Creating Rankings for the 2015 Draft

Dillon Tate is one of the top prospects in the 2015 MLB Draft. (Courtesy of UCSB Athletics)

Dillon Tate is one of the top prospects in the 2015 MLB Draft. (Courtesy of UCSB Athletics)

While I normally cover injuries or perform statistical analysis for The Hardball Times and FanGraphs, I love to get out in the sun to watch real baseball games. In the past, I caught myself taking a few notes here and there on certain players. It started with minor league players when I lived in Tucson. The note-taking has taken off and has expanded to publishing scouting reports which real live people read. While I am not even close to having the knowledge or time to devote to being a true scout or prospect evaluator, I like to create my own evaluations and ranking of players I have seen in person. Following are some thoughts on how the hobby has expanded and helped me link the numbers I normally work with to what is happening on the field, as well as a whole bunch of scouting reports on guys who might be drafted next week.

When I lived in Tucson, I got to see quite bit of affiliated ball because the White Sox, Rockies and Diamondbacks still had spring training facilities there. The Rockies complex was about a mile from my house, so if I went for bike ride or run, I could just take a break and watch a little ball. Once spring training was over, I enjoyed extended spring training with pretty much no one else around. The D-Backs’ Triple-A team played at the worst located park ever, Tucson Electric Park. The closest building was the juvenile court/detention facility. I enjoyed myself quite a few nights at the park watching a game with beer in hand.

At those games, I started taking notes on some players I liked or disliked. The scribbling weren’t detailed, but I was sure Lyle Overbay would rake in the majors (and, you know, 151 homers in the majors, not too shabby). The notes became more detailed over time. I liked to see how those players ended up performing in the majors. Then life got in the way. Three jobs, two kids and a major move later, I was finally back to watching games regularly. I got back to note-taking, and then some. My scouting output has expanded exponentially.

Not having a local affiliated team in Wichita, I began going to college games. I published my first list of draftable players I saw that season. I got asked to help with a local scouting service. It seems like every time I see any college coach, he’s asking if I have seen any left-handed pitcher who can throw 85 mph. Like they grow on trees. It has taken on a life of its own. I roll with my four items: the note sheet/pad, stop watch, video camera and radar gun. The most important is the note sheet. I have crested the hill of life, and now that I’m on the downslope, I have no memory. Taking as many notes as I can is the best way to keep up with players. It is especially helpful with hitters who bat only four or five times a game. I don’t make every batting practice like the full time scouts. I usually need to see a hitter a few times to generate an opinion.

I currently watch games in the Wichita area, where I live. On the college level, I mainly catch Wichita State, Kansas State and their opponents. The Big 12 gives me some exposure to some high-level talent, but it is not the SEC. The Missouri Valley is even further away from the SEC, but I lucked out with the tournament being in Wichita this season. Besides seeing some NCAA teams, I have scouted and reported on the Jayhawk Summer League, as well as a few teams in the NBC Tournament for the Baseball America summer league recap. Additionally, Kansas has a nice tradition of quality junior college players and I have been able to see them play.

While covering all those helps me gain experience, my main job is helping cover the south central part of Kansas for PrepBaseballReport.com. It provided me with my first and only radar gun. At Prep Baseball Report, I mainly help colleges and kids find a match. I don’t get to see a bunch of top-end talent. In Kansas last year, two high school kids were drafted by major league teams and neither signed. In any given year, only 20-30 Kansas high school kids commit to Division I schools. My role is to evaluate all the players I see, no matter their talent level. To do this, I have come up with my own ranking system to help place the kids in the right college program. Additionally, I have take fastball velocity readings on these high schoolers.

Side Note: I am torn on velocity readings. Every coach wants to know where it stands, but I have issues with kids throwing and hurting themselves trying to get the highest reading. At this point, I think the velocity readings should be shown for everyone to see. Just take the mystery out of it. Also, I hope teams would use it to help tell when a young pitcher is wearing down.

Here is how I judge the amateur players I see.

