2015 MLB Draft Coverage: College Bats
Dozens of new, high-quality, talented players will soon be available for dynasty drafts as the MLB Rule IV Draft draws near (June 8-10). For those of you looking to nab young batsmen in hopes of future roto titles, the college ranks offer a pool of talent with, at least, some known quantities in an otherwise risky process. Unfortunately the pool is very shallow.
Dansby Swanson – SS – Vanderbilt
The consensus top college hitter in this year’s draft, Swanson “broke out” in 2015. That “break out” came on the heels of being named the College World Series’ Most Outstanding Player in 2014. Swanson went from good to great this season, increasing his power (13 HR, .654 SLG) while showcasing defensive prowess that has lead to, near, uniform opinion on him being an above-average defender in the bigs.
Despite terrific production and accolades, Swanson profiles as more of a quality, all-around player instead of a franchise changing superstar. Well-above-average hitting ability combines with plus speed, an above-average arm and fringy power to create a very good but maybe not quite elite level prospect. Swanson doesn’t have one “loud” or 70-grade tool that most top five picks possess. Instead, Swanson could develop into a top-of-the-order hitter with a .275/.350/.430 slash line, mixing in 12-15 home runs and 15-20 steals.
Swanson looks like the kind of player who may end up helping a real team more than a fantasy one, with a lot value in his defense and doubles/gap power. Still, only three big league shortstops had at least 10 home runs and 15 steals last year; Swanson could easily turn into that kind of player.
Alex Bregman – INF – LSU
A well thought of prospect out of the same New Mexico High School that produced Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart, Bregman followed through on his strong commitment to one of college baseball’s premiere programs and was an instant star. As a freshman Bregman hit .369/.417/.546 with nearly as many strikeouts as walks and looked like a future 1-1 selection. This season Bregman’s numbers are down somewhat from the lofty, and perhaps unrealistic, expectations his previous performance placed upon him. A .329/.415/.567 line is nothing to sneeze at and Bregman remains one of the draft’s better pure hitters.
An unusual loading mechanism makes Bregman’s swing look a little funky; he begins his the bat almost vertical and his hands close to his chest before moving the bat straight back into a more familiar launch position, but his swing is short, quick and results in tons of hard contact. Bregman has only whiffed in 7.2% of plate appearances thus far this spring; strike-out rate is one of the few college statistics with some correlation to pro performance. But his swing can get flat. Despite impressive bat-speed and the ability to barrel-up, a lack of leverage keeps Bregman’s power from playing anywhere but on pitches down and in.
Listed at six-foot, 190 pounds Bregman must have been measured in cleats, on concrete while standing on a small step. Limited physically by small stature and mediocre athleticism, Bregman is more likely to play second-base in the pros than short but should be a quality defender.
Bregman reminds me some of Joe Panik, a high-level college performer who never struck out but has averagish tools. In a normal year Bregman might be a mid-first rounder, but the below-average talent and injury history of the 2015 draft has pushed him, potentially, into the top five. Unless you’re dying for someone to help you in the AVG category, Bregman doesn’t not offer a ton of fantasy upside.
Andrew Benitendi – OF – Arkansas
While Alex Bregman’s college production leveled off, Benitendi is one of the most improved players in the nation. A true-freshman who started every game for a 40-win Razorback squad in 2014, few saw the explosive break-out Benitendi had in store this spring.
The 5-foot-10, lefty-swinging Benitendi has destroyed SEC pitching to the tune of .391/.492/.738 with 40 BB and just 29 K and was 22 of 26 stealing bases and 18 home runs, currently good for third nation wide.
Draft eligible as a sophomore, Benitendi is easily a plus runner who should profile well in center field. That beautiful, smooth swing that only lefties seem to have has given rise to power surprising for his size. But Benitendi has enough strength and bat speed to hit potentially hit 20 dingers and the foot-speed to swipe 20 bases. In a poor year for college talent, Benitendi is easy to get excited about. He wasn’t that highly thought of coming into the spring, but if he were 6-foot-4 he might be the number one pick. Size doesn’t count for that much when you have Benitendi’s combination of athleticism and production. All aboard the Benitendi train. GET HYPED. Choo-choo mutha truckas.
Ian Happ – OF – Cincinnati
Happ’s played all over the diamond for the Bearcats, and while most feel his future is in the outfield, a split still exits on whether or not Happ can patrol center long-term.
Happ showed enough offensive upside in the Cape Cod league to garner first-round interest but his spring season has been a mixed-bag. While Happ got on-base plenty (.492 OBP) and hit for power (.672 SLG, 14 HR) he did so at the expense of contact (nearly 20% K). Happ showed excellent patience (49 BB) but that number was likely inflated by the fact that Happ was pitched around as one of the very few dangerous hitters on a Cincinnati team that struggled to a 15-41 record.
A switch-hitter, Happ’s swing is pretty similar from each side of the plate. Happ covers the outside half well and has enough strength and natural loft in his swing to project 20+ home run power down the line. Happ’s swing can get a little long, combining an upper cut swing path with a slight arm-bar loading mechanism, which can lead to vulnerability to premium velocity, something he saw little of in college.
Scouts are split on Happ, some see untapped athletic potential and raw power that can play up-the middle. Some see questionable hitting ability and an unsure defensive future. Some teams will have Happ in the top 15, some out of the first round. Personally, I’m bearish on Happ’s future but in a draft this weak on college bats, he’s a reasonable lottery ticket.
DJ Stewart – OF – Florida State
One of the few college bats with a reasonable chance of hitting in the middle of a big league order some day, Stewart draws easy, natural comparisons to Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber. While not quite the draft prospect Schwarber was, Stewart shares above-average athleticism despite a stocky build and offensive upside.
A former All-State running back in High School, Stewart should be fine defensively in the outfield. His impressive raw strength is an asset at the dish, where Stewart begins with a very spread-out, squatty stance but makes hard contact and shows elite plate discipline.
Stewart could hit 25+ home runs and get on-base at a high clip. Not guaranteed to go as high as the others in this list, Stewart could end up being a terrific value pick.