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Rays 2021 MLB draft preview: Up-the-middle position players

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Will the Rays target players at the most valuable defensive positions this month?

NCAA Baseball Regional - Fayetteville
Christian Franklin was a key player on one of the country’s best teams this season
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Up next in our draft-preview series are the up-the-middle position players.

These players tend to be the best athletes on the field. In the amateur ranks, the best players typically play these positions, but not everyone can play those positions at a professional level. The players in this preview have a shot to do so though. The Rays — like a lot of teams — like drafting these athletes.

Like our previous preview, some of these have been Rays picks in mock drafts, but some haven’t. We chose other players to balance out the preview, covering all positions and high school and college players.

High school pitchers preview

CF Jay Allen, Carroll Catholic (Florida) (R/R, 6’3 190, 18 years old)

The Athletic rank: 35
Baseball America rank: 36
FanGraphs rank: 51
MLB.com rank: 33

Allen is a very good athlete and was a three-star recruit in football, but he’s only committed to play baseball at Florida if he goes to college. He should be drafted early enough to sign though.

That athleticism gives him a chance to stay in center field, but at his size, there is a chance he has to move to a corner position. If it happens, he does have the arm strength to play right field.

He has power potential and can add strength as he gets older. While there may be questions about his hit tool, he reportedly showed a better approach this spring, and there’s always hope that multi-sport athletes like him can refine their game when playing just one sport.

2B Tyler Black, Wright State (L/R, 6’2 190, 20 years old)

233 PA, .383 AVG/.496 OBP/.683 SLG, 13 HR, 28 XBH, 11-for-12 SB

The Athletic rank: 47
Baseball America rank: 82
FanGraphs rank: 33
MLB.com rank: 57

Black has improved his stock this spring, and since it’s not a strong draft for college hitters, the public rankings may be lower than where he actually gets drafted.

He’s always had a great plate approach, but this season, he added more power with career highs in doubles, homers, and slugging. He didn’t sell out to gain that power either. He continued to make a lot of contact and could have a plus hit tool.

The Horizon League isn’t the highest level of competition, but he had good showings against teams like Vanderbilt in out-of-conference play. He’s a bat-first player and fits best at second base.

SS/C Davis Diaz, Acalanes High School (R/R, 5’11 175, 18 years old)

The Athletic rank: 76
Baseball America rank: 69
FanGraphs rank: 57
MLB.com rank: 71

I always look for at least one catcher to include for positional variety in this post, but there weren’t a lot of defense-first catchers in rankings to choose from.

With Zacrey Law and Ford Proctor in recent seasons, the Rays have shown they don’t mind converting players to catcher. Diaz does already have a little bit of experience at catcher, and he has the hands and arm to play the position.

At the plate, he’s probably never going to hit for a lot of power, but he makes a lot of contact to all fields with a good plate approach. Based on the public rankings, the Vanderbilt commit may be a second-round pick.

CF Christian Franklin, Arkansas (R/R, 5’11 195, 21 years old)

274 PA, .274 AVG/.420 OBP/.544 SLG, 13 HR, 30 XBH, 11-for-14 SB

The Athletic rank: 75
Baseball America rank: 57
FanGraphs rank: not in top 71
MLB.com rank: 52

Franklin has some of the best tools among college hitters in this draft, but he has a little more risk too. That could make him a second-round pick.

He has four tools that are at least above average: power, speed, defense, and arm. As a hitter, he could be a 20-homer, 20-steal player with power to all fields and good athleticism. Thanks to that athleticism and his arm, staying in center field as a professional seems likely.

However, the hit tool is often graded below average. He walks a lot, but his 28.5% strikeout rate this season was excessive and roughly the same as it was his freshman season.

2B Cooper Kinney, Baylor High School (L/R, 6’3 200, 18 years old)

The Athletic rank: not in top 100
Baseball America rank: 70
FanGraphs rank: not in top 71
MLB.com rank: 84

Up-the-middle players are typically associated with tools like defense and speed, but not Kinney. He’s going to be drafted in the first few rounds for his bat.

And he has a good bat. He could have above-average hit and power tools. He has a good swing with a good plate approach and makes a lot of contact to all fields. With his bat speed and potential to add strength, increased power should come.

He could end up in left field or first base, but second base could work. He doesn’t have the arm strength or athleticism for the left side of the infield or other outfield positions. Teams will want to get his bat in the lineup somewhere though.

Video is from 2080 Baseball.

SS Alex Mooney, St. Mary Prep (Michigan) (R/R, 6’1 180, 18 years old)

The Athletic rank: 59
Baseball America rank: 66
FanGraphs rank: 53
MLB.com rank: 64

Mooney is the kind of player it felt like the Rays used to take frequently, but looking back at past drafts, I feel like I overestimated this tendency.

None of his tools stand out. His arm and speed are graded above average, but everything else is average. Nothing stands out, but nothing is below average either. Those two tools offer versatility. He could stick at shortstop, but he could also play all around the infield.

At the plate, his power will be generated by his bat speed and probably not from added strength. His hit tool is better than his power. He makes a lot of contact with a decent plate approach.

Video is from Baseball America.