The draft’s a-coming! It’s not as long as anybody seems to want (including most teams) and negotiations over pretty much any element of the future of MLB are at a razor’s edge of tension these days, but whatever else happens we will have a little bit of draft in a few weeks. And the various prognosticators are heating up their draft mocks lately so the time has come to look at who the experts think might be in the Giants’ future sights. The caveat here is that the experts are significantly hindered this year in trying to figure out what teams are on which players. Normally, seeing senior executives showing up to sit on which players is a big part of filling in the puzzle pieces. This year, of course, there’s none of that going on, but the major writers in the industry still have plenty of contacts and numbers to text. So they’re not entirely winging it.
As an aside, there’s been some free agency going on in the prospect writing world of late. Keith Law left ESPN to head to The Athletic, which caused Law’s former colleague Kiley McDaniel to leave Fangraphs and return to ESPN to fill the void. Jim Callis, formerly of Baseball America has headed MLB.com’s prospect coverage for several years now, while Carlos Collazo continues his excellent work heading draft coverage at BA. So, with the major players covered, let’s see who the Giants will be selecting with the 13th pick. The answer: total chaos!
Tyler Soderstrom, C, Turlock High School (California), 18.5 years old
Now you’re talking! Let’s start with a Legacy Giant (is that former Giants #6 overall pick Steve Soderstrom throwing BP in the second half of that video? I think it might be). I wouldn’t get too hung up with the “C” designation in Soderstrom’s line. High School Catchers are a legendarily dreadful draft profile as Catchers, but it’s produced a more than a few useful major league hitters. And the scouting buzz that surrounds Soderstrom is universally related to his future offensive abilities.
The strapping left-handed hitter leapt up boards in the summer of 2019, showing up strong at virtually every showcase event. He was at his best in the four day Area Codes games where he went 4 for 10 with a double, triple (off a LHP), and two walks against the best of his peers. Even some of his outs were impressive. Scouts spent the summer seeing a strong left-handed bat with feel to hit to all fields and the body to grow into power.
On defense there are enough questions — his size, his framing, his footwork, the length of this throwing motions — that we could easily see him moving off the demanding position in order to let his bat move quicker from, say, 3b. Or given Farhan Zaidi’s love of multi-hyphenate Catchers the Giants could try to do both. Either way, you don’t need to fret about how the Giants would handle a Joey Bart-Tyler Soderstrom situation if this is the move they make (seriously — you never need to worry about that!). The bat is what is going to move this young man and as the old adage goes: if the bat will play, they’ll find a way.
Aside from Law’s mock, Soderstrom is a guy who we are seeing attached to the Giants so there could be legitimate juice to this one.
In mocking Soderstrom to the Giants, Law also tossed out the possibility of University of Tennessee’s mercurial LHP Garrett Crochet enticing the Giants here. Crochet has huge left-handed stuff, but no track record of either starting or staying healthy. Physically, he bears something of a resemblance to the A’s A.J. Puk — a 6’6” thin drink of water with a slingy motion (that honestly has a slight hitch in it as he brings his arm through that I’m not crazy about). He split time as a starter and reliever his first two seasons and his Junior year was delayed due to back and shoulder issues so that he only made one 3 inning appearance before the season was canceled. For that reason he’s possibly the biggest wild card of the top half of the first round. Had the spring season continued scouts would have gotten crucial information from his appearances (or lack thereof). The fastball/slider combo is a double plus package of terror for left-handed hitters — but there’s a lot of risk in that package.
Jared Kelley, RHP, Refugio High School (Texas), 18.7 years old
Kelley was another star of the Area Code Games, where he threw a dominant 3-inning start with six strikeouts and just one baserunner allowed. The right-hander threw 25 of 36 pitches for strikes and came out of the gate with a dominating 97-98 mph heater in the first inning. As you can garner from the videos, Kelley fits the “man among boys” label with huge present physicality for an 18 year old and a big, big fastball.
The high school pitching group pretty well separated last summer, with Kelley, Portland, Oregon’s Mick Abel, and Nick Bitsko from Bucks County, Pennsylvania settling in as the cream (possibly Justin Lange moving into that group as well). If power pitching is your thing, Kelley definitely delivers the product. He pairs a fastball that can get up to 98 or 99 (though it sits back down a few mph over multiple innings) with a swing and miss changeup in the low 80s. That’s a dominant two-pitch package. The question with Kelley is the third pitch. His breaking ball has been very slurvy at the best of times and cement-mixer most others. If you, like me, are of the scouting adage that if you can spin it, you can spin it, then there’s reason for concern with Kelley. That said, perhaps there’s a Chris Paddack-type two-pitch guy in here (or Jason Schmidt at his best for that matter), and that’s not such a bad thing.