  • 10 – No-doubt top first- or second-round pick (~92 mph)
  • 9 – Major league draft or major (SEC) program (~90 mph)
  • 8 – Solid Division I prospect (~88 mph)
  • 7 – Top JUCO/High Division II (~85 mph)
  • 6.5 – Mid JUCO/Low Division II (~80 mph)
  • 6 – Low JUCO/NAIA (~75 mph)
  • 5 – High school Only (<= 70 mph)

Major league scouts or evaluators worry only about kids in the 9-10 level, and I rarely see such players. That’s one reason I don’t use the major league 20-80 (or 2-8) scouting scale, as most of the kids I see would be in the 20-30 (2-3) range. This way, I can provide a little more nuance. Whenever I do see a college or high school player in the 9 to 10 range, I am elated. I saw Dillon Tate this spring and the only college pitchers who have come close to his talent level are Jon Gray and Ryan Stanek, both of whom were first-round selections.

In addition to my scoring system, here are some rules I try to follow:

  • Go to games regularly. Maybe two to three a week. During the spring I try to line up as many as possible around my schedule, my wife’s schedule for me and the kinds’ activities. Rain- and snow-outs cause a ton of havoc on early-season schedules and backup plan is almost always needed.
  • Plan ahead a bit. Sometimes it is nice to have an idea on who to watch or concentrate on. Which guys think they are fast because they steal a bunch of bases? Why is another leading the league in home runs?
  • Get a list of top area talent. Watch the supposed talent. The players may not be as talented as advertised, but at least a baseline is set. With PBR, I am always trying to figure out where a player should end up. I am always adjusting parameters.
  • Listen to whoever will talk. Networking is great for finding talent. One of best sources for talent is a scoreboard operator at one facility. He knows everything about everyone who plays there. A great source of info. Reporters are another source. They are stuck at the game so they can get an interview at its end. They love to talk. Scouts love to talk, but pretty much to their little group. I love showing up when only one is there. They still love to talk and some knowledge can be gained. It does help to have a decent understanding of the talent to talk about, but these men spend 95 percent of their time by themselves. Most are desperate for any human contact.
  • Get lucky. I was following my first rule of going to games and saw Taylor Hearn (more on him later). I was mainly there to get a feel of how the top NAIA talent compared to other college programs by watching Tabor and Oklahoma Baptist play in a game of top-10 teams.

It is always nice to put my story out there, but it’s just as important to put some actual reports down. What follows is more than 30 reports on the players I saw who I think should be drafted next week. I won’t hit on all of them, and that’s life. Usually, I learn more after the draft on what I did right and/or wrong. Well, OK, mainly wrong. The process to get to where I am has been a slow grind, but it started by just going to watch the game I love.

Scouting Reports

Before we get into the player bios, here are some notes on why the reports differ so much.

  • Sometimes I may go to see a player like Clayton Taylor and can really focus on him. Other times I see players like I did in the Missouri Valley Tournament where it is game after game, player after player, and I have to weed through them as best as I can. Most scouts are just checking their work from the spring, but I may be seeing a player for the first time.
  • I shot all the video (feel free to mock my video skills, or lack thereof). Even if I don’t publish the video, it is nice to have it around to remind of the player. You can see all my videos here.
  • I really tried to remove any other scouting reports from my opinion. I am sure they trickled in at times, but I tried to make the reports as unbiased as possible.
  • I know very little about off-the-field issues. I fell in love with Jon Denney a few years back and he decided being a jackass was more important. He has basically ruined his baseball career.
  • Like most scouts, I really struggle at evaluating hitters.

Let’s get to the reports!

Dillon Tate, RHP, USCB

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

When I saw Tate against Wichita State, I knew I was going to see only a few innings as I wanted to make the start of the Kansas State-Missouri State game. I was able to catch four innings before I had to get on the road. Along with me were 40-plus scouts. Most of the scouts must have been-cross checkers or scouting directors because none of the local scouts were on hand.

Tate did not disappoint. He could help any major league bullpen right now. He works fast with a high leg kick to help show off those high socks. The ball just explodes from a three-quarters release. His fastball was from 94-97 mph with some release side run. Additionally, he has a good 83-86 mph slider. He was having issues with his breaking balls and hit two batters with them.

