MLB Draft Projections: Big League Comparisons for Every Round 1 Pick
The first day of the 2014 MLB draft is in the books, with the first 74 selections being made on Thursday night, headed by a trio of pitchers in high school left-hander Brady Aiken, high school right-hander Tyler Kolek and North Carolina State southpaw Carlos Rodon.
The MLB draft and the scouting process leading up to it gets far less exposure than that of the NFL or the NBA, and as a result the prospects are unknown commodities to the vast majority of the fan base when their names are called.
With that in mind, what follows is a look at a pro comparison(s) for each of the 27 first-round picks in order to help give fans a better idea of what these soon-to-be pros could become once they reach the major leagues.
Players selected as compensatory picks (28-34) for free-agent signings are not included. All college player stats courtesy of The Baseball Cube, and all high school player stats courtesy of MaxPreps. Comparisons written in italics were made by B/R's lead MLB prospects writer Mike Rosenbaum, with analysis in the attached videos.
1. Houston Astros: LHP Brady Aiken, Cathedral Catholic HS (Calif.)
Pro comparisons: Clayton Kershaw, Cliff Lee
The consensus top player in the 2014 draft, Brady Aiken ended his three-year varsity career at Cathedral Catholic High School with a 1.09 ERA and 260 strikeouts in 160.2 innings. He was 7-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 59.2 innings as a senior.
With an polished three-pitch repertoire that features a fastball, curveball and changeup, which all grade out as potential plus pitches, he has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
Cliff Lee is another viable comparison, given his impressive command, three-pitch repertoire and upside as a front-line arm. Aiken is more polished than most high school arms, but he will still likely be brought along slowly given his tremendous upside as a potential rotation anchor.
2. Miami Marlins: RHP Tyler Kolek, Shepherd HS (Texas)
Pro comparisons: Josh Beckett, Gerrit Cole, Jon Gray
The obligatory power right-hander out of a Texas high school that every draft seems to have, Tyler Kolek already sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he has dialed it up to triple digits more than once this spring.
His secondary stuff still needs some work, and his high school stats were inflated a bit by playing for a relatively small school. Still, there is no ignoring his 0.35 ERA and 126 strikeouts in 60.1 innings this season.
Josh Beckett is a name that immediately jumps to mind when talking about hard-throwing Texas natives, while Kolek's burly frame and blazing fastball also compare favorably to recent top draft picks Gerrit Cole and Jon Gray.
3. Chicago White Sox: LHP Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State
Pro comparisons: Jon Lester, David Price
Carlos Rodon saw his draft stock drop a bit this season after entering the year as the clear top prospect in the 2014 draft, but he is still a terrific prospect with tremendous upside.
After a fantastic sophomore season in which he went 10-3 and struck out 184 hitters in 132.1 innings, he has not been quite as dominant this year. In 14 starts, he's gone 6-7 with a 2.01 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 98.2 innings.
A big, physical left-hander, he compares well to Jon Lester and David Price as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter down the road, and he could shoot to the big leagues quickly, just like Price did coming out of Vanderbilt.
4. Chicago Cubs: C/OF Kyle Schwarber, Indiana
Pro comparison: Mike Napoli
Arguably the top college bat in the class, there is some question as to whether or not Kyle Schwarber will stick behind the plate, but it's his offensive skills that make him one of the top college position players off the board.
After posting a 1.102 OPS with 18 home runs as a sophomore, he has backed those numbers up with a .348/.456/.643 line this season to go along with 15 doubles and 13 home runs for Indiana University.
His getting on base skills—evidenced by his 114 walks and just 89 strikeouts in his three college seasons—and likely move to another position from behind the plate makes Mike Napoli an obvious comparison. Schwarber has the hitting tools to post a higher average than Napoli, though, and has the added value of hitting from the left side of the plate.
5. Minnesota Twins: SS Nick Gordon, Olympia HS (Fla.)
Pro comparison: Alexei Ramirez, Francisco Lindor
The son of former MLB closer Tom "Flash" Gordon and brother of current Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon, the bloodlines are certainly there for Olympia High School shortstop Nick Gordon.
As close to a "sure thing" with the glove as you'll find in a high school shortstop, he compares favorably to Francisco Lindor in that respect. And like the questions that surrounded Lindor when he was drafted, there is some concern about how much Gordon will hit at the pro level.
He certainly hit this season, though, posting a .494/.576/.843 line with five home runs, 27 RBI and 13 steals.
