As the final phase of the 2016 MLB draft preview coverage, over the next week and a half leading into the 2016 MLB draft next Thursday (June 9th), we'll look at how the draft board shapes up for the Blue Jays in terms of likely options and targets for the first round pick as well as the pair of second round picks.
We'll kick off with college pitchers (1st round today, second round tomorrow), move to college hitters, then the same for high school players next week. Each piece will spotlight 8-12 players expected to go in the general range of the Blue Jays pick, depending on the strength of the class and the Jays' tendencies, skipping over the elite prospects where there's virtually no hope of falling to the 21st pick (so no A.J. Puk, Corey Ray, Jason Groome, Mickey Moniak etc)
2016 is a relatively weak year for college pitching, with just one really elite arm in Puk and then a significant dropoff after that with a pretty muddled draft board in terms of order. On the positive side, if they do want a college arm, there are quite a few generally ranked around where they pick. Below is a table with the names, background, rankings from from a handful of of sources to give a general idea of view, as well as stats for 2016 and total collegiate career (from The Baseball Cube). Keep in mind that context really matters with the numbers, there's a big difference between playing in the SEC or ACC and lesser conferences.
Hudson is very unlikely to still be on the board when the Jays pick, but the list has to start somewhere and I include him here on the off chance that he were to slide down the board, sort of similar to how Jon Harris did last year. The difference is that last year there were a bunch of other college pitchers and Hudson is is the consensus #2 college pitcher. That said, he had a breakout last summer in the Cape Cod League and he has very little track record having only pitched 30 innings before this year, and had a tough stretch in late April. I could see a scenario where any question marks are held against him, and he slid some.
Otherwise, he profiles as a frontline starter, with the classic 6'4" build and a low-to-mid-90s fastball that touches the high 90s and plus breaking ball. He faced a ton of talented rosters in the SEC this year as MSU's Friday night starter, so he's proven himself against tough competition.
Jones too may be off the board by the time the Jays pick, especially if a team wants a "safe" college pitcher, but otherwise he should go somewhere in the second half of the first round. Jones was a highly touted pitching prospect three years ago, but had a strong commitment to UVA where he's anchored their rotation for the last two years including last year's NCAA champions. So he's proven to be a durable pitcher at the highest level of college baseball.
Jones throws a heavy sinker in the low 90s that gets a lot of ground balls, as well as a variety of offspeed pitches. His slider flashes but is not consistently plus, and he also has a splitter which he uses for swings and misses. Statistically, there's a few yellow flags. First, he's had issues limiting free passes in the past, though it's under control this year. Second, he's under 7 K/9 this year, which is not the typical level of dominance for a 1st rounder. That said, it was closer to a strikeout an inning last year, and if he can just get hitters to roll over his sinker, it may be an intentional pitch-to-contact approach. A final issue is that apparently some organizations don't like the mechanics that UVA teaches, and the record of their pitchers in pro ball is not great.
Jordan Sheffield (video)
Sheffield was another highly touted high school prospect for the 2013 draft, but required Tommy John surgery that spring and ended up at Vanderbilt. He came back last year out of the bullpen mostly, before moving to the Friday night spot in the rotation this year. When he's on, he has absolutely dominated some very good lineups, but he has a propensity to lose the strike zone in some innings and some games hasn't had it at all.
His fastball is explosive, as he can sit in the mid 90s and touch higher. Both his slurvy breaking ball and changeup flash as plus out pitches. The knock on him is his smaller size, as well as his mechanics which lead to the possibility he'll end up a reliever. And of course, there's the fact that he's already blown out his elbow once.
Zeuch has had a breakout 2016 season after a good showing last summer on the Cape, and is shooting up draft board into first round territory. It's not hard to see why, as he's got a big 6'7" frame with a fastball in the low/mid 90s that will touch the upper 90s. The secondary stuff isn't as advanced, with his slider showing most promise and flashing plus.
He has more upside than most college pitchers, though also carries more risk and will likely require more development time. He's also one of the younger college pitchers (won't turn 21 until after the draft), and comes from Ohio so his arm should have less mileage. He has dealt with some injury issues, but not arm related. Overall, it's an intriguing option at 21.