He deserves all the praise he is getting. I could see a team not thinking he can stick as a starter and thinking he is headed to the bullpen (where UCSB had him slated to start the season). He was special to watch.

Garrett Benge, L/R, Cowley County

Talk about coming out of nowhere! He now has a profile at MLB.com (ranked #192), but before the season he was getting little, if any, love. He was barely recruited out of high school, went to Cowley County and if he’s not drafted he will go to Oklahoma State this fall. The Wichita Eagle did a nice write up on how he has progressed as a player. Statistically, he dominated the JUCO ranks, as he ranked first in batting average, on-base percentage, runs and RBI, and placed third in slugging percentage and sixth in home runs.

I have seen him play twice and there is a ton to love. He starts with a disciplined approach at the plate and has a good understanding of the strike zone. When he does swing, he seems to always make contact and drives the ball. Almost half of his hits this past season went for extra bases. The one issue I saw with him was some struggles against left-handed pitching.

He isn’t just all hit tool. I timed him at 4.2 seconds to first base, which puts his speed as a 50. He plays an acceptable third base, with a good arm. He could easily move to an outfield corner spot.

I think he is the best overall position player I saw this spring. While I have him as the top position player, I don’t expect him to go until the third to seventh round. JUCO players usually don’t get a lot of love and he didn’t get a ton of looks from cross checkers.

Jeff Degano – LHP – Indiana St.

He throws downhill from a high three-quarters release with his arm trailing behind his body. His fastball was between 87-92 mph. He threw a plus 79 mph change and a one-to-seven curve ball he used as a swing-and-miss pitch. He mixed all his pitches well. Late in the game I saw, he struggled out of the stretch.

Clayton Taylor – SS – L/R – Nebraska-Omaha

Clayton Taylor’s play really stands out in the field. His 6-foot-4 frame at shortstop is hard to miss. I had to check his jersey number a couple of times to make sure he wasn’t a pitcher. The team has him at 190 pounds, which looks about right. He could add some muscle as he matures. I expected him to move around the diamond like a pitcher, but he had good coordination and athleticism for someone his height. I timed him at 4.15 seconds to first on a bunt, so he has at least average speed.

When I saw him against Wichita State, he was easily the best player on the field. He played shortstop in the game I saw and played it well. He gets down on the ball and makes a quick throw to first. A couple of issues, though, limit his upside, particularly his arm. He throws sidearm at times, which will limit distance and therefore where he can play on the diamond. It barely seems to work at shortstop, and I am not sure how it will play at third base or in the outfield.

The other issue is his height. I could see teams wanting to move him immediately to the outfield. There are not a bunch of 6-foot-4 shortstops — but we are back to his arm not being good enough for the outfield. I feel he has the athleticism to work on his throwing mechanics, but that lack of possible positions he can play may limit his draft slot.

Taylor is a line drive-to-fly ball hitter with a good approach at the plate. So far this season he is hitting .286/.400/.467 with four home runs. He starts out with a simple, quiet batting stance and does a small pre-swing load. His forward weight transfer may be a bit ahead of his bat swing. He doesn’t completely sell out for power by guessing on each pitch. Being able to wait on pitches allows him to adjust to different pitch types and drive the ball to all parts of the field.

I like his overall skill set of defense, offense, future project-ability and athleticism. However, I do worry that his height will keep him out of a middle infield spot and his arm will keep him out of the outfield.

Matt Hall – LHP – Missouri State

Hall has grown on me as a pitcher. As a lefty, he led the NCAA in strikeouts with 163 (12.6 K/9), but his fastball doesn’t reach 90 mph. He is a true pitcher with plus command and several pitches. He has a two and a four-seam fastball, and each have a distinct break (86-88 mph and touching 89). Additionally, he possesses a good 2/10 curveball that he works between 70-75 mph. It will be interesting to see where he goes in the draft. He has little up or down side. He is what you see. I have heard some people say he is a left-handed Mike Leake and I could see that. I think he may go higher than some people suspect, as it only take one team to take a chance on him and his lack of downside.

