MLB Draft 2015 Big Board: B/R's Initial Position-by-Position Rankings
We're only a few days removed from the conclusion of the 2014 draft, but it's never too early to start looking ahead at what next year's class has to offer.
While my colleague Adam Wells already highlighted many of the top 2015 prospects on Monday with a mock draft, here we'll look at next year's crop of talent in greater depth through a position-by-position breakdown. Each player's position is based on his projection as a professional, as guys are often drafted at a position other than their primary position as an amateur.
Players are ranked based on their perceived impact potential in the major leagues. However, keep in mind that these rankings will change drastically between now and next June, as the class hasn't even taken shape beyond some of the highly touted prospects you'll soon read about.
Here are the top-ranked 2015 draft prospects at each position.
1. Michael Matuella, Duke
Matuella has the makings of a future No. 1 overall pick and front-of-the-rotation force, as he's a 6'6", 225-pound right-hander with a present command of an electric four-pitch mix. In addition to a fastball that works in the mid-90s, he throws two breaking balls in a 12-to-6—a knee-buckling curveball with good depth and a tight slider in the low to mid-80s with late bite—both of which will flash plus. His changeup projects to be at least average, though right now it's less advanced than his three other offerings. This spring, Matuella posted a 2.78 ERA with 69 strikeouts and 15 walks in 58.1 innings (11 starts) for the Blue Devils.
2. Carson Fulmer, Vanderbilt
Fulmer will always have doubters as a 6'0" right-hander with considerable effort in his delivery, but it's hard to discount his ability to hold mid-90s velocity deep in games as a starter while consistently missing bats with a plus slider. With Vanderbilt already headed to the College World Series after an intense Super Regional series win over Stanford, fans likely will have the opportunity to watch Fulmer throw at least once more this year. Splitting the season between the bullpen and starting rotation, the right-hander owns a 1.78 ERA with 10 saves and a ratio of 81 strikeouts to 31 walks through 76 innings.
3. Walker Buehler, Vanderbilt
Speaking of undersized right-handers, Fulmer's teammate Walker Buehler has been the anchor of Vanderbilt's staff this year, posting a 2.39 ERA and 102 strikeouts to 29 walks in 94 innings. The 6'1", 170-pounder features a fastball in the low 90s that bumps 94 with decent run, and it's easy to envision him adding a few more ticks with physical development. His curveball is his best secondary pitch at present, but he's also made noticeable strides with his changeup and slider during the course of the season.
4. Riley Ferrell, Texas Christian
Ferrell arguably boasts the best velocity in the class, as the 6'1", 200-pound right-hander uses his strong lower half and core to produce an explosive fastball at 95-98 mph. Though he's served as TCU's closer this year, his feel for both his breaking ball and changeup makes him a candidate to start in the future, which is why he's already such an intriguing draft prospect. He has posted a 0.68 ERA and 14.5 K/9 while saving 15 games for the Horned Frogs.
5. Kyle Funkhouser, Louisville
Funkhouser isn't that far behind Ferrell in terms of impressive fastball velocity, as the projectable 6'3", 205-pound right-hander already sits in the 92-94 mph range and has shown the ability to reach back for 96-97. However, his secondary offerings lag behind his fastball (though they still generate a high number of whiffs), while his overall shaky command causes him to fall behind too many hitters. This season, which is ongoing for the Omaha-bound Cardinals, he has registered a 1.73 ERA to go along with 117 strikeouts and 59 walks in 114.1 innings.
1. Nathan Kirby, Virginia
As of now, Kirby is arguably the most polished arm in the 2015 class. The 6'3", 190-pound left-hander has advanced command of a low-90s fastball with late arm-side life, plus a curveball with excellent depth and downer action and a changeup that naturally plays up due to his arm speed. So far this season, he has registered a 1.73 ERA and .182 opponents’ batting average to go along with a ratio 104 of strikeouts to 25 walks in 104 innings.
2. Justin Hooper, De La Salle HS (Calif.)
Hooper, a UCLA commit, will be one of the big high school names to follow in the coming year, as the projectable 6'6", 220-pound left-hander is already producing mid-90s velocity thanks to an easy delivery and quick arm. His control and secondary offerings have a ways to go, but the total package is something to dream on. On the year, he posted a 2.04 ERA with 58 strikeouts and 35 walks in 44.2 innings, allowing only 19 hits during that span.
3. Brett Lilek, Arizona State
The 6'4" Lileck works from a three-quarters arm angle that's tough on both righties and lefties, and his long arms and extension toward the plate allow him to attack both sides of the plate with his low-90s, running fastball. He also throws a tight slider as well as a solid curveball and changeup, and more significantly, he shows good pitchability and an overall feel for sequencing. This spring, he posted a 2.68 ERA and a ratio of 79 strikeouts to 39 walks in 84 innings (15 starts) while holding opposing hitters to 6.32 hits per nine innings.
