Sunday, January 17, 2016

Lifting the Lid on the 2016 Draft

stanforddaily.com photo
  It may be mid January, and the upcoming baseball season may only be little more than a faint distant whisper to those of us in Southern Ontario, but it's coming just the same.
  South of the border, college baseball season opens in late February, while high school seasons begin to open in early March in the southern states and makes its way north, all of which means that it's not too early to look at the preliminary rankings of prospects for the June MLB draft.
   These rankings will change considerably, of course, as the college and high school season progress, and we don't know a lot about what will happen when the Blue Jays turn comes up at #23 at this early point.
   The Jays actually have 3 of the first 65 picks in this lottery - two of their own, and the 57th pick for failing to come to terms with their 2nd round choice last year, Florida HS P Brady Singer.

   While some players will drop in the rankings, and others will catch a heavy dose of helium and rise up them, the top of the draft is fairly clear at the moment.  While there isn't a consensus number 1 pick, several players, including a pair of LHP's (Florida's A.J. Puk, and Florida High Schooler Jason Groome), and a brace of RHP's (Alec Hansen of Oklahoma, and Kansas HS Riley Pint), and Louisville OF Corey Ray have for the time being separated themselves from the top of the class. Since those players will likely not be around, barring injury or poor performance, come the Blue Jays turn in the first round, we'll focus our attention on a group of players in the coming weeks who have been ranked between 20-30 by sources such as MLB Pipeline, and Baseball America (once their high school list comes out).

   For now, here are some names to keep an eye on:

Cal Quantrill, RHP Stanford
   At the outset of the last NCAA season,  the son of former Jay Paul Quantrill was considered one of the top sophomores in the country, and was touted as a possible top of the 1st round pick.  A torn UCL necessitated Tommy John surgery in March,
    Quantrill was chosen by the Yankees in the 26th round of the 2013 draft, but opted to attend Stanford.  He was named Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, and made the Louisville Slugger and Perfect Game All-Freshman teams, while leading Stanford in Innings Pitched and Strikeouts.  He was the first freshman to start on Opening Day for Stanford since Mike Mussina in 1988.  After the college season, he was ranked the top Coastal Summer League prospect by BA.

   Quantrill has a four-pitch mix, all of which are projected to be at least MLB average.  His fastball sits in the low 90s, and he commands the lower part of the strike zone well with it.  His curve is ranked as being ahead of his slider for now, and his change has good fade and sink.  Scouts laud his feel for pitching and mound presence.
   At this point, Quantrill is an obvious question mark.  He still projects as a first rounder, but it's still unknown where he'll land.  He won't be at the one year mark after surgery when Stanford opens its season on February 19th, so his return to competition may be delayed.
   Stanford plays their home games at one of the most picturesque parks in all of college baseball, Klein Field, on the Stanford campus.  Many Cardinal games will be carried on the Pac-12 network, so those of you who are skilled at finding live streams can have a first-hand look at Quantrill when he gets back in action.
   The ties here are obvious:  dad Paul is a Blue Jays pitching consultant, and Cal, who like his dad grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario in Port Hope, a 75-minute drive east of Toronto.  Cal played his high school sports at Trinity College in his hometown, and has worn the Maple Leaf internationally on several occasions, winning a silver medal with the U18 team at the 2012 Worlds in South Korea.  At 6"3"/185. he has the long, lean, and athletic profile that the Blue Jays like in a pitcher.  If he picks up where he left off after his freshman year, it's likely he won't be around past the first dozen picks.  Because his season may start a bit later, and he may struggle with his command as many TJ patients do in their first few weeks/months back, he also may be in a perfect spot for Toronto to scoop the native son up.
 How and Why the Jays Might Pick Him:  
1.  He was an outstanding prospect before TJ
2.  Profiles as a starter
3.  Lots of projection left
4.  Advanced feel for pitching
5.  Bloodlines
6.  Stock may not fall so much as he may not have enough time to move up

Kyle Funkhouser RHP Louisville
   The 2014 U.S. Collegiate team was one of the strongest in recent years, featuring three players (Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman, and Carson Fullmer) who would be drafted in the Top 10 the following June.  Ranking ahead of all of them at the end of that summer was Funkhouser.  During his sophomore year, he set a school record for wins, and almost matched previous school high totals for innings and K's.
   A late-season slump and a failure to drop his signing bonus saw him drop to the Dodgers with the 35th pick, and after the two sides were unable to come to an agreement, Funkhouser decided to return to school for his senior year.
   Funkhouser's control has been labeled below-average for a first-round arm, but that may be due to the movement on his four-seamer.  His two-seamer sits at 91-92, but it has great sinking action, and grades as a possible plus pitch.  He shows a four-pitch assortment that projects him to be at least a mid-rotation starter.
   At 6'2"/235, Funkhouser may not have the same body type as Quantrill's but he did not miss a start over his last two college seasons.  He has a lot to prove this season, and even if he doesn't live up to the potential he flashed as a sophomore, some organization may look at that durability and mix of pitches with the idea of drafting him as something of a project.
How and Why the Jays Might Pick Him:
1.  The philosophy may have changed with the departure of Alex Anthopoulos, but this is an amateur scouting department that likes to roll the dice.
2.  Solid innings-eater build
3.  Blue Jays minor league instructors may be able to harness his potential

Forrest Whitley RHP Texas HS
   Whitley grew almost six inches during his freshman year of high school, and added about 15 mph to his fastball.  The 6'7" San Antonian has the velocity (95) and developing secondaries to profile as a starter, and has that feel for pitching that allows him to turn a lineup over.
  Some scouts feel that his relative lack of athleticism will keep him from being a top of the draft kind of prospect, but there's a ton of projection here, if  the Blue Jays are in that kind of mood.
How and Why the Jays Might Pick Him:
1.  If they survey the prospect landscape after Whitley and come away unimpressed, here's a player worth bringing along slowly
2.  The lack of athleticism knock may drop him down some draft boards
3.  The Jays have had an excellent track record of re-shaping the bodies of young pitchers.

   The likelihood of any of the above being chosen by the Jays is a longshot.  The nature of scouting being what it is, you could look at 20 sets or rankings and come away with 20 completely different lists.  At the moment, these are three names that seem to slot into that 20-20 tier, and gives me something to follow in the coming weeks.

 

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