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The Bard's Take: 2015 Draft Primer, Part 1

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Looking at potential college players for the Arizona Diamondbacks' 1-1 pick in the 2015 MLB Draft to be held on June 8, 2015.

Nathan Kirby
Nathan Kirby
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

June 8, 2015 was supposed to be a somewhat joyous day for the Arizona Diamondbacks. After enduring the ignominy of finishing dead-last in all of baseball with a record of 64-98 to finish the 2014 season, the Diamondbacks were awarded the first overall pick of the 2015 draft. Having the first overall pick brings to mind names like Justin Verlander*, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, and Carlos Correa . The last time the Diamondbacks picked 1-1, it was 10 seasons ago, and they took the best overall high school talent, Justin Upton. While there have been mixed reactions as to Justin Upton as a player, and whether or not he ever lived up to his potential, there's no denying that he has proven to be a dynamic talent, one that put up 14.3 bWAR during his six seasons in Arizona.

Alas the pathetic reality of 2014 continues to haunt the Diamondbacks as the 2015 draft approaches. While the 2005 draft that brought the Diamondbacks Justin Upton was a good draft year, the 2015 draft currently is shaping up to be one of the weakest draft classes since the dismal 2001 draft which featured only four impact players in the first round, joined by David Wright in the first supplemental round as the 38th overall pick. (Some long-time Diamondbacks fans might remember that as the season in which the team selected disappointing bust Jason Bulger at 22).

In 2013 I had Braden Shipley pegged as a top-10 pick. Somehow he slipped to the Diamondbacks at 15. Last season I put together one of these primers, and was joined by others as pegging Touki Toussaint as a talent to skip reviewing, since he was a top 7-10 talent and simply would not be available by the time Arizona picked. Then the Cubs went and blew up the projections by selecting lower-grade talent in order to spread their draft pool allotment around more in the lower rounds. Suddenly Toussaint was available at 16 and the Diamondbacks got a steal in the draft for the second season in a row. This season the issue isn't deciding who might still be available, but rather who, if anyone, is really worthy of being a 1-1 pick. Making matters more difficult, a number of the best talents in this season's draft have recently suffered from injuries that have drastically decreased their stock.

Dave Stewart certainly hasn't helped to clear up the draft picture any. He's been quite vocal about the shallowness and quality of this draft, and has yet to give even the slightest indication of which way the team might be leaning. Paying attention to who the team has been talking to, and where Stewart has been heading to watch games might give something of an idea, but the reality is, with the draft only 19 days away, there remains industry-wide head-scratching as to what the Diamondbacks will do with the first overall pick. One approach that has been speculated for months now, and expanded upon by Kiley McDaniel here at Fangraphs, is that the Diamondbacks would choose to take the same route the Chicago Cubs did in 2014, but on an even grander scale. Some are speculating that rather than take a true potential 1-1 talent, the Diamondbacks will instead draft a player from well-below slot and then sign him for a mere fraction of the estimated $8 million 1-1 slot bonus. The savings could then be used to entice lower round talents leaning towards college to sign with the team instead.

The general feeling seems to be that the Diamondbacks would prefer to take a bat with the first overall pick. Yet, two names that are more frequently being associated with the team are college pitchers. With no industry consensus on any part of the Diamondbacks' draft philosophy for 2015, the list of potential 1-1 picks has become somewhat large. As such, this primer will be broken into two parts. Part one will cover the potential college picks. Part two will cover the potential prep picks.

*Justin Verlander was the consensus best talent in the 2004 draft, but went 1-2 as he was skipped over by Kevin Towers in favour of 1-1 super-bust, Matt Bush, the result of San Diego ownership's mandate to not take any expensive talent in the draft.

With that out of the way, here is the first in a series of articles which will form your Arizona Diamondbacks 2015 Draft Primer. The picks listed below are not in any particular order with regard to likelihood of being picked or even this author's preference of choice. The size of this primer being what it is, college guys Carson Fulmer, Dansby Swanson and Dillon Tate will be the topic of their own, individual articles in the days ahead. Meanwhile, these are the most likely other possible college prospects.

