Family matters and the holiday cut into writing time this Memorial Day weekend, but I did have time to catch some college games on TV, read some scouting reports, do some draft research, and think. I am finalizing a mock draft for later this week and of course we have our 2015 Minor League Ball Community Mock Draft this coming Sunday, May 31.
In the meantime, here are some thoughts/observations and some early predictions about the 2015 draft..
***Shiny New Toy Syndrome: Everyone seems intrigued with Georgia high school catcher Tyler Stephenson, who has jumped from "decent prospect but will probably go to college at Georgia Tech" to "best high school catcher in the draft," with some rumors putting him in the Top Five players overall. This seems to be at the expense of California high school catcher Chris Betts, who scouts are more familiar with and who has a longer track record of success.
There's nothing wrong with Betts, who has had a good spring, but his stock seems down somewhat compared to Stephenson. It is true that Stephenson's physical defensive tools are a little better but both bats look excellent and I do think that Betts can stay behind the plate. Betts' biggest problem may be the fact that he isn't the new face that analysts (both traditional and sabermetric) get obsessed with.
Recent mocks (like this one from Baseball America) have Stephenson going 14th to the home-state Braves and Betts falling to the bottom of the first round, which would have seemed like a strange thing three months ago. Middle of the first round makes sense for Stephenson and the Braves would seem a logical fit, but I think that neighborhood still makes sense for Betts, too. PREDICTION: Betts is off the board by 20.
***Somebody Always Slips: Every year someone who is expected to go early in the draft slides, sometimes inexplicably. If it isn't going to be Chris Betts, it could be Vanderbilt's Walker Buehler, rated as a Top Ten candidate pre-season. His spring hasn't been quite up to his previous standards and he had some arm trouble early, which could be enough to move him down some preference lists. It wouldn't be a surprise if Buehler is the "backup" choice for several teams should their preferred candidate not be available. PREDICTION: Buehler is the odd man out, slides into the 20s, but turns out to be a real bargain.
***Defense Schmeefense: One of the best college hitters this spring has been outfielder Cristin Stewart from the University of Tennessee, currently hitting .311/.443/.633 with 15 homers, 28 walks, and 38 strikeouts in 177 at-bats. Stewart has a powerful left-handed bat and reliable sources are impressed with his pure hitting skills; he isn't just a brute-force masher but should hit for a good average and get on base as well. Despite his performance, his offensive tools, and a relative lack of power hitters in the draft, Stewart is not being projected for the first round by most mock drafters, rumors putting him into the comp rounds or early second.
Why? Stewart isn't much of a fielder, reportedly lacking the arm strength and range to play anywhere but left field. The offensive tools are here but the defensive ones are mediocre at best; as a result he isn't seen as a pure first-rounder by everyone.
But I said "everyone", not "anyone." I'd bet good money that a team picking in the later half of the first round (Cardinals? Orioles? Athletics?) looking for a quick impact bat will put aside concerns about the glove and focus on Stewart's hitting. PREDICTION: He gets picked between 20th and 26th.