Zack Silverman is currently a rising sophomore at Virginia Tech, where he is working towards a statistics degree. He scouts the Virginia Tech baseball team and its opponents in his free time, doing his own write-ups on the players he sees. As an aspiring scout, he also does extensive work with the MLB Draft. In high school, he was a captain on the 2015 Virginia 6A State Champion Madison Warhawks, where he played outfield and earned two varsity letters. He has also worked as a private hitting coach for local youth, and competed in the Diamond Dollars Case Competition at the 2016 SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
The 2016 Draft is nearly upon us, so let’s take a look at the amatuer hitters available this year. There is a lot of high ceiling talent in this year’s draft class, though the college bats have been lacking for the most part. There is no Kris Bryant or Buster Posey, but there is an intriguing set of high upside hitters as well as high floor, safe bets. Below are the top 20 hitting prospects in this year’s draft, in my opinion.
1. OF Mickey Moniak (La Costa Canyon HS, CA)
I’m the high guy on Moniak. He’s not just my favorite hitter, but my favorite player in this draft. I love the quick, smooth, left handed swing, and the athleticism he brings with it. His quick bat and line drive swing should help him hit .290 or higher at the big league level. Many question his future power ability, but I am actually a believer in him developing at least average power, if not above average. When he gets power conscious, he fires his hips just before his swing, and it works. When you put his swing side to side with Bryce Harper’s swing, you’ll see that both of their hips have fired and are in fact out from under their body at contact. I’m not necessarily comparing Moniak’s future hitting ability to that of Harper, but the similarity in the mechanics is there. Additionally, I have heard good things about Moniak’s work ethic. I love this kid as a ballplayer. Moniak is committed to UCLA.
2. OF Kyle Lewis (Mercer University)
Your top college bat is Kyle Lewis, an athletic, powerful outfielder out of Mercer. Coming into the season, he had a lot to prove, as he plays in a smaller conference (the Southern Conference) and his plate discipline was less than exceptional last year. This year, he has proven everything he needed to, obliterating SoCon pitching and dramatically improving his plate discipline. He still strikes out a fair amount, and here is why. He has a lot of movement in not just his hands but everywhere before his swing, which means the bat is not in a very good hitting position as the pitch comes in. When coaches alter a player’s mechanics, there is often a learning curve, but in Lewis’ case, his hands and bat are so fast through the zone that I don’t see him losing any of his power when pro coaches streamline his swing path. I think that will cut down on his strikeouts as well as improve his contact ability.
3. OF Corey Ray (University of Louisville)
Ray is probably the safest bet to be a big league All Star. While he does not have the ceiling of Moniak, Lewis, or many of the players that follow him on this list, he has a relatively high floor as a big league regular. He has the cleanest, smoothest swing in the draft class, and it has enabled him to put up very good, albeit not exceptional, numbers in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the second toughest conference in college baseball. Despite his short stature (5’11”, 185 pounds), he runs extremely well, and should be able to stick in center field as he moves up the pro ladder. I see him with a ceiling of 15-20 home runs and a .290 or so average, with a floor of double digit power and capable on base abilities. A product of the Jackie Robinson West Little League and White Sox ACE charity program, Ray is a feel-good story as a kid who came from the south side of Chicago, playing high school ball at the same school (Simeon Academy) as NBA stars Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker. He likely won’t fall to the Sox at number ten, but that would be pretty cool if it happened.
4. 3B Nick Senzel (University of Tennessee)
Tier two begins with Nick Senzel, the slugging infielder with the tools to be the top hitter to come out of the University of Tennessee since Todd Helton. Many mock drafts have him going higher than number seven, and as a high-floor college hitter, he may very well deserve to go higher. He has hit extremely well this year in the most difficult conference in college baseball, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), with very good plate discipline, and he projects as an above average third baseman at the big league level. A strong work ethic has enabled him to improve his entire game, and he may even have a higher floor than Corey Ray. However, he is ranked this low because I believe his ceiling is limited. He has a short swing that produces line drives to all fields, though this has given him much more doubles power than home run power. He could improve his game power by turning on pitches, though this likely would hurt his contact ability.
