2011 MLB Rule 4 Draft Rockies Preview

SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 07: MLB commissioner Bud Selig speaks during the MLB First Year Player Draft on June 7, 2010 held in Studio 42 at the MLB Network in Secaucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

With the 2011 MLB Draft less than 24 hours away, the Rockies appear to be the easiest team to forecast in the back half of the first round. Analysts from Keith Law to Baseball America to Frankie Piliere all agree on the same three names associated with the Rockies at pick #20, with the central theme being college bat.

While we cannot dismiss this information, especially with Baseball America’s uncanny ability to relay accurate scoop on late or supplemental first round picks, we still must take all projections with a grain of salt when a team is picking at the back half of the first round.

If you’re looking for an example for when a projection on a late pick like this was accurate, you don’t have to look past last season, when Baseball America hinted at the Rockies closing in on Kyle Parker days before the draft.  While this would suggest that the three names linked to Colorado will likely prove to be the correct outcome, we can also look at the 2008 Draft, when the Rockies surprised most pundits by selecting the sliding Christian Friedrich as an example of Colorado’s unpredictability.  

Will the Rockies lay in the weeds again this year and steal away a higher rated name sliding due to bonus demands, or are we already pretty certain which direction the Rockies will head in tomorrow’s first round?  We’ll attempt to answer this as well as breakdown a few potential prospects all the way through the middle rounds after the jump.

The First Round:

Unfortunately, I’m not expecting any surprises with the Rockies’ pick.  Maybe you can call it lowered expectations in hope of being pleasantly surprised tomorrow, but with the MLB Draft, you simply cannot dismiss the connections experts have made to the Rockies and the three college bats.  At this time, I’m expecting the Rockies to select one of these three names, which I rank in order of desirability:

Levi Michael, SS, North Carolina- This might come as a small shock to my twitter followers, as I’ve been fairly critical of this selection, but I do consider Michael a legitimate first rounder at short and should the Rockies select him, I’d advocate leaving him at short for as long as possible.  What Michael brings to the table is real versatility in the field, a patient approach on both sides of the plate, plus baserunning, and a little more potential due to age.  One aspect of Michael I really appreciate is his defensive ability, especially his soft hands.  Michael could be a plus defender at either third or second, while playing a solid shortstop.  He’s been highly efficient on the base paths and could steal 15-20 bases annually in the pros.  He also has the plate discipline you look for in a leadoff hitter and enough leverage in his swing to provide 5-15 homers a year.  The big concern with Michael is his true hitting ability and ultimate upside.  He’s slumped somewhat down the stretch, and though he has good bat speed, he may be more of a .280 hitter in the pros.  Michael is only 20, as like Kyler Parker, he graduated high school early to play for the Tar Heels as a true freshman/should be high school senior.  If you dream hard enough, you might see Michael Young, but I’d put his realistic ceiling at a .280/.380/.420 second baseman with 20 steals, 10 homers, and near plus defense.

C.J. Cron, 1B, Utah- Of the three, I believe C.J. Cron is the least likely to be available at pick 20, but the most likely selection if he’s there.  He’s second on my list because I have doubts on his swing and resume that I’m just not seeing the experts touch on.  Cron is the preeminent college power bat.  Some experts even put his raw power at 80 on the 20-80 scale, and even see him as a solid overall hitter.  The upside here is a .315/.385/.575 hitter with 30-40 home runs.  Why can I not get on board with that?  For starters, I’m not in love with the swing or bat speed.  Cron is a major upper body swinger that relies primarily on his raw strength to muscle balls out of the yard.  He rolls his hands in his load and has not looked apt to adjusting to breaking balls when I watched him.  His numbers have been padded by the altitude friendly parks of the Mountain West and sub-par conference pitching, though he did show well down in Houston against Texas A&M.  The bat has to succeed, because Cron has no other tools, and may not be more than below average at first.  My fear is that Cron ultimately struggles with better pro breaking balls, and lacks the plus bat speed of the elite MLB sluggers to recover.  Double A flameout warning is high for me but doesn’t seem to be for the experts.  If I’m wrong on Cron, he’s a perennial All-Star, so I can live with this pick.