Nate Griep – RHP – Kansas State

Griep was pretty much an unknown coming into the season. He was just coming off Tommy John surgery, but ended up posting a 7.4 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 to go with a 2.63 ERA in the Big 12.

The one item which sticks out is his height. He is listed at 6’2″, but he seems shorter. He throws with maximum effort with a 3/4 delivery. His fastball was 90-95 mph and he also had a plus 10-5 curveball. I was a little worried his frame would not be able to hold up over the course of the game, but in the 5th inning he was still regularly hitting 94 mph.

I could see him get moved to the bullpen where his max effort delivery is better suited. Also, throwing less will mean he may be less injury prone.

Willie Swanke – RHP – Wichita State

I expect no national write-ups will have him on their radars, but I have a good idea a few teams will be interested in him. His fastball was 90-91 mph in the early, cold spring. Then Dillon Tate came to Wichita. I was at the game with 40+ scouts. I noticed none of them were area scouts. Swanke upped his game with a 92-94 four-seamer with glove side run. His sinker was 91-92 with good distinct sink. Also, he was throwing a 82-84 mph slurve. It was a great performance in front of some important baseball people.

That was the last anyone saw of him, as he tore a lat muscle and missed the rest of the season.

Brandon Koch – RHP – Dallas Baptist

I have never seen a pitcher throw so many sliders. In his first inning of work, I counted only three fastballs. The slider breaks hard and was between 81-84 mph. Besides the slider, he has a 91-94 mph straight fastball. His delivery is max effort with a high leg kick and jerky motion. Bad delivery plus heavy slider usage equals decent injury risk.

Tate Matheny – OF – R/R – Missouri State

I can understand taking some heat for this ranking, but I just haven’t seen him perform and don’t see where the growth can come from. I feel he is getting too much love because his dad is Mike Matheny. Reading reports on him, they say they like his bat, but say his speed is a hindrance. I think they have it backwards. In the above video, he is timed at 4.0 secs to first (70 speed). In the Missouri Value tournament, I timed him at 4.08 to first. He used the speed to lead the team with 12 steals.

When it does come to hitting, he seems to find a way to find a way on base. He was hit by a pitch 17 times. He does seem to have good enough bat speed to make contact, but the contact is just weak. With his speed, he should be able to leg out a few singles and turn singles into doubles. I just don’t see the love for him and I hope he proves me wrong.

Taylor Hearn – LHP – Oklahoma Baptist

Sometimes it pays to be a bit lucky. In March, there was a game between NAIA power houses Tabor and Oklahoma Baptist (Baptist knocked Tabor out of the NAIA World Series) at Wichita State. I went looking for anyone and found Taylor Hearn.

The 6’6″ skinny lefty pitcher is still a bit raw, but is already productive. His fastball was between 90-92 mph and down in the zone. He also threw an 80 mph slider. He completely over powered the Tabor hitters the day I saw him and ended the season with a 10.0 K/9. He had some control issues, as his 4.6 BB/9 demonstrates.

Chance Adam – RHP – Dallas Baptist

He is one of several hard throwing relievers Dallas Baptist has in their bullpen. He threw a 93-94 mph fastball, 76 mph curve and the pitch every Dallas Baptist reliever seems to throw, a slider (79 mph).

Drew Smith – R/R Dallas Baptist

The third and final hard thrower I saw in the Dallas Baptist bullpen. He didn’t work long, with a 92-94 mph fastball and 77 mph curve.

Sam Hilliard – 1B – Wichita State

Hilliard was a highly touted pitcher out of the junior college ranks and was on MLB.com’s top 200 prospects for the 2014 draft. He threw 88-92 in ’14, but his velocity dipped to 82-84 mph in ’15. While still used as a reliever, Hilliard began to excel as a hitter. He hit .335/.394/.546 with eight home runs. While he mainly played first for the Shockers, I could see him be able to play the outfield with that pitcher’s arm. He has decent speed — he went nine for 10 on stolen base attempts — and I timed him at 4.03 and 4.15 to first base.

Note: This next group of right-handed pitchers I would consider to be the same value. They should go in the sixth round or later.