As far as his overall game and his potential upside, Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez is a good comparison as a jack-of-all-trades type player who could provide some pop, speed and a plus glove if he reaches his full potential.
6. Seattle Mariners: OF Alex Jackson, Rancho Bernardo HS (Calif.)
Pro comparison: Buster Posey, Bryce Harper
The question of whether or not Alex Jackson would stick at catcher was answered when the Mariners announced that he would be playing the outfield, per Grant Paulsen of 106.7 The Fan in Washington D.C., but his offensive potential is the reason why he was one of the top high school bats in the class.
He hit .379/.513/.880 with 11 home runs, 31 RBI and 45 runs scored for Rancho Bernardo High School this spring. And while he will no longer be catching, he has the offensive tools to make a Buster Posey-like impact at the plate as a middle-of-the-order run producer with 30-home-run potential.
The move to the outfield could put him on the fast track to the majors, much like the Washington Nationals did with Bryce Harper when they drafted him back in 2010, so that's where the comparison to Harper comes in.
7. Philadelphia Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola, LSU
Pro comparison: Jake Peavy, Mike Leake
The 2013 SEC Pitcher of the Year, as a result of going 12-1 with a 1.57 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 126 innings as a sophomore, LSU ace Aaron Nola has put up elite numbers once again this year.
He pounds the zone, walking just 27 and striking out 134 in 116.1 innings as a junior while going 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA. His ability to throw strikes and deceptive arm angle make Boston Red Sox right-hander Jake Peavy the perfect pro comparison.
He's as polished as any college arm, and while he may not quite profile as a future staff ace, his floor is very high, and he should be on the fast track to the majors as soon as he signs. Hence the comparisons to Cincinnati's Mike Leake, who was viewed as a finished project when he was taken with the No. 8 pick back in 2009 and jumped straight to the majors.
8. Colorado Rockies: LHP Kyle Freeland, Evansville
Pro comparison: Chris Sale
A fast-riser who has come out of nowhere to shoot up draft boards this spring, Kyle Freeland was just 4-8 with a 4.34 ERA in 14 starts last season, but he has put up elite numbers in 2014.
The Evansville southpaw is 10-2 with a 1.90 ERA and 128 strikeouts in 99.2 innings of work this season, and after originally being drafted in the 35th round by the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school, his stock has obviously improved.
With a plus fastball-slider combination and a polished game that could allow him to beat most other arms from the draft class to the majors, the comparison to White Sox ace Chris Sale makes sense. There are some questions as to whether or not Freeland can develop his changeup into a viable third offering, but either way he should make an impact in the big leagues soon.
9. Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina
Pro comparison: Justin Verlander
Despite the fact that he underwent Tommy John surgery in May, East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman remains one of the top prospects in the 2014 draft class.
He was 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 67.1 innings over 10 starts before being sidelined. While the injury took him out of the running to be the No. 1 overall pick, his tremendous upside was still enough for him to be one of the first arms off the board.
He's been compared to Detroit's Justin Verlander, and it fits for a number of reasons. He features the same four-pitch repertoire with a fastball-curveball-slider changeup arsenal, and he can regularly dial the fastball up to the high-90s while maintaining his velocity late into starts, much like Verlander.
10. New York Mets: OF Michael Conforto, Oregon State
Pro comparison: Josh Willingham, Mark Trumbo
An advanced college bat who is viewed by many as the safest bat in the class, Michael Conforto has done nothing but hit in his three seasons at Oregon State.
All told, he's put together a .341/.463/.560 line with 31 home runs and 178 RBI in 179 college games, and it's his bat that could make him the first position player from this class to reach the majors. His 35/51 K/BB this spring speaks to his advanced approach at the plate.
He'll likely be limited to left field or first base defensively, and with those limitations and his power potential, Diamondbacks slugger Mark Trumbo is a good comparison. As far as his offensive ceiling, though, Minnesota's Josh Willingham may be a better comparison, as Conforto may never develop the 30-plus home run power Trumbo possesses.
11. Toronto Blue Jays: C Max Pentecost, Kennesaw State
Pro comparison: Russell Martin, Jason Kendall
The top college catcher in the class and the one first-round backstop who is a sure-thing to stick behind the plate, Max Pentecost has helped Kennesaw State to its first-ever College World Series appearance this year (the school only began competing at the D-I level in 2006).
