more valuable to me, while looking at "peak" performance in peak years made Kolek's size and velocity seem impossible for Nola to match in the long-term. I could continue working out why I shuffled the players like I did, but it basically came from looking at them slightly differently that I was trained to and talking to more scouts to fill in holes on things I didn't get to see this spring. Hopefully the reports give you the information to understand the rankings and also maybe tweak them to make your own.
The 20-80 Scale
Another thing to note is that the 20-80 scouting grades for each player are presented as present/future, with only the only exception being the hit grade. Since every amateur hitter is a present 20 hitter in the big leagues, I (along with many MLB organizations) use a peer grade for the present hit tool. What that means is you grade the player's hitting performance (not the tools) against his peers (similarly talented players of similar age against similar competition).
The use of this is 1) to think of players in terms of production and not just raw ability, as a means to be more accurate for 2) projecting players to be good big league hitters due to big league hitting tools (bat speed, mechanics, strength, etc) along with approach and results. One of the MLB organizations that was first to use this system said the scout couldn't give a future hit grade over 10 points above the present peer grade, as a way to keep a scout from projecting a hitter essentially learning how to hit after signing for a large bonus. This, along with years of history on prep players thanks to showcase baseball, is why studies have shown that teams are getting better at drafting the best players in the highest slots of the draft over time.
Some other things to know so you can fully understand the reports, include the 20-80 scale. I assume regular readers of the site are well-versed in this but the casual draft reader that wants to know who his team drafted may not, so here's a quick rundown in chart form:
This table shows the kind of player inferred by various 20-80 grades (used in 5 point increments) as Future Values (FV) to sum up a player's potential (i.e a 55 FV hitter is "above average regular"), along with the term that is used on the 20-80 scale for specific tool grades (i.e. 60 raw power is called "plus"). The WAR value means that, for example, a player with a FV of 70 is expected to have a peak WAR at maturity of 5.0 WAR. It also leaves out some numbers to be concise in some places (75, 65 are little used and obvious by their surroundings) and because they aren't used in other places (20, 25, 30, 35 aren't used for prospect ranking purposes and aren't often used for grading tools for prospects, either). Since 50 is the most common grade when dealing with prospects, I and other scouts will often use solid-average (52.5) and fringe-average or fringy (47.5) to further sort out many tools that would otherwise be tough to separate.
6'4/215, L/L, 17.80 on Draft Day
Fastball: 55/60+, Curveball: 55/60, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 50/55
Scouting Report: Aiken is a very-well known prospect from a powerhouse high school program in San Diego. He was advanced for his class as far back as his sophomore year, even though he's young for his grade, and is also a top 5 round prospect as a right fielder. Scouts haven't had to focus on his bat much as Aiken has always stood out more on the mound. This summer he was at many of the top events, working 88-91 and hitting 93 mph with above average off-speed and command but his athletic frame was maxed-out.
He didn't pitch over the fall off and grew an inch, got leaner and stronger, proven in his first outing of the spring where he hit 97 mph, sitting 92-95 in a two-inning scrimmage against Alex Jackson, who he struck out. As you'd guess, Aiken's curveball got sharper and jumped a grade, while his arm speed helped the changeup stand out even more. There's a little projection left, but Aiken's strength is that he's as close to a finished product as you'll see in high school. This year's class lacks that impact huge talent, but Aiken is the consensus top prospect and would go in the top 3-5 picks any of the past few drafts, with the type of talent that fits in any club's drafting style.
Take A Step Back: Big, athletic kid is young for the class with legit two-way talent and a long track record of commanding solid-average stuff before his velo popped this spring. Checks every box except for plus-plus pitch, but is still a prep arm, no matter how polished or athletic.