5. SS Delvin Perez (International Baseball Academy, PR)
The youngest player on this list, Perez won’t turn 18 until November 24th. That makes him more than a full year younger than many other high schoolers on this list, such as Blake Rutherford, Drew Mendoza, and Carter Kieboom. As a Puerto Rican shortstop projected to go near the top of the draft, Perez has drawn comparisons to Carlos Correa, though those are largely superficial. I think Francisco Lindor is a better comp, as both were athletic, toolsy shortstops coming out of high school with excellent defensive abilities. Lindor was a better hitter at this point in his career, but Perez is four inches taller than him and can grow into more power. As I said, He’s excellent defensively, and should have no trouble as he matures into a major league caliber shortstop with above average range and arm strength. He is also a very good runner. However, his big flaw is at the plate, where his lanky frame and long arms can cause his swing to get out of control often, with a fairly weak follow through. However, due to his age, I think he can grow into his very skinny, 6’3”, 165 pound frame, and I also think most of his swing issues can be ironed out, making him an average big league hitter. Above average speed/defense + premium position + average bat = top ten pick. Perez has no college commitment, so he should be an easy sign.
6. OF Blake Rutherford (Chaminade Prep HS, CA)
Rutherford has been on prospect watch lists as long as any high schooler in this draft, and he comes oozing with power and bat speed from the left side. All around, Rutherford has shown the ability to be a star, though the fact that he is the oldest high schooler on this list does ding him a little bit. He turned 19 on May 2nd. He is somewhat inconsistent with his load, sometimes going with a double toe tap and other times taking a long stride towards the pitch. Rutherford, like Moniak, is committed to UCLA.
7. C/1B Zack Collins (University of Miami, FL)
Collins has been a big riser this season, and he could be a top ten or even top five pick. Coming into the season, Collins was viewed as having a very good bat with big time question marks behind the plate. The “very good” label on his bat has changed to “excellent,” has he has obliterated ACC competition, and while he is still very much a question mark behind the plate, reports are that he has worked hard to improve himself there. Even if he ends up at first base, he is a dangerous hitter, with a smooth, powerful swing that generates pop to all fields. He does have a kink where he quickly drops and raises his hands just before the swing, and that worries me slightly. However, David Ortiz does it too, and he’s been just fine with big league pitching.
8. OF Buddy Reed (University of Florida)
Coming into the season, Kyle Lewis, Corey Ray, and Buddy Reed were ready to battle it out to see who was the top college outfielder in the game. Lewis and Ray seem to have won, as Reed’s stock has dropped this spring. The Florida outfielder is one of the best athletes in the draft, with excellent range in the outfield, blazing speed, and a well above average arm. However, his bat might be an even bigger question mark than Delvin Perez’s, as he has failed to take the step forward at the plate that scouts were hoping for in 2016. He needs work on his swing path, which looks all over the place, as well as his plate discipline. I do think it’s way too early to give up on him, as he is one of the younger juniors in the college class, and he is essentially at the same place he was at the beginning of the year. If I had multiple early picks, I might take a chance on Reed early in the draft. As a side note, giving up on switch-hitting could help him get over the hump offensively.
9. 1B/3B Will Craig (Wake Forest)
Don’t let his boring name fool you; this guy can bring the lumber as well as anybody in this draft class. Knocking around ACC pitching even more ruthlessly than Collins, Craig has proven everything he needs to offensively in the NCAA. He did have a fairly poor showing in the wood bat Cape Cod League in 2015 (.242/.366/.318), but his clean, powerful swing should play up in the big leagues. There is a chance he runs into contact issues, but overall, he is one of the best pure hitters in the draft. Like Collins, his glove is a question mark, as he is currently a third baseman but may be forced to move to first base if he fails to improve his athleticism. He does have the arm to remain at the hot corner if he can improve his mobility.
10. OF Will Benson (The Westminster Schools, GA)
I rate Benson more highly than most because I love his swing’s potential. As a tall, decently athletic outfielder from the Atlanta area, he gets a lot of Jason Heyward comparisons, and I’d like to throw in my own personal left-handed Justin Upton comp. Benson’s raw power is very real, even with a mechanically flawed swing. He has good bat speed from the left side, but he does not get much extension at any point in his swing, before or after contact. Still, he produces solid power. He has come a long way with incorporating his lower half into his swing, and I think he can make similar strides with that extension problem. At 6’6”, a Will Benson that uses his whole body for his swing could be deadly. He’s been noted as a gifted student in the classroom, which is a bonus for me. Benson is committed Duke University.
11. 3B Josh Lowe (Pope HS, GA)
The top two way talent in the draft, Lowe has a clean left handed swing that produces some significant power. His tall, athletic frame bodes well for future power development, but I think it is notable that a decent portion of his power is generated by an early hip thrust. I am normally a fan of that type of lower body mechanics, especially since it can be seen in the swings of Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson, and our good friend from ten spots up, Mickey Moniak. However, when Lowe gets those hips going, they have just a tiny bit of upward movement in addition to their rotational movement, and this is enough to cause his backside to dip ever so slightly in his swing. It hasn’t caught up to him yet, but he may run into contact issues in the upper minors, where every mechanical flaw is taken advantage of. Defensively, he should have no issues staying at third base, especially considering the fact that he has a right arm capable of unleashing mid 90’s fastballs from the mound. Lowe is committed to Florida State.
