With five picks in the first 101 selections of the 2015 MLB Amatuer Draft, the Dodgers were poised to make a splash. The excitement for the picks quickly dissipated after a lackluster signing deadline day brought less return and some injury concerns, but early performances have looked promising for the class. Today we will run down the seasons and expectations for the top picks, while looking at some notable names and missed opportunities in the later rounds.
Nobody was predicting that Buehler would slide to the 24th pick, but an uneven junior year and possible injury concerns did just that. Excitement was tempered after learning that Walker Buehler would require Tommy John surgery, but the delayed gratification could come as a potentially huge payoff.
The fact that Buehler required surgery might speak even better for his future outlook, as the injury could help explain the differences between his sophomore and junior year performances. Sophomore Walker Buehler was arguably a better prospect than his Vanderbilt teammate Carson Fulmer, who was taken eighth overall by the Chicago White Sox. Buehler led Vanderbilt in 2014 with twelve wins against two losses, striking out 111 in 109 innings, against thirty-one walks. After winning the College World Series, Buehler would go on to shine on both Team USA and in the Cape Cod League playoffs with Yarmouth-Dennis
It wasn't just the results that stood out but the stuff itself. Buehler easily ran his fastball into the mid 90's with staying power that belied his lithe build. His fastball had some sink but was more notable for its command. Buehler backed up his fastball with an above average to plus breaking ball with good depth and a solid change-up.
As Buehler fought injury, his command on the fastball betrayed him and he became too dependant on the breaking ball in 2015. Surprisingly, his stuff was good enough to still post solid numbers this season, and made him a worthy pick at twenty-four even without the promise of a comeback from injury.
Tommy John recovery isn't always a sure thing, but with little reason to suggest he won't make a full recovery, the Dodgers will have a premium mound prospect to break in late in 2016 or at the start of 2017. When healthy, Buehler was talked about as a top five pick, and I feel confident he can regain that form. If he were able to pitch now, he likely would have ranked in my top five, and as is, he will be counted amongst the top tier prospects in the system. If you're willing to be patient, Buehler will be worth the wait.
As I said on signing day, this was a bad decision for all parties involved. For the player, Funkhouser must now return to school and hope to improve his stock despite diminished leverage as a college senior and against what appears to be a more talented class. For the Dodgers, the team loses an asset that could have paid dividends as early as this off-season via trade, as San Diego did with their previous first rounder Trea Turner (dealt as a "player to be named later").
Funkhouser was far from a slam dunk top prospect, but he certainly would have filled a spot in the back end of the top tier. I had him ranked 10th on my Big Board and felt he could eventually be a number two starter, with the fallback option of late inning reliever.
For now, the Dodgers will receive compensation in next year's supplemental first round, but must now wait to see a return on either of their top two assets from this draft for at least a calendar year.
The third straight pick that seemingly looked better at the time of the selection than it does now, Hansen still warrants your patience. Hansen came into the organization with a reputation for five tools, but failed to show production with his offense. An OPS of only .563 with more strikeouts than games played is typically a red flag, but Hansen made significant adjustments in the second half of the season.
Hansen hit .250/.333/.361 in the second half of the Rookie League, but the improvement statistically is primarily found in BABIP, as Hansen strikeout and walk rates held serve. That's not to suggest he didn't make adjustments, as Rookie League is in itself a major life change for high school players living away from home for the first time, or international players playing outside their home country. Statistics generally don't mean as much at the rookie level as they do in full season leagues.
I still find it doubtful that Hansen would jump straight into full season ball to start next season without a big Spring on the back fields. I still trust the evaluation that Hansen has the potential for at least five average tools, but do temper my expectations in the near future. If I have a concern, it's on a larger scale, in that Hansen is now the third straight pick not likely to appear in a full season league before mid-season 2016. That being said, Hansen's tools alone will keep him solidly in my second tier of Dodgers prospects entering next season.
Josh Sborz and Philip Pfeifer
When the Dodgers selected the two College World Series adversaries, I wrote that both might fit best as relievers in the major leagues. Despite standout performances on the collegiate big stage, and Sborz' rapid rise to High A, this is still likely the case.
