by Rob Leibowitz
We are under two weeks away from this year's Rule 4 draft and I already have my eye on more than a few players for my keeper and dynasty leagues.
Mike Zunino, a catcher out of the University of Florida, has a solid all-around game that will allow him to stay behind the plate and be a productive offensive force. I don't think he has the ceiling to be a star. Despite plenty of bat speed, opinions are divided long term whether Zunino will be a teens-per-season home run hitter or more a 20-plus guy. For now, as a right-handed hitter, I just want to be sure he translates his contact making skills to professional ball before rendering a full opinion, but he does look like an everyday starter.
Pelfrey was a "safe" pick, too
Michael Wacha out of Texas A&M is probably considered the "safest" of picks as far as starting pitchers go. That is a fairly loaded term given the number of innings that college hurlers rack up, but we are talking about a polished right-hander with above-average command and a good fastball/changeup combo. So that is a very nice foundation. There are some questions out there regarding Wacha's ability to spin the ball (curve and change), so I also wonder if this is a potential Mike Pelfrey situation. Though to be fair, Pelfrey was drafted with the idea that he could spin the ball and it simply wasn't ever true.
Mark Appel is the higher end pick with a power fastball/slider combo and workable change. This Stanford righty could easily be a top five pick. However, he is riskier than Wacha as his command has been questioned and his 4-seamer has been called "too straight" by multiple sources while his two-seamer receives better reviews. It will be interesting to see how quickly Appel will make it to the majors, but it is fairly clear that he has some work to do.
Kyle Zimmer may be the best overall package as far as college pitchers go heading into the amateur draft. He combines Wacha's strike-throwing ability with stuff that more closely approaches Appel's level and the overall combination could make him a potential #2 or better MLB starter.
Byron Buxton is probably the highest ceiling player in this year's draft. The right-handed hitting outfielder is already blessed with abundant speed and has a 6-foot-2 frame that he can grow into and gain power, and already excellent bat speed. Essentially Buxton is in the same situation as Bubba Starling - tons of talent, but how will that talent translate to professional ball and especially as a right-hander hitter, will he have the plate discipline to truly harness that talent? Time will tell. High risk, high reward can be found here, but it will far from surprising to see him go first overall.
Marcus Stroman is an interesting potential first round selection. He pitches for Duke and stands well under the ideal height for a pitcher at a generous 5-foot-9. That aside, the righty has all the qualities you look for in a first round college pitcher. Plus command and a deep repertoire with multiple-pitch potential that includes weapons to combat lefties and righties alike. The question will be how deceptive he is and how well or how quickly pro hitters see and recognize his pitches given his stature. Right now I am optimistic and think he can make it as least a back-end-of-the-rotation pitcher. I also believe he could be one of the faster movers through the minors.
We need to talk about a middle infielder and Deven Marrero is worth talking about. Despite possible work ethic issues, Herrera is a true shortstop and will stay at the position long term. He strikes me as something of a Mark Grudzielanek type perhaps with the ability to hit for average, perhaps get double digits in steals and home runs, but also is an aggressive hitter who will not impress in the OBP department.
Finally, moving over to the hot corner, fantasy players should watch the progress of Richie Shaffer. While his long-term position is up in that air, most likely 1B, we are talking about a player who already has plus power and is a legitimate 20+, if not closer to 30-home-run-per-season, threat. Why I like Shaffer, however, is his advanced plate discipline. The righty regularly draws more walks than strikeouts. If he can translate that ability to pro ball along with his power, he could be a legitimate .280+, 25+ threat. The fact that he is slow afoot, however, reduces the likelihood that he is a consistent .300-hitting threat.
I'll have more to report on the amateur draft as we approach and review it in the coming weeks.
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