One of my favorite events of the baseball calendar is the annual amateur draft. The draft doesn’t have the fanfare that, say, the NFL draft does, but championships are won and lost based on decisions made on draft day. No one knows this better than Giants fans. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, and Sergio Romo – among others – were all taken in the June draft over the last 10 years, and there are few teams in the majors who have had as much success in the draft as the Giants.
The first round through the end of the second compensation round, a.k.a. the first 73 picks, occur on June 6th, with rounds 3-40 spread out over the 7th and 8th. For the purposes of these previews, I’ll only cover players that the Giants might take with one of their first two picks, #25 and #64. There are a couple of reasons for this – one, it’s really impossible to tell who’s going to be on the board after about the first 20 picks, so trying to project anything past the first round is somewhat folly. Also, projecting out any farther means researching the 300 or so players that could get drafted in the first three rounds, which to be quite honest is a bit more work than I want or am able to do.
Things to know before I begin: the Giants draft bonus pool is $4,712,200, which means they can’t pay bonuses in excess of this amount to players drafted in the first 10 rounds without paying a penalty. I’m operating under the assumption that the Giants will go to every measure to stay under this cap. That means that the Giants will most likely not draft a guy who is expected to require a significantly overslot bonus to sign.
The Giants’ war room is run by Scouting Director John Barr, who is helming his sixth draft. His five first-round picks, in order: Buster Posey (2008), Zack Wheeler (2009), Gary Brown (2010), Joe Panik (2011), Chris Stratton (2012). Not bad. In early rounds, Barr has shown a stark preference for college players as opposed to high school players. In his five years running the draft, he’s drafted 26 players in the first five rounds – 23 college players and 3 high schoolers. However, when he takes a high school player, he usually is a hit – the three players he’s taken are Zack Wheeler, currently the Mets’ top prospect, Tommy Joseph, one of the Phillies top-5 prospects, and current Giants top prospect Kyle Crick. So come June 6th, if the Giants take a high school player early, you know Barr must like him a lot.
We’re at almost 500 words and I haven’t even started the preview yet, so let’s begin. Today I’ll preview the pitchers I like for the Giants at #25, and next week I’ll preview the hitters.
Chris Anderson, RHP, University of Jacksonville. 6’2″, 225 lbs. BA #26, Keith Law #25
Anderson started this season extremely strong and has faded down the stretch somewhat. Earlier this year his fastball was touching 95-96, but it’s been in the 90-93 range more recently. He also has a true plus pitch in his slider. He’s been worked hard by the Jacksonville coaching staff, but if he’s handled properly there’s hope he could bump the fastball back into the mid-90s. His fastball command is lacking, and right now he lacks a third pitch that he needs to profile as a #2 or #3 starter in the majors. However, he’s been working on a change-up, and that pitch could become an average offering that would help him turn a lineup over for a third time. He’s got the size you like to see from a 200 IP pitcher. I’m not enamored with his mechanics, but I’ve seen worse and there’s not a real cause for concern there. He’d be a bit of a reclamation project – at one point earlier this year he was a potential top-10 pick – but if Barr and Pitching Coordinator Dick Tidrow think they can find that lost fastball velocity, he could be great value at #25. Even if the change-up never develops, he could be a valuable relief arm, although that’s not really what a team looks for in the first round. He likely will sign for somewhere around slot value.
Marco Gonzalez, LHP, Gonzaga University. 6’1″, 185 lbs. BA #28, Keith Law #23
Gonzalez doesn’t have knockout stuff but can really pitch. His fastball sits in the 89-90 range, and grades out as average from the left side. He has an average curveball, but his bread and butter pitch is the change-up — one of the best in this year’s draft, according to Law. He has excellent command and control, having surrendered only 21 walks in 95 IP and zero home runs so far this year. He’s a bit on the small side for a guy you’re counting on to be out there every fifth day, but he’ll likely require little minor league seasoning. He could probably compete for a rotation spot next spring, but he’s likely a fourth starter when all is said and done. Still, he could be an attractive option for the Giants, who could have as many as three rotation spots open in Spring Training 2014. He’s another guy likely to sign for slot value.
Andrew Thurman, RHP, UC Irvine. 6’3″, 205 lbs. BA #45, Keith Law #27
Thurman reminds me a lot of last year’s first round pick, Chris Stratton. He’s breaking on to the first-round scene late in the year in a power conference, he doesn’t have any 70 grade pitches but he’s got four that are average or better, and he pairs that with above-average command and control. Stratton was the guy I wanted to Giants to take last year, and Thurman’s the guy I want them to take this year. Stratton was a better prospect on Draft Day last year than Thurman will be this year, but that’s to be expected – the Giants draft 5 spots lower in a weaker draft – but I like a guy with four good pitches and a history of pitching in the zone. He’s got very good fastball command, pitching to either side of the plate when that skill is relatively rare in college, and he backs it up with a very good change-up and decent slider. His curveball is his worst offering, but has room to improve if he focuses on tightening it up a little bit. He’s got a solid build for a pitcher and very good mechanics. Like Stratton, I think Thurman has a #3 ceiling and a very high floor, which makes him a very attractive option at the end of the first round.