The Dodgers will likely continue to allow the pair to prove otherwise out of the rotation, building up innings and experience. Sborz raised his profile as the College World Series' Most Outstanding Player with a pair of multi-inning relief outings. He finished the season pitching out of the Rancho Cucamonga pen in the California League playoffs, but will likely repeat the level next season in the rotation.
Pfeifer was almost immediately shut down with elbow soreness, but is expected to pitch in instructional league. The rest may well have been warranted after a long season with Vanderbilt fresh off a long layoff to deal with personal issues. Pfeifer may have the most potential of the two as a future starter, being left handed with a fastball that reaches the low 90's and three pitches he throws for strikes. Additionally, he generated a high rate of swings and misses in the rotation at Vanderbilt.
With Sborz' advancement up the ladder and Pfeifer's age, we might see both pitchers open 2016 in the Rancho Cucamonga rotation. Both will prove critical to the success of this class, given the slow starts for Buehler and Hansen, but help fill the gaps in the system thanks to their advanced feel for pitching.
It's easy to forgive the slow start, long term injury, and "failure to sign" in the Dodgers top three picks when you look at the debut Willie Calhoun had in 2015. While we knew Calhoun had the raw power to mash in the Pioneer League, few believed he'd hit his way all the way to the heart of the order for the California League Champions in his draft year.
I don't want to sound too hyperbolic on Calhoun, as he still must answer questions about his defense and make the large jump from High A to Double A, possibly as early as next April, but Calhoun has upped his profile tremendously from the day of his selection. His bat has been so impressive that if he becomes even passable at second base, he would have the upside of a tier one prospect and All Star performer.
That said, it's still a series of small samples sizes, and caution will still be exercised when I rate him this off-season. I'm excited to see just what type of player Calhoun can become, and "special" is a label waiting for him if he keeps hitting at the AA level while improving his defense. A move to the outfield might only slightly dampen his prospects if the bat stays this loud.
Davis' Rookie League batting line of .278/.309/.322 is essentially what you might have guessed if I told you he was a 6'4 165 lbs. teenager with a solid hit tool. Davis' baseball talent is well ahead of his body at this point, and his upside is largely tied to how much he fills out. Davis played shortstop exclusively in Rookie League, but could easily grow out of the position down the road. Good player, fine debut, but still far too early to add anything to the profile here.
Rios waited until the signing deadline to agree to terms with the Dodgers, and then proceeded to put up a statline that suggests he was playing catch up with his peers. He hit .310/.394/.690 in 29 September at bats, and will likely be the primary power supply for the Great Lakes Loons next season. Rios generates his power with tremendous upper body strength and a well grooved swing path, but his bat speed is average and swing and miss could be the tradeoff for his pop.
Andrew Sopko and Tommy Bergjans
Sopko was the last of the non "budget picks" of day two, while Bergjans was the first true senior-below-slot selection. Both reached Great Lakes and acquitted themselves at the level, and both likely could return there to start the year. One thing to note is how aggressively the development staff pushed player in this draft class. In the final regular season game for Great Lakes, five position players and the starting pitcher had been selected in the 2015 MLB Draft. It's not unlike a new regime to favor their own talent over the leftover talent, but this class has produced when pushed.
Imani Abdullah and Logan Crouse
Let's play an unfair game of "Would You Rather." Would you rather have both Abdullah and Crouse, or Kyle Funkhouser? No, we don't know for sure that the money used to sign both late picks would have made the difference in the Funkhouser negotiations, but it's an interesting thought no less. Funkhouser would obviously rank higher than both players in the system right now, but both have the potential to become major league arms.
The late signing "jewel" is Abdullah, who Billy Gasparino gushed on after the draft and made a priority to sign in the later rounds. Abdullah has size, projection, and a decent current combination of fastball-breaking ball. He's a decent athlete, and while comparisons to Zach Bird might appear convenient, he has a more natural arm action and delivery, without the upper body rigidity. Abdullah is still a little raw, but his feel for spin on the breaking ball is already solid, and he just needs to grow into his body a little more to begin realizing his potential.
