Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Actual Draft vs. "Shadow Draft": A Retrospective

One of the fun parts of the baseball offseason is that we get a break from the day-to-day grind of the season, which affords us some time to reflect, clean out the closet, and dust off old thoughts for re-examination. So, it's probably a good time to revisit my "shadow draft picks" of the past.

Starting in 2005, when draft time rolled around, I began to analyze the draft eligible prospects and determine which one I would select if I was in charge of the Reds draft. It was a fun exercise and an intellectual challenge.

In short, these picks are what I would have done at the time of each draft, not what I would have done with the benefit of perfect hindsight. So, not surprisingly, there are both significant hits and misses, but the picks are what they are. No sense trying to sweep the bad ones under the rug, rather I've tried to learn from my missteps and use that experience in the future.

Of course, I didn't start this blog until 2007, so my draft thoughts existed only on message boards until the 2008 draft rolled around, but I'm including those early message board picks anyway for posterity sake. Besides, it makes the post that much more fun.

Anyway, the Reds' picks are in red, while my picks are in orange. The comments on these picks are based on thoughts, impressions, and evaluations at the time of each respective draft. Basically, historical snapshots from the time of those respective drafts. Given how the fortunes of minor league prospects can change substantially from year-to-year, that's really the only way to do it. The 2005, 2006, and 2007 drafts happened prior to the existence of this blog, so I have tried to recreate my thoughts and industry evaluations as they existed at the time of those drafts.

Anyway, all that said, away we go.....

2005: Jay Bruce vs. Ricky Romero

This was the first time I really looked into the draft and picked the player I wanted the Reds to select. Of course, those with a sharp eye and a keen memory will recall that Ricky Romero was selected 6th by the Blue Jays, while the Reds didn't select Jay Bruce until their 12th overall pick rolled around. So, in my first effort, there were clearly a few kinks to be worked out, as I selected a player the Reds couldn't possibly have drafted. In future years, I only selected a player that was actually available to the Reds with their first pick, but I'm including this one anyway.

The 2005 draft was an epic one, filled with potential impact talent from the top of the first round all the way down to the bottom. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting at least a couple of legitimate impact prospects.

I followed Ricky Romero at Cal State Fullerton and loved his bulldog mentality and offspeed offerings. He had a nice curveball and a quality changeup. He also had a good understanding of how to pitch. He was the guy I wanted the perennially pitching-starved Reds to land. Of course, Romero was already off the board by the time the Reds went in another direction.

The Reds selected Jay Bruce, who seems a quality player on the field and a quality person off it. He had very good bat speed and was viewed as a potential impact hitter from the state of Texas.

2006: Drew Stubbs vs. Tim Lincecum

In the 2006 draft class, there was only one player I wanted the Reds to draft and that was Tim Lincecum.

For me, despite his short stature, Tim Lincecum was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball and the best offspeed pitch among all the draft eligible college pitchers. Additionally, he struck out everybody at the University of Washington, posting strike out rates of 12.9, 11.3, and 14.3 respectively in his three years there. He was clearly the most electric pitcher in the draft and had a massive upside.

There were two main knocks against Lincecum heading into that draft: his mechanics and his height. Personally, I've always loved his mechanics. They're complicated, but he throws with his body better than the vast majority of pitchers. And, as for height, I'm not a fan of the scouting bias against short righthanded pitchers. If you can pitch, then you can pitch, regardless of height. Lincecum is the guy I wanted and he was on the board when the Reds picked. Unfortunately, the Reds went in another direction, selecting Drew Stubbs with the 8th overall pick.

Stubbs had a lot of tools and very good athleticism. It was easy to see the Reds buying into the notion that he could develop into a dual threat, impacting the game on offense and defense. While Stubbs had a full toolbox, he was somewhat lacking in baseball specific skills.

2007: Devin Mesoraco vs. Pete Kozma

The Reds used the 15th overall pick on Devin Mesoraco, the Cardinals selected shortstop Pete Kozma with the 18th overall pick.

