2014 MLB Draft Prospects: 5 Hidden Gems in This Year's Class
When it comes to draft talk, so much of the focus is on the top of the boards that it's easy to forget the best teams are able to find value beyond their first selection in order to build their roster.
The 2014 Major League Baseball draft class has been all over the map, but it's proven to be a deep group with plenty of high-ceiling talent to be found late in the first round and on Day 2.
Not surprisingly, especially if you have followed things this spring, pitching is the overwhelming strength in this class, with position players fighting to break through the barriers. It's possible that the top four players taken will be arms, and deservedly so.
While there are players who tend to slide due to signability concerns, all we want to focus on is raw talent and how it translates to Major League Baseball. Here are the players who aren't going to be taken at the top of the draft but still have star potential.
Monte Harrison, OF, Lee's Summit West HS (Missouri)
The first name on the list, Monte Harrison, is a bit of a cheat. He's going to be a first-round pick and is a known commodity thanks to a football scholarship to play wide receiver at the University of Nebraska.
However, due to his dual-sport commitments, Harrison is more of a mid- to late-first-round pick because his baseball skills are lacking. He's got incredible raw tools, including plus-plus arm strength, plus running speed and a quiet, powerful swing with plus bat speed to generate above-average raw power.
ESPN recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree, via Mike'l Severe of the World-Herald Live, said that Harrison is the best athlete to come from Missouri in the last 15 years.
It's going to take Harrison longer to develop than even the typical high school position player because he's all tools and little refinement. If everything clicks, which is rare but does happen, the Missouri high school star will be the best position player taken in this draft.
Projected Round: Mid-First Round
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, East Carolina
Another slight cheat, though this one is easier to justify than Harrison, Jeff Hoffman entered the year as a top-three pick and was a strong spring away from challenging NC State left-hander Carlos Rodon as the No. 1 overall player.
Instead, Hoffman never consistently looked the part of a No. 1 overall pick this spring and, like so many pitchers in 2014, needed Tommy John surgery earlier this month, first reported by ESPN's Keith Law.
The operation is a huge blow to Hoffman's draft stock, which was still very high even though he was more of a top-five pick before getting hurt. It does, however, open the board up for teams later in the first round who wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to take him.
Before the injury, Hoffman threw a mid-90s fastball with a plus-plus curveball, above-average changeup and solid control. He's got some physical projection left at 6'4" and 185 pounds to grow into a No. 2 starter.
Tommy John surgery isn't the death sentence it once was, so a team that believed in his ability before elbow reconstruction and has multiple first-round picks (Toronto, Seattle, Kansas City, Cleveland, Boston, St. Louis) can be inclined to take a chance on all that raw potential.
Washington did it two years ago with Lucas Giolito, who is back and looks every bit the elite prospect he was before the injury. Hoffman's ceiling isn't quite that high, but No. 2 starters don't grow on trees.
Projected Round: Compensation Round A
Forrest Wall, 2B, Orangewood Christian HS (Florida)
There's no easier way to find a draft gem than by taking a talented player who suffered an injury, which causes teams to examine what they can't do instead of what they are still able to do.
Forrest Wall is a perfect example of this phenomenon. He endured two different shoulder injuries, one on each side, that have hurt his throwing arm. A torn labrum to his right shoulder three years ago was the major injury, as it has limited him to second base due to well-below-average arm strength.
Normally, high school second basemen aren't going to get much attention, but Wall isn't your average player. Specifically, he's got one of the best pure bats among prep players in this class. His swing is short and direct through the zone with enough raw power to project as an average home run hitter in the future.
A fun side note about Wall: He defeated Jose Bautista in the first round of a home run exhibition to raise money for the Orangewood baseball program.
Projected Round: Late Second/Early Third
Dylan Davis, OF, Oregon State
One of the dangers in playing with a first-round talent is your skills may not look as good as they otherwise would to scouts.
Case in point: Dylan Davis has become an underrated prospect in this year's class because of Michael Conforto's presence at Oregon State.
Conforto is going to be a high first-round pick, while Davis is going to go anywhere from the middle of the second to early in the third round despite having more raw power and a hit tool that isn't much worse than his teammate's.
Davis isn't as polished a hitter, often getting caught on his front foot and being too aggressive at the plate, but the contact has always been there, and his big power and mid-90s fastball (he moonlights as a pitcher) give him all the pieces necessary to profile as a first-division right fielder.
The floor for Conforto is higher, and he should have no problems reaching the big leagues in a hurry, but the ceiling for Davis is among the best for college position players. He will need time to develop, so don't expect quick results.
Projected Round: Mid Second/Early Third
Jeren Kendall, OF, Holmen HS (Wisconsin)
Jeren Kendall is a prospect who has been all over the map during the showcase circuit. He's shown a well-above-average hit tool at times with a short, compact swing to spray line drives all over the field. Other times he's struggled to drive even mediocre high school pitching, leaving his future role very much in doubt.
Of course, Kendall's inclusion on this list means I believe he's going to do more of the former than the latter in professional baseball. He's got all the makings of a throwback leadoff hitter and center fielder.
The 18-year-old has good bat speed and understands how to control the barrel through the zone. He's an elite runner, helping him cover a ton of ground in the outfield, and has plenty of arm strength for the position.
There's more power in his swing than the 5'11", 165-pound frame would suggest, though Kendall's likely to end up hitting the ball into the gap and collecting a lot of doubles and triples using his legs instead of home runs.
Teams that like Kendall are going to take a chance on him in the second round, while there is enough of a divide on his future skills to see him slipping into the fourth round.
Projected Round: Third-Fourth
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