Check out Zack's Top 20 position players in the 2016 MLB Draft here.
High school arms are the strength of this draft, and we see that with nine of the first sixteen of the players on this list coming from the prep ranks. The college arms have been largely disappointing this season, but quite a few have taken big steps forward this year to put themselves in first round conversations. Here are the top 20 arms.
1. LHP Jason Groome (Barnegat HS, NJ)
It would be tough to argue that Groome is not the most talented player in this year’s draft. The consensus is pretty much set on him. He throws a mid-90’s fastball, a devastating curveball, and a decent changeup, all from a very simple, repeatable delivery. The 6’6” left hander is also extremely young for his class, as he won’t turn 18 until August 23rd. All these positives scream “first overall pick,” but I have heard repeated concerns about his makeup and work ethic from multiple sources (and for different reasons, too), leading me to believe there is a chance he burns out and never reaches his potential. However, he is extremely young, and he has plenty of time to mature. I have heard numerous Clayton Kershaw comparisons, though Groome likely will never have Kershaw’s world-famous curveball. Groome is committed to Vanderbilt.
2. RHP Riley Pint (St. Thomas Aquinas HS, KS)
For some reason, the state of Kansas decided to crank out its best high school baseball players all in the same year, and Riley Pint leads that attack. A projectable, 6’4” right hander with an electric arm, he has an outside chance at becoming the first right handed high school pitcher in history to go first overall. To call his arm electric would be an understatement, and I think Scott Coleman over at SB Nation said it best when he described Pint’s pitches as “lightning bolts.” Pint sits in the mid to upper 90’s with his fastball, reaching as high as 102 (!!!). We haven’t seen an arm like this since Tyler Kolek went second overall in 2014, and Pint is of the same caliber. His curveball is inconsistent, but flashes plus with its two plane break. His changeup may be his best secondary offering, as it has both the typical tumble as well as significant armside fade. He struggles with command now due to a difficult to repeat, high three quarters delivery, but if he can harness all of his stuff, we may have a Felix Hernandez on our hands. Pint is committed to Louisiana State.
3. LHP A.J. Puk (University of Florida)
Puk is clearly the top college arm in this draft, and college arms typically do well on draft day. Scouts love the polish, signability, and ability to move through the minors quickly that generally come with this type of player. Mark Appel (2013), Gerrit Cole (2011), Stephen Strasburg (2009), and David Price (2007) have all been recent college arms that became first overall picks, and there is a very good chance the Puk is next in line. I find it very unlikely that he falls to number six, but this is not a mock draft, and this is where I rank him. Puk is 6’7”, left handed, and throws in the upper 90’s with a devastating disappearing slider. He’s working on a changeup, though he’s relied mostly on that fastball/slider combination. Unfortunately, his command is less than stellar, leading to a lack of performance in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), the premier conference in college baseball. His command issues likely stem from two sources; his long levers (remember, he’s 6’7”) that he looks like he is still growing into, as well as a kink in his delivery where he reaches all the way down past his belt before coming back up and throwing.
4. RHP Forrest Whitley (Alamo Heights HS, TX)
After Groome and Pint, there are many players contending for the number three high school pitcher, including Ian Anderson, Braxton Garrett, Matt Manning, and Joey Wentz. While most sources opt for Anderson or Garrett, I personally like Whitley. The 6’7” right hander has really grown into his frame this year, dialing his fastball into the mid 90’s with downhill plane and lateral cutting action. His curveball jumps out of his hand at this point, but it is a big breaker with serious 12-6 movement. If he can refine it even a little bit, it will be at least a plus pitch. He has also shown the ability to toss a solid changeup with some fade. Lastly, he gets bonus points for his name. Whitley is committed to Florida State.
