Draft Report: Prep Baseball Report’s Super 60

By: Burke Granger

Our 2016 MLB Draft coverage officially kicked off this weekend with a trip to Chicago for the Super 60, an annual event hosted by Prep Baseball Report (“PBR”) that welcomed players from 19 states and over 120 scouts.  Debuted in 2003, the Super 60 is celebrating 14 years of bringing together some of the most talented high school seniors in the Midwest to showcase their skills for scouts and college recruiters.


Being my first Super 60, a couple of initial thoughts come to mind.  I was especially impressed with the precision and efficiency in which the event was run.  There were countless PBR colleagues who seamlessly transitioned players and scouts alike from stage to stage in the sizable venue.

I also took notice of the poise that many of these 17-18 years olds have when throwing to a catcher, taking batting practice, or fielding grounders with hundreds of on lookers a mere few feet away sans the usual chain link fence to separate the player and the scout.

The impressions gained from an event like this should be taken with a grain of salt.  Being just the first week of February, many of these players have just started to gear up for the season with Spring practice, thus they’re not close to their best.

Bearing that in mind, the metrics attained during this showcase are a mere snapshot in time, and the numbers alone don’t reflect the progression that will occur as these kids prepare for the next level.  They do, however, provide some fun data to look at.  Next to each player below, I’ve listed where that individual ranks the initial high school draft prospect lists from Baseball America (BA) and D1Baseball.com (D1).

Let’s dive into these initial impressions:

Cooper Johnson – Carmel Catholic (Ill.) – Catcher.  BA: 22, D1: 27.  Objective numbers aside, Johnson had the most presence at the Super 60.  With muscular 6’0″ 200 frame and donning a gold plated catching mask in the spirit of a Notre Dame football helmet, Johnson stands out even before he picks up a bat or ball.  It doesn’t hurt when he backs up the swagger with pop times of 1.80, 1.81, and 1.83.  Flashing a present 70 grade arm is one thing at a showcase, but I spoke with an AL area scout who had Johnson at 1.84 in live game action.  The Mississippi commit’s catch and throw skills were unmatched by his peers at this event.  At the plate, the right-handed hitting Johnson was solid.  While Johnson’s bat speed isn’t as quick as some of his catching peers, he has a simple load with good balance and timing that produced loud line drives.

Ben Rortvedt – Verona (Wis.) – Catcher.  BA: 44.  D1:  30.  The 5’10 190 Arkansas commit put on an impressive show in BP from the left side, producing positional best 103 mph exit velocity generated by a strong lower half and exceptionally quick hands.  While his release is a beat slower than Johnson’s, Rortvedt produced pop times of 1.82, 1.88, and 1.91.

T.J. Collett – Terre Haute (Ind.) – Catcher.  BA:  65.  D1: NR.  At 6’0 220, Collett might be a tick less athletic than Johnson or Rortvedt, but the Kentucky commit appears to have the most raw power, as his swing generates loud pull-side fly balls from the left side.  Defensively he showed a long release and inconsistent footwork, but still produced pop times of 1.94, 2.00, and 2.02.  Small sample size aside, he looked less likely stick behind the plate than his counterparts on this list.

Gavin Lux – Indian Trail (Wis.) – Shortstop.  BA: 46, D1: 23.  Committed to Arizona State, Lux possesses a tall thin frame and loose throwing motion that flashed above average arm strength across the diamond.  While he had a couple throws off his back foot in the hole that looked questionable, Lux also tied for the highest infield velocity (90 mph) with Nate Fassnact (Pa.) and Gunner Halter (Kan.) at the event.  He moved well to both his right and his left and showed some of the softer hands among the other middle infielders.  The left-handed hitting Lux is loose at the plate as well, whipping the bat through the zone and making solid contact, pulling line drives on most of his BP swings.

Tyler Fitzgerald – Richester (Ill.) – Shortstop.  BA: 63, D1: 41.  The 6’3″ 190 Louisville commit looked strong at the plate.  He showed good balance and timing pounding one line drive after another right up the middle.  He showed nice first step quickness but looked a little rusty in the field and let the ball play him a few times.  He showed no trouble making plays to his left, but struggled fielding cleanly on balls to his right.  One of the faster players at the event, Fitzgerald ran a 6.71 60 yard dash.

