Texas A&M outfielder Nick Banks was part of an outstanding Team USA college outfield in 2015: Banks, University of Louisville's Corey Ray, and University of Florida's Buddy Reed was a dynamic (trinamic?) trio, all three sophomores projecting as first-rounders for 2016.
Ray has lived up to that billing so far as we noted earlier today. We'll look at Reed next and he seems a likely first round pick as well. But Banks, who hit for the highest average of the three last summer, enters the last six weeks of the college season with his draft position uncertain.
Banks played high school ball in Tomball, Texas, graduating in 2013. He wasn't drafted but this was due to a strong Texas A&M commitment and a history of back, ankle, and arm injuries. If healthy and signable, he would have been something like a third round pick.
He thrived immediately in college, hitting .327/.386/.427 in almost-full time play as a freshman, then broke out with an excellent 2015 sophomore campaign at .364/.450/.536 with eight homers, nine steals, 34 walks and 58 strikeouts in 239 at-bats. He led Team USA in hitting last summer and entered 2016 as a first-round draft candidate and second-team Rawlings Perfect Game All-American.
2016 hasn't been the best season for Banks. In 28 games he's hitting .290/.372/.514, with four homers, three steals, 12 walks, and 27 strikeouts. That's certainly not bad, but it isn't up to last year's standards and isn't especially good for context. His SLG is just fifth among the six team regulars with 100 or more at-bats and his OBP ranks sixth among six. In 12 SEC conference games he's hitting just .250/.357/.438.
Performance is key for Banks since his physical tools aren't spectacular. None of them are weak, either; hitting skills, raw power, speed, arm strength, all generate solid 50-55 grades with this throwing arm the best of the lot. He isn't a strict pull hitter and can drive the ball the opposite way for distance, but on the other hand his swing is tailored more for line drives than home runs. At least that's been the case up until this spring: although his overall 2016 slash line is weaker than 2015, his isolated power stats are actually the best of his career and at his current pace he would set career-best marks in doubles, triples, and homers.
Banks will still go early in the draft but where, exactly, is unclear at the moment. He could still wind up in the back half of the first round, as assumed pre-season. He could also fall to the second or third round if he continues to have some issues in conference play. If he finishes with a flourish and sells teams on the power, he could make a late charge up draft boards and finish quite high.
We'll monitor as the draft approaches.
Here's some batting practice video from Baseball America.