This next installment of the Top 40 profiles two college sophomores drafted in 2019, and two 2016 draftees on parallel tracks in Lansing and Dunedin the last two years.
36. Samad Taylor, 2B, age 21 (DOB: 7/11/1998), grade: 35/35+, last year: just missed list
It bears noting I’m the low person on Taylor (both last year and this year), and that naturally colours this write-up. We had a wide range of grades ranging from 30+ (me) to 40 (Kraemer), so there’s not much from him being 5-10 spots higher.
Taylor was acquired from Cleveland in the July 2017 deadline trade trade for Joe Smith, just over a year after being drafted in the 10th round of the 2016 draft out high school in Southern California. It was some very good scouting work to identify a player with his level of tools/raw ability but signable for $125,000.
Taylor was very young for the draft class, not even turning 18 until a month after signing. That made it all the more impressive when he showed a good feel for hitting in his AZL debut, but especially when he was assigned in 2017 to the NYPL. That level is populated with more experienced college draftees, but Taylor excelled with a .300 average in 130 plate appearances before the trade, and carried it over with Vancouver to end the season. All told, he hit .298/.333/.452, the only small blemish being a lowish OBP.
That landed him 25th on our list two years ago, an exciting combination of tools and skills and potential breakout player as he hit full season ball. And while broadly he’s held his own, .228/.319/.387 in 530 PA at Lansing and .216/.325/.364 in 384 PA at Dunedin, that hitting ability hasn’t carried over. Interestingly, his walk rate has climbed to 10%+, which is nice, but the major concern is his lack of production on balls in play.
In their write-up last year, Fangraphs actually lauded his 2018 production, around league average despite a. 270 BABIP and him having speed that should result above average BABIPs. That’s true, but fails to account for batted ball profile: Taylor actually puts the ball in the air quite a bit as opposed to being a slap and dash hitter. The problem is two years running in full season he’s got a popup rate near 20% which suggests he’s not squaring balls up and explains the low BABIP (curiously, they also gave him a pass on big home/road splits, when they dinged other Lansing prospects on that basis).
On top of that, his strikeout rate blew out to 28% last year. It bears underlining that him being so young is good reason to believe he could put things together, and the offensive profile is such that small adjustments could unlock significant potential. But the trend is not in the right direction, and it’s also the type of profile that could be completely exposed in AA.
35. Philip Clarke, catcher, age 22 (DOB: 3/24/1998), grade: 35/35+, last year: Vandy soph
Clarke was the Blue Jays 9th round pick in 2019 as a draft-eligible sophomore from Vanderbilt, though he got a $500,000 akin to a 4th rounder. He was a key cog as the starting catcher for the College World Series champions, hitting .308/.388/.480 including a .338 BA and .406 OBP in the rugged SEC. He’s got a track record of hitting against top college pitching.
Clarke got off to a smashing start in Vancouver, homering in his first two games and hitting .324/.429/.451 through August 1st before slumping hard down the stretch. Even then, he maintained excellent plate discipline, his batted balls just collapsed (.230 BABIP, .027 ISO).Being a catcher whose season started in February, I’m inclined to discount that as being worn down.
Clarke was highly regarded and ranked back to his high school days, and the Jays wouldn’t have paid him the big bonus if they didn’t think he could stick at catcher. The bat doesn’t profile as impact level, with moderate power. But if he hits in line with his track record so far, it should be more than enough (though he didn’t hit much with wood bats in the 2018 Cape Cod League). He adds to the embarrassment of riches and depth the organization has behind the plate.
34. Chavez Young, OF, age 22 (DOB: 8/8/1997), grade 35/35+, last year: 15th
Where I was low on Samad Taylor, I was by equal measure high on Chavez Young and had him on my top-10 a year ago. Perhaps irrationally exuberant, but I was “all-in” on the combination of well-rounded performance and tools. Unfortunately, Young backslid from his breakout 2018, tumbling to the back end of the list (I’m still personally relatively higher and would have him 5+ spots higher).
On the positive side, it’s not like 2019 was a complete disaster at Dunedin. While his power was markedly lower (.107 ISO), his plate discipline was fine (8% walks, 23% strikeouts), with a solid .314 BABIP. It’s just those last three were basically league average instead of better than; across the board everything was down a notch. Overall, it worked out a 101 wRC+, or roughly league average for a player who was on the youngish side.
Young has had a ~50% ground ball rate in his two years of full season ball, with league average plate discipline that limits his offensive upside to more of a fringe-average hitter with some gap power. If he sticks as a decent or good defender in CF, that can work out to an everyday regular. That’s not a lock, but he’s rated well. It would be a much tougher profile in an outfield corner, hence the “tweener” label/fears — but the same thing was said about Kevin Pillar.
33. Tanner Morris, SS/IF, age 22, grade: 35+, last year: UVA sophomore
Morris was selected in the 5th round as a draft-eligible sophomore out of the University of Virginia last year, signing for $397,500. He was the starting shortstop from the beginning of his freshman year, a noteworthy feat at a traditional power school in the ACC. Morris posted a solid .298/.397/.374 debut in 2018, showing quality plate discipline.
But he really took off in 2019 with a .345/.452/.507, with increased gap power. Even more impressive was his .370/.456/.512 line in ACC play, his production wasn’t built by beating up on weaker pre-conference and midweek opponents as can sometimes be the case.
Assigned to Vancouver, he hit .246/.384/.346 in 240 plate appearances, splitting everyday playing time between SS and 2B. Somewhat underwhelming overall (like most of college players Vancouver had), but a major positive is the superior plate discipline held up with a 17% walk rate against a 19% strikeout rate.
The expectation defensively is that Morris doesn’t have the speed for shortstop, likely moving to second base where he could profile as a solid average, high OBP hitter with gap power. It’s worth noting that in addition to holding his own with Vancouver, he has a track record with wood bats having hit .331 in the Cape Cold League. It’s not an impact ceiling, but if it all comes together there’s average regular potential, or potential second division regular/utility ability.
Eagled eyed observers might note that his date of birth is omitted above. That’s because I’m almost certain the September 13, 1998 date listed is wrong; players have to turn 21 within 45 of the draft to be eligible as sophomores. His Perfect Game profile would suggest 1997. Particularly if that’s the case, I wonder if he jumps directly to Dunedin in 2020 like Cavan Biggio two years ago given a track record against top college pitching and a potential shortage of playing time on the Lansing infield.
The highest ranked player on the 2021 list will be:
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