12. OF Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt)
Last year’s Vanderbilt team produced the first overall pick in Dansby Swanson, and they have another hitter who could go in the first round this year. Reynolds doesn’t have any eye-popping tools or stats, but he simply hits and hits well. The switch hitter has consistently produced during his three years at Vanderbilt, and his doubles power seems to have turned into home run power this spring. He had a solid summer on the Cape (.346/.470/.395), albeit without much power, but he answered for that by obliterating his own career highs in home runs and slugging percentage for Vandy this spring.
13. IF Nolan Jones (Holy Ghost Prep HS, PA)
A powerful infielder from the Philadelphia area that has been projected at second, third, and shortstop at times, Jones produces a lot of leverage with his big swing. He has a lot of issues with his swing, as it is long and at times unbalanced, but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt as a cold weather high schooler. Despite the issues in his swing, he knows how to hit, and he could be an average defender at second or third base. Jones is committed to the University of Virginia.
14. 3B Drew Mendoza (Lake Minneola HS, FL)
Widely thought of as the toughest sign in this year’s first round talent crop, Mendoza has long been watched as a draft prospect coming out of the Orlando area, generally a hotbed for prep talent. He’s got a clean, linear, left handed swing that produces doubles power right now, and with his lean, 6’4” frame and some pro coaching, he could begin to produce some home run pop. He does get a little off balance at the plate at times with his very long stride, but that is an easy fix. I see him as a future regular at third base, though likely not an All Star. Like Josh Lowe, he is committed to Florida State.
15. 3B Carter Kieboom (Walton HS, GA)
With a very athletic build and solid bloodlines (brother Spencer is a catcher for the Nationals’ AA Harrisburg Senators, brother Trevor is the Georgia Bulldogs’ starting third baseman), Kieboom has a chance to be one of the better hitters in this class. His swing path is long, but I think that is okay because the barrel of the bat stays in the hitting zone throughout nearly the entire swing. He doesn’t get much out of his lower half, but I also have no issue with that. In my opinion, learning to incorporate your lower half is one of the easier adjustments to make for a young hitter, unlike eliminating excess hand movements or changing a swing path. Plus, he has a chance to develop more power once he begins using that lower half more. When it is all said and done, Anthony Rendon could be a possible ceiling. Kieboom is committed to Clemson.
16. OF Alex Kirilloff (Plum HS, PA)
I’m probably lower on Kirilloff than most people in the scouting community, and it’s not that I don’t like Kirilloff as a prospect. He does an excellent job of getting his hands inside the baseball, utilizing a short to it, long through it swing that produces deep line drives. However, I haven’t seen anything from him that justifies putting him in the top half of the first round or really differentiates him from the other top hitters in this class. He has a long stride that alters his eye level significantly as he steps into his swing, with his hands seeming to drop with his body as he falls. Against high school competition, he has quick enough hands that he can bring them back up in time to catch up to the high fastball, but I don’t know how he might fare when that low to mid 80’s stuff he is seeing turns into low to mid 90’s in pro ball. I heard that he played well on the showcase circuit, but all of his hits that I saw on publicly-available video came on low pitches, which his swing is geared to hit. Of course, all prep hitters have their issues, and none of this is to say that I don’t like Kirilloff as a prospect, but I just don’t see him as having proven himself worthy of being better than guys like Jones, Mendoza, or Kieboom. Kirilloff is committed to Liberty University.
17. SS Gavin Lux (Indian Trail Academy, WI)
Wisconsin isn’t exactly known as a baseball talent hotbed; the state’s only major university, the University of Wisconsin, dropped baseball in 1991. However, it is easy to like Gavin Lux, a shortstop from Kenosha with a 70 grade baseball name. He has the ability to stay at shortstop at the next level, and he has more than enough bat to profile there. Although he has a small hitch before he unleashes on the ball, he has a very clean swing for a high schooler and should be somewhat of a high floor player, even if that comes with a low ceiling. Aside from the hitch, where he just twitches a little bit with the bat, Lux also throws his weight at the pitch, which is likely a symptom of him being too power conscious. As a shortstop, he won’t need to hit home runs, and with his clean swing, I see him being able to tone down that early weight transfer and focus on spraying line drives. I did say that he might be a low-ceiling guy, but I think he has a chance to exceed that ceiling. Maybe it’s the fact that there aren’t many shortstops in this draft, or his line drive swing, or maybe it’s just his awesome name (probably his awesome name), but I really like his chances at being an above average shortstop at the big league level. Lux is committed to Arizona State.
