Chicks dig the long ball.
-NL Pitchers (1969-2012)
Unfortunately for "chicks," power is down across baseball, and particularly down with the Rays and their farm teams. As such, I'm hoping the Rays load up on some power bats in this year's draft. The issue, seemingly, is this draft's strength is in pitchers. There is power to be found throughout the first day of the draft though. Starting with the first pick, power may be in play as the Pirates could nab one of the two top position players this year: Bubba Starling or Anthony Rendon. Both of these players draw elite comparisons with their bat (Josh Hamilton for Bubba Starling and Evan Longoria for Anthony Rendon), and they project to be good to great defenders at CF and 3B respectively. It's widely agreed that both players will be off the board by the Rays' first pick at 24, so we won't spend too much time worrying about them.
From the two "sure-thing" 5-tool studs at the top, there are a couple of other 5-tool players with questions that will likely go ahead of the Rays' first pick. George Springer was in the mix for the first few picks to start the year; the toolsy OF from Connecticut has perhaps the best raw skills in the country this year, but he is a bit of an enigma because of early season struggles this year when scouts questioned the mechanics of his swing. He turned it around as the season wore on and put up the numbers one would expect from a player some believe has the highest ceiling in the draft. He's a rare breed with elite, raw tools in a college player (especially combined with his power potential), and he'd be a great gamble if he falls to 24.
While Springer's questionable skills could have him falling to the Rays, Javier Baez's make-up could have him drop. The youngster from Jacksonville has the kind of bat that generally gets a HS SS nabbed in the top 10 picks, but the strength of this year's crop of pitching and questions about his make-up could have him fall to the Rays (or even further). According to Baseball America, Baez has the quickest bat in the draft that helps him produce plus raw power. His offensive profile would make him an All-Star at short, but questions about his make-up and range could see him drop. Though the Rays have Beckham and Lee, Baez could join--as the most offensively inclined--to form a Rays SS triumvirate no team in baseball could boast.
Where Springer and Baez ooze raw ability and athleticism, Josh Bell is a hitter. He's probably tops in the draft for HS players in present power. He's a switch-hitter that's been at it since he was 5, and he boasts great pop from both sides of the plate. He should also hit for average as he has quick hands and a great approach at the plate. His other tools don't stick out, and he'll likely be slotted in a corner outfield spot. He'll be a tough sign with a strong Texas commitment, so I'd worry that even if he does fall to us at 24 it's because teams think he won't sign. If we do draft and sign him, we would have 2 of the best power bats in the lower levels with him and 2010 draftee Josh Sale.CJ Cron is a similar prospect to Bell in that both players' bats will determine their ultimate ceiling. My personal favorite draft prospect, CJ Cron boasts true 80 raw power on the 20-80 scale. He's a college 1B from Utah that played catcher until an injury to his throwing shoulder, but he likely will stay there unless he's forced to move to DH. Regardless, Cron should be relatively quick to the majors, and he profiles as a middle of the order bat that the Rays' desperately need. I'm not one to draft to need, but with the dearth of power in the organization the Rays should feel comfortable trading athleticism for hitting ability to draft Cron.
After Cron, things get a bit murkier. In my eyes looking at the power prospects from here out you have, generally, more questions than sure-things. There seem to be 4 groups of prospects worth discussing when talking power: the college 1-toolers (power hitters that will only get as far as their power bats take them), the HS 1-toolers (see previous), college toolsy athletes (seemingly 4-5 plus tools including power, but all skills are raw), and HS toolsy athletes. The first and second group could conceivably include Cron and Bell, but they have a hit tool that makes them less of a question. Springer, Starling, and Baez avoid groups three and four due to present skill that allows their considerable raw tools to play in games now. We'll look at the college players with power projection that could be in play in the first few rounds first..
The college 1-toolers are an interesting group, especially this year. Because of the new bats, power numbers are way down in college ball this year. Evaluating the college bats relative to previous years is a tough exercise when you consider the bats and the strength of the college pitching class. Talent evaluators really have to consider a lot more than stats when looking at these guys this year. How much better was the pitching? What role did the new bats play? Were the position players just really bad across the college game this year?