The College Prospects

Alex Bregman
  • DOB: 30 March 1994 (21)
  • 6' 0" / 186 lbs
  • SS - RHB
  • Louisiana State University

Profile: Alex Bregman may be the best short stop currently playing in college ball. While not quite the hitter that Swanson is, he is a superior defender and showcases even greater speed. Having already won the Brooks Wallace Award for best college SS during his freshman season in 2013, Bregman is on the short list to win it again in 2015. Bregman has hit .327 this season, with 14 doubles, 3 triples, and 8 home runs, while scoring 41 times and swiping 24 bases. He is the SEC leader in stolen bases, is number 3 in doubles and runs scored, and number 4 in total bases (98). He also sported a 39-game streak of reaching base successfully.

Pros: Unlike the previous college prospects, Bregman would likely be available at something of a discount, though not a terribly steep one. There is little not to like about Bregman, with the difference between him and Swanson being the preference in the balance of their tools. Bregman is the faster player and better defender, while Swanson is the better hitter, with slightly more power.

Cons: The biggest con with Bregman is he just isn't a 1-1 talent. He's not going to be a difference maker like a TOR arm would be. He doesn't carry enough bat to significantly alter a team's approach to the lineup. He is quite simply, just a solid, speedy, all-around player that will have no problem sticking at short stop.

The Take: If there was not so much talk of the Diamondbacks quite possibly going bargain hunting in this year's draft, Bregman would likely not even be in the discussion. As it is, bargain hunting could very well be the philosophy on June 8th. If so, Bregman represents a great choice among position players.

Ian Happ
  • DOB: 12 August 1994 (20)
  • 6' 0" / 205 lbs
  • IF/OF - SHB
  • University of Cincinnati
  • Hit: 55/55, Raw Power: 55/55, Speed: 55/55, Field: 45/50+, Throw: 55/55, FV: 50

Profile: Ian Happ has had the unenviable distinction of being the best player on a poor team. A legitimate top contender for the Golden Spikes Award, Happ just hits. For 2015, Happ hit .360/.487/.672 with 16 doubles and 14 home runs. He also has shown a gifted eye with a 47/49 BB/K ratio. Happ has a solid athletic frame, but not the range to play short stop in the pros. He has played short, second, and all three outfield positions, but most analysts expect him to settle in as a second baseman once he is drafted.

Pros: This kid can hit, and he hits the ball hard. At the plate, Happ shows one of the most advanced eyes in the college ranks. This kid is going to be a major league player, and given that he will be at second base or in the corner outfield, he will be making the his arrival sooner rather than later.

Cons: It is very difficult to gauge just how good Happ's bat is, playing for a poor team in the AAC. In 2013 and 2014 Happ played in the Cape Cod League where he also put up gaudy numbers, so they are likely not an illusion. However, he is a second baseman. Generally speaking, second baseman do not go in the highest reaches of the first round. It is the position that short stops and athletic third basemen wash out to or are moved into. Happ's biggest weakness at the plate is his approach to off-speed pitching, but that has improved dramatically over the last year or so. If he sticks at second, his pop will help carry him. If he moves to the corner outfield, his hit tool becomes rather ordinary.

The Take: The likelihood of the Diamondbacks taking Ian Happ 1-1 is incredibly small. However, Happ fits the mold of bargain shopping to a tee and may be the best college player position pick for that agenda. He is a safe pick to be a regular MLB player, has a very advanced hit tool, and would come at a very steep discount for  the slot, possibly saving the team as much as $4.5 million. While he is already range-limited to second base, his hit tool more than makes up for his lack of defensive range. He still looks to be an athletic defender that will be at least average for the position defensively, and could be above average with the bat.