Joey Wentz – Shawnee Mission East (Kan.) – LHP.  BA: 58, D1: 44.  With his hulking 6’5″ 220 frame, Wentz looks the part of a workhorse starter.  Committed to Virginia, Wentz showed easy velocity sitting at 91-92 mph (T93) with his fastball.  His change up was an inconsistent offering at 79-82 mph but when the pitch was right, it showed good arm-side fade.  The curveball was a 12-6 pitch at 75-76 mph with nice late breaking action.  Using a fairly straight forward rock and throw windup, Wentz demonstrated consistency of the release point of all three of his pitches.

Erik Miller – DeSmet Jesuit (Mo.) – LHP.  BA: 25, D1: NR.  Like Wentz, Miller stands at 6’5″ 220.  A Stanford commitment, Miller throws slightly more across his body than Wentz.  Miller alternated between two and four-seem fastballs that sat between 89-91 mph (T92) with good arm side fade.  His curveball and changeup were inconsistent pitches that were often left up as Miller struggled to find his release point.


Trade Depot: Appel a Surprise Inclusion in Giles Deal

By Burke Granger

Two days ago, news broke that the Astros and Phillies were nearing an agreement that would send flame throwing closer Ken Giles to Houston in exchange for package of prospects that included outfielder Derek Fisher.  Today, we find out that Fisher is not involved and his replacement is right-handed pitcher Mark Appel, who was the top overall selection in the 2013 draft.  Appel is the second top overall pick to be dealt this week following the Dansby Swanson/Shelby Miller trade on Tuesday evening.

That’s pretty rare huh?  Two top overall picks being dealt in the same year?  Perhaps not as rare as you thought.  Top picks Delmon Young (2003) and Josh Hamilton (1999) were both traded in the 2007-2008 off-season, as were Kris Benson (1996) and Adrian Gonzalez (2000) in the 2005-2006 off-season.*

Let’s take a closer look at the players changing hands.

Houston acquiring:  Ken Giles and Jonathan Arauz.

Philadelphia acquiring: Mark Appel, Thomas Eshelman, Vincent Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer, and Harold Arauz.

Giles is the obvious best player changing hands at present value.  At just 25 years old, and under control through 2021, Giles had a 1.56 ERA in his first two seasons in Philly. Giles stepped into the closer role and saved 15 games after the Phillies moved Jonathan Papelbon at the deadline last season.  Giles owns a fastball that sits in the upper 90’s while touching triple digits, and a slider that’s a true out-pitch.

Seventeen year old middle infielder Jonathan Arauz joins Giles on the trek to Houston.  Arauz is likely a year away from full season ball and hit .254/.309/.370 in Rookie ball last season.

Headlining the return for Philadelphia is right-handed pitcher Mark Appel.  Appel has the distinction of being a first round pedigree…twice!  Following his junior year at Stanford, Appel was selected 8th overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012 but failed to sign, returned to the Cardinal for his senior season and was popped first overall by Houston in 2013.  After showing promise in his pro debut in 2013, Appel stumbled mightily out of the gate in 2014.  Appel posted a dreadful 9.74 ERA, .372 batting average against and 15.0 H/9 in 12 starts in the hitter friendly California League.  Midseason adjustments and an unearned promotion to AA proved to settle Appel and he finished strong.  Fairing better in 2015, Appel finished with a 10-3 record and 4.37 ERA between AA and AAA, but his stuff was still hittable, surrendering 9.2 H/9 while striking out just 7.5 hitters per 9 innings.  While Appel will make his debut with the Phillies at some point in 2016 and could prove to be a work horse mid rotation innings eater, his stock has taken a hit since turning pro, and he’s already 24 years old.

The Astros are also sending right-handed pitcher Thomas Eshelman to Philadelphia.  Selected 46th overall this past June out of Cal State Fullerton, Eshelman’s calling card is his top of the scale control which I highlighted in more detail in this pre-draft scouting report.  Eshelman sits at just 88-90 with his fastball but can locate well to both sides of the plate and his curveball and changeup are both a tick above average.  He commands all three offerings to the tune of 0.44 BB/9 and 17.33 K/BB ratios during his college career.

