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Early thoughts on the 2015 MLB draft

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Alex Bregman
Alex Bregman
Dave Weaver-USA Today Sports

We are less than two months away from the 2015 MLB draft. Accordingly, I have been turning my attention to draft research of late, getting a feel for this class and trying to dig up some sleepers. Matt Garrioch also has a bunch of draft material in the works. Matt ran down the top statistical performers in the college ranks last week, looking at both the pitchers and the hitters using his GAPPER system.

For today I want to give my initial impressions of the class: it seems pretty mediocre to me. Even the top few slots of the draft are difficult to get a handle on. Injuries have been a big factor, with Mike Matuella of Duke and Brady Aiken both out with Tommy John surgery. High school lefty Kolby Allard, another potential early pick, has a back injury.

The Matuella injury seems as "routine" as Tommy John surgery can be and he could/should still go in the first round to someone. That may not be the case with Aiken, at least if the rumors that Kiley McDaniel is hearing bear out. From McDaniel's most recent draft Fangraphs article:

There is persistent, consistent and detailed buzz coming from many sources that there is more to Aiken’s injury than just a clean surgery like Erick Fedde, Jeff Hoffman or Lucas Giolito from recent years I won’t repeat the specific rumors, but the worst versions of it say there are career-threatening issues at play, while others say it’s merely an increased risk of further injury going forward.  All 30 teams will get Aiken’s medical before the draft, the details will likely leak to the media and the answers that no one has at this point will come out before decisions have to be made.

Obviously that bears close watching.

Progressing with research, by consensus the best player in the class still seems like Florida high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers. And that's about all the consensus there is: after that, it gets really murky about the rest of the high school bats. We'll go into more detail on the prep guys in the coming weeks. There is a lot more studying to do.

College hitter ranks are more distinct, if only because there is more objective data to examine. Dansby Swanson of Vanderbilt and Alex Bregman of Louisiana State are both having excellent campaigns. I buy into Swanson's defense at shortstop and you can't knock the combination of power, speed, and strike zone judgment he's shown against top-notch competition this year. He's got tools and he's got skills. Bregman is more likely a second baseman but his bat is also excellent. I love both of those guys and they would be 1 and 1-A if I were looking to draft a college hitter.

Ian Happ of the University of Cincinnati is another strong performer, a switch-hitter with power and plate discipline hitting .386/.509/.693 while being pitched around on a 12-25 team. He was excellent in the Cape Cod League the last two summers and although he is not playing for an elite program like LSU or Vanderbilt, there seems little doubt about his bat. He was ranked ahead of Swanson and Bregman on many expert lists three months ago. I don't think Happ has lost any stock at all, but Swanson and Bregman have seen theirs increase.

Both Swanson and Bregman are right-handed. If you want some left-handed sock, Florida State outfielder D.J. Stewart and University of Tennessee outfielder Christin Stewart (not related) can both mash. D.J. is a bit more of an on-base threat and has a better (though not outstanding) glove; these factors should push him a little higher on draft day. D.J. is generally viewed as a late first-rounder while Christin is seen as more of a comp round or second round pick. My guess is that, given the relative paucity of power bats in this draft class, both Stewarts could end up going much higher than currently expected on draft day.

First baseman Chris Shaw of Boston College is another lefty bat with huge power but he is currently out with a broken hand. It remains to be seen how that will impact his draft status. Normally I would say it would cost him a few slots but that might not be true this year. A quartet of interesting middle infielders from top programs  (Mikey White, Alabama; Kyle Holder, San Diego; Kevin Newman, Arizona; Richie Martin, Florida) could get scooped up very quickly, again perhaps sooner than people currently expect, especially if they are amenable to below-slot deals. Once Swanson and Bregman come off the board it could be open season for any college middle infielder with offensive potential to go with his glove.

Rounding out the biggest college names is David Thompson, University of Miami-Florida third baseman. He suffers from Boring Name Syndrome but he can hit (.340/.430/.635, 10 homers, 24 walks, 19 strikeouts in 156 at-bats) and won't be available for very long. He could go very early for a sabermetrically-oriented team.

Next up, we will look at early overview impressions of college pitching as well as the prep ranks, then we will get into sleeper types.