Lucus Humpal – RHP – Texas State

The Texas State junior attacked hitters with a high 3/4 delivery with some deception, whip and jerky motion at times. His fastball was 89-90 mph with some nasty release side run. He was able to keep the velocity up during the game. He had a straight 82 mph change and a 75 slurve which he slowed his arm down on. He worked fast, but had issues from the stretch. I think he is worth a shot as a reliever.

Will Headean – LHP – Illinois State

He is fairly wild, with a less than 2.0 K/BB ratio (nearly 9 K/9), and ten hit batsmen this season. When I saw him he was just as wild, but there is some potential there. The lefty’s sinking fastball was 87-90 mph, and he had a 1/7 curveball at 74-76 mph. Everything he does screams reliever. He lost velocity by the inning and there is not much growth potential.

Elliot Ashbeck – RHP – Bradley

He pitches with a smooth, easy delivery. His fastball is at 88-90, and dropped to 87-89 in the 5th. His curve was at 76 mph with a 11-5 break and his change was a straight 81 mph.

Joseph Shaw – RHP – Dallas Baptist


He threw from a ¾ release with a fairly straight fastball at 88-92 mph. His change was at 77-81 mph which he threw quite often. He also had a 75 mph curve. He struggled early in the game, but eventually settled in.

Isaac Anderson – RHP – Wichita State

He became the default Friday stater with Swanke and Tewes getting hurt early in the season. His 88-91 mph fastball has a good amount of sink which generates a high number of ground balls. Also, he has a 78-81 mph change and 72 mph curve.

Brent Williams – R/R – C – Seward County

Williams didn’t hit the best, but not horrible (.399/.451/.673). He made the national JUCO team his freshman season. Here is my write up on him from the KJCCC tournament.

He is a center piece of Seward’s offensive juggernaut. It is nice when a team’s top hitters is also a great defensive catcher (2.1 pop times). He hit a 395 ft. fly ball to the deepest part of the park. Besides the near home run he hit two other balls to the warning track. Williams does keep up the catcher of tradition by having below average speed.

Even if he is drafted, I could see him keep his commitment to Oral Roberts.

Anthony Miller – L/R – 1B – Johnson County CC

Mr. Miller can do one thing and that is hit the ball hard and far. He was second in the JUCO ranks with 26 home runs and had the number one slugging percentage. I saw him twice this season. The first time was at the KJCCC scout day, where he put on a show in batting practice. The second time was at the Kansas JUCO tournament, where the other team wanted nothing to do with him and walked him three times. He has about 20 speed and is limited to first base or designated hitter. He is committed to New Mexico State next year.

Granger Studard – L/L – LF – Texas State

The left-handed batter has a smooth swing which ended up generating decent power by season’s end (11 homers, .485 SLG). He’s OK and I could see some team taking a chance on him.

Eric Gutierrez – R/L – 1B – Texas Tech

Gutierrez had quite a few preseason honors, but he disappointed, with only three home runs in 2015. He only grounded out in the one game I saw of him. Pitchers could have been pitching around him, since he had 12 more walks than strikeouts.

Justin Wall – R/R – LF – Dallas Baptist

Wall is the best hitter on Dallas Baptist. The short (5’10”) outfielder has both decent speed (12-14 on bases) and power (team leading .521 SLG and 12 homers). While he played left field this season, I could see the team who drafts him moving him to second base.

Blake Rodgers – RHP – Oklahoma University

I saw Rogers last summer when I covered the Jayhawk League for Baseball America. Here is my freely available writeup on him:

Rogers is a 6-foot-2 reliever who comes at hitters with a 91-94 mph fastball and a 76-79 mph breaking ball. Even though he has put on 30 pounds from the start of his freshman season, his 6-foot-1 frame will allow for some additional growth. He throws from a three-quarters arm slot with a quick, easy, repeatable motion. Previously a starter, he comes in to relieve using a full wind-up. He initially went to Lyons College in Arkansas and then transferred to Cisco JC in Texas for the 2014 season, during which he struggled with his control as a starter. He was used exclusively as a reliever in the Jayhawk League, where he struck out nearly 11 batters per nine innings while posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 7-1 in limited usage.

