Baseball’s first year player draft starts on June 5th and while it doesn’t carry the same national buzz that the NFL draft does, for prospect hounds, it’s a must watch.
The top of the draft is heavy on pitching, particularly high school pitching but light on positional players. While the draft doesn’t appear to have an impact talent like Buxton, Correa, Bryant, or Gray, it is substantially deeper than the past two drafts and will provide value for major league organizations well into the second and third rounds.
We have listed 10 of the top players that will go off the board and their potential fantasy impact. In addition, we have included two of our personal favorites that might be running a little under-the-radar.
Top three players
Brady Aiken (High School, LHP)
Short: 17-year-old high school lefty that has been comp’d by some to Clayton Kershaw when he was drafted.
He has a projectable 6-foot-3, 210 pound frame that coupled with his age have many evaluators excited about his future. Both his fastball and curve have taken a big step-up this year with his fastball now sitting consistently 92-93 MPH and his curve ball grading out as a future plus pitch. This is what teams like to see in a kid…increase fastball velocity in their senior year of two to three MPH. Many believe there is still more in the tank for more.
Fantasy Impact: The comment about Kershaw should grab your attention. For me, he has the highest upside in the draft and even though his stuff should allow him to move quickly, he might not see the big leagues until 2017 at the earliest.
Tyler Kolek (High School, RHP)
Short: Kolek stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 245 pounds and looks more like a college lineman or college power forward than a baseball player.
Kolek’s fastball sits 96-98 MPH and has hit 102 multiple times this spring. He uses his body well to get downward plane and when combined with natural sink, induces a lot of ground balls. His best secondary pitch is a slider that sits 86-88 MPH and is flashing future plus potential. His delivery needs works as he throws across his body; which allows his stuff to play up but won’t be good on his shoulder long-term.
With that glowing report, there are a number of red flags. There’s never been a high school pitcher drafted in the top three of a class with the physicality and premium velocity of Kolek. With the concern about young pitchers throwing premium velocity at the top of everyone’s mind, it’s a concern. Throw in the fact that he throws across his body, and Kolek could drop come draft time.
Fantasy Impact: A kid that throws that hard could bring massive strikeouts to the fantasy game either as a starter or potential closer.
Carlos Rodon (College, LHP)
Short: A college lefty from North Carolina State that has lost his luster from 12-months ago.
This time last year, Carlos Rodon was being touted as the best left-handed pitching prospect since David Price. His fastball was touching the mid to upper 90’s and his slider was viewed as a big-league-ready plus offering. Some evaluators even speculated that he could break camp in 2015 as a member of a major league starting rotation.
However, things haven’t gone as well for the Cuban-born lefty in 2014. The fastball velocity and command was off in the early going and his slider, that was once considered a plus major league pitch, had dropped a full grade. One evaluator told me that he didn’t think Rodon was a top 10 pick. In March, the fastball velocity came back and the slider improved but he’s not showed the consistent arsenal he had last year. Reasons for the inconsistencies have ranged from being overworked in college to being bored.
Fantasy Impact: I’m still a big fan of Carlos Rodon and believe he has top-of-the-rotation potential. I don’t think his ceiling is David Price but he could slot into a rotation as a solid number two starter; and do it quickly.
Best positional players
Alex Jackson (High School, C/OF)
Short: An advanced high school bat with plus power potential.
Alex Jackson has caught helium this Spring and is now projected to be drafted as one of the top seven picks. In fact, the Astros have been linked to him at number one. His calling card is plus to plus-plus raw power but even as a high schooler, he shows great plate awareness and can really hit. He’s also a right-handed batter and right-handed power is at a premium.
While some evaluators believe Jackson will stay at catcher others believe that he should be moved to right field to accelerate his path to the majors. The Nationals did this successfully with Bryce Harper after the 2010 draft. However, Jackson does not have the same type of tools as Harper. The power is similar but the athleticism of Harper far outpaces that of Jackson.
Fantasy Impact: The potential to hit 30 home runs in the middle of the lineup with a .280 batting average should get a fantasy owners attention. In fact, Jackson might have the highest and safest fantasy upside of any player. Yes, you might have to wait a while, but it could be a nice pay off.
Nick Gordon (High School, SS)
Short: Son of Tom Gordon and brother of Dee Gordon and praised for his makeup and baseball instincts.
Nick Gordon is a different player than his brother in that he’s stronger and a better defender but doesn’t have a chance to steal 50 bases like Dee. However, he could be a plus defender at short with double-digit home run power and 20-30 stolen bases potential.
Fantasy Impact: Gordon could move quickly through a team’s organization on the back of his plus defensive play. His bat will take longer but a 10/30 production up-the-middle could be very nice.
Michael Conforto (College, OF)
Short: In a draft light on impact college bats, Conforto offers a great hit tool but with question marks about his future power potential.