Pentecost opened eyes last summer when he won MVP honors in the prestigious Cape Cod League, and he was highly-regarded enough to be taken in the seventh round out of high school, so he's been on the MLB radar for a while now.
He's hit .424/.479/.631 with 22 doubles, nine home runs and 16 stolen bases on the year, and it's his athleticism and speed at the catcher position that has drawn comparisons to both current Pirates catcher Russell Martin and retired MLB journeyman Jason Kendall. While his offensive game compares well to both of those guys, he has the tools defensively to be better than both of them if he reaches his full potential.
12. Milwaukee Brewers: LHP Kodi Medeiros, Waiakea HS (Haw.)
Pro comparison: Madison Bumgarner
The first real reach of the draft, Kodi Medeiros was ranked as the No. 32 prospect in the draft class according to Baseball America, but he has the ceiling to more than justify his selection at No. 12 overall.
The first Hawaii prep player to be taken in the first round, Medeiros went 5-1 with a 1.12 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 43.2 innings as a senior thanks to a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can be dialed up to 97. He also features a hammer curve.
He's somewhat undersized and could wind up in the bullpen if he is not able to develop a third pitch, but his stuff makes him an impact arm regardless of his role. It's his unorthodox arm slot that earns him the comparison to San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner.
13. San Diego Padres: SS Trea Turner, North Carolina State
Pro comparison: Orlando Cabrera
In a draft fairly thin on shortstop prospects, especially from the college ranks, Trea Turner has all the tools to stick at shortstop and be a productive big leaguer once he reaches the majors.
Speed is probably his best offensive tool, as he stole 113 bases in his three seasons at N.C. State, including 57 in 61 attempts as a freshman. Plus bat speed and a compact swing should help him hit for a relatively high average as well.
It's his plate discipline, plus range defensively and potential for some sneaky power that makes former big leaguer Orlando Cabrera a reasonable comparison. Turner has shown no ill-effects of the ankle injury that cost him time as a sophomore, either, as his speed continues to be a weapon.
14. San Francisco Giants: RHP Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt
Pro comparison: Matt Moore
Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school with the No. 21 pick in the 2011 draft, Tyler Beede instead opted to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt, and he again finds himself as a first-round pick three years later.
His stuff and build has all the makings of a front-of-the-rotation pitcher, as he has a power curveball and a plus changeup to compliment his mid-90s fastball. He was dominant as a sophomore, going 14-1 with a 2.32 ERA, and he's gone 8-7 with a 3.20 ERA this season.
The biggest concern with him is his control, as he walked 43 batters in 98.1 innings this year and 138 batters in 271 innings over his three-year college career. Those numbers don't look awful, but more is generally expected from a first-round college arm.
His inconsistency combined with his strikeout stuff could make him a right-handed version of what Matt Moore has been for the Tampa Bay Rays to this point in his career.
15. Los Angeles Angels: LHP Sean Newcomb, Hartford
Pro comparison: Scott Kazmir
Prior to Sean Newcomb, the highest-drafted player in University of Hartford history was former Houston Astros great Jeff Bagwell, who was taken in the fourth round back in 1989.
A draft-eligible sophomore, Newcomb went 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 93.1 innings this spring, shooting up draft boards in the process.
A power pitcher with an impressive arsenal of off-speed stuff, each of the pitchers in his fastball-curveball-slider-changeup repertoire all have a chance to be plus offerings. Oakland's Scott Kazmir pitches off of the same four pitches, and Newcomb may actually compare more favorably to early-Kazmir—back when he was piling up strikeouts in a Tampa Bay Rays jersey.
16. Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Touki Toussaint, Coral Springs Academy (Fla.)
Pro comparison: Neftali Feliz, Johnny Cueto
Still relatively new to the game of baseball, Touki Toussaint may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher in this draft class, but his game needs considerable polish and his floor is also somewhat low.
With a fastball that goes 95-plus and a a curveball that rivals Grant Holmes for the best breaking ball in the class, his stuff is electric. He still needs to work on his command, and he's not going to fly through the minor leagues, but he could wind up being the steal of the first around at No. 16 overall.
He was 8-2 with a 1.22 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 63.1 innings this year, and it's his athleticism on the mound and power stuff that has drawn comparisons to Texas Rangers pitcher Neftali Feliz. If he can develop a usable changeup, he has front-of-the-rotation stuff and could wind up being a Johnny Cueto-type arm.