Heading into the draft, few prospects had as much helium as Devin. Coming from a cold weather region and off a TJ surgery, Mesoraco wasn't projected to be a first rounder due to a lack of experience and limited exposure, but a strong senior season propelled him up the ranks.

Kozma was more of a high floor, low ceiling type player. He lacked any real plus tools, but had some nice skills and a good feel for the game, which in a somewhat less than inspiring draft class seemed to be a decent option.

2008: Yonder Alonso vs. Casey Kelly

In the first shadow pick of the blog era, I selected Casey Kelly here and here. I prefer Kelly as a shortstop and want to see what he can do with a couple of years as a full-time position player. He has good baseball bloodlines, plus athleticism, plays plus defense at short, and has solid pop in his bat.

That said, the hit tool is in question and he'll need to demonstrate the ability to consistently barrel-up pitches. However, the heightened risk in the hit tool can be mitigated, to a degree, by his ability to pitch. To me, having pitching as a fallback plan is a nice way to manage the performance risk that comes with his hit tool. There is an old scouting adage that you don't gamble on a questionable "hit tool" in the first round, but I'm clearly breaking that rule here.

It's not easy to find a potentially plus defensive shortstop who can hold his own on offense. Kelly already has decent pop, so it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that he could develop into a capable hitter at the professional level.

The Reds drafted Yonder Alonso with the 7th overall pick.

As it stands, Yonder looks like a nice, well-rounded hitter with good on-base skills and solid power potential. He seems to be a polished, rather low risk selection. Clearly, he's the player the Reds deemed the "best available", but it remains unclear how exactly he fits into the organizational plans.

Obviously, Joey Votto has already emerged as a good, young first baseman with a strong offensive profile. Clearly, first base isn't an area of need and Yonder isn't a realistically going to switch defensive positions. So, there's a chance that he's blocked as soon as he steps into the organization, which might be a problem given that he might be able to climb the ladder quickly.

2009: Mike Leake vs. Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller was, without question, the guy I wanted the Reds to take, as he struck me as being the pitcher with the best combination of stuff and mechanics in the draft. I loved the velocity and how cleanly he generated it.  In fact, I have him pegged as the third best prospect in the draft behind Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. There were other high school pitchers who were rated, and ultimately drafted, higher, including Zach Wheeler (6th SFG) Jacob Turner (9th DET), Tyler Matzek (11th COL), and Matt Purke (14th TEX), but I prefer Miller to all of them. His upside is just too massive for me to view anyone else as a legitimate option.

The Reds went a different direction with the 8th overall pick, drafting Arizona State RHP Mike Leake. I still prefer Miller, but the pick has started to grow on me. Leake had very good success at ASU, based on his plus athleticism and feel for pitching, which combine to give him good polish.

The Reds, it seems, valued Leake's higher floor/lower ceiling over Miller's lower floor/higher ceiling. In the end, it comes down to the likelihood that Miller will reach his ceiling and be significantly better than Mike Leake at the MLB level. If he can, then he is clearly the better pick, but there's more development risk with Shelby.

2010: Yasmani Grandal vs. Chris Sale

In the 2010 draft, Chris Sale was actually the first prospect on whom I did in-depth research and a full write-up, and he was ultimately the guy I wanted the Reds to land.

His fastball and changeup were both rated among the very best of the draft eligible college pitchers. His strikeout and walk rates were among the very best in the country, so you had both upside and polish. There were/are some questions about his arm action, but I never saw anything overly worrisome. Some thought there was too much snap in his arm action, but I don't really see it. Some thought his higher-back elbow, which rises above shoulder level, would be problematic, but I thought the increased injury risk created by that time of move would be nullified by his lower arm slot. I would like to see him incorporate more leg drive, but overall I was comfortable with his mechanics. After I was done looking into the draft pool, Sale was still sitting comfortably atop my list.

The Reds used the 12th overall pick on Yasmani Grandal, who is the second Miami Hurricane the organization has selected with its first pick in the last three drafts. Obviously, they feel comfortable with their scouting coverage down there.