Kolten Wong, 2B, Hawaii- There’s a misconception about the term "Safe Pick" when talking about prospects in the MLB Draft.  For starters, it doesn’t exist, and if it did, it would primarily describe a player that will breeze through the low minors but ultimately lack the tools to carve out a consistent career at the major league level.  I’m not suggesting Wong cannot have a successful pro career, but what I am saying is that risk requires payoff, and the payoff with Wong simply isn’t high enough.  Wong’s lone plus tool is his hitting ability, and at 5’9 190, he knows how to barrel a baseball.  Wong has a compact stroke with loft, and he could offer surprising pop.  Scouting reports seem to vary on his speed, but best guess says he’s just above average here.  He receives plus marks for his make-up and has a grinder mentality.  When I study him, though, I just don’t see enough to warrant a first round pick.  Wong has a leg kick in his swing that at times is too big for my liking, and could lead to too much swing and miss from an expected top of the order hitter.  I don’t think he can be more than average defensively at second, and he has a compact, almost stocky frame that will have to be monitored.  Wong certainly has the make-up to defy the odds and critics, but as I would always say with Pedroia look-alikes, I’ll be willing to be wrong if it meant taking a player with a more "normal" profile.  Realistic ceiling for Wong looks similar offensively to Michael with possibly more average and slugging, but Michael exceeds the total package with his defense.

While it’s highly likely I just broke down the Rockies’ first round selection, here are a few names worth monitoring if Colorado decides to go off script:

Brandon Nimmo, OF, Wyoming High School- If Rockies do indeed make a splash with a tough sign, I’d expect it to be with a player that comes with a price tag under three million.  Nimmo is this plus a "backyard" talent with helium and the tools to match the hype.  His situation is similar to Trout in that he’s a terrific athlete in a region not known for exposure to pro scouts.  A likely right fielder, Nimmo has a five tool star ceiling, but may take time given his limited development.

Andrew Susac, C, Oregon State- Probably would have rocketed past pick #20 had he not broken his hamate bone this season, Susac is a power hitting catcher that should have little trouble sticking at the position.  He had a lot of helium coming off the Cape this summer and was having a strong sophomore season prior to injury.  It may take another year for his power to return, but Susac brings solid hitting ability to a premium position, and you cannot ignore the resume prior to injury.

Josh Osich, LHP, Oregon State- This will be a trend, as I like the Oregon State guys this year.  If Rockies are attempting to keep the budget down in the first round, Osich is my personal pick.  He has a big frame and two plus pitches in his mid 90’s fastball and change with excellent fade.  His slider hasn’t returned with him from Tommy John surgery, but he has the arm slot and action to spin a decent one.  He’s had questionable command throughout his career, but has made strides this year and it will need to be no more than average with his plus stuff.

Other Notable Players and General First Round Observations-

-George Springer (Connecticut) and Mikie Mahtook (Louisiana State) are two college outfielders that would be under consideration if they fell.  Springer has serious contact issues, though, and Mahtook may be no more than a Spilborghs clone.

-Only upper echelon college pitcher I see falling is Jed Bradley (Georgia Tech), and the Rockies may elect to continue to pass.  Bradley has a better pedigree than Osich, but also lacks a breaking ball and can’t match Osich’s two plus pitches in my opinion.

-If you are rooting against the Diamondbacks succeeding, I’d hope they avoid Trevor Bauer (UCLA) and select Danny Hultzen (Virginia).  Hultzen carves up collegians with plus command of above average stuff, but I think his stuff fits the #3 profile more.  Bauer’s velocity has been superb down the stretch, and he already spins a major league plus breaking ball.

-One big college name that I don’t understand all the hype for?  Taylor Jungmann (Texas).  Tall but a frame that won’t add much bulk; I don’t see Jungmann consistently in the mid-90’s as a pro.  That leaves him with an above average fastball, thanks to command, and an above average breaking ball.  He’s heavily reliant on the breaking ball now, and could be more of an off-speed pitcher as a pro.  I can’t see him becoming more than a league average #3 at best.