Quantrill was discussed in depth in yesterday's piece, so I'll just refer back to it. Prior to being injured, Quantrill worked with a fastball in the low-to-mid-90s, with a curveball, slider and change-up that all showed promise.
Robert Tyler (2015 video)
Tyler certainly looks the part of a frontline starting pitcher, with the classic frame as well a big fastball with good sink. He also has a good changeup, but that's his only useful secondary currently (though maybe an organization could teach him a slider?). At times, he's dominated, almost throwing a no hitter earlier this year. But frequently, he has trouble throwing strikes and ends up with throwing a lot of pitches over short outings. There's a lot of speculation he ends up in the bullpen, but he'll be given plenty of opportunity to start. He's also had frequent injury problems with his arm, so there's a number of yellow and red flags.
Zack Burdi (video)
Burdi is the younger brother of Nick, another flamethrowing Louisville reliever who went in the second round in 2014. Burdi has a massive fastball which was touched triple digits and is consistently mid/high 90s out of the bullpen, where he's dominated, particularly this year. What makes him a potential first rounder is the potential to start, because his mechanics are considered good and he's shown feel for a changeup which could give him three average or better pitches. As I mentioned yesterday, it would somewhat analogous to what the Jays did in drafting Brett Cecil in 2007.
Justin Dunn (video)
A short right-hander from an ACC school with explosive stuff and a wide arsenal...sound familiar at all? Dunn has been flying up draft boards this spring, moving to the starting rotation midseason after spending most of his career in the bullpen. He's shown the ability to carry low/mid 90s velocity, and touch higher. On top of that, he has two good breaking balls (some good ones in the linked video), and a decent changeup that he hasn't used much and will need to work on. Finally, he's also on the younger side of college pitchers, and comes from a cold weather background so has less mileage on his arm. There's a lot here to like, and I personally would be quite happy if this is who the Jays took here.
Wild Card: Alec Hansen (2015 video)
Hansen was a candidate to go first overall coming into the year after a breakout 2015 season. The raw stuff is incredible, fastball in sits in the mid-90s and will touch 98-99, with a hammer curve and good slider too. I watched him pitch a game last May in which he was virtually untouchable. Unfortunately, this spring he's been a different type of untouchable, in that he couldn't touch the strike zone. It's been a totally lost season for Hansen, in which after a bunch of starts where he didn't take it out of the 1st or 2nd innings, he ended up in the bullpen. He did come back at the end of the season to make a few starts where he was more effective (though still wild). He ended up striking up 55 in 37.1 innings (29 walks).
At this point, it's unclear what happens. He could return for his senior season to rebuild his stock, but he could also sign if a team took him high enough. It would be a massive gamble, but Hansen has ace level upside if he can put things together.
Finally, a few other pitchers I (and consensus rankings) would consider significant reaches at 21, but who should be gone before the Jays next spot comes up:
- Logan Shore, RHP, Florida: a great college pitcher, very polished, but not overpowering at all with a 88-91 fastball and good change-up. A backend-type profile, he should move quickly.
- Eric Lauer, LHP, Kent State: another excellent college performer albeit not against great competition in the MAC, though a good stint in the Cape last year; Lauer was drafted by the Jays out of high school in 2013. He has a good four pitch mix, nothing that projects as truly plus, but he could be a mid-rotation pitcher
- Daulton Jefferies, RHP, California-Berkeley: had a great sophomore year that had him in first round consideration, and was off to a solid year in 2016 before a shoulder injury sidelined him until a couple weeks ago. He's also just 6'0", and he could end up a reliever.
- Anthony Kay, LHP, UConn: lefties with fastballs in the low-90s and a solid track record always find theri way up draft boards, but Kay is just 5'11" and doesn't really have a secondary weapon aking the first round a reach.
- Cody Sedlock, RHP, Illinois: Sedlock has the highest ceiling on this list, at 6'4" with a sinker in the low 90s; but he's the least proven (as a starter) on this list and will need to most development of his secondary pitches. Some team will take a shot in the top 50 picks.