4. Thomas Szapucki, Dwyer HS (Fla.)
The 6'2", 190-pound Szapucki also works from a low-three-quarters arm slot, and, like Lilek, it helps him generate considerable late movement on his low-90s fastball. The Florida commit isn't as well-known as some of his left-handed peers, so expect him to be under the microscope this summer on the showcase circuit.
5. Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Hillman benefited from the exposure of teammate and No. 5 overall pick Nick Gordon at Olympia (Fla.) High; it also didn't hurt that he posted a 0.73 ERA and a ratio of 79 strikeouts to 12 walks in 57.2 innings. The 6'2", 190-pounder has impressive command of his high-80s/low-90s fastball, and he's also adept at mixing a potential plus breaking ball and consistent changeup.
1. Taylor Ward, Fresno State
After struggling as a freshman (.196 batting average in 46 games) in 2013, Ward emerged as one of the better offensive catchers among underclassmen this spring, batting .320/.395./.438 with eight doubles, six home runs, 41 RBI and a solid 29-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 57 games.
2. Chris Betts, C/1B, Wilson HS (Tenn.)
A 6'1", 200-pound left-handed hitter, Betts stands out for his quick bat and ability to barrel the ball from line to line. He has an advanced feel for hitting that should help him tap into more raw power in future seasons. In 32 games this spring, he batted .337/.430/.510 with a team-best four home runs and 18 RBI. His defense behind the plate will need some work, though he is a good athlete with plenty of arm strength, but a move to first base full time this early in his career stands to hurt his draft stock.
3. Mike Hickman, Seven Lakes HS (Texas)
At 6'1", 205 pounds, Hickman boasts plus raw power from the left side of the plate thanks to a combination of physical strength and explosive bat speed. Though his swing can get long and features some wasted movement, he still has the strength to get the barrel to the ball and generate extension through contact. Defensively, he moves well behind the plate and shows good catch-and-throw skills, while his overall athleticism and strong arm could also result in more looks at third base or either corner outfield spot.
4. Wyatt Cross, Legacy HS (Colo.)
The 6'3", 190-pound Cross, a North Carolina commit, is already considered the top defensive backstop in the class, as he's an advanced receiver and blocker with the athleticism and catch-and-throw skills to remain at the position as a professional. This spring, the left-handed hitter batted .302/.436/.697 with six doubles and three home runs in 15 games.
5. Lucas Herbert, San Clemente HS (Calif.)
Herbert, a UCLA commit, has loose and easy athleticism to his 6'1", 195-pound frame, as he moves well behind the plate and shows all the tools necessary for a career at the position. At the plate, the right-handed hitter features a quick bat and mature approach, and he's likely to develop more power as he gets stronger. In 33 games this spring, he batted .284/.400/.463 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 16 RBI and more walks (13) than strikeouts (eight).
1. Alex Bregman, SS, LSU
After a remarkable freshman season in 2013, Bregman got off to a slow start this spring but turned things around in time to bat .316/.397/.455 with 16 doubles, six home runs, 12 stolen bases and more walks (27) than strikeouts (21) in 63 games. The 6'0", 190-pound shortstop projects for a plus bat to go along with plus defense at a premium position, while his high baseball IQ and tremendous instincts will always make his tools play up.
2. Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (Fla.)
The 6'1", 180-pound Rodgers shows plus raw power from the right side of the plate thanks to his present strength and excellent bat speed, and he's likely to develop even more thump as he matures. Defensively, he has the athleticism, fluid actions, slick glove and arm strength to stick at shortstop, which makes his power potential all the more intriguing. He put up monster numbers this spring at Lake Mary High, batting .397/.488/.823 with five doubles and eight home runs in 22 games.
3. Ian Happ, 2B, Cincinnati
The switch-hitting Happ put himself on the draft radar last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he batted .293 with a .814 OPS, five home runs and 13 stolen bases in 39 games while flashing four standout tools. He shows an advanced feel for hitting from both sides of the plate, consistently working counts and utilizing the entire field, and his above-average bat speed suggests he has untapped power. Meanwhile, he is a plus runner who knows how to steal bases, and his athleticism and arm strength are both clean fits at second base. He batted .322/.443/.497 with 13 doubles, five home runs, 19 steals and a 35-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio this spring in 51 games for the Bearcats.
4. John Aiello, SS/3B, Germantown Academy (Penn.)
Aiello, also a switch-hitter, has good present strength to his 6'2", 200-pound frame to go along with plus bat speed from both sides of the plate. While he projects for more power as a right-handed batter, he exhibits a natural feel for hitting from both sides that will only improve with experience. Defensively, Aiello stands out for his plus arm, which projects favorably at either shortstop or third base, though he's likely to be given a chance to develop at the latter position due to his overall athleticism and excellent instincts.