As a junior at Oregon State, Conforto slashed .351/.506/.557 with an impressive 35K/51BB strikeout-to-walk ratio. His slugging percentage as well as his home run production has been dropping since his freshman year but his pull swing indicates that he could eventually have above-average power at the highest level. There is also concern about his defensive position as he lacks the foot speed and arm to play anything but left field. Will he hit enough to make that viable? Time will tell.
Fantasy Impact: In fantasy we care about offense and Conforto should fit the bill. He has no speed so will likely profile as a Ryan Ludwick type of player. In other words, a nice fantasy player but not a stud.
Injured players but first round talent
Jeff Hoffman (College, RHP)
Short: An advanced college right-hander out of East Carolina became a statistic on the Tommy John Surgery tote board.
At the start of the college season, many evaluators put Hoffman as the Top player on their board. He has a great projectable and athletic body at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, a fastball that sits 93-95 MPH and can touch higher, a tailing 2-seamer that is even a better pitch and a curve ball and change-up that both flash plus. He looked nearly big league ready but had Tommy John Surgery in March and has become a huge wildcard for the draft.
He’ll be drafted and will sign and five years from now could be viewed as the steal of the draft. Yes, there is risk but the reward is also very high.
Fantasy Impact: If this story looks and sounds like Lucas Giolito, Part 2, you’re are thinking the same thing I am. The talent projects him as a top-of-the-rotation arm and a fantasy owner willing to gamble in their draft could benefit greatly. Of course, it’s also a huge risk as the downside is he never fully recovers.
Erick Feede (College, RHP)
Short: Freede doesn’t have the upside of fellow TJS survivor, Jeff Hoffman, but they will be forever linked.
At 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds, Erick Freede represents tall and lanky. He has good stuff with a fastball that sits 92-93 MPH with a nice slider and change-up. He also had TJS in the spring but still is expected to go in the first round. The upside isn’t what Hoffman provides, but he has the chance to be a solid number three major league starter.
Fantasy Impact: He’s your prototypical mid-rotation starter with the chance for league average ratios and seven strikeouts per nine. While I might be willing to take a risk in a fantasy draft on Hoffman, I’m likely passing on Feede.
Players close to being big league ready
Kyle Freeland (College, LHP)
Short: Some evaluators think that Kyle Freeland provides the best value in the draft.
Freeland has a nice arsenal that consists of a fastball that sits 90-91 MPH with a hard slider (more of a cutter) and a traditional slider that sits 84-85 MPH. He throws a ton of strikes and posted a crazy 128K/13BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 99.1 IP in Evansville. While it’s not a top-of-the-rotation profile, he could move quickly and be in the big leagues sometime in 2015; depending on who drafts him.
Fantasy Impact: While the arsenal is not as advanced as Michael Wacha, the pitchability is similar to what Wacha showed and therefore Freeland should move quickly. The upside is a number two put he’ll likely slide into a fantasy rotation as a solid number 3/4 fantasy starter with 7-8 strikeouts per nine.
Aaron Nola (College, RHP)
Short: Another in a long line of advanced college pitchers from LSU.
Aaron Nola is not a big guy and stands 6-foot-1 while weighing 190 pounds. His arsenal consists of a fastball that sits 90-93 MPH and an above average curve ball that gets a lot of swing and misses. The arsenal plays up because of funk and deception in his delivery.
Nola slings the ball from a low three-quarters slot, not quite side-arm but it definitely comes at a hitter from a funky angle. Consequently, batters have trouble squaring up his pitches and wind up beating the ball into the ground; in particularly right-handed batters. He’s getting strikeouts and limiting walks with a 134K/27BB strikeout-to-walk ratio in 116.1 IP.
Fantasy Impact: There is injury concern with Nola long-term but with the funk in his delivery, he could confound minor league hitters and move through a system quickly. He’s also that guy, ala Alex Wood that could have early success in the majors before falling back into a number three starter.
Our personal favorites
Touki Toussant (High School, RHP)
Short: 80-grade name but also has an electric arm
At this point, Touki is a thrower without a ton of polish in his craft. The fastball is a monster pitch that sits in the mid-90’s and can touch higher. Sources have put a 70 future grade on his curve ball. He’s also uber-athletic with a 6-foot-2, 180 pound wiry build.
While the package is electric, it’s also sushi raw. However, I always bet on the athlete with the great arm and therefore, I’m very high on Touki.
Fantasy Impact: The ultimate high risk/high reward prospect. He has the upside of an ace or a high-end closer but might not make it out of Double-A.
Brandon Downes (College, OF)
Short: Downes will be drafted on the second day when nobody is paying attention. However, take note…this guy can play.
Downes looks the part of a big leaguer at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and in March was one of the hottest hitters in college. However, a wrist injury caused him to miss time and his draft stock dropped. However, he has nice bat speed, great instincts, and natural bat-to-ball skills that gives him the ceiling of a first division player. I’ve been following Downes since he was a junior in high school from New Jersey and believe the talent is there.
Fantasy Impact: Downes is the kind of player that could become a solid contributor to your fantasy team. A 20/20 ceiling with a .280 batting average is not out of the question.