Top 2013 MLB Draft Prospects with the Most Severe Red Flags

Zachary BallAnalyst IJune 3, 2013

Top 2013 MLB Draft Prospects with the Most Severe Red Flags

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    No draft prospect comes without a potential red flag of some kind.

    Not even a projected early first-round pick like Kris Bryant.

    Whether it's a hitter's weakness against quality breaking balls or a pitcher's inability to repeat his delivery, every little thing is monitored and recorded. In some instances, those kind of flags can be overcome en route to a productive big league career. Sometimes not.

    The severity of the red flags are what should really be of concern to front offices everywhere.

    Both Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson and high school shortstop Chris Rivera have issues with making consistent contact, but considering his level of experience and his overall talent level, Rivera's appear to be more worrisome.

    In the same vein, Florida pitcher Jonathan Crawford has endured stretches where he's struggled with his fastball command. 

    Taking not only the flag itself, but also the severity of it into account, here are notable prospects whom teams should be most concerned about heading into draft week.

     

    Lead image courtesy of baseballamerica.com.

Kris Bryant, 3B, San Diego

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    Projected Draft Slot: Top 5

    Red Flags: Contact rate and strikeouts

    Red Flag Threat Level: Mild

     

    By all accounts, Kris Bryant is the most impressive power hitter to come out of the college ranks in at least a decade.

    He's already hit 31 home runs in just 60 games and has single-handedly accounted for more homers than three-quarters of all NCAA Division I teams. He's also posted his third consecutive season with a batting average over .330.

    For all the love that Bryant gets, few remember to take into account his relative free-swinging ways. He struck out nearly 30 percent of the time in his freshman season and close to 20 percent in 2012 and this season.

    Also take into account that he's done the majority of his damage against the inferior competition of the West Coast Conference. It would be interesting to see what kind of numbers Bryant could put up in the SEC against the likes of Ryne Stanek, Bobby Wahl, Kevin Ziomek, Tyler Beede and Ryan Eades.

    Alas, Bryant will never get that chance, so he'll just have to hope he can replicate his college performances at the next level.

Trey Williams, 3B, College of the Canyons

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    Projected Draft Slot: Second-fourth round

    Red Flag: Lethargic play and careless attitude

    Red Flag Threat Level: Mild

     

    Williams was one of the top high school position players in last year's draft class, but during his senior season he developed a bit of a reputation for careless, lethargic play.

    Whether that was actually the case, the mere whiff of carelessness dropped him all the way to the 24th round. He spurned an offer from the Cardinals in favor of attending College of the Canyons, where he put together a solid campaign for a freshman.

    There's no doubt that Williams will go higher than the 24th round this year. He offers incredible hitting ability and massive raw power. He's also a slightly-above-average defender.

    More importantly, he hasn't had to deal with any more rumors about his attitude.

    Once that reputation is thrown on a player, however, it's hard to shake.

Hunter Renfroe, OF, Mississippi State

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    Projected Draft Slot: First Round

    Red Flag: Only one season of productivity

    Red Flag Threat Level: Mild-to-moderate

     

    Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe burst onto the scene this year, flashing great tools at the plate and in the field. Heading into NCAA Regional play, the junior was setting the offensive pace for the Bulldogs, leading the squad with a .350 average, 15 homers and 55 RBI.

    Those are fantastic numbers for a player in his draft year.

    Unfortunately, if one is to look past Renfroe's draft season production he or she wouldn't find much else.

    Here's a comparison of his production from his freshman and sophomore campaigns compared to his junior season:

    Year G AB H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG BB K
    2011-12 75 256 62 17 4 27 .242 .318 .355 24 59
    2013 56 214 75 15 15 55 .350 .442 .650 34 37

    While there's something to be said for hitters getting better with age and experience, Renfroe has practically done a complete 180 by lowering his strikeout rate, improving his walk totals, boosting his average more than 100 points and showing much improved power.

    It goes without saying that the professional track record of hitters who under-perform for their first two years of college and then explode during their third season isn't that impressive.

    Take as primary examples Tony Sanchez (Pittsburgh), Jason Castro (Houston), Tyler Greene (Chicago White Sox), Landon Powell (New York Mets) and John McCurdy (Oakland).

Andy McGuire, SS, James Madison HS (Va.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: Second-third round

    Red Flag: Hip injury

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate

     

    After a summer that included performances in multiple showcase events all across the country and a worldwide barnstorming tour with the USA National Team, McGuire finally tended to his wounds.