-Cory Spangenberg (Florida CC) brings intrigue and mystery.  He’s supposedly the most pure hitter of the collegians, but there’s simply no video out there to confirm this or his supposedly questionable defense.  If the Rockies select him, they may believe he can stick at third or second, and if he is the gap hitter his scouting reports claim he is, we could have a .330 hitter at Coors.

-Best player available when the Rockies pick?  I’d expect that to be Blake Swihart or Josh Bell.  We are likely talking over four million a piece in bonus for the Texas commits, so expect the Rockies to pass.

-Top high school arms Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley appear miles ahead of their counterparts, but for me, the next tier starts with Tyler Beede.  With a pitcher’s frame (6’4 200 lbs.) and loads of athleticism, Beede repeats his delivery and teases with velocity approaching the mid 90’s.  The price tag sounds high, but if a team can afford it, they will get a pitcher that reminds me of Padres’ top prospect Casey Kelly, and could be a #2 at the major league level.

The Supplemental First Round:

Given what we seem to know about the first round, the supplemental portion may provide the most intrigue when the Rockies make their pick at #45.  Obviously, if any of the names above, like Susac or Osich, slide, then I’d hope we see them selected.  Still, there are plenty of first round quality players that could be available at this spot.  Here are some of my favorites or players worth noting:

Andrew Chafin, LHP, Kent State- With a profile similar to Osich, Chafin could hear his name called before pick #45, but most experts rank him around this area and he could prove to be a steal at this pick.  Like Osich, Chafin profiles as a power #3 with strike out stuff, a better third pitch, and a similar spotty health history thanks to Tommy John surgery.  Chafin doesn’t throw as hard as Osich, but does have a slider considered to be a plus by some experts.  He has more effort than Osich in his delivery, and may be a bullpen candidate at some point.  Still, Chafin has held onto his plus stuff into the later innings this year, and like Bettis last year, has earned the right to prove his worth in the rotation.

Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, South Carolina- His talent still merits a first round selection, but good luck finding a mock that still places him there.  Bradley Jr. was slumping prior to injury this year and not everyone his impressed with his tools.  He has a high cut waist and may not have the quick twitch to be a top of the order player, but Bradley is a grinder with excellent make-up that should stay in center thanks to his instincts.  It’s hard to place a realistic ceiling on Bradley, but he has the mentality and package that seems to catch the eye of the Rockies’ draft decision makers.

Alex Dickerson, LF/1B, Indiana- While this draft is deep in power arms, it lacks for polished college bats, or almost any power college bats.  If the Rockies don’t select Cron in the first round, Dickerson could be a target in the supplemental round.  While he lacks the raw power of Cron, Dickerson does possess the more technically sound swing and I believe he can hit for a solid average as a pro.  His power ceiling is up for debate, as he was pitched around at Indiana, keeping analysts from getting a good indication of his power with the BBCOR bats.  With his leverage and swing speed, Dickerson should be a 20-25 HR guy will hitting around .300.  He’s not a great athlete and would likely shift to 1st base for Colorado.

Kyle Crick, RHP, Texas High School- If you are looking for a Peter Tago-esque selection this year, Crick may be your best bet.  An arm strength righty with a pro body, Crick is in need of refining his control to take advantage of his plus fastball.  He can upset his rhythm and timing in his delivery by taking the ball out of his glove too early.   Crick will require patience, but like Tago, his ceiling is extremely high and a realistic ceiling cannot be pinned down at this point.

Additional Supplemental First Round Notes-

-Most mocks have some impressive high school arms slipping to the supplemental round thanks to price tag.  If the Rockies save money with their first pick and intend to splurge in the supplemental round, names like Dillon Howard, Joe Ross, and Henry Owens fit this mold.

-If Rockies elect to continue with expected first round trend of high probability, two college lefties could be of interest.  Grayson Garvin (Vanderbilt) has the size and fastball to possibly dream for a #3, but lacks sizzle in his stuff.  Sean Gilmartin (Florida State) is more underwhelming, whose only plus skill may be his command.  Both have been rumored in the first round for teams looking for quick risers.

-If Dickerson is gone, Aaron Westlake (Vanderbilt) and Ricky Oropesa (Southern California) are likely college first basemen that represent the remaining members of the 2nd tier of college sluggers.  Oropesa has the power advantage but has major swing and miss issues.  Westlake has a lot of good qualities from his size to his swing to his make-up, but does he have enough bat speed to succeed past AA?