The book on Logan Crouse is much smaller. The Dodgers bought him out of a Florida State commitment on signing day, and he managed to make a short cameo in the Arizona Rookie League. Like Abdullah, he a long, lean athlete, and Perfect Game noted a peak velocity of 92 mph. In a small look film-wise, Crouse appear to throw from a low ¾ slot, but shows good control of his long levers.
Both Crouse and Abdullah will pitch in Instructional League this year, with their work there and in the Spring likely determining if they start the season in Extended Spring Training or get the bump to Great Lakes. Expect to see Abdullah ranked in the third tier of prospects when my rankings come out, as the talent is there for more, but the road is long before him.
Michael Boyle and Nolan Long
Boyle and Long missed my draft rankings due to a lack of information more than detractions on their talent. Both made Baseball America's Top 200 and early returns suggest both could be quality mound prospects.
Michael Boyle was the first to grab my attention as a three pitch lefty with pitchability and the chance to move quickly. Boyle's stuff has fringy velo, sitting in the high 80's, but he keeps hitters off balance with heavy sink on the fastball and big fade on the change-up. The curve looks slurvy, but he can throw each pitch for strikes.
Boyle demonstrated above average command over three levels in 2015 and could be primed for a jump to High A, where his stuff will get its first major test. His upside is that of a back end starter or lefty reliever, but he represents excellent value in the thirteenth round.
Nolan Long standouts out for his sheer size. Listed at 6'10 and 240 lbs., Long is the most physically imposing player in this class, and might back it up with decent stuff. Baseball America's scouting report suggests Long can run his fastball into the mid 90's, and he put up big strikeout numbers at Wagner.
We don't have enough video to properly evaluate him, but the struggle for all pitchers this tall will be controlling his long levers enough to produce even average command. Long walked twelve batters in twenty-four innings in Rookie League, and might eventually be better served in a bullpen role. He will likely be groomed to start for now, with a return to Great Lakes the most likely starting spot next season.
Garrett Kennedy and Catchers
The Dodgers made a run on catcher selections in the early part of day three, drafting six players with the position listed as their primary spot, signing four of them, and moving two of them out from behind the plate. Kennedy is the highest signed pick still catching, garnering attention with a backup's profile. He hit enough at Miami this year to share time with likely 2016 high pick Zack Collins, but his offensive tools may be too short to start at the big league level. He does have decent pop and a good defensive reputation, and as a senior sign, could be ready for High A next season.
Two of the bigger names the Dodgers failed to sign might have been the best catching prospects of the bunch. Jason Goldstein has his detractors, but he lead a talented and productive Illinois pitching staff and has the defensive chops to catch at the major league level. I compared him to A.J. Ellis on draft day and believe he could make a similar contribution to his drafting team next season.
Joe Genord showed tremendous raw power as a high school catching prospect, but the Dodgers faced long odds to buy him out of his south Florida commitment. He has the power to survive in a corner if he's moved out from behind the plate, but the Bulls now get to decide what type of prospect he will become in the 2018 Draft.
A trio of seniors stood out for their debut seasons in the organization, even if their statistics may not match their outlook as prospects. Kyle Garlick hit a combined .349/.397/.591 across four levels, buoyed by a .429 BABIP. He's 23, so he's still old for each level he played at, but he's not a bat only player and might have a future role as a fourth outfielder.
Gage Green was one of my favorite players in the Big XII this season, and is a better athlete than you'd expect as a former college catcher. He's a capable left fielder with solid average offensive skills, but might reach his ceiling in the high minors.
Matt Beaty spent the majority of his time at third base for the Great Lakes Loons after spending time as a catcher at Radford. He showed the ability to hit for average but little pop, and looks poised to make the jump to High A.
As a fifteenth round pick, the Dodgers had little chance to buy Zech out of his strong commitment to South Florida. Zech lost the distinguishment as best unsigned pick after the Funkhouser debacle on signing day, but he's at least a 70 grade runner and centerfield defender with an above average hit tool and will be a name to remember in the the 2018 draft.
The 2015 draft class featured several performers that made quick work of the low minors, but the bigger talent payoff will come much later, as the Dodgers wait for Buehler, Hansen, Abdullah and Davis to bear fruit.