5. RHP Dakota Hudson (Mississippi State)
Coming into this spring, Hudson was a high profile arm who had failed to produce any kind of results or consistency out of the Mississippi State bullpen during his freshman (4.67 ERA, 10/8 K/BB) and sophomore (4.32 ERA, 26/11 K/BB) seasons. Scouts loved the big arm and plus stuff, but he had never proven himself as a reliever, let alone as a starting pitcher. He answered all of those questions in 2016 (2.29 ERA, 101/29 K/BB as of this write-up), dominating SEC competition with his mid 90’s fastball, a power slider in the upper 80’s, and an up and coming curveball and changeup. Even the curve flashes plus at times. The only thing keeping Hudson from ranking even higher is his lack of a track record beyond 2016. Of course, Hudson gets a 70 in the all-important name-tool category.
6. RHP Cal Quantrill (Stanford)
If Quantrill was healthy, he might be battling with A.J. Puk for the best college pitcher in the class. However, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in 2016 due to last season’s Tommy John surgery, so projecting Quantrill is all contingent on his return. He has harnessed his full repertoire of pitches, which includes a low to mid 90’s fastball with diagonal plane, a sinking changeup, and a couple of breaking balls with fairly hard break. As a Nationals fan, I might be biased because of the our success with Lucas Giolito, but the success rate of Tommy John surgery is always climbing, and Quantrill could easily develop into one of the best arms in this year’s draft.
7. RHP Connor Jones (University of Virginia)
Here, we see the first pitchability college arm. Jones, at 6’3”, 200 pounds, is physically maxed out, and with low strikeout rates this year, looks like he doesn’t have much projection in him. However, he’s pretty good for where he is. With a running and sinking low 90’s fastball, a hard breaking slider, and a useable curveball and changeup, Jones’ command of his full arsenal has enabled him to get excellent results in the ACC. He projects as a back-end starter, but one with relatively little risk. He won’t ever be close to an ace, but he certainly won’t bust in the minors.
8. RHP Matt Manning (Sheldon HS, CA)
Manning has been a big time riser in the draft this year, as his fastball has added velocity and his breaking ball has improved considerably. The 6’6” right hander, who is also a star basketball player, uses his long arms and legs for an interesting delivery. After reaching the top of his windup, he initially begins extending towards the right handed batter’s box before pulling himself back on line to the plate. This movement helps him get everything out of his long frame without expending too much effort. He throws an angled, mid 90’s fastball with an inconsistent curveball that flashes plus at times. Word is that his curve has improved considerably this year. He is also working on a changeup. With a projectable frame, he could sit in the upper 90’s with his fastball when it’s all said and done, but it remains to be seen if he can be consistent with his windup and build his control to hit his spots consistently. Manning is committed to Loyola Marymount for both baseball and basketball.
9. LHP Joey Wentz (Shawnee Mission East HS, KS)
The second big Kansas prep player is Joey Wentz. At 6’5” with a strong build, he looks the part of a future big league starting pitcher. He should his considerable strength when he launched a 543 foot home run (with a metal, non-BBCOR bat) over the right-center field scoreboard at Great American Ballpark while touring the showcase circuit as a hitter with a dead arm. Arm healthy now, he has been firing running, angled, low to mid 90’s fastballs with a mechanically sound delivery. He has one of the better changeups in the class, and his curveball has good shape and hard break. Right now, that break is relatively early and therefore easy to pick up, but if he can develop it, he is a potential number two starter. As of now, he looks like a lock to start anyways. Wentz is committed to the University of Virginia.
10. RHP Jordan Sheffield (Vanderbilt University)
If you like schools that crank out first round picks, than Vanderbilt is your go-to. After pitchers Carson Fulmer (8th overall) and Walker Buehler (24th) were taken in the first round last year, Jordan Sheffield will be their top pitcher drafted this year. At six feet tall and 185 pounds, he doesn’t look like your typical first round pitcher. However, he gets everything he can out of that small frame, consistently cranking fastballs in the mid 90’s with a power breaking ball and a changeup that is coming along. Scouts would love to project him as a starter with three quality pitches, but his small frame and high effort delivery could be in the way. If he can’t start at the higher levels, he can fall back on being a late innings reliever or closer.