Projected Role: #2 Starter, 65-70 FV
6'0/235, L/L, 21.49 on Draft Day
Fastball: 55/55, Slider: 60/70, Changeup: 50/55, Command: 45/50
Scouting Report: Rodon has been famous for awhile, making his velo jump right after getting to campus in Raleigh. He was off some boards in high school and seen as a 3rd-5th round prospect by others due to a back problem; he was a maxed-out left that threw mostly 88-91 without a ton of athleticism. Much of his first two years at N.C. State, Rodon sat 92-95 and hit 97 mph but, especially early in his sophomore year, was working 88-92 mph for the majority of his starts when scouts weren't bearing down on him. Those concerns were quieted when he was back to his old self (see the above video) when Rodon sat 92-94 and hit 96 mph with at least a grade 70 slider and good command against the Cubans, pitching for Team USA. The problem is that the start and much of the later stages of this spring, that diminished Rodon returned. In nearly every outing this spring (one is the other video above), he sat 90-92 in the middle innings, hitting some 94s and 95s early, with a couple starts where he hit 97 mph and couple where he topped out at 93 mph.
Rodon still has some effort to his delivery, he still has a maxed-out physique with limited plane and he still isn't that athletic, so the long-term indicators tend to point that this spring wasn't a fluke and the arm speed trajectory is pointing down. The arm speed from that Cuba start still come back at times and likely will, but it's hard to see Rodon regularly becoming that dominating guy again. His slider will still flash 70 when he sits 90-92 mph, at an unusually high velocity of 86-90 mph, showing how gifted he is at spinning the ball. His changeup is above average at times and his command is average at times, but both come and go with the arm speed and repeatability of his delivery, particularly his fastball velocity and confidence in the pitch. Rodon also noticeably was favoring his back in a cold-weather start at Maryland this year when he had his worst velo of the season, so that concern hasn't been erased, either. The team that takes him is hoping for six years of an above average fastball/changeup combo, an out-pitch slider and average command, all hopefully coming soon. That's a solid #3 starter, with a chance he could settle a level above or below that, given the inconsistency of his stuff over the last few years.
Take A Step Back: Flashes #3 starter stuff even on bad days, so as long as you can manage physical yellow flags and slightly tweak delivery to improve command consistency, he could be that in the big leagues quickly.
Projected Role: #3 Starter, 60-65 FV
6'1/220, R/R, 18.44 on Draft Day
Hit: 55/60, Power: 55/60, Run: 45/45, Field: 45/50, Throw: 60/60
Scouting Report: Jackson burst onto the scene before his junior year when he was one of the best players on the field at the Area Code Games, which set the stage for him standing out at nearly every notable event the summer before his senior year. He's mostly playing catcher at these events and for his high school team (a San Diego-area powerhouse that produced Cole Hamels, among other big leaguers). Jackson falls into the Bryce Harper area in this respect; he has the tools to catch, but has a lot of work to get to big league ready (as a receiver, as his arm is plenty), which will slow down his very advanced bat, while the rigors of catching will eventually erode at his production in the big leagues. The easy solution is what's happened with Harper—stick him in right field—though some scouts think there's a chance Jackson could play third. He's barely played there, so the confidence isn't high and the catcher decision has to be made right after signing, likely as a top 5 pick, so all expectations are Jackson plays right his whole career, with a possible instructional league flirtation with third base to see if it sticks.
I mention Harper to illustrate the positional question and the early evidence of elite talent, but Jackson isn't on Harper's level. Jackson could never play center field and is a fringy at best runner, with a plus arm that's still a notch or two weaker than Harper's howitzer. Jackson also has plus power and advanced feel to hit, but struggled against good pitching at times this summer and lacks the historic pop of Harper. All that said, Jackson is still a big-time talent. He has the rare chance to be a plus hitter with plus bat speed and plus power, as he's been laying waste to solid competition this spring with multiple GM's and scouting directors walking away awestruck. One of the most impressive things about Jackson is his feel to go the other way and how naturally the ball comes off his bat, when many hitters his age change their swing in BP to go oppo. That kind of opposite field power in games ages well and Jackson is one of the surest bets to become an everyday player among prep bats in recent memory. The track record of advanced prep bats that go in the top 5-10 picks and stood out as underclassmen is very encouraging.
Take A Step Back: Incredibly gifted hitter has mashed on the big stage for years, so set aside the non-superstar upside and just take the quick-moving power bat.
Projected Role: Above Average Regular, 55-60 FV
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