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MLB Draft 2017: Potential players who could be available to Dodgers

Kentucky first baseman Evan White is hitting .394/.473/.655 through 36 games so far in 2017.
Photo credit: University of Kentucky Athletics

The 2017 MLB Draft is just one month out — it starts on June 12 — and the analysts at both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have further refined their prospect rankings with the most up-to-date information from their sources. I too have been putting together my draft tier rankings, and will be releasing those later this month. Until then, using the two above rankings as a general gauge of the market value of potential draftees, I want to look at five more potential candidates for the Dodgers’ first-round selection at pick No. 23.

Alex Lange, RHP, LSU

Lange might be the most famous name on this list, and like Tanner Houck at Missouri Lange made an immediate impact as the Friday night starter at Louisiana State in his freshman year. While Lange has been a consistent performer with plus stuff in his three years as a Tiger, he hasn’t made a significant step forward in dominance and that might be reflected in his slide down the rankings, now at 32nd in Baseball America and 19th at MLB Pipeline.

Like Houck, Lange’s might be suffering from prospect fatigue, having long been considered a top-of-the-draft candidate. Lange still overwhelms hitters, with 91 strikeouts in 74⅓ innings. Where Lange hasn’t made enough strides is in command, often suffering bouts of wildness that prevent him from working deeper in games. He’s also had issues with the long ball this year, having surrendered seven home runs.

With plus strikeout stuff, Lange’s floor is that of a dominant reliever, though his drafting team should still develop him as a starter. Lange has tried to simplify his mechanics by switching to a near stretch delivery. He has an extremely quick arm that generates a lively mid nineties fastball with sink. His best secondary pitch is a spike curveball that is a true swing and miss pitch but also can be tough for him to control. Lange’s build suggests durability and he’s carried a sufficient workload through three years in college.

Lange may never have above-average command, but the swing and miss potential might be too much to pass up. Lange’s stuff suggests a number two future, but I would rate his ceiling as a first-division number three that might have more volatile performances but is capable of dominance for spells. He’s worth more than the No. 23 pick, and college arms are always highly sought after, so Lange’s slide may not reach the Dodgers, but he’s a value play worth watching nonetheless.

Alex Lange has 91 strikeouts in 74⅓ innings for LSU this season.
Photo credit: LSU Athletics

Clarke Schmidt, RHP, South Carolina

Speaking of value plays, Schmidt is almost certain to slide to the Dodgers after tearing his UCL and already undergoing surgery this spring. The South Carolina starter had factored into the first 15 picks before surgery, but since the operation has fell to 36th in Baseball America and 48th at MLB Pipeline. Prior to injury, Schmidt led the Gamecocks with a 1.34 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 60⅓ innings.

While comparisons to Walker Buehler might be tempting, Schmidt isn’t quite at that level as a starter. Schmidt’s ceiling is closer to that of a number three starter, but one with one easy carry pitch and some strikeout potential. Schmidt primarily operates with a heavy sinking fastball that can sits in the mid-90s and bores in hard on right-handed hitters. His arm action is a little longer which might reduce the spin and aid in the sink on the pitch. His command is better than you would expect from a sinkerballer, so his stuff shouldn’t prevent him from sitting in the middle of a rotation.

Schmidt’s slider and change-up are what you’d typically expect from a three-quarters delivery sinker pitcher. His slider can lose its tightness and get slurvy, but is at least an average offering. Schmidt’s frame is compact, but he’s athletic and repeats his mechanics well. He has had issues with fatigue prior to the arm injury, so questions will abound about whether he can carry a heavy workload.

The combination of stuff and performance at an elite level in the powerful SEC help make Schmidt an enticing value selection. The Dodgers’ farm system is robust and capable of meeting the needs of the parent club in the immediate future, so the Dodgers can afford to wait on Schmidt to return to the mound and still take it slowly with him. His upside is similar to Brock Stewart’s within the organization and his high floor of late inning reliever would still give the Dodgers a safe return on investment.

Tristen Lutz, OF, Martin HS (Texas)

Looking at scarce resources, the draft offers a handful of right-handed power prospects, and Tristen Lutz may be one of the better gambles in the first two rounds. Lutz is not currently ranked as a pure first rounder, just 62nd in Baseball America and 34th at MLB Pipeline, but few prep players can pair physical projection and bat speed like Tristen.

Listed at 6’2 and 210 lbs., Lutz is more physically imposing than the typical prep prospect and looks more built for football. He’s considered a solid athlete but given his frame and projection will likely slide to an outfield corner. At his peak, Lutz could handle another 15 to 20 pounds of muscle on his frame.

