With the 2015 MLB Draft less than a week away, several players have separated themselves from the pack and appear destined to become stars at the next level. College pitchers usually have the best chance to make an immediate impact at the big league level, because they don’t always require Minor League fine tuning. High school players are a lot different, with even the most advanced players needing a couple of years in the Minors.
Investing in a high school pick early on in the MLB Draft always comes with a bit of a risk. Will they not sign and head to college? Will they be able to transition to the life of Minor League baseball? With so much uncertainty, it is important that a team knows the high school player, and knows them well.
For us at Grading on the Curve, quality high school players offer a lot to look forward to, as we get a chance to track their careers as they advance through their team’s systems. The top five picks are as uncertain as any year, with a number of possible candidates. The following are the top five most intriguing high school pitchers and hitters that should all go in the first round on June 8th.
Next: High School Pitchers
Sep 3, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) throws the ball during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. The Blue Jays won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
1. Mike Nikorak, RHP, Stroudsburg H.S. (PA)
There may not be a more projectible pitcher in this draft than Nikorak. At 6 foot 5, and 200 pounds, he has tons of room to grow as he gains more control of all his pitches. He routinely works in the low 90’s with his fastball, and may even be able to work up into the mid to high 90’s as he matures. His curveball has the chance to be a plus off-speed pitch, and he also throws a decent changeup. Even though the righty is from the northeast and may not have as many starts under his belt as some other prospects, he is exactly what scouts look for in a high school pitcher. Matt Harvey is the latest example of a pitcher from the northeast who has dominated after turning pro. Nikorak could be a guy who gets knocked around a little bit early on in his career, but he’s got every chance to emerge as a top pitching prospect over the next few years. He probably has the best shot to be the first high school pitcher off the board and shouldn’t fall out of the top 20.
MLB Comparison: Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays
2. Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle H.S. (CA)
Hooper has the most impressive size out of anyone in this years draft, measuring up at 6 foot 7 and 230 pounds. For a high school senior, that size is ridiculous. He is already throwing in the mid 90’s, touching 97 at showcases earlier this year. The size and fastball is intriguing enough, but he has the makings of a quality curveball and changeup as well, which would bode well for him moving forward. The major question marks are whether he has the stamina and pitch command to be a full time starting pitcher. Some scouts believe he is destined for the bullpen in the big leagues. Already tipping the scales a little bit, Hooper will have to watch his weight as he matures. Although he isn’t expected to get to the size of CC Sabathia, the Yankees lefthander may be the closest thing to a comparison for the teenager. There aren’t a ton of lefties who have had a lot of success at his height, as injury concerns become more of an issue with taller pitchers. Hooper is a guy who should go at some point in the first round, to a team that believes he can be a starting pitcher. Boom or bust type of pick.
MLB Comparison: CC Sabathia, Yankees
Next: The Next Tier of Pitchers
May 18, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Zach Wheeler (45) throws during the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
3. Ashe Russell, RHP, Cathedrel H.S. (IN)
Russell is one of the more exciting pitchers in this draft class, showing a lot of energy on the mound to go along with his long blonde hair. He has perhaps the best two-pitch display in the high school ranks, with a low to mid 90’s fastball to go along with a swing and miss mid 80’s slider. These two pitches alone should lead to some solid strikeout numbers moving forward. His long term success will most likely hinge on the development of his seldomley used third pitch, his changeup. He offers fantastic projectibility with a 6 foot 4, 195 pound frame. He could go anywhere from the mid to late first round, but should be a fun guy to watch going forward no matter which team he goes to.
MLB Comparison: Zack Wheeler, Mets
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4. Kolby Allard, LHP, San Clemente H.S. (CA)
Many people prefer Allard as the top lefthanded pitcher in the class over Justin Hooper, but injury concerns may lead to him getting drafted a bit lower. He has a solid mid 90’s fastball to go along with a quality curveball which produces lots of swing and misses. Despite his 6 foot, 170 pound frame, he should be able to make it as a starter providing he can develop his changeup as his third pitch. A stress reaction in his back is expected to sideline him for two months, and may scare off teams from drafting him in the top 20. If he falls out of the first round, he may elect not to sign and go to UCLA instead.