-This pick marks the first potential area that we may see Dante Bichette Jr. (Florida HS).  He’ll be an overdraft anywhere ahead of the fourth round, but like other Rockies’ draftniks, I see the Bichette Jr. selection as an inevitability early on the second day.

-The Rockies have always had an eye for the five tool but non plus outfielder around this spot in the draft, and should they decide to go that route, Kes Carter of Western Kentucky has the traits of a Rockies’ outfield selection.

Second Round and Beyond:

As we enter the impossible to predict territory of the draft, I’ll give you some quick thumbnails of players I like or prospects that should be notable to watch on day two and three:

-Arm strength seems to be the tool de joure in the draft, and teams should be able to stock up on back of the rotation starters with large frames and good fastballs.  In this vein, I like Andrew Gagnon (Long Beach State) as a 3-5 round guy,  who may still have some projection with a fastball that already reaches 94 mph with riding life.  Erik Johnson (Cal) has a pro ready body and better command, albeit with less upside.  further down is Austin Wood of Southern California, who looked to be putting it together with his upper 90’s fastball on the cape, but seemed to frustrate scouts with his subpar season and lack of life on his pitches.

-Cody Kukuk (Kansas HS) is a real sleeper that could take off as a prospect in pro ball.  Excellent frame (6’4 200 lbs.) with a fastball that already gets into the low 90’s from the south side, I wouldn’t be surprised if he went ahead of projections and into the second round.

-College relief prospects are abundant in this draft.  My favorite may be Hawaii’s Lenny Linsky, who throws a rail splitting fastball in the low 90’s.  His ground ball tendencies could warrant an attempt to convert to starting.  With so many college relievers throwing in the mid 90’s, expect to Rockies to tap into this mine at some point in the first ten rounds.

-Two lanky HS outfield prospects that I like as second rounders:  Granden Goetzman has drawn comparisons to Jayson Werth and could stick in center with an above average hitting and power tool.  I like Tyler Goeddel more than most and see him sticking at 3rd despite his 6’4 frame.  He’s a good runner with a smooth swing that could produce average pop.  3rd basemen are scarce, not just in the draft but baseball in general, so if you find a kid that has a reasonable chance of sticking at the position, you leave him there until he proves unfit to handle the position.

-I’ve heard Gonzaga’s Ryan Carpenter’s name associated with the Rockies.  He’s a big framed lefty who’s thrown mid 90’s in the past, but his velocity was down during the season.  Could warrant look in fourth round on as a bounce back candidate/project.

-His fastball may wind up being too short for a major league rotation, but Sam Gaviglo’s secondary stuff and feel for pitching at Oregon State has been impressive.  If he can command his slider and change consistently as a pro, he’ll have a shot as a fifth starter.

-As Baseball America notes, Bobby Crocker (OF, Cal Poly) may just be scratching the surface of his baseball potential.  He’s a physical top of the order hitter who’s got a gap to gap swing that could be extended a bit to add power.  Given his size and collection of tools, he fits the mold of a Colorado outfield selection.

-Every pick the Rockies make on a catcher in the early-middle rounds seems to work.  The college ranks have a handful of athletic receivers slated to go between rounds 3-7, my favorite being James McCann (Arkansas).  He’s tall but has shown above average receiving skills, and I’ve seen him flash an almost plus arm as well.  At the plate, there’s still some projection thanks to his frame, and he could realize a ceiling of .275 with 15 homers.  My favorite high school catcher outside the first round names is Tyler Marlette, who packs considerable power into an 5’11 frame.  He too is an athletic receiver, but given his power upside, he may be selected as high as the supplemental first round.

-If I had my fingers crossed for one late single digits-early teens pick, it may be for Jason Krizan of Dallas Baptist.  Krizan set the doubles record in the NCAA this year despite the BBCOR bat, and while he may not convert many doubles to homers given his maxed out short frame and compact line drive oriented swing, he has the overall hitting ability to carve out a nice career as a fourth outfielder/lefty pinch hitter with an outside chance of something more.

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