The selection of Grandal gives the Reds some of the best catching depth in all of the minor leagues, as he could develop into a solid defensive catcher and an impact switch hitter. It'll be interesting to see how he performs in full season ball and where he fits into an organization where Devin Mesoraco is making a big splash much farther up the ladder. Given Grandal's polish, his career is very likely to overlap with Mesoraco's at the Major League Level. Once again, the Reds could have a blocked Hurricane in the system.

2011: Robert Stephenson vs. Jason Esposito

Well, for the first time since I've started doing these draft write-ups the Reds had a pick outside the top 15. In fact, they had number 27 overall, which makes it more challenging to find impact talent. However, given the impressive depth of talent in the 2011 draft class, the Reds were able to land a high upside arm that undoubtedly would have gone higher in the typical draft class.

Stephenson stands 6-2 and tips the scale at 190 lbs with a wiry frame and plus makeup/intelligence. He features a big time fastball that tickles 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting, 12-to-6 curveball that is inconsistent. And, like seemingly all power arms coming out of high school, he has a mediocre change-up.

The only potential red flag on Stephenson is his pitching mechanics, which are somewhat inefficient due to a shorter stride, less than ideal hip rotation, and an occasionally cutting short the deceleration of his pitching arm.

That said, Stephenson has a great deal of positives going for him and the Reds probably did very well, as you don't frequently get this type of upside so late in the draft. The stuff and makeup are there, but he'll need to refine his mechanics and continue to polish his secondary offerings as he climbs the ladder. Still, hard to argue with, or be disappointed by, this pick by the Reds and, frankly, it'll be difficult to top.  

My shadow pick, 3b Jason Esposito, will be seen as a stretch by many and admittedly it may well be, but he was behind RHP Tyler Beede, LHP Chris Reed, and RHP Jose Fernandez on my draft queue and I was fully expecting one of those pitchers to be available.

Esposito's junior season was a bit of a step backward and he slipped down in the draft, which serves as a cautionary tale that you can't expect linear improvement/development from college players. The knocks on Esposito were two fold: (1) his swing was mechanical and (2) he added weight to the lower half.

Admittedly, I can see the reason for concern on both issues. Esposito has a well balanced, fundamentally sound swing, but it can look mechanical at times. He also did look slightly stockier in his junior season than he did as a sophomore, but the added weight to the lower half doesn't diminish his potential to be a plus defender at third with a very good arm.

Overall, Esposito's potentially above average to plus defense at the hot corner might offset the higher risk in his bat.

2012: Nick Travieso vs. Matthew Smoral

Southpaw Matthew Smoral was not only at the top of my wish list for the Reds (which also included shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder David Dahl), but also one of my favorite pitchers in the draft class. So, he was my clear choice when the Reds' 14th overall pick rolled around, but the organization ultimately went with a different high school pitcher, righthander Nick Travieso. So, this one boils down to a battle of the high school pitchers, which makes it far too early to call, especially since Smoral didn't throw a pitch in anger in 2012.

Smoral slipped in the draft because he missed his senior season due to a stress fracture of the foot, limiting the time for organizations to get a feel for him. Regardless, I was sufficiently impressed by the combination of stuff, clean pitching mechanics, and physical stature. All of those factors struck me as giving him a very high ceiling. Although, it didn't factor into my decision, another thumb on the scale in Smoral's favor is that he was drafted out of an Ohio high school.

As for Nick Travieso, he had quite a bit of helium heading into the draft, largely as a result of a spike in velocity. That spike drove his fastball velocity up into the mid-90s, but velocity spikes aren't always sustainable and occasionally are precursors to injury. His secondary offerings are largely unrefined, which, when coupled with the high degree of effort in his delivery, led many to project him as a reliever at the upper levels. Even so, he's an intriguing arm to add to the quality stable of pitching prospects in the system and a bit more development time could bear out the organization's decision to select him with the 14th overall pick.

As high school pitching prospects, Travieso and Smoral both come with significant inherent risk (injury and performance), but both also have significant upside.

2013: Phil Ervin vs. Aaron Judge

My shadow draft pick for the Reds in the 2013 draft was Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge was third on my draft queue, which consisted of RHP Chris Anderson, OF Billy McKinney, OF Aaron Judge, 3b Eric Jagielo, and OF Austin Wilson.  The Dodgers grabbed Anderson and the A's snatched up McKinney, making Judge, a mountain of a man with tremendous athleticism, my shadow pick for the Reds.