    In September he had extra bone shaved off of his left hip and a torn labrum repaired.

    It wasn't long before he was back on the diamond running, hitting, fielding and showing all the tools (albeit with a bit of rust) that made him one of the top shortstops in the 2013 draft class.

    Still, hip surgery is a serious matter. The same issue has felled numerous big leaguers over the past few years, including Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Alex Gordon and Brett Myers.

    Some players come back from them, like Chase Utley, while others have not, like, well...A-Rod.

Jonathan Crawford, RHP, Florida

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    Projected Draft Slot: First Round

    Red Flag: Spotty fastball command

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate

     

    Crawford famously burst onto the scene in last year's NCAA tournament by tossing a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. Thanks to that performance and an impressive arsenal that contains not only a mid-90s fastball but also a devastating slider, Crawford entered the 2013 season as one of the top projected picks in this year's draft class.

    Unfortunately, Crawford's performance has been anything but impressive. He's alternated bad starts with really bad starts en route to a 3-6 record, 4.03 ERA and a distressing 64/33 K/BB ratio.

    Crawford's issues this season have mostly stemmed from his inability to locate his fastball. While the pitch is of excellent quality and has above-average big league potential, it hasn't looked anything like one this year.

    Possibly, he's trying to make up for the fact that he's lost a few miles per hour off his fastball, which touched as high as 97 mph last year but has been clocked in the 90-94 range this year, or maybe he just never had that much command of the pitch in the first place.

    A no-hitter is not always thrown by an excellent pitcher.

    Heck, Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter.

Nick Longhi, 1B/OF, Venice HS (Fla.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: Third-fifth round

    Red Flag: Bats right-handed, throws left-handed

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate

     

    It's hard to tell if this qualifies as a red flag or if it's just an omen of bad things to come, but Nick Longhi is part of an exclusive group of players who bat right-handed but throw left-handed.

    As referenced in a draft report on Longhi by Perfect Game (subscription required), there have only been 57 such players in big league history, so the odds are stacked pretty high against Longhi becoming number 58.

    That's not to say the first baseman/outfielder isn't plenty talented. He's a polished hitter with good power, and he has shown above-average athleticism and defensive ability at first base.

    Assuming he doesn't sign with a team this summer, Longhi will head to LSU, which would likely help his chances of becoming a major leaguer.

Austin Wilson, OF, Stanford

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    Projected Draft Slot: First round

    Red Flags: Contact rate and strikeouts

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate-to-severe

     

    Austin Wilson has a ton of tools that scream future All-Star.

    For starters, he has as much raw power as anyone in this year's draft class. Some of his home runs are the stuff of legend. Out of the stadium, over the river and through the woods kind of legend.

    He also possesses one of the most impressive cannons to ever grace Klein Field at Sunken Diamond. His arm strength should be big league ready from Day 1, and it's a dangerous enough weapon to convince runners to trade in their doubles for singles.

    Unfortunately, Wilson has a near-fatal flaw that doesn't get much attention: his contact rate.

    How many successful big league hitters failed to hit over .300 in college?

    My guess is not many.

    Doesn't 48 extra-base hits for an entire career seem kind of tame considering Wilson's talent?

    Heck, fellow draft prospect Kris Bryant has nearly as many home runs this year as Wilson has extra-base hits in three.

    Doesn't striking out in over 22 percent of one's at-bats seem like a problem that will only get worse at the professional level?

    Lucky for Wilson, the contact rate issue doesn't seem to be scaring many teams away. It's much easier to ooh and aah over his impressive physicality.

    For those paying attention, however, Wilson has exactly the kind of red flag that causes guys to drop off from the face of the earth altogether.

    I'm looking at you, Billy Rowell.

    Orioles fans will get that one.

Trey Ball, LHP/OF, New Castle HS (Ind.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: First Round

    Red Flag: Two-way player likely to be drafted in the first round

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate-to-severe

     

    Quick, name the last player who made waves as a two-way superstar in either high school or college who achieved prolonged success at the big league level!

    Can't do it? That's because it's hard to find a player of Trey Ball's ability who has made a name for himself.