MLB Comparison: Daniel Norris, Blue Jays
5. Dakota Chalmers, RHP, North Forsyth H.S. (GA)
Chalmers may have the most advanced arsenal of pitchers of anyone on this list, combining a low to mid 90’s fastball with a quality curveball and changeup. His projectable frame at 6 foot 3 and 175 pounds leaves little doubt that he will be able to mature and become a better pitcher over the next few years. He has been known to touch the high 90’s when he isn’t starting, so pitching at the back end of a bullpen may be an option down the road. He seems like the ideal Atlanta Braves target, as they own picks 14, 28, 41, and 54. It wouldn’t be all that surprising if he went at any of those picks, as the value of Chalmers is somewhat unknown at this point. He has committed to Georgia, and may require an above slot bonus in order to sign outside of the first round.
MLB Comparison: Jake Odorizzi, Rays
Honorable Mentions: Brady Aiken, IGM Academy; Beau Burrows, Weatherford H.S. (TX); Donny Everett, Clarksville H.S. (TN)
Next: Top Hitters
Aug 18, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro (13) warms up before a game against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
1. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary H.S. (FL)
Rodgers has been the consensus number 1 pick since this time last year, and he has more or less lived up to the hype. MLB.com’s number 1 draft prospect didn’t have the best senior season in high school, which may allow Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson to pass him as the top shortstop. However, Rodgers has a much higher ceiling than Swanson, and should become a star at the next level. He has few weaknesses in his game, with the range and arm to be a quality shortstop, with contact and power to be a top of the order bat. He shouldn’t fall past the Rockies at number 3 overall, and is still in consideration for the first pick.
MLB Comparison: Starlin Castro, Cubs
2. Daz Cameron, CF, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (GA)
As the son of former All-Star center fielder Mike Cameron, Daz has a chance to enjoy a similar career to his father’s. He has the speed and range to stay in center field, but may not become the defensive stalwart that Mike was. His offensive game revolves around hitting line drives at this point, as his contact rate is ahead of his power. As he matures, he should be able to develop at least average power, but will probably be more of a top of the lineup sort of hitter. His speed will allow him to steal some bags, but he is by no means a burner on the base paths. Cameron should go in the top ten, and could even sneak into the top 5.
MLB Comparison: Lorenzo Cain, Royals
Next: The Next Tier of High School Hitters
Jul 25, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Weiters (32) catches a pop up in the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
3. Tyler Stephenson, C, Kennesaw Mountain H.S. (GA)
The third Georgia High Schooler on this list may also be the fastest rising prospect in the draft, as Stephenson has thrown himself into the top ten conversation after a stellar showing in the High School playoffs, including a couple of game winning home runs. The catching position is not very strong this year, so the value of the 6 foot 4, 210 pounder is surely increased by the lack of another top flight backstop. Despite his size, he is able to move quite well behind the plate and displays a solid throwing arm. His bat should also be an asset as he matures, potentially developing into a 20 homer guy. Due to the Braves’ love of Georgia High Schoolers, I’d be shocked if he goes any later than pick number 14.
MLB Comparison: Matt Wieters, Orioles
4. Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant H.S. (FL)
The brother of Astros’ recently promoted outfielder Preston Tucker, Kyle is by all accounts a better overall prospect. He doesn’t have the same power as his brother, instead profiling as a more well rounded player across the board. His size is ideal at 6 foot 4 and 175 pounds, leaving lots of room to grow. Tucker has one of the smoothest lefty swings in the draft, and seems destined to be a star as he develops in the Minor Leagues. He may have the range and speed to stick in center field, but also has the arm strength to profile well to right field. If he falls out of the top ten, some team is getting a true steal.
MLB Comparison: Christian Yelich, Marlins
5. Trenton Clark, OF, Richland H.S. (TX)
Clark is one of the more underrated high school bats in this class, as he displays a plus hit tool and should develop power as he matures and gets stronger. He tore it up with Team USA in September, leading the team in all offensive categories and hitting .565 for the tournament. The lefthanded hitter provides additional value on the basepaths, where his speed and instincts should lead to high stolen base numbers in the pros. He may have enough speed and range to stay in center field, but if he continues to get bigger, he may be pushed to left. His bat should hit anywhere, as he has a chance to be a .300 hitter with pop in the future. He could be taken at any point in the first round, with the most likely spot being in the mid to late teens.
MLB Comparison: Alex Gordon, Royals
Honorable Mentions: Nick Plummer, OF, Brother Rice H.S. (MI); Garrett Whitley OF, Niskayuna H.S. (NY); Cornelius Randolph, 3B, Griffin H.S. (GA)
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