Brady Aiken
  • DOB: 16 August 1996 (18)
  • 6' 4" / 205 lbs
  • LHP
  • IMG Academy
  • Fastball: 55/60, Curveball: 55/60, Changeup: 55/60, Command: 45/55

Profile: When healthy Brady Aiken is a true 1-1 talent with the upside of a dominating LHP at the top of most any rotation. Aiken features a fastball 89-92 mph that touches 94 with good run and sink to both sides of the plate. His curveball is a plus pitch and can be devastating at times coming in at 75-76 with great movement, and his change-up is at least average and clocks in at 83 mph. He hides the ball well, pitching from a three-quarter slot with easy, effortless and repeatable delivery and release.

Pros: If he were healthy, Brady Aiken would be the hands-down best talent in the draft, and it wouldn't even be all that close. Aiken represents everything teams are looking for in potential future ace pitchers.

Cons: There is a reason the Astros chose Aiken 1-1 last season. There is also a reason that, after the physicals were done, they changed their offer to the minimum 40% to retain the draft slot. That reason was put on display during Aiken's first game for IMG Academy, and now Aiken is recovering from Tommy John surgery that was performed in just the last week of March, meaning he will not even be ready to start pitching again until probably April or May of next year. Aiken's undersized UCL raised concerns about the ability to recover from high stress or potential surgery, so anyone drafting him is likely to be taking every precaution as his recovery will be something of uncharted territory. The risks associated with Aiken are undeniable, though careful monitoring of his status should put his risk factor on par with most other Tommy John recipients.

The Take: In a typical draft, there would be no sense in looking at a player currently recovering from major surgery at 1-1. This season's draft is, however; not a typical one, as four of the top seven talents are all recovering from injuries of one sort or another. There is precedent for taking an injured player high in the draft. Lucas Giolito went in the first round in 2012. Jeff Hoffman went number nine just last season, despite still recovering from Tommy John surgery. At 1-1 though, that's new territory entirely. This is where the Diamondbacks' financial philosophy with this draft could really come into play. If the Diamondbacks pass on Aiken at 1-1, chances are very good that Aiken could slip to the bottom of the first round, or perhaps even into the supplemental round. Falling so far down the draft board will greatly impact the sort of bonus Aiken and his agent, Case Close could demand. Offering even half of the 1-1 slot allotment would put Aiken well ahead of anything else he will be able to command in a lower slot, meaning the Diamondbacks could save slightly over $4 million on the 1-1 pick and also get the single-best talent in the draft - a potential future ace. Drafting Aiken represents the chance to take the best of both worlds from a draft that is otherwise very uninspiring. If the Diamondbacks are going to go the route of selecting a cut-rate bonus player, Aiken represents the highest upside. This is the guy I take (in a close competition with Nathan Kirby) at 1-1 if I am the Diamondbacks and I am really set on saving even more than the $2 million likely to be saved from signing any of the other healthy options.

Nathan Kirby
  • DOB: 15 February 1994 (21)
  • 6' 2" / 185 lbs
  • LHP
  • Virginia

Profile: Nathan Kirby was the Friday night starter for the deep 2014 Virginia Cavaliers. In 1131/3 innings this season, he posted marks of 112 strikeouts to 33 walks, 68 hits, and a 2.06 ERA, which only rose above 2.00 in the final two outings of the season. His WHIP was a minuscule 0.89. In 2015 Kirby remained overpowering, posting 75 strikeouts in 591/3 innings against 30 walks. He allowed 50 hits and still held a stellar 2.28 ERA to go with his 11.38 strikeouts per nine. For his college career, Kirby is 18-6 with a 2.76 ERA, striking out 224 in 2051/3 innings pitched. Starting out as a reliever his freshman season, Kirby has transitioned well into starting putting up 28 starts in the last two seasons. Kirby features a fastball that sits 92-94, topping out at 95.

