The MLB draft is a week and a half away from beginning, and to continue our draft preview series, we’re shifting our attention to some bats.
We decided to split hitters into two groups: the one you see here, which is comprised of players who will likely play corner infield (first base and third base) or corner outfield (left field and right field) positions as professionals. Some have a shot to stay in the middle of the diamond, but it’s not a guarantee.
Some of these players have been connected to the Rays in mock drafts, and some haven’t. Some are related to current or former Rays minor leaguers.
Stats for college players are current as of games on Wednesday, May 23. All videos are courtesy of Baseball America.
1B Triston Casas, American Heritage School (L/R, 6’4 238, 18 years old)
Baseball America rank: 25
ESPN rank: 33
FanGraphs rank: 48
MLB.com rank: 25
It’s rare for high school first basemen to be drafted in the first round. In the last five drafts, there have only been three — Dominic Smith in 2013, Josh Naylor in 2015, and Nick Pratto in 2017. Smith became a top-100 prospect, Naylor is having a breakout season while learning how to play left field, and the jury is still out on Pratto.
Casas could join that exclusive company next month if a team really believes in his bat.
He certainly has the power to profile at first base, which many reports indicate is the only position he should play professionally, although he does play third base now. His raw power is plus — maybe plus-plus — with both FanGraphs MLB.com even reporting on his high exit velocities.
His hit tool is in question, however. MLB.com rates it below average at 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and Baseball America says he’s “shown some of the swing-and-miss tendencies that can coincide with long arms.”
A mock draft has connected Casas with the Rays’ No. 16 pick. It’s possible he’s no longer available when they’re back on the clock 15 picks later.
SS Jeremy Eierman, Missouri State (R/R, 6’1 205, 21 years old)
200 AB, .295 AVG/.385 OBP/.530 SLG, 9 HR, 27 XBH, 20-for-23 SB
Baseball America rank: 26
ESPN rank: 51
FanGraphs rank: 26
MLB.com rank: 23
Eierman is the younger brother of Johnny Eierman, one of the Rays’ high-upside picks from the large 2011 draft class.
He actually has a chance to stick at shortstop. He has the arm for the left side of the infield, but multiple reports cite his lack of lateral range as a possible problem moving forward. That could mean third base is his best fit.
As a hitter, Eierman had his best season as a sophomore in 2016. He slugged 23 home runs with a 1.106 OPS. He’s been good again this year, but he’s hitting for much less power and getting on base less often. He’s an athletic player with 20 steals on the season.
According to BA, he has struggled with a wooden bat, not hitting well in the Cape Cod League and in a stint with USA Baseball. Still, he looks like a late first-round pick. If the Rays are interested in this Eierman, the No. 16 pick might be considered a reach, and he might not be there at No. 31.
3B Jordan Groshans, Magnolia High School (R/R, 6’4 190, 18 years old)
Baseball America rank: 39
ESPN rank: 50
FanGraphs rank: 39
MLB.com rank: 33
Groshans plays shortstop now, but it doesn’t seem like there’s any optimism he has the athleticism to stay at the position. He has a good arm and should be fine at the hot corner.
Almost every report about him mentions that he has a flat swing. It allows him to make a lot of contact, but it’s not conducive to slugging dingers. Despite that, he has the physical strength to hit for power. Adjusting his swing to produce more power is no sure thing, but he wouldn’t be the only player in professional baseball making similar tweaks.
With his ability to make contact, strength, and plate approach, Groshans is considered to be one of the better all-around hitters in the draft. Thanks to his good spring, his stock may be higher than those rankings reflect. He’s probably not an option for the No. 16 pick, but mock drafts have put him in play for Nos. 31 or 32.
OF Jarred Kelenic, Waukesha West High School (L/L, 6’1 196, 18 years old)
Baseball America rank: 12
ESPN rank: 6
FanGraphs rank: 8
MLB.com rank: 8
Kelenic actually doesn’t play for his high school team in Wisconsin — he graduated over the winter — instead playing for a travel club that apparently plays indoors a lot. Scouting players from northern states has traditionally been more difficult, and it seems like he’s been harder than most to see. Ultimately, scouts have probably had plenty of looks at him on the showcase circuit and with USA Baseball.
While he’s listed with the corner bats in this post, like Eierman, he does have a chance — maybe even a good one — to stay in the middle of the diamond. He’s not a bad athlete and reportedly gets good reads on balls.
At the plate, every report raves about his ability to make hard contact. MLB.com rates his hit tool as plus, and he has some power potential too. If he does have to play right field, his bat profiles there.
BA also lauds his intensity and work ethic, which can’t hurt his development. The Rays probably won’t have a chance to draft him, but maybe teams in front of them get nervous about drafting a player from a cold-weather state with a high pick.
OF Trevor Larnach, Oregon State (L/R, 6’4 210, 21 years old)
195 AB, .328 AVG/.450 OBP/.656 SLG, 17 HR, 30 XBH
Baseball America rank: 27
ESPN rank: 48
FanGraphs rank: 13
MLB.com rank: 24
As a team, Oregon State averages about one home run per game. Many of those home runs have come from Larnach, who has one-third of the team’s dingers this season.
That’s important because power is his best tool. He’s always had the size of a power hitter, but his ISO was just .126 last season. According to BA, a mechanical change has allowed him to hit the ball harder this season.
Larnach was able to do with without sacrificing his plate approach or his ability to make contact. His walk and strikeout rates remain similar to last season, and his average would be a career high.
It’s good that he can hit and hit for power because it doesn’t seem like he’s going to add much value in other areas of the game. He’s not particularly athletic, and despite having a decent arm, he could be limited to left field.
College bats who perform as well as Larnach tend to rise as the draft approaches. The Rays may not have a shot at him with their second pick at No. 31.
OF Nick Schnell, Roncalli High School (L/R, 6’2 180, 18 years old)
Baseball America rank: 34
ESPN rank: 44
FanGraphs rank: not ranked in top 55
MLB.com rank: 47
Like Kelenic, Schnell is committed to Louisville, so head coach Dan McDonnell will probably need to make new plans for his 2019 outfield.
That’s because Schnell has improved his stock significantly over the past year. In BA’s January draft ranking, he was the No. 111 player, and that may not have completely captured his rise up draft boards.
He broke out on the showcase circuit last summer and has continued hitting this spring. He has a good feel for contact to all fields with some raw power, but ESPN’s Keith Law expressed some mechanical concerns about his swing ($).
Schnell is a decent athlete who will at the very least start his professional career in center field. However, there are doubts that he can remain there long-term.
If the Rays are looking for a decent bat with upside at pick Nos. 31 or 32, Schnell could be the player they’re looking for.
Another of note
1B Scott Schreiber, Nebraska: Schreiber was the Rays’ 26th-round pick last year, and also the younger brother of Brad, a reliever released by the Rays last July. His .369 average, .446 on-base percentage, .692 slugging percentage, and 18 home runs are all career highs. BA ranked him as the No. 470 player in the class.