Judge's height was a concern, but it was a concern mitigated by his plus athleticism (a three sport star in high school with offers to play tight-end at the collegiate level) and the fact that his approach was contact-oriented. The question on Aaron Judge wasn't, as it usually is with taller hitters, whether he would make enough contact, but rather whether he'd hit for power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needed to lengthen his swing to carry his power from batting practice into game action.

I'm happy to gamble on plus athleticism, a (relatively) compact swing with good plate discipline, and massive power potential, even if it comes packaged along with a very large, and difficult to protect, strike zone. Judge felt like a prospect who could provide positive value on both sides of the ball with the potential to be a true impact hitter at the plate with the type of power that is getting more and more difficult to find.

Instead of Judge, the Reds rolled the dice on another righthanded hitting outfielder, Phil Ervin from Samford University. Ervin headed into the draft as a player who had hit .300 pretty much everywhere he played. He seemed the type who could roll out of bed and hit .300 without much difficulty. In addition, he brought good speed and athleticism to the table.

I wasn't as high on Ervin as the Reds because it felt like there was a real danger of him being a tweener (not enough bat for a corner outfield spot and not enough glove for centerfield). I like the idea of adding a plus hit tool to the system, but without power or the ability to stay in center Ervin would fall short of being an impact player.

If Ervin can stick in centerfield and continue to hit around .300, then the Reds will likely reap a nice return on this investment. However, I still feel like Judge has a higher upside and is the more likely of the two to be a true impact talent.

2014 (Round 1): Nick Howard vs. Forrest Wall
2014 (Round 1): Alex Blandino vs. Joe Gatto

My shadow draft picks in 2014 were 2b Forrest Wall at 19th overall and RHP Joe Gatto at 29th overall.

Forrest Wall had one of the best hit tools in the draft class. He patterns his hitting after Robinson Cano and it shows in his swing mechanics. Wall uses a lot of movement in his setup and swing, describing himself as a "rhythm hitter". He uses a double pump with his hands during his load, which is what Cano does, and has incorporated that as a timing mechanism.

Wall is a very unique combination of plus hit tool, disciplined plate approach, plus speed, and premier defensive position. He seemed like the clear best option on the board when the Reds turn to pick rolled around. However, Wall slipped down some teams' draft boards due to a torn labrum he suffered in his throwing shoulder that hadn't fully recovered by draft day. It raised questions about his future arm strength and whether he could effectively handle second base. So, there was some uncertainty, if not increased risk, surrounding Wall, but it's difficult to pass up such a unique and valuable bundle of attributes. Somehow, the Reds managed to do just that.

Nick Howard was the Reds first pick, 19th overall, in the draft. The Reds continued on with the trend of valuing college relievers who could be converted to the starting rotation. Howard had a big fastball out of the bullpen, which slowed when he worked as a starter, a power slider with depth and tilt, and an intriguing changeup. In addition, Howard also spent time as a shortstop in college, demonstrating the type of athleticism that the Reds favor. Howard has some intriguing attributes, but he struck me as a bit of an overdraft at the time.

With the 29th overall pick, I shadow drafted RHP Joe Gatto. I looked at a lot of the pitchers in the top 100 prospects who were likely to be available when the Reds picked and Gatto was the most electric.

Gatto throws a heavy fastball from a largely over-the-top arm slot. His fastball sits 90-93 and touches 95, it has good downward plane, and very good movement (sinking and tailing). He also a 12-to-6 curveball with good power and depth, a pitch that is inconsistent but flashes plus.

Gatto also had some of my favorite mechanics in the draft, which should help his performance level, consistency, and injury risk. He's an interesting arm, though high school pitchers generally pack more development risk than most other prospects.

Instead of Joe Gatto at 29, the Reds drafted Stanford infielder Alex Blandino.

