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Stock Report: Corner Infielders

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Corner infielders aren’t very plentiful in the 2010 draft class. The more accurate statement is that quality corner infielders aren’t very plentiful in the 2010 draft class. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to find, though. A player such as Zack Cox would be sought after in any draft class, though maybe not as highly as he is in this year’s class due to the lack of hitting available.

Enter my first stock up/stock down column of the spring. It’s getting to be that time, folks. Today is two months until day one of the draft. There are a lot of games to be played between now and then, but not as much time as you think. There are 61 days to go, which is just under 9 weeks. Teams are starting to really formulate their ideas, and though there’s a lot of action left, players from warm weather states have pretty much had their chance to make a big national impact. As cold weather states warm up for playing temperatures, crosscheckers will head north, taking that limited time to evaluate the cold weather players that could make a big impact.

Knowing these things, let’s jump into the first installment. Corner infielders are expected to hit. There should be no doubt about that fact. Those corner infielders listed as having their stock going up do just that. I’ll place the caveat that stock is relative to where they were entering the season, since I haven’t written a column like this since then. Some players are hot as of late, some were hot earlier, but their overall production is up, both in terms of pure numbers and in terms of tools/skills. The players here are listed by their likely future pro position, not necessarily their current position, so that is why you’ll see a few names that stand out as out of place. These positions reflect the scouting community’s consensus for the future, so that is the reason.

Without any further explanation, here are the ten corner infielders that have seen their stock swing so far this spring (listed in alphabetical order):

Stock Up

Nick Castellanos, 3B, Archbishop McCarthy HS (FL): I think I was a little early to the Castellanos bandwagon, as there wasn’t true scouting consensus about his value entering the spring. Some teams saw him as first round material, while others saw a future first baseman without enough raw power for the position. While the answers about his fielding haven’t been answered definitively, Castellanos has flat-out hit this spring. He is showing an advanced eye, plus raw power, and a plus hit tool, and he should be a middle of the order force in the long run. He’s gone from possible late first rounder to possible mid first rounder, and that’s agreed upon more now than it was a couple months ago.

Derek Dietrich, 3B, Georgia Tech: Though Dietrich is a current shortstop, I haven’t met a single scout in my experience at Georgia Tech games that wants to keep him at short. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but those who want to keep him at short aren’t part of the consensus. Dietrich has had a number of late-inning showcases at third in blowouts, and he’s shown the ability to be an above-average defender there, despite having slowed down considerably since high school. He still has a plus arm, and he’ll stick at third. At the plate, I was very critical of Dietrich early on, and that was echoed back to me in one particular conversation I had at the ballpark in early March. The scout didn’t like Dietrich’s swing or mindset at the plate, but it seems that has turned around the last month. After trying to pull everything for the first few weeks, Dietrich has calmed down and gone with his strengths, spraying the ball around the field and showing power to all fields. It’s hard to get pitches by him now with his new approach, and that has been refreshing to scouts that have been frustrated by a waste of natural talent for the better part of a year. He’s sneaking quickly up into the late first round conversation, and he’s more likely to land in the supplemental first round.

Joe Leonard, 3B, Pittsburgh: I received a question about Leonard in a chat about a month ago, and I answered that most of the questions about Leonard aren’t about his defense, but about his bat. He’s started to answer those questions, and his stock has been rising as a result. He’s putting up a strong .432/.496/.649 slash line so far, while continuing to play above-average defense. There’s also hope for continued development in the power department, as he’s still a tall, skinny hitter at the plate, though he’s matured over the last 12 months in his frame. He’s worked hard on his plate discipline, and while he won’t walk anything more than the league average in the pros, he’s not going to swing at everything like he has sometimes in the past. The doubles he hits now will turn into some homers in the future, and while his ceiling looks like a 15-20 home run slugger in his prime, his defense and hit tools are good enough to make him a league average third baseman in the big leagues. He’s looking at a possible 2nd-3rd round selection now, up from the 4th-6th round level he was looking at entering the season.

Andy Wilkins, 1B, Arkansas: Wilkins offers rare plus power projection in the 2010 class, and that is what is raising his stock quickly. Is he a first round hitter? No. However, that doesn’t mean that Wilkins has no value. A pure left-handed hitter, Wilkins is a right-handed fielder that was considered a third base prospect entering college after being drafted by the Rangers out of high school in 2007. His days at third base are over, but he should be an adequate fielder at first, meaning that a team can rely on him to be more than a designated hitter, opening up National League teams to feel safe in scouting him. I see him as an average fielder in the future, though he’ll need some work to get there, and I feel safe in saying that due to a strong work ethic and plus makeup that is universally praised around the game. At the plate, he can sacrifice some average for power, and his hit tool is probably below-average in the long run. He’ll probably hit in the .250-.260 range, but he’s one of the few in this class with 25-30 home run power, power that can go to any field. He’s been scuffling a little bit lately, but when he’s on, his approach is also plus, and he’s good at waiting for his pitch. He’s probably a 2nd-3rd round name now, up a similar amount to Leonard. He's going to miss the next couple of weeks due to a pulled hamstring, but that shouldn't affect his stock much.