Ryan Eades, RHP, Louisiana State University. 6’3″, 193 lbs. BA #37, Keith Law #30
Eades has been one of the best pitchers in the best conference in the country for college baseball, the SEC, and that has him projected somewhere at the end of the first round. I’m not as big of a fan of Eades as I am of some of the players I named above. He’s got a pretty good fastball that sits 91-94 and that he shows good command of, but his secondary offerings leave something to be desired. His change-up is average, sitting in the high-70s or low-80s, but he throws a below-average slurvy curveball that seems like a pitch without a purpose. His mechanics don’t thrill me either, he’s very herky-jerky without the smooth delivery of some of the other college pitchers I’ve talked about. He’s also more slight than some of the other pitchers on this list, which has led to some concerns about his durability long term.
Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Oral Roberts University. 6’3″, 200 lbs. BA #43, Keith Law #16
Gonzalez has completely dominated the weak competition of the Southland Conference, to the tune of a 1.99 ERA and 112 K in 99.1 IP. He’s got a fastball that sits at 91-94 and good command, and he complements that with an above-average cutter at 89-90 and slider at 84-86. He’s got a below-average change-up that he’ll have to develop to reach his ceiling of a #3 starter. He’s another high-polish college pitcher that I seem to be a fan of, but Gonzalez likely won’t need much seasoning in the minors. His delivery is very smooth, although he is a bit slight, which has raised durability concerns.
These five pitchers, along with a number of others whom I’ll only name – since we’re getting pretty long winded as it is – make up the second tier of college pitchers in this years draft. The draft class is deep in college starters, especially right-handers, and there will likely be a few enticing options on the board when the Giants pick at #25. Five more names to know: Aaron Blair, Marshall; Jonathan Crawford, Florida; Andrew Mitchell, TCU; Trevor Williams, ASU; Kevin Ziomek, Vanderbilt.
High School Pitchers:
Matt Krook, LHP, St. Ignatius (San Francisco) HS. 6’4″, 190 lbs. BA #32, Keith Law #35
Coming out of the Giants’ backyard is Matt Krook. He’s a projectable lefty with a low-90s fastball and a plus curveball, but his other secondary offerings need some work. His value is tied up in his projectability, and the team that takes him has to believe that they can get another 2-3 mph out of the fastball while developing his change-up. His mechanics aren’t perfect but there’s a lot to like, as he gets pretty good deception on his fastball and curveball. As a team that historically has done pretty well developing high school arms, Krook has to be an attractive target for Barr, Tidrow, and Co. Also, don’t read anything into the fact that Krook goes to St. Ignatius – no team has shown an affinity for drafting players from their area, and when it does happen those draftees don’t tend to give teams “hometown discounts.” Oregon commit.
Hunter Harvey, RHP, Bandys (NC) HS. 6’3″, 175 lbs. BA #24, Keith Law #24
Harvey is the son of former Angels and Marlins reliever Bryan Harvey. He sits 90-94 from the right side with the fastball. His command of the pitch is lacking right now, but he’s got some weird mechanical shenanigans that make it hard for him to command his pitches. At 6-foot-3, 175, he’s got room to put on 20-30 lbs, which when paired with a mechanics adjustment could unleash some serious velocity in the future. He’s got a good curveball but no third pitch. There’s a lot of projectability with Harvey, but a ton of upside as well. I tend to shy away from these types, but the Giants have gone for these types of players before. He could go before the Giants draft at #25. No college commitment.
Jacob Brentz, LHP, Parkway South HS, Ballwin, MO. 6’2″, 195 lbs. BA #81, Keith Law #33
Brentz is a kid I didn’t know a lot about until recently, but who’s really shot up my draft board. He’s a lefty with good size, solid mechanics, and big velocity. His fastball sits in the mid-90s with some sink on it, and he can dial it up to 97 at times. His secondary offerings need work; he’s got a change-up and a curveball that both have potential but both have a long way to go, as well. Still, the combination of high velocity, fastball movement, and good mechanics has me sold. He’d be a bit of a reach at #25 but he likely won’t be available at #64, so if Barr and Tidrow like him they should snag him in the first. Missouri commit.
Rob Kaminsky, LHP, St. Joseph’s HS, Montvale, NJ. 6’0″, 190 lbs. BA #22, Keith Law #38
Kaminsky is a left-hander out of the non-traditional baseball state of New Jersey. As a result, he’s a bit more of an unknown than some of these other pitchers, as his high school gets a relatively late start to the season due to weather. He’s got a fastball in the 89-91 range, a good curve and an advanced change, with a good feel for all three pitches. He’s pretty advanced for a high school pitcher, especially considering his relative lack of pitching experience. About a month ago Kaminsky sat on the top of my draft board for the Giants at #25, but a string of poor performances coupled with doubts about his size has led him to drop somewhat. He’s a North Carolina commit.
Phil Bickford, RHP, Oaks Christian HS, Westlake Villiage, CA. 6’4″, 185 lbs. BA #25, Keith Law #55
Bickford has the perfect combination of present stuff and future projectability. At 6-foot-4, 185, he’s got room to add 20 pounds or so, but his fastball is already up to 97, sitting in the 93-95 range. He’s got a fairly deceptive delivery with a 3/4 arm slot. His mechanics aren’t the cleanest but there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with just a minor tweak. He’s got an impressive slider mid- to upper-80s and a mid-80s change-up that’s ahead of what you typically see from a high schooler. He’s a guy I like very much and I would be thrilled to see the Giants take him at #25, where I suspect he’ll still be available. He’s a Cal State Fullerton commit.
That’s a lot of words about pitchers. I’ll be back later this week with some more words about hitters. The hitting class is significantly weaker than the pitching class this year, but there are a few intriguing names I’d bet the Giants are looking at.