While still maintaining plus velocity late into games, the velocity did begin to dip after 100 pitches into the 90-91, touching 92 range. Kirby features a very tight curveball with 2-8 movement. It's the distinct curveball grip that sets this pitch apart from a slider. It is a true out pitch in every sense of the term and generates a swinging strike percentage of 37.9%. Kirby can throw the pitch for strikes when he wants to, while also enticing right-handed hitters to chase it when he buries it in on the hitter's back foot. The pitch ranges from 77-84 mph, but averages out about 81. Kirby's third pitch is a change-up. This pitch, while effective in the college ranks, is still something of a work in progress, but has shown improvement and has a good fading, sinking movement that looks much the same as his fastball while coming in at 81 mph. The change-up should develop into at least an average third pitch, with a chance to be an above average offering.

While he is not throwing it yet, some evaluators feel Kirby is a prime candidate to add a fourth pitch to his mix in the form of a hard slider. With the movement on his curveball, this would give Kirby two decidedly different looks for both hard and off-speed pitches, keeping hitters guessing from both sides of the plate. Kirby features a very smooth, easy delivery that he shows no trouble repeating. This has helped him to have excellent command of his pitches when he is attacking the strike zone early in the count. When he is ahead of hitters, he has the control to paint strikes in throw-away areas. His command suffers late in the game, also becoming noticeable after the 100-pitch mark. This fatiguing may very well be addressed through the combination of conditioning and adding raw physical strength as his frame still has clear room for bulking up.

Pros: Depending on how one defines the prospects, Kirby represents the best left-handed college arm in the draft not named Brady Aiken. While Kirby does not dominate both sides of the plate quite as well as Aiken does, he still possess the talent to be a TOR arm, especially if he continues to refine his change-up or if he adds a fourth pitch.

Cons: Nathan Kirby is among the many top-tier talents whose stock has plummeted because of injury. On April 17, Kirby suffered a strain of his left latissimus dorsi muscle. MRIs confirmed there was no other damage and that surgery would not be required. Unfortunately for Kirby, the injury put him out of commission for 6-8 weeks, during the prime window for showcasing talent before the draft. Unlike Aiken, this is a far less concerning injury, but the reality is, Kirby will not be pitching again before June 8, and will likely be pitch limited the rest of this year in an effort to ensure that he suffers no future setbacks from this injury.

The Take: While the risks associated with drafting Nathan Kirby are lower than those associated with taking Aiken, so is the potential ceiling. Both project as possible TOR arms, but Aiken profiles as a potential perennial all-star, while Kirby projects as a high quality left-handed TOR arm. Given the amount of time that would need to be dedicated to bringing Aiken back up to full speed and to finish his development, the age difference between the two is hardly relevant, as Aiken would likely not appear until late 2019 or 2020, while Kirby could quite conceivably debut in late 2017 or sometime in 2018. With very few projections having Kirby as a top-seven talent, the signing bonus for going 1-1 Kirby could be bargain basement by way of comparison to the likes of Fulmer, Tate, and Swanson. Even though Kirby's injury is not nearly as severe as that of Aiken's, it remains difficult to sell taking an injured player at 1-1. Kirby should sign for a bonus around that of which Aiken would likely settle for, so if the team is going the "bargain" route, Kirby could be a great compromise between injury concerns and performance upside when compared to Aiken.

Two videos here. The first is Kirby's 18 strikeout of Pitt when he threw a no-hitter on 4 April 2014. The second is a longer (approximately 7 minutes) scouting video taken at that game, including views from behind the plate and slow motion HD capture of his delivery.