He struggled with the Sooners and was extremely hittable and gave up too many walks. While he did not pitch in the OU game I saw him in this spring, I am still intrigued by what I saw last summer.

Senior signs

Guessing how these players will be valued is not something I have been able to pin down just yet. Some really jump up as teams give them insanely low bonuses so they can spend the money elsewhere. Others just don’t get drafted at all. Here are a few seniors who could get picked up.

Kevin Kaczmarski – CF – L/L – Evansville

I am really interested to see where he gets drafted and for how much he signs. He is the only senior hitter on the Golden Spikes semifinalist list. If he was a junior, I would place him between Matheny and Hearn.

He rocked a .478 average in 2015, which is helped by his line drive swing. He played center field, but will probably need to move to a corner spot. His arm is fine, but he doesn’t have the speed to cover center. I timed him at 4.41 seconds to 1B (30 speed).

Corey Taylor –RHP – Texas Tech

He threw in relief with full effort with a 92-94 mph fastball with some release side run and downward break. He can generate quite a few ground balls. Additionally, he had an 86-87 mph slider.

Eric Cheray – 2B – L/R – Missouri Sate

He has a nice shiny .413 batting average on the season…and that is about it for him. He has no power and is limited to second base.

Shane Conlon – 1B – L/L – Kansas State

He was the top offensive player for a weak K-State team. While he can hit some, he is limited to just first base. There was a reason he was passed over following his junior year.

Dean Long – 3B – R/R – Emporia State

This kid can hit and hit for power. He hit 23 home runs and had more extra base hits than singles (33 singles, 43 XBH). I am not sure if this Div II player is on anyone’s radar, but with the lack of power in the majors, I could see a team take a chance on him.

Kansas High Schools Draft Potential

It has been a couple of tough years for Kansas high school players getting drafted. Only two were drafted last season and neither signed. Here are the top three players with draft potential I have seen, but I would not be surprised to see none of them drafted.

Connar Kaiser – SS/RHP – R/R – Blue Valley West

The Vanderbilt commit looks the part with an athletic build. He plays a decent shortstop, but I have never seen that ‘Wow’ play from him. His greatest asset is a cannon for an arm. He came in to pitch one inning during the Kansas 5A state championships and was 88-91 mph with his fastball and flashed a 76 mph curve. His hitting has not taken off yet and he showed nothing from the plate when I saw him. Over two games, I timed him at 4.18, 4.47 and 4.40 to first. I think it will take a high pick to move him off his Vanderbilt commitment.

Connor Lungwitz – RHP – Maize

The Wichita State commit is a big kid (6’5″, 210 lbs). He throws smoothly from a three-quarters arm slot with an easy repeatable delivery. He commands an 87-90 mph fastball, with arm side run. He has an 11/5 breaking ball at 73-75 mph and a 75-77 mph change-up. If he could pick up a few mph, he could be a nice work horse like starter.

Ryan Zeferjahn – RHP – Topeka Seaman

The six-foot tall right hander was on few draft radars until Topeka Seaman and Topeka Hayden played a game at Kauffman Stadium. In that game, Zeferjahn’s 2-seamer was at 91-92 mph and he had a 93-94 mph 4-seamer that touched 95. I saw him in the 5A state tournament and he was 89-92 with a 85 slider, 78-80 change a 76 mph curve. It seems like he got quite a bit of love from that one game though and may bypass his Kansas State commitment.

References & Resources

  • A very, very special thanks to my wife Kristen running the house while I was “working” at all the games I went to. Also, thank you to the Huntleys and Lyons for watching my kids between school and Kristen getting off work.


Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.
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Miles
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Miles

great read

Chad
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Chad

Think you’re wrong about Miller being limited to first base or DH. Played 3rd base and short stop in high school, was also timed around 4.7 forty yd dash at multiple football combines, and has 30+ inch vert. Was aruguably best athlete in KS high school sports 2 years ago. I spend a majority of my time looking at high school athletes in the state of Kansas and saw him many of times, good read otherwise!