Vince Velasquez was a second rounder out of Pamona (Ca.) in 2010 and made his debut with the Astros in 2015, pitching well in a limited role that included 7 starts.  Velasquez has a fastball that sits in the mid to low 90’s,  and has a good feel for a changeup but his curveball is a work in progress.

Brett Oberholtzer gives the Phillies veteran arm in this return.  The righty bounced between AAA and Houston last season and will give the Phillies another arm that will need to log innings on a team that should lose 100 games next season.

Harold Arauz, no relation to Jonathan, went 0-5 with a 5.75 ERA last season in the Low-A New York Penn League.

So you probably want to know who won this trade.  Unlike the Swanson/Miller trade, this one is a draw.  The Astros used an incredibly deep farm system to land a closer under club control for years to come, while the Phillies unloaded their biggest asset for a nice haul that includes three guys (Appel, Eshelman, and Velasquez) whom I feel will have solid MLB careers.  The Phillies are clearly working to rebuild through pitching and this move is a positive step in furtherance of that goal.

* crediting David Lesky on pointing out these draft facts on Twitter.

Trade Depot: Dansby Swanson Goes Home to Georgia

By Burke Granger

Makeup, makeup, makeup.  I’m not high on hyperbolic terms that are thrown around to describe prospects.  Grinder, gamer, and gritty are all overused and overvalued adjectives.  If a guy who plays baseball games for money isn’t a gamer, what is he?  With Dansby Swanson, former Vanderbilt Commodore, the universal unofficial tool in which he receives his highest praise is his makeup.

A Marietta (Ga.) product, Swanson excelled on diamond and the hardwood in high school.  Shoulder injuries limited Swanson to just 16 at-bats as a freshman, but he stepped in and started at second base for the 2014 National Championship team.  In the national spotlight in Omaha, Swanson’s leadership was evident, as was his on field talent.  Hitting .323 on his way to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Swanson rode that momentum into a seller 2015 which culminated  with his being selected first overall last June in the MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Rather than starting his first full season with Diamondbacks in 2016, Arizona used Swanson to highlight a package to land right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller from Atlanta.  Miller, the former 2009 1st round pick (St. Louis) pitched much better than his 6-17 record would suggest.  Miller had a 3.02 ERA and logged over 200 innings for the Braves in 2015, his only season in Atlanta.  It’s worth noting, however, that Miller’s career low ERA was directly correlated by cutting his HR rate in half last year and he’ll experience a negative park shift in this trade to Arizona.

Also heading to Atlanta in this deal are Ender Inciarte, a glove first outfielder who’s under affordable control, and Aaron Blair, a right-handed pitcher who was a supplemental first round selection from Marshall University in 2013.  Coming off a 13-5, 2.92 season where he didn’t miss many bats (6.7 K/9) between AA and AAA, Blair profiles as a back end starter who should step in and help Atlanta right away.

After speaking to dozens of people in Nashville at the Winter Meetings both inside and outside the industry, none have told me that they think Arizona got the better end of this deal and I’m in agreement with that sentiment.  If I’m evaluating this deal in a vacuum, I’d much rather be on the Braves side of this trade.

That said, the Diamondbacks are getting some unfair criticism regarding this deal.  While I think Swanson is a safe bet to be an above average shortstop and occasional, he’s an unproven commodity.  Miller is already an above average pitcher who fits in nicely as a #2/3 type starter who made his first All-Star appearance in 2015.  Having just turned 25, Miller has already established, logging 96 starts and 575.1 innings.  He’s bonafide.

If you’re a Diamondbacks fan, cheer up, you’re an NL West title contender.  If you’re a Braves fan, congratulations!  You’re front runner to land the #1 pick in the 2017 draft and this guy could be starting at shortstop for you when you open your new ballpark.

Trade Depot: Red Sox Land Kimbrel But Pay A Price

Less than a year ago, the San Diego Padres acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right handed pitcher Matt Wisler, their top prospect at the time.  Now Kimbrel is on the move again, this time to the Boston Red Sox, with the Padres returning more than what they paid to acquire him.

In return for Kimbrel, who is under club control through 2018, the Padres acquire outfielder Manuel Margot, middle infielders Javier Guerra and Carlos Asuaji and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen.

