Scouting The Stat Line: 2015 First Rounders
It seems the people want breakout prospect speculation. Well, ask and ye shall receive. How about some words about players with barely more than 100 professional plate appearances and little to go on other than amateur scouting reports? That’s about as speculative as it gets.
You’ve probably heard of most or all of these guys since they were just taken in the first round but this will be the first in a series where I take a quick look at how some 2015 draftees are performing in rookie and short-season leagues. I hope it goes without saying that any recent draftee’s stat line should be taken with a mountain of salt. I’ll do my best to incorporate some scouting information but seeing as how most pro scouts are still getting their first looks at these players, public information is still a little sparse. The most prudent thing to do, of course, is to wait until the offseason when the sample sizes are somewhat bigger and more robust scouting reports are available, but time seems to be of the essence for some.
So here you are. I’ll follow this post with some less familiar names next week.
Cornelius Randolph, OF, Philadelphia Phillies (1st round, 10th overall)
The Phillies took some flack for this pick but it’s important to remember that much of the criticism was because of the way his real-life profile adds up. Randolph played shortstop in high school but scouts unanimously believed he’d have to move out of the six hole and, indeed, the Phillies immediately started him in left field when they assigned him to the Gulf Coast League. The shift to the outfield field puts pressure on his bat to carry him but the stick grades highly enough to deliver. In his first 34 professional games, Randolph is showing off the approach and plate coverage he was praised for prior to the draft, walking 21 times while only striking out 24 and making plenty of hard contact. Like almost any prep player, you’ll have to wait to see the power in games but most think Randolph has the bat speed to get there and his 10 doubles to date indicate he possesses present gap pop. The early reports on Randolph are very positive and you should discount most of the immediate post-draft criticism of one of the draft’s youngest and best hitters. We’d always rather have a shortstop in our game but Randolph’s bat will play just fine in the outfield.
Tyler Stephenson, C, Cincinnati Reds (1st round, 11th overall)
Stephenson was the first catcher taken in 2015 and reportedly garnered some number one overall consideration by the Diamondbacks. He would have been a signability pick there but his talent warrants the selection just outside the top ten. Stephenson’s calling card is plus raw power but it comes with concerns about his ability to get to it in games because of a long swing that results in plenty of swing and miss. Stephenson was assigned to the Pioneer League and his early line is encouraging, despite the fact that he hasn’t shown off any of that trademark thump. He’s managed a 17.8 percent strikeout rate in his first 33 games as part of a .283/.363/.367 line. There is still much to prove against advanced pitching but Stephenson is highly likely to stay behind the pate despite his size and if he can maintain an acceptable whiff rate while tapping into some of that plus raw, his dynasty stock will be on the rise.
Trent Clark, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (1st round, 15th overall)
Nearly every scouting report on Clark mentions a grip that is more suited for Pebble Beach than Miller Park but also acknowledges his ability to barrel up the balls regardless of how he holds the bat. Clark was a top ten draft-eligible player on several boards, so the Brewers might have gotten a bit of a discount when they nabbed him with the 15th overall selection. The Brewers assigned Clark to the Arizona League and in addition to a .330/.417/.487 triple-slash in his first 133 plate appearances, he has stolen 12 bases in 15 tries. Clark projects for only average power in the future but the hit tool is advanced for a high schooler and his on-base ability and speed should make him an eventual top of the order hitter and a three-plus category contributor. He may lack the upside some other early prep selections boast but Clark makes up for it with about as much floor as any 18-year-old you can find.
Taylor Ward, C, Los Angeles Angels (1st round, 26th overall)
The Angels’ first round pick was widely panned on draft day, with Ward ranking lower on most outlets’ lists than any of the 25 players picked before him. Few question his ability to catch at the major league level but scouts thought his bat would limit Ward to a backup role. He walked as many times as he struck out in his sophomore and junior seasons at Fresno State and hit .304/.413/.486 in 2015 but scouts still placed 40-45 grades on his hit and power tools. In his first stop, Ward destroyed the Pioneer League with a .349/.489/.458 triple-slash and four home runs in 32 games. The Angels recently promoted Ward to the Midwest League and I’m interested to see if he can continue to hold up at the plate. Ward is still well behind Stephenson and Rays’ second rounder Chris Betts when it comes to dynasty value but if he can compile more at-bats like his first hundred, he may be able to move those grades up a half-step.
Chris Shaw, 1B, San Francisco Giants (1st round, 31st overall)
First base prospects are generally hard to get excited about but Shaw offers enough left-handed power that he may just sneak on to dynasty radars. The Massachusetts native and Boston College product led the Cape Cod League in home runs last summer and popped 11 home runs in a 2015 junior season that was shortened by a broken hamate bone. It’s a good sign, then, that he’s showing some power in his professional debut, as he’s hit four long balls in 23 Northwest League games. Shaw did play some corner outfield in college but his foot speed isn’t good enough to handle the grass at the professional level and the Giants have played him exclusively at first base and DH. He’ll need to mash to have fantasy relevance.
Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (1st round, 32nd overall)
Like Clark above, Hayes is a hit-over-power prep player with a high floor. That may be unusual for a first round hot corner prospect but there’s much to like here besides the name. His father Charlie had a long major league career, so there is pedigree and Hayes has already shown solid makeup by putting in the work to answer questions about whether his big body would allow him to stay at third base, where he can be a plus defender thanks primarily to a big arm. That those questions existed at all when he was a 17-year-old might be a warning sign and he’ll have to stay on top of it but his big frame also suggests he could grow into some power in the future. Hayes is off to a hot start in the Gulf Coast League, hitting .379/.479/.442 in his first 29 games with more walks than strikeouts. He’s also swiped four bags but don’t expect that to be a part of his game.
Christin Stewart, OF, Detroit Tigers (1st round, 34th overall)
Stewart is another left fielder who will have to rely on his bat to carry him to the big leagues. His profile at the dish is similar to Shaw’s, perhaps lagging Shaw in raw power but making up for it with a little more feel to hit. Stewart was the most impressive hitter on 2014’s USA Baseball team and swatted 15 home runs in SEC play in 2015, so he doesn’t lack for on-field track record. He’s been equally impressive across three levels early in his pro career. Stewart overwhelmed GCL pitchers in a short stay, then was promoted from the New-York Penn League to the Midwest League despite a .245/.322/.490 line and 30 percent strikeout rate in the former. Stewart is holding his own at Low-A though, slashing .282/.357/.388 in nearly 100 plate appearances there. He figures to remain in low-A for the rest of 2015 and most of 2016 but I like Stewart as a player you can likely acquire on the cheap because of the dull buzz that typically accompanies late first rounders.