18. OF Taylor Trammell (Mount Paran Christian HS, GA)
The Atlanta area is known for its prep talent perhaps more than any metro area in the east, and we’ve already seen Benson, Lowe, and Kieboom on this list. Trammell has perhaps the most helium of any of these players, and he might have the highest ceiling, too. He is extremely athletic, and he might give Buddy Reed a run for his money as the fastest player on this top 20 list (pun intended). He is also a fairly raw, high risk prospect. He has a linear swing right now that produces line drives, though he can get power conscious and begin to dip his backside to generate more power that he doesn’t have...yet. It can be difficult to project these raw, toolsy outfielders, but he has a ceiling of a left handed Adam Jones or Torii Hunter with above average contact and raw power. That said, he has a long way to go to reach that ceiling. Trammell is committed to Georgia Tech.
19. C/1B Matt Thaiss (University of Virginia)
Miami’s Zack Collins isn’t the only power hitting catcher with question marks behind the plate. The University of Virginia has a similar player in Matt Thaiss, though he doesn’t quite match Collins’ overall profile. Like Collins, Thaiss has dominated ACC pitching and led his squad to the NCAA Tournament as a regional host. He has power and hits for contact, with an extremely low strikeout rate in 2016 to go along with double digit home runs. At 5’11”, 197 pounds, he is not very athletic and has almost no projection left, and he has had defensive issues as a catcher. He has manned home plate for the Cavaliers, and some teams have hope that he can stay behind the plate, but that is very much at risk. At the plate, Thaiss’ extremely wide stance gives him a lot of leverage on the ball, though it does cause him to be slow out of the box, which doesn’t help his below average speed. His ceiling has been talked about as something of a Brian McCann, and he has a floor as a decent first baseman.
20. 3B Joe Rizzo (Oakton HS, VA)
I have had the chance to play across from Rizzo on the diamond, as I was an outfielder on the Madison High School team during his sophomore and junior seasons, where his Oakton Cougars met my Madison Warhawks for a game once a year. I have also trained next to him in the batting cages, so I have had multiple in-person looks at Rizzo as a player. The first thing you notice about Rizzo is always his bat; he can crush a ball out of any park, and he has the bat control and batting eye to hit for contact as well. His swing is fairly long, but like Kieboom’s, the bat stays in the hitting zone throughout the swing. His linear swing should produce plenty of line drives to all fields. While the consensus is that he can make it as a big league hitter despite his 5’9” frame, his glove is a gigantic question mark. He is not the most athletic player over at third base, and if he can’t stay there, he may be too short to play first base at 5’9”. The outfield is a possible landing place for him, though he may not run well enough to handle that. One intriguing idea that I heard was a move behind the plate; it may be a longshot, but Rizzo has an excellent work ethic and for some reason, I get the gut feeling that he just might be able to pull it off. Rizzo is committed to the University of South Carolina.
Just missed: Jake Fraley (LSU), Chris Okey (Clemson), Sean Murphy (Wright State)
Sleeper Bonus: C Kyle Hayes (Madison HS, VA)
As far as I know, Hayes isn’t on any team’s radar as a potential draft pick, but I think that could change after a few years of college ball. With a skinny 6’2” frame, he doesn’t look like a catcher, but Hayes has the defensive skills to stay behind the plate no matter what level he reaches. He was my teammate for three years from 2013-2015, and the ball virtually never touched the backstop with him behind the plate. In 2015, he was arguably the most valuable piece on our team when it won the Virginia 6A State Championship. Aside from his plus blocking ability, Hayes has a quick and strong arm, working with pop times regularly around 1.95 and below that also play well for back-picks to bases. As of our last game as teammates in 2015, his bat was well behind his glove, which was the reason that he had gotten little attention from scouts. At the time, he was a contact hitter with below average power, albeit one who consistently squared balls up. I only saw him play twice in 2016, but the overall reports were that his bat improved significantly. It is still behind his glove, and he will most likely always be a glove-first catcher, but his upside is high. His clean swing has routinely produced line drives to all fields, and it is only a matter of him filling out his frame and learning to use his athleticism to drive pitches more consistently before he really breaks out. After some time in the NCAA, I see a very good chance that he continues on the upward trajectory that he is currently on. As a teammate of his, I noticed firsthand that his work ethic was exceptional, and he is always looking for ways to improve on both sides of the ball. None of this is to say that he will be a first round pick or even a top ten rounder come 2019, but his plus glove and arm (with plus-plus potential), coupled with his offensive projection, make him a very intriguing prospect to follow. Hayes is committed to James Madison University.
--Zack Silverman, special to CoverThoseBases.com.
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