The first three "1-toolers" all rank between 57 and 63 on Baseball America's top 200 draft prospects. Ricky Oropesa raked his first two years at USC and led the Cape Cod league in HRs last summer. His power numbers are down this year with the new bats. He's currently a below-average 3B with a strong arm, but he'll likely have to move to 1B wasting his other plus tool. He's a big, strong hitter with good batspeed whose struggles versus lefties and breaking pitches will likely push him to the sandwich or second rounds.
Aaron Westlake is a 1B (and sometime poor catcher) out of Vandy. He redshirted his freshman year, so he's 22 as a junior. He had his best year at the plate this year leading the SEC in homers. With his age and advanced approach he could be a quick mover, but his upside is limited by his position (big and unathletic, he'll only play first), age, and questions about ultimate ceiling in his bat.
As a sophomore SS at Southern Miss, B.A. Vollmoth hit twenty homers. This year he moved to 3B and struggled at the dish because of either the new bats or a niggling hip injury. He has a plus arm that will likely be wasted as he's probably too big to stick at 3B at 6'4, though a move to RF isn't out of the question. Regardless, a team selecting him early on means they expect his above-average power to return. He's perhaps the biggest risk/reward pick of the 3 as he could man a corner spot outside first, but he also has the biggest question around his hitting with a fairly "all or nothing" approach. All three of these potential draftees would likely be easy signs, so they could be good grabs in the sandwich round if the Rays' eschew power bats in the first because they have confidence in one of these college "1-toolers."
The next group of college, bat-only types fall outside BA's top 100. Peter O'Brien is a catcher from Bethune-Cookman that has shown flashes of an elite bat, but he's also shown an inability behind the dish that leads scouts to dismiss his future there. He struggled at the plate in 2011 after a brilliant 2010 campaign where he hit 20 homeruns. The reports on his make-up are positive, so a team may have faith that he'll stick and/or hit through hard work. Cody Asche, from Nebraska, has played third for the Cornhuskers this year though he'll likely move off the position. He, unlike O'Brien, has seen his greatest success in 2011. His other tools lag behind his bat, and there's no consensus on where he'll play in pro ball. His bat seems like it could be special as he has above-average power and a pretty refined approach. His bat will surely carry his value as he'll likely be average at best in any corner. Cody Stubbs, who played JuCo at Walters State in TN, is in a similar boat. Likely to move from LF to 1B, Stubbs calling card is his bat. He's a big guy who struggled at Tennessee as a freshman, and has flourished since transferring to Walters State. Was the success a mirage due to inferior competition or had he regained the form that drew the attention of the Red Sox after he graduated from high school? Stubbs will likely be drafted a bit later than the aforementioned college guys, unless a team loves his bat.
There are three college prospects I'd expect to go in the first 3 rounds or so that have shown the power that one could dream on. These 3, unlike their "1-tool" counterparts, show power potential as well as being good to great athletes. With these three, if the power translates from potential to games they could be game-changers. Their power, however, is less of a sure thing. Alex Dickerson has a pure hitting left-handed stroke that led him to winning the Big 10 Triple Crown as a sophomore. He's a decent runner that will likely stick in LF because of a fringey arm. His bat and approach are his best features, but he does profile for above-average power. If his power plays in games, he'll be a good LF, but if he's unable to translate power to games his bat won't profile in the corner. Wes Carter from Western Kentucky profiles to play more up the middle with the speed and arm to play CF. He'll likely be the highest drafted Hilltopper ever due to his athleticism, pure left-handed swing, and above-average power potential. He has the chance to be a CF with good power, but he may not translate hitting/power tools to usable game skills. Kyle Gaedel likely will be the highest ever drafted out of his college, Valparaiso, like Carter. Like Carter, he's also a good athlete. Unlike Carter, he's right-handed and derives his power less from a smooth swing than strength and a potentially lengthy swing. His fringey arm profiles better as a plus left-fielder than average center fielder. As such, Gaedel will need to generate more consistent firm contact and continue to develop his power to make a difference at the big league level.
These players will likely be closer to the majors than their high school counterparts; but with their present skillset closer to their potential, they seemingly have less upside as well. The college "1-toolers" will likely be destined to a corner and may never hit for average. The college tool-boxes are more of a mixed bag, but one has to question their ultimate upside as well. With the high school players we'll look at next, there's a lot more to dream on.