Player: Taylor Sparks
Drafted by:Cincinatti Reds
DOB: 4/3/1993 (Age: 21)
Height/Weight: 6'4", 210 pounds
School: UC Irvine
Previously Drafted: 2011, 24th round by Indians
Even though UC Irvine isn't the baseball power it once was, you still take notice of the school because it produces some of the best talent in the country. Third baseman Taylor Sparks is going to join a list of MLB draftees that includes Brady Anderson and Dylan Axelrod.
Sparks has had a fantastic career with the Anteaters, being named Big West Co-Player of the Year in 2013 and making four first-team preseason All-American teams before this season started.
Even though 2014 hasn't been up to his lofty standards (.293/.381/.481), he's still one of the best corner infielders available in the draft because of his ability to hit and hit for power.
Full Scouting Report
Note: Numerical scores are on the conventional 80-point scouting scale, with the current score first and projected score second.
Just looking at Sparks swing a bat, you would think he's one of the best hitters in this class; very clean, smooth path through the zone with plus bat speed; excellent strength in his wrists and always gets his arms extended, as well as generates a lot of backspin with good loft; textbook swing that you want to see from a college hitter.
Because he has good bat speed, arm extension and a strong finish through the zone, his in-game power projects to be above average with experience against advanced pitching; more than that in raw power, but his aggressive, attacking style of hitting allows pitchers to get him out easy.
Plate Discipline: 35/45
The reason Sparks' hit tool doesn't grade out better, despite having a gorgeous swing, is because he wants to hit anything and everything that comes his way; gets caught off balance too often, lunging at breaking stuff away and getting eaten up by fastballs off the plate; lot of swing-and-miss in his game, punching out 60 times in just more than 200 at-bats this season.
He is a big, muscular guy who runs well for his size; not a burner down the line, but his athleticism and long legs allow him to put up good times; instincts also help his speed play up, being able to take an extra base or move side to side in the field with ease.
Being a good athlete with fringe-average speed and good lateral movement allows Sparks to handle third base; not a Gold Glove winner at the hot corner, but he gets to balls he should with the hands and arm strength to make all the routine plays; if the bat plays, that's more than enough for teams.
There's not a lot of power in his throws from third base, but his arm grades out as above-average because of his ability to get rid of the ball quickly; footwork is solid, as he always puts himself in a good position to make throws across the field.
MLB Player Comparison: Mike Moustakas
It's not a sexy comparison right now given his recent demotion, but Mike Moustakas came through Kansas City's system as a hitter with a lot of power and an aggressive approach that held the hit tool down. Sparks has a better swing, but the same flaw limits his ability to hit for average. As long as he can tone down that aggressiveness, he should carve out a better niche than Moustakas has thus far.
Projection: Average regular on first-division roster
MLB ETA: 2017
Chances of Signing: 80 percent
If Sparks was draft-eligible last year, he would have been a lock to sign. He's still not likely to return to school as a legitimate top-100 talent in this year's class, but his stock has taken a hit due to the holes in his approach. Teams will look at the power and swing and then make him an offer that's difficult to refuse.