For the Cardinal, Blandino played primarily third base, but the Reds felt he profiled well in the middle infield spots. He's exactly the type of professional hitter the Reds should prioritize. At the plate, he has an easy swing with active, effective hands. He does a nice job of controlling the strikezone through a solid combination of pitch recognition and plate discipline. He has a number of potential value-drivers and he immediately felt like a good pick for the Reds.

2015 (Round 1): Tyler Stephenson vs. Garrett Whitley
2015 (Round 2): Antonio Santillian vs. Dakota Chalmers
2015 (Round 4): Miles Gordon vs. Brendon Sanger 

My shadow draft picks in the 2015 draft were OF Garrett Whitley at 11th overall, RHP Dakota Chalmers at 49th overall, and OF/INF Brendon Sanger in the 4th round.

The Reds held the 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft and I used that pick to select OF Garrett Whitley. I was very high on Whitley, as I absolutely love his swing mechanics, bat speed, and athleticism. He is a very exciting prospect with the type of fast twitch athleticism that leads to a massive ceiling. As a cold weather high school prospect, he also brings some risk to the table, as he doesn't quite have as much experience as some and he hasn't always faced the toughest competition. I was thoroughly disappointed that the Reds didn't draft Whitley and I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be the best player in this draft class.

Instead of Whitley, the Reds drafted catcher Tyler Stephenson. The Reds are very comfortable drafting and developing catchers. Stephenson is a giant of a man behind the dish. His physical stature really defines him as a prospect, as it creates raw power in the form of leverage, increases the risk in his hit tool, and raises the question of whether he'll be able to stick behind the plate. Stephenson's size gives him a larger strike zone to protect and gives him added length in his swing. Not only does he have longer levers to wield, but he also sets his hands somewhat deep during his load, which further increases the distance the bat has to travel to reach the point of contact. So, Stephenson is certainly a justifiable selection, but he'll need to make enough consistent contact to reach his plus raw power.

In round two, I shadow drafted high school RHP Dakota Chalmers at 49th overall. I was surprised Chalmers lasted that long. He features a mid-90s fastball that has touched 98, above average curveball and slider, and a developing changeup. His mechanics are pretty clean, though there is some effort to his delivery that can lead to some command issues. He has good height and a slender build, so ideally his command will improve as he fills out physically and can reduce the amount of effort in his delivery. Some are concerned about a "head whack" movement in his delivery, but I don't see that to any significant degree. Overall, there's a lot to like with Chalmers.

The Reds drafted high school RHP Antonio Santillian. Santillian was a two-way player in high school and doesn't have a ton of experience on the mound. That said, he has electric stuff and very high upside. Santillian might be even more of a boom/bust pick than your typical high school pitcher, but if he pans out he could be a true impact arm.

Finally, I shadowed drafted Florida Atlantic OF/INF Brendon Sanger in the 4th round at 115th overall. I don't usually shadow draft that deep, but Sanger is a prospect that really caught my eye leading up to the draft. I absolutely love Sanger's pitch recognition and plate discipline, just as much as I love Garrett Whitley's swing mechanics and bat speed. There might be hitters in the draft class who can match Sanger's combination of pitch recognition and the ability to control the strike zone, but I find it hard to believe there are any who exceed him. Add to that mix a very good hit tool and the type of athleticism that may enable him to convert back to an infield spot (2nd base? 3rd?) on defense and Sanger was a prospect I really wanted the Reds to draft. To my mind, the organization doesn't focus enough on disciplined hitters, an area that Sanger would definitely have addressed. Whether he has enough upside to be more than a 4th outfielder remains to be seen, but he was a very worthy gamble with a number of potential value-drivers. It seems like there were a number of development paths that would have resulted in a Sanger selection paying off.

The Reds used the 115th overall pick to draft high school OF Miles Gordon. The Gordon selection hewed to the organizational draft philosophy of focusing on good athleticism and up-the-middle defensive positions. A centerfielder with good speed and pitch recognition, questions linger over whether his short, compact swing will generate enough hard contact and power. The ability to stick in centerfield would lower the offensive bar he'll have to hurdle to reach the big leagues. Still, Gordon comfortably fits the mold used by the Reds in the draft process.