17. Kansas City Royals: LHP Brandon Finnegan, TCU
Pro comparison: Billy Wagner
A hard-throwing left-hander who is undersized at 5'11" and 180 pounds, Brandon Finnegan turned in a dynamite junior season at Texas Christian University this spring.
He finished the year at 8-3 with a 2.07 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 91.1 innings, and while he did deal with some shoulder issues, he bounced back to finish the year strong and ease any potential concerns.
The lack of a strong third pitch has led many to peg him as a future reliever, and if that is where he winds up, his mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider could make him an awfully good one. Billy Wagner racked up 422 career saves at an undersized 5'10" and pitching almost exclusively with a fastball-slider repertoire, so the similarities there are clear.
18. Washington Nationals: RHP Erick Fedde, UNLV
Pro comparison: Jordan Zimmermann
Despite undergoing Tommy John surgery on Tuesday, Erick Fedde still managed to work his way into the first round, and the Washington Nationals have a history of drafting guys with injury concerns and having things work out.
Anthony Rendon (ankle) and Lucas Giolito (Tommy John) both look like franchise cornerstones after seeing their draft stock slip, and with a fastball that can touch the high-90s to go along with a plus slider, Fedde could certainly join them.
Tall and lanky with plenty of projection in his frame, Fedde may not have a similar build to his new teammate Jordan Zimmerman, but both have strikeout stuff due to a plus slider, and Fedde could also be a workhorse once he reaches the majors.
19. Cincinnati Reds: RHP Nick Howard, Virginia
Pro comparison: Nick Maronde
After working as a starter during his sophomore season, Nick Howard moved to the bullpen this spring, where he recorded 19 saves and posted a 2.15 ERA with 12 walks and 50 strikeouts in 29.1 innings of work.
With a durable build at 6'3" and 215 pounds, Howard could return to starting as a pro, but he'll need to develop a third pitch alongside his mid-90s fastball and plus slider or his future will likely be at the back end of the bullpen.
There is some precedent here with the Cincinnati Reds, as they drafted Tony Cingrani as a college closer and moved him to the rotation. Nick Maronde, who came out of college with similar stuff pitching in the closer's role, was moved to the rotation to kick off his pro career but then shot to the majors as a reliever with the Angels. Maronde has not quite panned out to this point, but Howard could take a similar path to the majors.
20. Tampa Bay Rays: 1B Casey Gillaspie, Wichita State
Pro comparison: Mark Teixeira, Lance Berkman
The comparisons to Mark Teixeira and Lance Berkman may be a bit generous, but Casey Gillaspie has the potential to be an impact run-producer from both sides of the plate, much like those two notable switch-hitters.
The brother of Chicago White Sox third baseman Conor Gillaspie, Casey hit .389/.520/.692 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI as a junior at Wichita State while drawing 58 walks and striking out just 28 times.
He led the Cape Cod League in home runs last summer with eight, so he has proven himself against top competition, and with his advanced approach he could move quickly through the Rays' system and provide them with some much-needed pop in the middle of their lineup.
21. Cleveland Indians: OF Bradley Zimmer, San Francisco
Pro comparison: Paul O'Neill, Jason Heyward, Shawn Green
The younger brother of Kansas City Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, Bradley Zimmer also played his college ball at the University of San Francisco—but as an outfielder.
A polished hitter with plus contact skills, Zimmer raised his OPS from .588 as a freshman to .949 as a sophomore, and he has built off of that with an even better junior season. He wrapped up the year with a .368/.461/.573 line that included 24 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases.
His defense in right field is a major plus, and therein lies the comparison to Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward. As far as the ceiling on his overall game, former Yankee great Paul O'Neill is a good comparison, as he has a plus hit tool and could develop some decent pop down the road. If the power plays up, Shawn Green is a possible ceiling as well.
22. Los Angeles Dodgers: RHP Grant Holmes, Conway HS (S.C.)
Pro comparison: Ben Sheets, Eric Gagne
Though he is somewhat undersized at 6'2" and 190 pounds, Grant Holmes has the strong, durable build to be a starting pitcher over the long term.
He has power stuff, with a fastball that can be dialed up to the high-90s and a nasty 12-6 curveball that already profiles as a plus pitch. He'll need to develop a third pitch to stick in the rotation, but the potential is there for him to be a front-line starter.
If he stays in the rotation, the 6'1" and 195-pound Ben Sheets is a great comparison, as Sheets had a plus fastball-curveball combination as well and featured power stuff despite his small frame.