OF Robert Hassell, OF Independence High School (Tennessee), 18.8 years old
It feels like the cognoscenti feel the Giants are looking High School this draft, don’t it? Which is interesting in a draft that (due to the setup) seems highly likely to skew college-heavy. Hassell does bring with him a track record of success having been the best hitter on USA Baseball’s 18-U team (where he hit .514). He has the classic lefty, “handsy” swing that scouts love to see and brings comps to recent draftees like Jerred Kelenic or Riley Greene (both taken in the top 10 of their drafts).
The questions that tag along behind him are pretty classic for a sweet-swinging, fast-but-not-speedy high school player: will he grow into power? If he does, then playing in a corner won’t hinder his development. If he doesn’t, is the footspeed enough to stick in CF? My inclination is to get the guy who can hit and let him grow into his strength — after all this is the kind of question that pushed Christian Yelich down to the 23rd spot in the 1st round of his draft. Not that I’m saying Hassell is going to turn into Christian Yelich but, he is absolutely going to turn into Christian Yelich if you let him slide by!
Like another sweet swinging lefty who scouts wanted to see more power out of (that is, Cody Bellinger), Hassell also pitches currently though that’s not where he’s going to make his money.
Austin Hendrick, OF, West Alleghany High School (Pennsylvania), 19 yrs old
Garret Mitchell, OF, UCLA, 21.8 yrs old
MLB, like Baseball America, has already done two versions of mock drafts so they offer up two possibilities for observers. And what do we find here? Two more left-handed hitting OF — the Giants braintrust apparently has a type this year. At least we finally found a college player (in Mitchell).
Unlike Hassell, there are, as Mike Krukow would say, NONE questions about Austin Hendrick’s power. Not after the 3-homer game on the showcase circuit last summer. Not after he hit a ball entirely out of Wrigley Field at the Under-Armour event. Hendrick leads the high school class in bat speed and brings that mythical LTP (that’s Light Tower Power for those of you who don’t remember Thomas Neal’s glory days). He may be the best combo of hit and present power in the draft. He’s also one of the real “Game Theory” guys at the top of this draft. At 19 years old he’s old for the high school class and will be a draft-eligible sophomore in two years. Due to the deal that MLB and the MLBPA struck, most of this year’s bonus won’t be paid until 2022 anyway — if Hendrick can head to college, wait out the Coronavirus-related economic contraction, he could end up putting himself in line for a bigger bonus paid out at the same time. Wouldn’t that seem to be the logical path for him? On the other hand, the last few months should probably have disabused us all of the notion that we have any idea of what the future holds. Still, he’s possibly the most fascinating signability case in this draft.
Mitchell is fascinating for a completely different reason. He’s an 80 runner, has a cannon for an arm, patrols CF with ease, and is a legendary 5 o’clock power hitter. But he has shown very little over-the-fence power in games in his three years at UCLA (though he did lead the nation in triples last year). Mitchell suffers from Type 1 Diabetes (which pushed him down the draft coming out of high school) and it’s entirely unclear what role that has on his tools or his ability to play (old friend Adam Duvall was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes during his minor league career and with proper treatment it did not prevent his power from playing). For whatever reason, Mitchell comes off as an extreme split camp type player, whose intense physical abilities often leave scouts wanting to see more out of his performance. The team that drafts him will need to feel confident that they can get the sculpture out of the stone cleanly. What’s intriguing about Mitchell is that he falls cleanly into the Dodgers philosophy of: “bring us an athlete who can hit and we’ll teach him the power aspect.” That could be an enticing package for the Zaidi-era Giants.
Heston Kjerstad, OF, University of Arkansas, 21.3 years old
Mick Abel, RHP, Jesuit High School (OR), 18.8 years old
Perhaps establishing the pattern of connecting the Giants to left-handed hitters, BA’s first mock had the Giants taking Arkansas’ Heston Kjerstad. The appeal here is a long, consistent track record of hitting in high-competition environments. Kjerstad’s performed very consistently in two seasons of SEC play and was a star on Team USA’s College National Team last summer. He was off to a torrid start this year as well (though the season didn’t get to conference play). He brings very real, very now power from the left-hand side. Though he’s hit well throughout his college career, that’s come with elevated strikeout rates for college ball so there’s a decent chance the end result will be power over hit. But the power will definitely be there as a middle of the order type bat. The downside of knowing what you’re getting is that Kjerstad really doesn’t bring anything else to the table — he’s a big guy who will move around in left field at an average clip (but if he lasts long enough as a big leaguer he’ll probably eventually look like Pat Burrell out there).