Boston entered the offseason with a robust farm system, possessing both depth and potential star power.  Margot (25) and Guerra (76) are both ranked among the top 100 prospects in the game by MLB Pipeline while that same publication ranks Asuaji and Allen 23rd and 25th among Boston’s top prospects.

Margot, a 2011 signee from the Dominican Republic, headlines the return for San Diego.  The outfielder put together a .276/.324/.419 with 6 HR, 27 2B, 9 3B and 39 SB between low A South Atlantic League and the AA Eastern League.

Another international sign, Guerra (Panama) signed in 2012 for $250,000.  A glove first shortstop, Guerra broke out at the plate in 2015, hitting 15 HR while slugging .449 for low A Greenville.  He’ll fill the void in the San Diego system left by Trea Turner, who was traded to Washington last season.

Asuaji spent 2015 in AA with a slash line of .251/.334/.374 and Padres General Manager A.J. Preller has stated that he’ll have a chance to break camp as the team’s starting shortstop.

Allen, a 2015 draftee was selected in the 8th round and was signed away from his South Carolina commitment for an above slot bonus of $725,000.  Allen dazzled in his professional debut, posting a 1.11 ERA while striking out 26 and walking just 1 in 24.1 innings.  

Closer Koji Uehara was one of the few bright spots for the last place Red Sox last season, saving 25 games with an ERA of 2.23, while posting a 10.5 K/9 rate, but he will turn 41 before the 2016 season.  Uehara will move to the 8th inning and shorten the game for a staff that has failed to produce starter who has logged 200 innings in each of the last two seasons.  

Bottom Line:  This trade is mutually beneficial on it’s face.  The Red Sox used a surplus of minor league depth to fill a need with an elite closer who’s under control for 3 seasons, while the Padres flipped a player who pitches 60 innings a year for 4 legitimate prospects that will both jumpstart and provide sustainability to a rebuilding project.  I’ll declare this one a draw, but gun to my head – I’d rather be on the Padres side of this deal.

2015 MLB Draft Non-Scouting Report: Thomas Eshelman – RHP – Cal State Fullerton

By Burke Granger

2015 MLB Draft Prospect: Thomas Eshelman – RHP – Cal State Fullerton.  6’3” 210.  Class:  Junior. DOB: 6.20.94. Last Drafted:  None.  

SCOUTED:  Cal State Fullerton @ Indiana 3.14.15

Eshelman burst onto the scene as a freshman when he won 12 games and he had a streak of 63.1 innings without issuing a walk.  Premium control has been Eshelman’s calling card throughout his career at Fullerton as he’s posted obscene 0.44 BB/9 and 17.33 K/BB ratios.

Given that level of consistent strike throwing combined with questions around whether some of the top college arms will start or relieve, it’s not surprising that Eshelman has some late helium in the hours leading up to the draft.
Statistics *through 6.7.15
It’s important to note that I’m not a scout.  I don’t have the training or expertise that they do.  I do go to the games see these guys play live, and while there, I talk to scouts.  That’s more than you’ll find in some other so called “Scouting Reports” online.  Also, while scouts reserve their thoughts on a player for their employer, I can share my thoughts with you, the reader.
Fastball:  Eshelman sits at just 88-91 mph with his fastball and it’s pretty straight, but he doesn’t get hit hard because he doesn’t make many mistakes.  He pounds the lower limits of the zone with this pitch.
Curveball:  I saw an average pitch – 75-76 mph with great command.
Changeup:  Eshelman throws his changeup at 79-80 mph with confidence in any count and is able to keep the pitch down.
Prior to this season, Eshelman’s delivery used to have an exaggerated pause which he has since abandoned.  There aren’t a lot of wasted motions left, and his release and follow through aren’t particularly taxing.  He could stand to push off the mound more which could lead to more velocity.
Eshelman has been in the third round discussion for most of the season, and while he still might end up there, I’m seeing his name come up more often in the supplemental round and even the back half of the first round in some of the later industry mock drafts.  Command is typically the last thing to develop in a pitching prospect, but Eshleman already has it.  Projected as a back end starter, his ceiling isn’t particularly high, but in a draft with more uncertainty around the top tier arms than usual, Eshelman’s high floor is appealing.