The top teams and talent have started to crystallize in the college game as teams head into conference play. While previously profiled prospects Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman have built on to their impressive resumes over the first month of the college season to sit atop the college bat pecking order, a few players have started to make their case for a higher 2015 draft slot than was expected for them at the start of the season. We’ll profile one such hitter below, as well as some notes on other early round candidates in June.
D.J. Stewart (OF, Florida State, Jr.)
If you follow the major prospect or college baseball twitter accounts, you probably didn’t escape this name over the past weekend. Stewart ran roughshod over a pair of highly regarded Virginia arms on Saturday and Sunday, with three home runs across the two games, bringing his season total to nine. Stewart entered the season as Baseball America’s 21st ranked prospect, and though that’s a fair ranking, It wouldn’t be shocking to see him go twice as high.
One of the more valuable commodities of late in the draft has been college power, with bat changes over the years reducing offense and giving evaluators a better glimpse of present power. When a player shows game ready power, he tends to get pushed up the board. The best example of this, and arguably the best comparison to Stewart is 2014 Cubs’ first rounder Kyle Schwarber. Like Schwarber, Stewart’s overall offensive acumen and present power will bump him up draft boards for teams wanting close-to-a-sure-thing middle order pop that’s relatively close to the majors.
The Schwarber profile works beyond the numbers. Stewart is also a squat, barrel-chested masher that employs a low crouch at the plate. Stewart displays bat speed and a smooth swing plane, and should hit for solid average in addition to power. Stewart’s swing can get a little long at times as he grows over aggressive selling out for power, and he will occasionally rise out of his stance, affecting his eye level.
Unlike Schwarber, Stewart has no illusion of playing another position beyond left field or first base (though you could make a case Schwarber ultimately lands in the same boat.) Stewart ran average 60 yard times for Perfect Game in high school, but that was 30 pounds ago - Stewart's listed at 6’0", 230). Stewart carries his weight about as well as Schwarber and is a better athlete than his size suggests, so it’s possible he can stick early on in the outfield. No team is drafting Stewart for his glove though, and his value is tied entirely to his bat and how quickly he can reach the majors with it. Given the early success of Kyle Schwarber, I’d expect Stewart to get a similar bump in the draft, and would expect to see him taken in the 5-15 range.
Trevor Megill (RHP, Loyola Marymount, Jr.-RS)
While bat changes have affected the way teams look at present power in the draft, draft changes have affected the way teams value players with limited leverage, namely college seniors. Megill technically has one additional year of eligibility remaining, but is essentially pitching in his senior year after undergoing Tommy John and missing the 2014 season. Megill may be familiar to some as he was the St. Louis Cardinals’ third round pick last year, but the two could not come to terms on a deal. Back on the mound and hoping to improve his draft stock, things have not gone to plan for Megill this season, as he’s fighting control of his pitches and has recently been bumped from the rotation.
Regardless, Megill might be a chance to leverage value against the bonus allotment system for a drafting team taking him higher than his performance would suggest. Megill certainly had the talent pre-surgery to be taken in the top three rounds, as St. Louis did last season. Megill has an outstanding size-athleticism combination, listed at 6’8", 245 lbs, but shows more flexibility and fluidity in his movements than typical tall pitchers. When healthy, Megill throws from a high three-quarters arm slot that enhances the downhill plane his height produces naturally, and he generates additional sink on his low 90s fastball. Megill’s change-up shows decent depth and his 11-5 curveball is at least average but occasionally flashes better.
His pre-injury delivery looked pretty clean overall, though his size does give him natural issues to overcome. He almost can’t help that his arm action can get long, and he occasionally will land his plant foot closer to the third base side, cutting off his body. You would expect a pitcher with this frame and generally smooth delivery to be a durable workhorse option, and I can’t pretend to know why elbow tears happen other than to acknowledge that it does and doesn’t seem to matter what type of pitcher you are.
The two big caveats to this profile are that I haven’t seen Megill pitch this year in order to tell just what might be the problem right now, and I don’t know what additional signing issues Megill may have (e.g., Megill is teammates this year with his brother at Loyola, who might end up being the better prospect, and I do not know what importance he places on that experience). Baseball America considered him a tough sign last season, would he be equally tough if a team took him in the third round this year coming off surgery and then a down season, less a year of eligibility? If the problems Megill is facing this season appear correctable, and the area scout is comfortable with Megill’s signing expectations, he might end up being a value pick again in the third round.
Cole Sands (RHP, North Florida Christian HS)
Sands marks the first high school player I’ve profiled in a draft notebook and I’m championing him as my personal "sleeper" for this year’s draft. For me with high schoolers, I generally don’t start reviewing them in earnest until Baseball America releases their early top-100 list, and Sands has thus far stood out to me as their 35th ranked high school prospect. I tend to favor more polished high school arms with upside, and Sands’ three-pitch mix, athletic build, and live arm fit that mold.
Though he’s reached a peak velocity of 95 mph for Perfect Game, most reports indicate Sands currently sits more comfortably in low 90’s, with obvious potential to reach the upper 90’s as he grows into his frame. Sands has an athletic 6’3, 200 lbs. frame presently with a build that reminded me of Gerrit Cole out of high school. That shouldn’t be a means of comparison, but like Cole, I can see Sands filling out to 220 lbs. with ease as he matures. Sands is athletic and has a quick arm, so he should have no problem repeating his delivery down the line to throw strikes consistently. His delivery isn’t without its flaws; he will occasionally throw with some effort and his arm slot and release point can be inconsistent on his breaking ball.
While the live fastball gets your attention, Sands also has a solid change-up for a high school arm and a breaking ball that flashes average but can be tweaked in the pro game. It’s currently more a power curve-slider but with his arm speed and action he should be able to throw an above average pure slider in time. Sands shows a competitive demeanor on the mound and a willingness to attack hitters in the zone. There isn’t as significant a gap between Sands’ present ability and his upside as their is with other more highly rated HS arms, but that’s what makes him more appealing, even with less overall ceiling. Sands should mature into a competitive No. 2 or No. 3 starter with strikeout potential that won’t require significant physical development or coaching to prod his talent.