    These are the players, their draft team and their draft year that come to mind that fit the same profile that Ball does, aka a first-round talent on both the mound and at the plate:

    • Courtney Hawkins, OF/RHP, Chicago White Sox (2012)
    • Kaleb Cowart, 3B/RHP, Los Angeles Angels (2010)
    • Casey Kelly, SS/RHP, Boston Red Sox (2008)
    • Joe Savery, LHP/OF, Philadelphia Phillies (2007)
    • Sean Doolittle, 1B/LHP, Oakland Athletics (2007)
    • Brian Bogusevic, LHP/OF, Houston Astros (2005)
    • Matt Bush, SS/RHP, San Diego Padres (2004)
    • Nick Markakis, OF/LHP, Baltimore Orioles (2003)
    • Adam Jones, OF/RHP, Seattle Mariners (2003)
    • Adam Loewen, LHP/OF, Baltimore Orioles (2002)
    • Sergio Santos, SS/RHP, Chicago White Sox (2002)

    Of those 11 prospects, six no longer play the position they began their careers playing, and while Santos (SS to P), Doolittle (1B to P), Bogusevic (P to OF) and Loewen (P to OF) have gone on to enjoy cups of coffee in the big leagues, they also succeeded in proving that the fact that they were two-way stars did more to confuse their organizations than enhance their value.

    Clearly, the top two two-way players in recent memory who have actually experienced prolonged success professionally both belong to the Baltimore Orioles. Most teams considered Markakis a pitcher, but Baltimore went against the grain and turned him into an All-Star right fielder.

    Jones got a little bit of attention as a pitcher, but like Baltimore, Seattle drafted him as an outfielder, where he has blossomed into one of the more complete center fielders in all of baseball.

    Ball might very well succeed professionally on the mound or at the plate, but chances are he'll struggle to sustain success at either position like many of the names on the above list. 

Justin Williams, OF, Terrebonne HS (La.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: Second-third round

    Red Flag: Hitting ability

    Red Flag Threat Level: Moderate-to-severe

     

    In terms of pure power, scouts would be hard-pressed to find a player in this year's draft class with as much as Terrebonne High's Justin Williams.

    Despite his home run hitting ability, Williams is no sure thing thanks to an uneven, inconsistent approach at the plate that has cast enough doubt on him to drop him out of first-round consideration. After all, it is hard to hit home runs if one can't make consistent contact. 

    It's not that Williams doesn't have the tools to develop into a respectable hitter. He has great bat speed and can catch up to premium velocity.

    Throw him a breaking ball, though, and he's bound to look like a lost puppy.

    If Williams is going to have a productive career at the professional level, he's going to have to work extra hard at the plate.

Chris Rivera, SS, El Dorado HS (Calif.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: Third-fourth round

    Red Flags: Hitting ability and power

    Red Flag Threat Level: Severe

     

    If shortstops were judged solely on defensive ability, Chris Rivera might be one of the most sought-after prospects in this entire draft class. Unfortunately for Rivera, big league shortstops are widely expected to offer some hitting ability as well.

    That's where the flag gets thrown on the California high schooler, who has under-performed on numerous occasions in front of scouts and on the showcase circuit last summer. In addition to having trouble catching up to premium velocity, Rivera also has looked silly against quality breaking balls.

    His ceiling is as a .240-.250 hitter who offers practically no power.

    And therein lies another problem. If Rivera offered even the slightest bit of power, he might be worth the Mendoza-line batting average.

    Instead, he just has his defensive ability to fall back on.

    Last time I checked, it's a tough haul to reach the majors with a below-average hit tool, much less succeed there.

Reese McGuire (Wash.), Jon Denney (Okla.), and Nick Ciuffo (S.C.)

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    Projected Draft Slot: First round

    Red Flags: High school catchers likely to be drafted in the first round

    Red Flag Threat Level: Severe

     

    Since 1995, only 26 catchers from the high school ranks have been drafted in the first or supplemental first round. Here are some interesting facts about the successes (few) and failures (many) of those selections.

    Only six have caught a game at the major league level. They are Ben Davis, Joe Mauer, Jeff Mathis, Hank Conger, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Devin Mesoraco.

    Of those six, only two (Mauer and Saltalamacchia) have ever hit more than 20 home runs or driven in more than 58 runs in a single season.

    Of those two, only one (Mauer, obviously) has won a Gold Glove, a batting title and a MVP award or maintained a career batting average over .255.

    So, what's the lesson?

    If a team is looking to draft a franchise catcher out of high school in the first round, it's pretty much a lost cause unless there's a player worthy of the top overall pick.

    Neither Reese McGuire, Jon Denney nor Nick Ciuffo has that potential.

    Enough said. Don't even bother.