Every club is looking for the perfect 5 tool player who can become the face of a franchise. In the search for one in this draft, I want to focus on one particular player that I have watched closely.
His name is Kevin Merrell. I go to the same school as Merrell, and have had the privilege of watching him play. After watching him this season, I am convinced the Rays should not pass on him. Right now, Merrell has a 2nd-3rd round grade.
Merrell plays shortstop for the University of South Florida, and is a good sized infielder at 6-foot-1, 190lbs. He became the leader of a team that went 41-17, beat both Florida and Florida State, and earned a 2-seed in the Gainesville Regional.
Although this Bulls team has been good, reaching 40 wins for the first time in 20 years, it all starts with the First Team All-American Conference shortstop Kevin Merrell.
Tool 1: Hitting For Power
Merrell has flashed good power for a shortstop hitting 6 homeruns, in 2017. In his 2 full previous seasons, he hit one homerun. Merrell also bumped up his extra base hit power from previous seasons by hitting 10 doubles and 4 triples, in his 2017 campaign. He has improved his strength and will continue as he matures at the next level.
Tool 2: Hitting For Average
Hitting for average has never been an issue for Merrell. Since his Freshmen year, and now in his Junior year, he has hit over .320. The good news is he is ending his junior year with an average in the .380s. Merrell makes solid contact and is able to get on-base. Hitting well at the college level generally translates well to the minors.
Tool 3 and 4: Fielding Ability and Throwing Ability
This is a tool that Merrell still has some room for improvement, but could end up being a great defender. He has a great arm and is capable of being a shortstop at the next level because of that alone. His issue seems to be just misplaying some easy grounders, where he might rush a little bit. Merrell has a career .958 fielding % and has committed 7 errors this year. To recap, he isn’t a bad defender but still needs some work.
Tool 5: Speed
This might be the greatest attribute Merrell can bring to the lineup.
Kevin Merrell currently ranks 50th on the MLB Pipeline Top-100 prospect list with 75-grade speed, and has 18 stolen bases this past season while hitting at the top of the lineup. He also ran a 10.6 second 100m dash, which is outstanding.
Merrell is one of the guys for this Bulls team that can bunt for hit with success. On top of his speed capabilities, he is a pretty solid base runner too.
Intangibles: Leadership and Heart
This might be a metric that can’t be calculated by statistics or sabermetrics, but it is extremely important. To have a nice guy, who is local, and is a leader should be important to the Rays.
You can read more on Merrell in the Tampa Bay Times.
Player Resemblance: Ben Zobrist
Merrell has gone on record and has said that his favorite player is Ben Zobrist. Merrell looks like a faster Ben Zobrist, in my opinion. He is a great hitter that can be used anywhere on the field, with a long term projection as a malleable outfield defender thanks to his speed.
You can read more about his profile’s versatility at Baseball America.
If the Rays can get another Ben Zobrist that is cheaper with club control, I would take that any day. I miss Zobrist’s versatility and Merrell resembles him in skillset and mentality.
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