Lutz pairs his strong hands and upper body strength with excellent bat speed and a loft-generating swing plane. He doesn’t always make the best use of his lower half, and his swing can get long, but the present tools are hard to overlook. With right-handed power at a premium at the big league level and seemingly more difficult to find in the draft, Lutz’s potential should raise his value, even if he is a little further away from the major leagues.

The draft features several more athletic prep outfielders with a broader tool set, but few match the power potential of Lutz. He’s a Texas commit but I have yet to read about any signability concerns, and should the Dodgers (or any team) make him a first-round selection he would be hard pressed to turn down the slot offer. Lutz will need time to refine his offensive tools to handle professional pitching, but he won’t require the typical physical development of a prep prospect and could prove to be a valuable asset in short order.

Oregon left-hander David Peterson could find himself selected in the first round on June 12.
Photo credit: | Eric Larriva

David Peterson, LHP, Oregon

Switching gears to a more polished, pro-ready prospect, Peterson has seen his status rise into the first round and potentially ahead of where the Dodgers select. One of the data darlings at the NCAA level, Peterson has one of the best strikeouts-per-nine and strikeout-to-walk ratio ratios in baseball. Ranked 16th at Baseball America but only 31st at MLB Pipeline, it’s a bit of a toss up if he will be available when the Dodgers select in round one.

Peterson’s performance has moved his ceiling beyond fourth or fifth starter to easy number three with a chance for more if he continues to make gains in velocity. He’s completely filled out his 6’6 frame and isn’t the most athletic arm in the draft, but easily repeats his mechanics and throws strikes. Peterson is a highly competitive arm that has attacked the zone at the college level, but has the command to effectively pitch around the zone at the big league level.

Peterson’s primary weapon is a fastball with average velocity but good sink and he will run the pitch away from right handers. He commands the pitch to all quadrants and will be aggressive challenging hitters upstairs. Peterson’s slider is his best strikeout pitch, that he can shape as either a wipeout style or hard cutter-shaped pitch. Like the fastball, his command is very good.

I actually think Peterson’s change-up has the potential to match his fastball as a strikeout pitch, and will flash plus fade. Peterson’s curve is just average, but he uses it intelligently for early strikes.

Peterson’s polish and performance suggest he won’t need much time in the low minors, and will appeal to team looking for a quick return from the 2017 draft. This type of prospect tends to gain steam as the draft nears, so Baseball America’s ranking may be a better representation of where Peterson eventually gets taken. However, a run on high ceiling prep outfielders or stronger armed college arms could push the less flashy Peterson into the 20s, and the Dodgers could find it hard to ignore the strikeout production.

Evan White, 1B, Kentucky

The 2017 draft is fairly light on right handed hitters, with the top two, Jake Burger (covered previously) and Keston Hiura, looking less likely to reach pick 23. Several college hitters are clustered in the 30s to 50s on both lists, but the most interesting name with growth potential might be Evan White of Kentucky.

The slender first baseman shares some positional similarities to top Dodger prospect Cody Bellinger. Like Bellinger, White is a highly regarded defensive first baseman with more athleticism than is necessary for the position. He’s been used in the outfield and might feature better in a corner offensively. White’s speed is even better than average from the right side, giving him added positional utility.

Offensively, White diverges from Bellinger, with a contact oriented swing generating a high average but less power than is expected from a corner. White has a short, flat swing that is very quick into the hitting zone and limits the swing-and-miss in his game. He has only struck out 21 times in 35 games, which is impressive when considering the arms he has faced in the SEC. Contact has come easily for White, who is carrying a .391 average into this weekend’s play, though he’s only hit six home runs thus far on the season. White’s home park is known for its offensive friendly environment, which may give some pause before fully embracing the high average.

Unlike many college prospects at the top of this draft, White has a rangy frame that can still fill out. He’s listed at 6’3 and 205 lbs., but has a lithe build and is in need of an organization committed to improving his muscle mass. His bat-to-ball ability is one of the hardest tools to develop, and White can make some adjustment to his swing plane to generate more power at the next level.

White is ranked just 43rd at Baseball America and 30th at MLB Pipeline, so he’s likely to be available when the Dodgers pick in round one. With one of the better hit tools in the college game, White could move quickly through the low minors, and his athleticism could give the Dodgers versatility in how they ultimately deploy him. His physical development and power production will determine his ultimate ceiling, but a collegiate bat from the right side with a solid hit tool and projection remaining is an uncommon find.