Mike Matuella
  • DOB: 3 June 1994 (20)
  • 6' 6" / 220 lbs
  • RHP
  • Duke
  • Fastball: 60/65+, Slider: 50/60, Changeup: 40/50+, Curveball: 35/45, Command: 45/55, FV: 60

Profile: Duke's Mike Matuella is the physical embodiment of most everything scouts look for in a pitcher. Matuella is a towering 6' 6" with a strong chest and shoulders and fluid motion in his delivery. Matuella's fastball sits 93-95 mph and has been clocked touching 97. Rather than sinking like many fastballs, Matuella's two-seam pitch cuts and runs to the arm side. The velocity dips a bit after 75 pitches, but this is expected to be correctable through conditioning. Matuella's secondary offering is a tight slider with great shape, but slightly lower velocity, sitting around 82 mph. This offering appears destined to be a plus pitch, and Matuella is comfortable throwing it for strikes against both righties and lefties.

Matuella's change-up has great velocity change (84-86 mph) and the delivery matches his fastball delivery, but it is straight and somewhat firm. Of his pitches, this is the one he has the hardest time throwing for strikes, and Matuella clearly prefers to use his slider when he needs to use change of pace to keep hitters off balance. Still, the change-up appears that it will be at least a solid average third offering. Matuella has a very strong feel for how to approach hitters and for the entire pitching process, enabling him to use his head as much as his physical talents. Matuella's delivery is very low effort though he finds some challenges with repeating his motions consistently, largely due to his arm length and size. He throws from a mid- three-quarters arm slot, but does not hide the ball especially well or provide much deception.

Pros: Matuella has a great pitching frame and when healthy is one of the best pitchers in college ball. Long-considered a 1-1 possibility, Matuella has mid to top of the rotation stuff, and his aggressive approach helps him to keep ahead of hitters.

Cons: The cons come in two parts with Matuella. The first part is that Matuella is recovering from Tommy John surgery that he underwent in the first week of April. The second concern is Matuella's endurance. Matuella suffered from back pain issues early in his career. Those have been addressed and seem to harbor no lingering effects, but the lost time has meant that Matuella has yet to be stretched out for a full season. This smaller sample size has raised some concerns as to whether or not the hard-throwing pitcher with the large frame will be able to hold up under the workload of a starter across a major league season. These concerns are more about a lack of information than they are about an evidence that he would be unable to. This is a case of there simply not being enough information available, and the default being to temper any evaluation as a result.

The Take: Until Matuella tore his UCL, he was the top right-handed pitcher in the draft. He was running-neck-and-neck with Rodgers as a 1-1 pick, with the decision largely coming down to the choice between taking a pitcher or a position player. Once again though, injury has reared its ugly head and has caused Matuella's stock to plummet. Frankly, if the Diamondbacks are going to take on an injury risk at 1-1, both Aiken and Kirby would seem better choices at this point. The back and endurance concerns alone would not have been enough to bring him down to Aiken's level of risk, but the addition of Tommy John surgery to the mix now means that there are other, much better options with the same risk profile.


Honorable Mention:
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville

Funkhouser's stock has been steadily climbing as the draft approaches. His ability to remain healthy has worked greatly in his favor, but he is still well behind both Tate and Fulmer as a right-handed pitching prospect. His one selling point would be that he would come at a very steep discount by comparison to those two, though that comes at the expense of a lower ceiling as well.

Summary Take

If the Diamondbacks are going to choose a college player with the 1-1 pick of the draft, the decision is going to come down entirely to approach. Will the team take the best healthy talent? Will the team draft a pitcher or position player? Will the team be willing to pay the full asking bonus of some of the top healthy prospects? Or will the team elect to try and save even more money over the likely $2 million they would still have available without signing a discount player?

The safe picks (Fulmer, Swanson) will have lower upside and could potentially cost the most to sign. The highest upside picks (Aiken, Kirby) are high risk/high reward candidates that could cost considerably less, but would need to recover from injury before they could be developed. The low cost and safe approach (Happ) is available, but the incentive to go that route would seem to be dwarfed by the possibilities present in the other categories and by the presence of Brendan Rodgers in the prep class.

Next week will bring part two of this primer and examine the potential prep players that the Diamondbacks could take with the 1-1 pick.