11. LHP Braxton Garrett (Florence HS, AL)
Garrett has possibly the best curveball in the high school class, and his low 90’s fastball has boosted his stock this spring. Though he throws across his body a little bit, he has an easy and efficient delivery that should help his velocity continue to climb as he strengthens his frame. Aside from that, nothing really stands out with Garrett. He is not particularly exciting as a high-ceiling prospect, but he has a fairly high floor and should be a safe bet to be at least a back-end starter. Like Groome, Garrett is committed to Vanderbilt.
12. RHP Kevin Gowdy (Santa Barbara HS, CA)
Gowdy is a talented, projectable right hander from Santa Barbara, and for some reason, he has slipped on draft boards this spring. Gowdy stands at 6’4” with plenty of room to add good weight, and his fastball is already in the low 90’s with some running life. His changeup is among the best in the high school class, with some lateral diving movement. His slider is inconsistent at this point, but it has the potential to be an above average pitch as he learns to repeat it. His delivery is fairly effortless, and with his solid three pitch mix and above average command, he should be as much a lock to start as any high school right hander. Gowdy is committed to UCLA.
13. LHP Eric Lauer (Kent State University)
Eric Lauer quietly put up one of the greatest college pitching seasons in recent memory. He finished the regular season at 10-2 with a 0.69 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP in a fairly weak Mid-America Conference (MAC), striking out 125 batters in 104 innings and tossing a no-hitter against Bowling Green. Though he might be similar to Connor Jones in that he does not necessarily have a high ceiling, Lauer’s utter domination of the MAC, excellent strikeout to walk ratio (125 to 28 in 104 innings), and four average to above average pitches make him a safe bet for a back-end starter. His fastball only sits in the low 90’s, but he has two solid breaking balls (a curveball and a slider) and his changeup is also a useable big league pitch. Overall, he projects as a back-end starter, and it is very unlikely that he gets stuck in the bullpen.
14. RHP Ian Anderson (Shenendehowa HS, NY)
I’m not quite sure what is harder, hitting against Ian Anderson or spelling Shenendehowa correctly. Anderson throws in the low to mid 90’s fastball from a medium-effort delivery. His slider has a chance to become a plus pitch, but it is very inconsistent right now and flattens out regularly. He has been one of the tougher first round talents to evaluate due to the short upstate-New York season as well as an oblique injury at the beginning of the season, so he is a high risk pick, which caused me to drop him farther than most lists have him. Like his slider, his changeup and command need work. If it all comes together for Anderson like many scouts think it will, he could has top of the rotation potential. Like Groome and Garrett, Anderson is committed to Vanderbilt.
15. RHP Robert Tyler (University of Georgia)
The Bulldogs’ righty has been inconsistent this year, but when he’s going right, he has one of the most electric arms in this year’s college crop. He throws fairly easily in the mid 90’s, and can touch triple digits when he reaches back and cuts one loose. He also has a big breaking curveball that he is yet to harness consistently, but he does have an excellent floating changeup that plays very well off his hard heater. His delivery is fairly difficult to repeat, and coupled with his inconsistency on the mound, he is likely headed for the bullpen. His drafting team will give him a chance to try to start though, and Tyler has some of the highest upside in this year’s college pitching crop, perhaps behind only Puk and Hudson.
16. RHP Jared Horn (Vintage HS, CA)
Another hard throwing right hander is Jared Horn, a northern California high schooler from Napa. While I think it is highly unlikely that he can start in pro ball due to his high-effort delivery, Horn throws in the mid-90’s with a couple of quality breaking pitches and a solid changeup, meaning he has a good chance to develop into a dominant, back-end reliever with a full arsenal. If he somehow manages to stay in the rotation despite the high effort delivery, he has a very high ceiling because he has the arsenal to pull it off. Horn is committed to the University of California.