5. Jahmai Jones, MIF/OF, Wesleyan HS (Ga.)
Jones is one of the more projectable position players in the class, as the 6'0", 215-pounder's combination of athleticism and offensive upside could lead to his development at one of several up-the-middle positions. At the plate, the right-hander hitter showcases an intriguing combination of plus bat speed and barrel control that produces consistent hard contact, and he's yet to tap into his plus raw power. As a sophomore in 2013, he batted .483 with 14 doubles and nine home runs.
1. Brendon Davis, 3B/SS, Lakewood HS (Calif.)
Davis is loaded with physical projection at 6'4", 165 pounds, as he already shows good bat speed and a solid feel for hitting from the right side, not to mention the potential to develop significant power by adding strength to his lean, athletic frame. This spring, he batted .381/.460/.488 with six doubles, one home run and 16 RBI in 30 games.
2. David Thompson, 3B, Miami
A 6’2", 207-pound right-handed hitter, Thompson excelled as a true freshman in 2013, batting .286 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 46 RBI while starting 51 games. Unfortunately, he missed 32 games this season after undergoing surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, but he returned to bat .278/.368/.352 with six doubles and 15 RBI in 30 games for the Hurricanes.
3. Josh Naylor, 1B/OF, St. Joan of Arc Catholic (Ontario)
Naylor is a physical monster at 6'1", 225 pounds with the kind of explosive bat speed and plus power that one would expect from a hitter of his size. Beyond the power, the left-handed-hitting Naylor simply knows how to handle the bat, as he consistently barrels the ball and uses the entire field. Defensively, he has the arm strength to handle the outfield, though his build and average athleticism are better suited for a career at first base.
4. Matt Rose, 3B, Georgia State
One of the more under-the-radar third base prospects in the 2015 class, Rose, who has a highly projectable 6'4", 195-pound frame, showed considerably more power this spring than he did as a freshman. He batted .312/.358/.535 with 12 doubles and 11 home runs in 52 games. He also has enjoyed success on the mound over the last two seasons, as the right-hander owns a 3.05 ERA and a ratio of 50 strikeouts to 24 walks over 56 career innings. However, as of now his future involves a bat.
5. Julian Infante, 3B, Westminster Christian HS (Fla.)
Infante is another under-the-radar prospect whom everyone should start to hear more about over the summer. At 6'3", 195 pounds, he has plenty of present strength with room to add more with development, and he already shows plus bat speed and big power potential from the right side of the plate. Meanwhile, he also moves well for his size despite his thicker build, with the smooth actions, body control and arm strength to handle third base at the next level.
1. Dazmon Cameron, CF, Eagle’s Landing Christian HS (Ga.)
The son of former MLB veteran Mike Cameron, Dazmon is a top-flight athlete with the necessary plus speed, outstanding range and unteachable instincts to enjoy a long career in center field. At the plate, the right-handed hitter's quick-twitch strength translates to plus bat speed and hints at his potential to develop usable power. This spring, he batted .323/.477/.569 with four doubles, four home runs, 21 RBI and nine steals in 22 games.
2. Kyle Tucker, CF, Plant HS (Fla.)
A 6'4" left-handed batter, Tucker has quickly emerged as one of the more projectable hitters in the class, thanks to his present utility of plus power as well as his advanced pitch recognition and overall mature approach. Beyond his offensive potential, he is also a strong and instinctual defender in the outfield, with a legitimate chance to stick in center field at the next level. He batted .415/.536/.902 with seven doubles, nine home runs, 35 RBI and six stolen bases in 29 games this spring.
3. D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State
Arguably the best pure hitter in the class, the 6'0", 230-pound Stewart has a real chance to be a plus hitter as a professional, as the left-handed batter has a ridiculously advanced approach to go along with above-average power and an innate feel for hitting. He's likely to handle left field at the next level and should offer more than enough production to hold down a corner position in the long term. In his two years at Florida State, he owns a career .358/.470/.558 batting line to go along with 44 doubles, 12 home runs, 109 RBI and more walks (78) than strikeouts (70).
4. Kyle Dean, OF, Poway HS (Calif.)
Another prep outfielder whose stock is on the rise, Dean's bat speed and present strength at 6'2", 200 pounds give him a projection for plus power at maturity, while his advanced approach and plate discipline should also give his bat value. While he has the speed and range to profile in center field for the time being, he is expected to lose a step as he adds strength. He'll likely end up in right field, where his arm strength projects as a clean fit. This spring, he batted .355/.441/.581 with eight doubles, five home runs, 25 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 32 games.
5. Ryan Johnson, OF, College Station HS (Texas)
At 6'3", 200 pounds, Johnson is a highly projectable left-handed batter with an effortless, fluid swing and enormous power potential, as evidenced by his .494/.580/.865 batting line, five doubles, five triples and six home runs this spring through 30 games. The TCU commit isn't nearly as advanced on the other side of the ball, as his reads and routes in the outfield are both raw, but he has the arm strength to eventually settle in at either corner position.