Mick Abel is my personal favorite of the high school arms. Eric Longenhagen had a great line about high school pitchers recently when he said they’ve turned into the NFL RB of the baseball draft — everybody thinks they can get one just as good in the next round which pushes them down the board. But Longenhagen also caveated that you have to have the courage of your convictions and if you really believe you’ve scouted Clayton Kershaw you don’t pass on him just because he’s a high schooler. Abel provides a perfect case study. There’s nothing not to love about him — he brings a pretty fully formed package for a young player from a cold weather state — he’s got present velocity, an excellent breaking ball, a solid foundation of a change, and good control for a high schooler. He’s the full package. So where do you fall on the risk? Do you think there’s a solid chance to grab someone just as good in the next round — is there a Noah Syndergaard waiting for your next pick (someone like Jared Jones or Alex Santos, or maybe even Nick Bitsko or Justin Lange falls down to 49) or is this guy your Clayton Kershaw that you just can’t pass him up? The fact that his spring season never started — so all data on him goes back to last summer — is a complicating fact here as well.
You may be wrong or you may be right, but you have to have the courage of your conviction at this top pick. One thing I’ve always believed is that great hires become great because of what happens after you make the selection. So successful drafting is dependent on successful developing whichever way you go with the pick. As noted baseball prospect fan W.B. Yeats put it:
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
On this Day in History
John Bowker’s RBI-double and Geno Espineli’s strong 7-inning start propelled the 2007 Connecticut Defender’s to a 3-1 win over the Binghamton Mets.
Guess the team and the year:
Whew! There’s a list of memorable names!
2006: Journeyman Chad Santos hit a walkoff, two-out, two-run homer to cap a 4-run 9th inning comeback against the Iowa Cubs for a 7-6 win. The entire outburst came at the expense of former Giant David Aardsma who had been traded to the Cubs a year prior for LaTroy Hawkins. Aardsma had been demoted to the PCL after posting a 10.80 ERA for the Cubs in April. He would spend time on the Chicago-Iowa shuttle throughout ‘06 without distinguishing himself much in either location. The Cubs would move him cross town to the White Sox at the end of the year and it would take him two more organizations before finding some measure of success in Seattle.
2009: Brandon Crawford’s hot year continued as he stroked his first HR for Connecticut to help the Defenders take a 6-3 victory over the B-Mets. Crawford had hit his way out of the Cal League, posting an incredible 1.045 OPS there over the first month of the season. And he didn’t miss a beat on transition to AA: this 2 for 4 effort followed a four-hit game the night before. All in all he had five multi-hit efforts in his first 10 tries at AA. But the good times were about to stop rolling. He’d hit just .247 in June and a woeful .215/.275/.333 in July. After hitting his 2nd HR on June 7 he’d go more than two months before hitting another and wind up the year with just four in Connecticut. The next two years would see injuries and scuffling performances stall his progress before big league exigencies caused a sudden and thrilling promotion to San Francisco.
2012: Nick Noonan had a career day boosting Fresno to an 11-5 win in Round Rock. The starting shortstop collected four hits with 11 total bases, two home runs and 8 RBI on the day. He topped it all off with a Grand Slam, his second homer of the day and second of the year. Noonan was part of the Giants haul of six 1st round picks in 2007, but his prospect career had hit a wall in AA where he batted just .237 in 2010 and .212 in 2011. He revived his prospect status in 2012, posting a .763 OPS as Fresno’s SS and getting the Giants some trade nibbles at the deadline. Added the 40 man roster that winter he’d make his big league debut in 2013, the longest of his three major league stints.
Henry Schulman broke some good news yesterday about the Giants keeping all of their full-time employees paid through the end of September. Great to see the Giants taking the lead like this. They have let part-time employees know they are being furloughed, unfortunately. All the news is in the following link for subscribers:
And if you don’t know just HOW good that news is (especially regarding the scouting division and player development coaching staff), see this:
I don’t know that that’s confirmed or substantiated in any way, but it’s a rumor that fits the tenor of the times.
Sadly, that good news doesn’t extend to the minors where the situation has quickly (and predictably) descended towards an event horizon that no one (apparently outside of Rob Manfred’s office and maybe wherever the hell Jeff Luhnow is) wants to see passed. Sports Illustrated’s story on the situation, which is devastating in its comprehensive overview of an industry in crisis, features many comments from Sacramento River Cats’ President Jeff Savage. Pretty hard to keep the faith right now.
Following on that story, read the hot off the presses Baseball America story on MLB delivering terms today to MiLB owners. As some have previously speculated, it seems more and more like MLB’s desire to entrench themselves deeper into the ownership level of a booming minor league economy — without having to pay market rates for buying in — has played a crucial part of this strategy all along. Strong-arming partners seems to be the leadership strategy du jour in MLB’s head office.
JJ Cooper @jjcoop36MLB is expected to share a term sheet with MiLB laying out 120 full-season teams/cities, their leagues and affiliates in the not-to-distant future. MiLB teams working to find a way to get on (or stay on) that list of 120. https://t.co/IDG8UT0RMr