Last Friday night, James Kaprielian of UCLA threw the first nine innings of a ten inning no-hitter against Arizona with some affluent company in attendance:
UCLA RHP James Kaprelian dealt tonight for multiple scouting directors & Friedman/Byrnes. 9 no hit IP vs strong UA lineup 93-96 much of game— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 16, 2015
While this might seem like a significant clue to the Dodgers' draft intentions, consider some of the factors in play here. First, there were several guys on the field worth monitoring in the early rounds of the draft. While we touched on Arizona's Kevin Newman in last week's Draft Notebook, his keystone mate Scott Kingery may be as good if not a better pro prospect and both might go in rounds 1-2 in this year's draft. UCLA also features Kevin Kramer at short who has worked his way back from injury to put himself in the window for rounds 2-5.
Second, Andrew Friedman and Josh Byrnes didn't have to make a special trip outside of Los Angeles to see Kaprielian pitch. It's one thing if Friedman and Byrnes are seen across the country watching a particular high school player in his state's playoffs, but Kaprielian is in their backyard and is probably on their draft board within range of him possibly being available, so it's worth getting a first hand look.
Which leads us to the third point, Kaprielian consistently goes ahead of the Dodgers in recent mock drafts, and his spring showing in a down draft has likely boosted his stock ahead of the Dodgers' selection at pick 24. Yet what should we make of Kaprielian's season?
I currently have Kaprielian 25th in my draft rankings and feel his strong season has only solidified my opinion of his number three starter upside. While his velocity has ticked up from the 90-94 mph of previous reports to as high as 96 mph, I'd caution that his velocity would likely settle back to the previous numbers once he adjusts to pitching every fifth day in the pros, instead of getting pumped up for a 100 or so pitches once a week.
Looking at video of Kaprielian this season and not much has changed from the report done early this season. Kaprielian still comes from an overhead slot with a four pitch mix, and his secondaries are all solid average pitches. Kaprielian's delivery is a little complicated, but he's athletic enough to repeat it and it works for him in added deception and pitch plane.
One huge plus for Kaprielian is that he;s answered questions on his ability to convert from reliever to starter, with his K rate still above one per inning, and he's said to hold his stuff deep into starts. Kaprielian's consistency makes him one of the safer prospects in this draft, and should the Dodgers have the chance and draft him in the first round, his relative security could balance out riskier selections in the following rounds, giving the Dodgers a well rounded class.
If the Dodgers are going to splash down the cash on a significant player or two in the 2015 MLB Draft, they will also need to target players that will agree to below slot deals to balance out their signing pool allotment. Generally with below-slot deals, the team has either negotiated a pre-draft deal with the player, or are almost certain they know the dollar amount in which they can get a player to sign for.
I was told last week by a source that the Dodgers may already have a handshake agreement with Concordia Lutheran High School (TX) third baseman Ke'Bryan Hayes to take him at either pick 24 or 35, depending on how the scenarios play out in front of them. Hayes has a commitment to Tennessee but other outlets have considered him signable and my source suggests he's ready to sign and would likely do so with Los Angeles below the suggested signing amount at either pick.
Typically with below-slot deals, a team is drafting a player of lesser talent than what they may otherwise have available to them at that pick (with exceptions in the top three or so picks), but that isn't necessarily the case with Hayes. Ke'Bryan ranks as my 26th best player in this year's draft, and might be one of the more complete high school hitters available.
Hayes has an already filled out 6'1 207 lbs. frame that he's worked to make over and will have to continue to work to monitor as he matures. Hayes moves well in the infield and shows the hands and footwork to handle third base, but he does not stand out athletically or with the arm against his peers at the top of this draft.
If you're drafting Hayes early, you are doing so based on the bat. Hayes has been noted as a productive summer circuit performer that has also stood out against tough competition this spring. Hayes shows a good feel for contact and can handle velocity. He shows a high offensive aptitude and can reach his above average power in game settings, not just batting practice like many high school players at a similar stage.
Hayes would put more pressure on his offensive tools if he had to move to first base, but he's put in the work to stay on the left side thus far, and should he continue to do so, he can be an exciting offensive prospect at a position that we've seen teams struggle to fill with offensive talent in recent years.
As with any pre-draft deal, however, Hayes will have to reach the Dodgers at pick 24 or 35 first. While I have him ranked 26th, he's ranked between the 20's and 50's in most every other ranking. He will appeal to teams that value performance above raw tools, though again, his hit and power tools are both plus to future plus tools.
Going below slot to sign Hayes is not a missed opportunity on a better player, but a chance to sign an exciting offensive talent that may not flash the elite athletic tools of his higher priced draft companions. Additionally, saving money here allows the Dodgers to spend elsewhere, and saving money while still drafting a high upside talent will be the key to a successful overall draft class.