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In this article, I reference the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 is major league average, 45 is below average, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 70 is plus-plus and 80 is reserved for the very best in the game.
Last week, I released a MLB Draft Top 50 and justified releasing this first list a few weeks into the season because players can move up or down a good bit with early season performances. While that was true and I captured a lot of information in my rankings that aren’t captured in other, pre-season rankings you’ll find on the internet, one pesky player decided to explode a week later.
I ranked Oklahoma righty Jonathan Gray 20th on my list, which was fueled by his velo uptick to the mid 90’s and his developing slider that graded as above average. That was a number of spots higher than I had him on my list before the season. I have said many times before that the 20-30 range is very unsettled at this point for the 2013 draft and moving Gray to the front of that group was aggressive, but he had momentum.
Fast forward to last weekend and unconfirmed rumors of Gray hitting 100 mph were confirmed. From piecing together a couple different scout’s accounts, Gray hit 100 mph several times on Saturday against UCLA in front of a big scouting audience as part of a tournament that included Notre Dame and USC. His slider also took a step forward with the added arm speed, flashing plus potential and his changeup that was a non-factor early in the year wasn’t used a ton, but was at least above average and some scouts said it would be plus.
That kind of electric stuff coming from a workhorse 6’4, 240 pound frame surely means Gray needed to move up my list but how much? You can see from the excellent video below of the UCLA outing that Gray has a clean arm action but an arm-heavy delivery and some effort at release. None of this is a huge issue as 100 mph doesn’t come effortlessly to anyone and no starter sits in the high-90’s, so it will all get toned down some in pro ball.
After comparing Gray to the top two players on the board (who I saw earlier this year), Stanford RHP Mark Appel (report & video) and Indiana State LHP Sean Manaea (report & video) you realize that Gray is in their class and you could argue he isn’t even the definite third prospect of the group. Given that Appel is trending up right now after deciding to be more aggressive (Fresno St. postgame audio or non-subscribers can hear it in episode one of my podcast), he is the #1 prospect in the draft right now. Even scouts that knocked Appel last year acknowledge he's taken a step forward this spring. Manaea hasn’t quite recaptured the stuff he showed on the Cape, but it’s early and cold right now and, at his best, Manaea would hit 98 as an athletic 6’5 lefty with a plus slider and change. I still feel like I have to give Manaea an edge over Gray, but it’s very close. Another month with both pitchers doing what they have been doing this year and they might flip.
The other factor at the top of the draft is Atlanta-area high school center fielder Clint Frazier. Two scouts characterized his early season performance as "gangbusters" and "hitting out of his mind." Frazier has always been the slightly less-tooled up and less projectable complement to local rival and third-best high school prospect, center fielder Austin Meadows. That gap has widened in the early season and last night, Frazier hit a huge homerun for Loganville against Meadows' Grayson team in front of a huge scouting audience.
As for where Frazier falls with these three college arms, it comes down to upside. We know that everywhere in the draft, hitters hit their ceiling more often than pitchers, but three potential frontline (#1 or #2) starters all have an upside edge over Frazier. Frazier has a plus or better bat but more average to above game power (15-20 homers annually), so even though he is a plus runner with a plus arm and huge bat speed, his pretty maxed-out 6'1, 190-pound frame limits his upside as an above-average bat and glove relative to position--not a superstar.
This puts Frazier behind 4th overall behind all three pitchers for many scouts, but I'm the guy that had a similar player to Frazier from last year's draft, Miami-area prep CF Albert Almora, as the top player in the draft. Almora went 6th overall to the Cubs in a much better draft and has above average to plus raw power, so he's a better prospect than Frazier. Right now, I'll take Frazier over Gray due to the command/delivery, new velocity and inherent pitching risks with Gray versus the certainty with Frazier. If Manaea's stuff doesn't come all the way back soon, I may have Frazier #2 overall, which would still a little high for many in the industry. Frazier is still absolutely a threat to go #1 overall since who goes where in the top five picks will come down to just a handful of decision makers.
- Austin Meadows continues to have great tools but either meet or fall just short of expectations in games. Scouts that assumed Meadows’ performance would come around are now forced to slide him down a few spots. I'll be up in Atlanta in a few weeks to see Frazier, Meadows and the rest of a loaded Atlanta-area prep class.
- North Carolina’s Colin Moran (18 BB, 3 K, improved defense), San Diego’s Kris Bryant (.379/.556/.897) and New Mexico’s D.J. Peterson (.500/.597/1.138) are college third baseman that have varying chances to stick at the position but all have hitting tools and have been performing early. I’ve moved them all up a few spots and Peterson is the third prospect in the group as he’s a squatty 6’1, 205 pounds and will likely end up as a 1B/DH.
- Jacksonville University RHP Chris Anderson continues to move up as eight scouting directors were at his start last Friday where hit 95 and showed three above average pitches (full report and video coming this week). It doesn’t hurt Anderson and other emerging arms that a couple proven arms expected to go high haven’t met expectations yet this season. Two other arms taking advantage with their velo ticking up as part of a first round package are Marshall RHP Aaron Blair and North Carolina prep RHP Hunter Harvey, son of former big league reliever Bryan Harvey.