17. RHP Alec Hansen (University of Oklahoma)
Hansen is one of the more polarizing prospects this year. Coming into the season, he was considered to be one of the top pitching prospects in the entire draft, with a chance to even go first overall. His hard running, upper 90’s fastball, coupled with a pair of above average breaking balls in a slider and a curveball and all coming from a projectable, 6’7” frame, caused scouts to project him as a future ace. However, aside from injury, 2016 could not have gone much worse. Over 14 games (10 starts), he put up a 5.40 ERA and a 1.65 WHIP, walking 39 batters in 51.2 innings and losing his rotation spot entirely. While his long levers help him generate extremely high velocities and plenty of deception, they also inhibit his command. Part of the reason for his inability to throw strikes in 2016 was his failure to repeat his delivery and arm slot with any sort of consistency, and pro coaches will hope that they can fix those issues. I would not quite give up on him yet, as hsi premium stuff is just too much to pass up on once the first round closes.
18. RHP Cody Sedlock (University of Illinois)
Last year, Illinois put together one of the best teams in its history, winning 27 straight games behind Tyler Jay (5-2, 1.08 ERA, 0.70 WHIP), Kevin Duchene (11-2, 1.75 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), and David Kerian (16 HR, 52 RBI, .367 AVG). All three of those guys are gone, but Cody Sedlock has risen to fill the void. After a big showing on the Cape, Sedlock came back to Urbana-Champaign and put up a 2.49 ERA while striking out 116 batters (a school record) in 101.1 innings, putting himself squarely in the first round discussion. Sedlock won’t wow you with his stuff, but he has a hard sinker in the low 90’s with a slider, curve, and changeup to keep hitters off balance. He likely won’t put up big strikeout totals in the bigs like he did in the Big 10, but he will induce weak contact as a mid rotation or back-end starter.
19. RHP Zack Burdi (University of Louisville)
Louisville has had somewhat of a dynasty at the closer’s position over the past few years, with Nick Burdi saving 34 games with a 0.62 ERA from 2013-2014 and his little brother Zack saving 19 games with a 1.44 ERA from 2015-2016. Nick was drafted 46th overall by the Twins in 2014, and Zack could go a little bit earlier this year. He can hit 100 with his fastball, and he typically sits in the upper 90’s with run. His changeup also grades out as at least above average, as he throws it right around 90 miles per hour with some fade. Though his slider is not a wipeout pitch, it has solid movement and plays well off of that 99 mile per hour fastball. Some evaluators think that he can start at the big league level, but I am skeptical of that notion because a) he hasn’t started a single game at the college level, and b) his delivery is fairly difficult to repeat. The fact that he hasn’t started for Louisville is more due to the talent in the Cardinals’ rotation than Burdi’s own skill, but transitioning from relief to starting can be difficult. Burdi’s pitching motion (he throws from the stretch) is very interesting because he actually sets up with his front foot facing second base, almost turning his back to the hitter, before coming back around and firing the pitch. Because of all the rotational movement, I see it as unlikely that he can repeat that delivery over the course of six, seven, eight innings.
20. RHP T.J. Zeuch (University of Pittsburgh)
We finish off this list with four straight college right handers. I actually got the opportunity to watch Zeuch pitch in person against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and though he wasn’t quite up to par with many of the scouting reports I’ve read online, he was still very impressive. Standing at 6’7”, he does not have pitching motion-repeatability issues that other tall pitchers often run into. Instead, he consistently uses his long arms to create a steep, downhill plane for his mid 90’s fastball with running life. He tosses a slider in the mid to upper 80’s, which had short but sharp bite when I saw it. His curveball, thrown in the upper 70’s, seemed loopy at times, but I think he can tighten it up and make it at least a useable pitch at the big league level. He also has a changeup, though he barely threw it when I saw him. He should have no problem staying in the rotation with his full arsenal and easy delivery, and his success will depend on his ability to locate his slider and develop his curve and changeup. He gets hurt when he leaves pitches up, and his hard but short breaking slider will either play up or down depending on how well he locates it.
Just missed: Justin Dunn (Boston College), Alex Speas (McEachern HS), Logan Shore (Florida).
--Zack Silverman, special to coverthosebases.com.