However, if Holmes winds up at the back of the bullpen, former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne could be a better comparison. Gagne was undersized but still dialed his fastball up to the mid-90s with a good curveball on his way to winning the 2003 NL Cy Young.
23. Detroit Tigers: OF Derek Hill, Elk Grove HS (Calif.)
Pro comparison: Torii Hunter
A three-year varsity player who has put up impressive numbers since his sophomore season, Derek Hill hit .500/.586/.765 with 18 extra-base hits and 21 stolen bases for Elk Grove High School this spring, and he shot up boards as much as anyone in the days and weeks leading up to the draft.
His defense in center field is his most impressive tool right now, and it is what has earned him the high praise of being compared to nine-time Gold Glove-winner and current Detroit Tiger Torii Hunter. His offensive game is still raw, but he has a high baseball IQ and the potential is there.
Power likely won't be a huge part of his game, but he should develop some gap power with a smooth, line-drive stroke. If his hit tool progresses to it's full potential, he could be a future leadoff hitter given his plus speed.
24. Pittsburgh Pirates: SS Cole Tucker, Mountain Pointe HS (Ari.)
Pro comparison: Asdrubal Cabrera
The surprise pick of the first round, Cole Tucker was ranked as the No. 84 prospect in the draft by Baseball America. But in a class short on prep shortstops, it was really not all that big of a reach for the Pirates.
Tucker received plenty of exposure on the showcase circuit, and he hit .405/.505/.773 with 17 extra-base hits and 13 stolen bases this spring at Mountain Pointe High School.
With a 6'2" frame, he could develop some power and fill out to the point that he is forced to third base, but for the time being he has a game similar to Cleveland's Asdrubal Cabrera when he first broke into the big leagues. As a switch-hitter with gap power and decent speed to steal a few bases, there's a lot to like about Tucker over the long term.
25. Oakland Athletics: 3B Matt Chapman, Cal State Fullerton
Pro comparison: Matt Dominguez, Michael Lorenzen, Sean Doolittle
There may not have been a more intriguing all-around prospect taken in the first round than Cal State Fullerton junior Matt Chapman.
Drafted as a third baseman, Chapman hit .312/.412/.498 with 24 extra-base hits this spring as the team's third baseman. His offensive game is still a work in progress, but the tools are there, and a solid glove and cannon arm at third earn him the comparisons to Houston's Matt Dominguez.
However, he is also an intriguing pitching prospect if he does not work out as a position player. He did not pitch for Cal State Fullerton this spring, but he threw two innings of relief for Team USA last summer and touched 98 on the gun.
Current Reds prospect Michael Lorenzen had a similar all-around skill set coming out of college, though Cincinnati opted to go the pitching route with him. Perhaps Chapman will end up like current Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle, who spent his first three pro seasons as a first baseman before moving to the mound.
26. Boston Red Sox: 2B/3B Michael Chavis, Sprayberry HS (Ga.)
Pro comparison: Martin Prado, Ben Zobrist
With a ridiculous .580/.663/1.197 line this spring that included nine doubles and 13 home runs, it's the bat that made Michael Chavis a first-round pick. However, it's his defensive versatility that could make him an incredibly valuable big leaguer.
He could wind up playing second base, third base or the outfield as a pro, and he could have even seen some time behind the plate if he honored his commitment to Clemson. Guys like Arizona's Martin Prado and Tampa Bay's Ben Zobrist have been terrific secondary pieces throughout their careers thanks to their plus bats and ability to shuffle all over the field. Chavis could have a similar impact.
Prado is the better overall comparison, though Chavis has the potential to develop more pop once he reaches his prime. As far as high school position players are concerned, his offensive game is as advanced as any in the class.
27. St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Luke Weaver, Florida State
Pro comparison: Tim Hudson
Luke Weaver is undersized at 6'2" and 170 pounds, and his strikeouts are down from 10.9 K/9 last season to 7.2 K/9 this year, but he was a late-riser up draft boards thanks to his plus stuff and solid track record pitching both for Florida State and the U.S. national team.
His fastball sits at 92-93 mph but can touch 97, while his changeup already profiles as a plus pitch. His slurve is a below-average pitch at this point, and he'll need to develop a breaking ball of some sort to stick as a starter. However, he'll have some great teachers in Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
It's his athleticism and small frame that has drawn comparisons to Tim Hudson, and if there is any organization that can help him reach his full potential, it's the St. Louis Cardinals.