Christian Yelich, 1B, Westlake HS (CA): I featured Yelich’s name on the list of the players I left off my third mock draft, and I feel comfortable calling him the best prep first baseman in this class. Yelich is blessed with good natural size for a first baseman, and as I mentioned in my writeup for him in the aforementioned player list, he has solid-average speed and a fringe-average arm, two traits that could make him a plus fielder at first base. I also mentioned that some teams are entertaining the idea of having him play left field, but I still see his long-term position as first base, which would take advantage of his defensive tools. He does have the bat for the position, too, though there’s more projection involved in saying that than with some elite prep first basemen of the past, such as Eric Hosmer. Yelich has an above-average to plus hit tool, and the easy comparison for him is Lyle Overbay, a doubles hitter more than a home run hitter. However, Yelich has more power projection in him, so listing Overbay as his ceiling is unfair. He’s starting to tap into that power now, and scouts like how he’s approach his at-bats this spring. He could be a strong 2nd round candidate now, though Jeff Malm also seemed to be that high as a prep first baseman before slipping to the 5th round last year. Regardless, Yelich has gone from a 7th-10th round prospect to a 2nd round candidate in just two months.

Stock Down

Kris Bryant, 3B, Bonanza HS (NV): I always seem to be right when it comes to Bryant, and then I second-guess myself. In my second mock draft, I dropped him from mid-first round potential to the latter part of the supplemental first round, then relented and placed him in the beginning of the supplemental first round with my latest mock, citing some scouts thinking that they can make his transition to wood bats easier than is speculated. Well, that feeling has essentially evaporated, which was my gut feeling entering the spring. Bryant still has one of the most projectable hitting frames in this entire class, along with the best raw power, but the ability to hit with wood against quality velocity is really in question. I mean seriously in question. He’s starting to get the label as a metal bat hitter, and that’s something hitters should avoid at all cost. His hitting this spring is very mechanical and raw, and most scouts now think he’ll head to college, trying to elevate his stock for 2013. This isn’t even getting into the defensive questions, where he faces the same issues as Castellanos, putting more pressure on his hitting. It’s a vicious circle.

Garin Cecchini, 3B, Barbe HS (LA): This one can probably go without explaining. Cecchini tore his ACL in March, and the few scouts that thought he had any future of sticking at shortstop had their hopes shredded along with his ACL. Considered a third base prospect in the long run, Cecchini had lots of things to like about him, but with the injury, he’s going to get no time whatsoever doing baseball activities between now and the draft, so teams that are considering him as a high pick will have to make their assessments based on information from last fall and summer. Add in the fact that Cecchini’s LSU commitment is strong and the fact that he’ll be draft-eligible again after only two years there, and you have a high bonus expectation along with the lack of spring looks. That’s a tough combination, and I expect Cecchini to drop further than Luke Bailey did last year, as Bailey’s injury was later in the spring, and he also had clearly established himself as an elite prospect, which Cecchini failed to do.

Rick Hague, 3B, Rice: Yes, I know Hague is a shortstop right now. I’ve also been one of the vocal supporters for keeping him at shortstop. However, I think the time has come to admit defeat. Hague has looked a step slower this spring, if not more than a step, and he looks destined for third base. That’s strike one in this instance. Strike two is that along with his declining range, his once plus hands have been inconsistent so far, flashing plus at times, but also flashing below-average and turning into stone. After a great showing with Team USA at third base last summer, I thought he’d easily be a plus defender there in the long run, but he’s starting to make me think that he might just be an average third baseman with no versatility. This is all before we get to the hitting. Hague’s struggles at the plate have been well-documented. He still hasn’t learned how to recognize a breaking ball with any sort of consistency, and he’s been pressing at the plate, probably a result of the combination between the slump he’s been in and the increased pressure of being in his draft year. He’s starting to come around a little bit, and his current slash line of .275/.344/.404 is better than it once was, but he’s gone from possible first round pick to third round pick or lower. This couldn’t happen to a better guy, too, as Hague gets good grades for makeup and work ethic, so I only hope that he can turn it around and reestablish some draft value.

Tony Thompson, 3B, Kansas: Count this one as unfair, as Thompson has had little time to come back from a knee injury he suffered before the season. After missing the first 19 games of the season, he’s come back slowly. At the plate, he still has good potential, but he’s struggled early on, a result of a lack of baseball repetitions during his time off. He’s not recognizing pitches enough, getting in bad counts and swinging at bad pitches. His current slash line of .229/.349/.429 so far isn’t indicative of his future potential, but it’s just something to be concerned about. The reason he makes this list is the stiffness at third base he’s shown. His hands have never been praised as plus, but simply as solid, and now he’s slipping slowly past that. His range has been below where it was before the injury, and while I expect him to recover most of it, he could easily have reached the point of regression in terms of his size and agility. Some scouts are thinking he might have to be shifted across the diamond, which really puts pressure on his bat, though I do expect his bat to recover. Thompson was considered a second round candidate before his injury, and he’s looking like a 4th-6th round player right now, though I expect some bounce back.

Brett Weibley, 3B, Kent State: Talk about a rough year. Weibley was a converted third baseman entering the spring, someone who had big closer potential. However, he was still expected to be a possible option at third base, too, as there was some potential in his bat. Not only has Weibley struggled with the bat, he’s probably closed the door to any hitting possibility as a pro. He’s started off at a .228/.302/.421 clip, and he’s now a part-time player. In the bullpen, he’s had a solid season, though with a lot of inconsistency, which is to be expected from a new pitcher. He hasn’t been very hittable, but he hasn’t helped himself with his control, as he hits or walks more than a batter an inning. I guess you can put Weibley’s stock down across the board, and I’ve simply chosen to place him in the corner infield section. Once considered a solid hitter, I see a future relief prospect, and that’s a little disappointing. He’s still a solid fielder with a plus arm, but that won’t be enough to make him more than a one-dimensional relief prospect to scouts.