Less than 48 hours from the first selection (owned by the Philadelphia Phillies) of this year's MLB First-Year Player Draft, every draft fanatic and his schnauzer has thrown up a mock draft somewhere online, and we're getting a good sense of what the tiers of players that folks think may be available at different early stages of the draft might look like. Where do the Angels, with the 16th and 60th picks, shake out on Thursday?
The emerging consensus appears to be that Eppler and crew are casting a broader net than Dipoto's team did, but that they are certainly in-deep on athletic prep position players. Both Ric Wilson and Eppler share an attraction to athletes with upside on both sides of their game, over perhaps both "safe" low-floor players, and those with a couple well-developed tools favored by analytic departments willing to overlook some defensive flaws, a lack of footspeed, etc.
This tendency has come to resolve around a handful of prepsters from Pennsylvania and Georgia, including OF Alex Kirilloff and 3B Nolan Jones in the north; and 3B Josh Lowe in the south. All three are lefties with high ceilings in the power department, falling into the teens in most mocks, often clustered in relatively close proximity. On the fringe of this group are two slightly rawer Georgians in Taylor Trammell and Will Benson, the former with a ton of speed and the latter with plus power if it all comes together.
John Manuel of Baseball America, Keith Law of ESPN, and Jeff Ellis of Scout.com are three who fall into the Kirilloff camp when if comes to the first-round Angels projection:
16. ANGELS:GM Billy Eppler has been in to see several prep arms but is tied most consistently to Pennsylvania prep Alex Kirilloff. PICK: Alex Kirilloff, of/1b
16. Los Angeles Angels, Alex Kirilloff, OF Plum HS (Pittsburgh)
I haven't heard them linked with a specific class of player, but they've scouted Kirilloff heavily, and it seems they are very open to drafting high school players under the new regime. They had a big contingent at the SEC tournament, including GM Billy Eppler, for Dakota Hudson's start, but I doubt he gets this far.
16. Alex Kirilloff
The Angels are all-in on prep bats. The three names I hear are Lowe, Jones, and Kirilloff. I think they are hoping the Rutherford rumors are true, as this would be his absolute floor. They could also roll the dice on Perez, but I think they want a safer player here. Kirilloff has a lot of swing-and-miss to his game, but also a lot of power potential. There is a bit of a drop-off after this group of prep hitters.
It's worth noting that there was considerable agreement in the final week of the 2015 draft among drafting gurus that the Angels were in on either Scott Kingery or Blake Trahan, both of whom they subsequently passed over in the first two rounds. Word of the possible Taylor Ward selection only made it to the above oracles roughly 24 hours before the actual draft, when the suggestion seemed improbably weird. (A number of us in these parts were fretting about a possible first-round Trahan selection, little knowing that the reality was much darker.) Safe to say, analyst consensus doesn't always mean much.
That said, it's notable that SBN's community mock draft at John Sickels' Minor League Ball also had Kirilloff landing with the Angels – perhaps reflecting the received wisdowm – though Sickels' own mock draft favored Nolan Jones:
16. Los Angeles Angels: Nolan Jones, SS, Holy Ghost HS, Pennsylvania
The common assumption is that the weak Angels farm system needs someone who can make an immediate impact. There's logic to that, but that doesn't automatically mean "college player" and rumors indicate the Angels are strongly considering prep bats. Nolan Jones is likely to end up at third base but he should stick there and has a (likely) impact bat that could advance more quickly than the typical cold-weather bat.
While there has been some rumored openness to prep arms under the new regimes, those prospect hounds who do not associate the Angels with high school bats have generally placed them with some of the more polished arms in the class. Both of MLB.com's draft analysts, Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo point in this direction:
16. Angels: Justin Dunn, RHP, Boston College
The Angels would love Kirilloff to be around at this spot, but in this scenario, he's gone, so they have to look elsewhere. Toolsy high schooler Will Benson could come into play, but they might turn their attention to an arm, and Dunn has shot up boards since moving from the bullpen into Boston College's rotation.
16. Angels: Dakota Hudson, RHP, Mississippi State
Los Angeles is expected to decide between college arms such as Hudson, Dunn and Vanderbilt right-hander Jordan Sheffield, and high school position players concentrated in Pennsylvania (Kirilloff, Jones) and Georgia (Lowe, outfielder Will Benson and Taylor Trammell). Even in a Draft thin on college starters, it's hard to imagine that the third one wouldn't get picked before No. 16.
My suspicion is that, at this point, both Hudson and Dunn are unlikely to fall as far as #16, especially as one of the previous locks for a top-ten selection in Delvin Perez is sliding off the boards due to a positive drug test.
Jordan Sheffield had an unfortunate meltdown in the College World Series (though with four errors from his defense, it was admittedly not all his fault), so it's uncertain how that impacted his standing, but there are other college pitchers with strong upside in T.J. Zeuch and Cal Quantrill, both of whom are likely to be selected in the top 20 at this point, along with "safe" arms like Cody Sedlock and Eric Lauer, who are probable first rounders, and likely to move fast through a minor league system. Only Quantrill in that quartet has been mentioned in relation to the Angels, but Quantrill is also rumored to already have a deal in place with the San Diego Padres.
One thing we are not seeing a lot of among published mocks in the past few weeks is the Angels associated with many college bats. There are multiple first base types (some of them bat-first catchers who are unlikely to stay behind the plate) available in the second-half of the first round between Will Craig and Matt Thais (not to mention likely top-ten pick Zack Collins). It's a thin crop at the top, though there is value to be had among some third tier bats in the 2nd to 5th rounds this cycle.
One guy that was a speculated Angels target early on, and one whom I continue to be high on, is Bryan Reynolds. Once a top-fifteen pick, he's begun sliding down many boards in the last month. Frankly, I don't know why. He's a switch hitter with an above-average hit tool and 15-20 HR power, possesses above-average speed, and plays above-average outfield defense, capable of fielding all three OF positions. Some minor knocks are an average arm and a 19% K rate (about the MiLB average), though he's sustained a consistently high OBP throughout his career. He's not a 30 HR guy, but he could be a 20/20 one – a solid speed/power combo who is plenty athletic, plays above his tools, and could likely make it to the Bigs by the '18-19 seasons.
I think folks are overthinking Reynolds. Here's a representative capsule:
34. St. Louis Cardinals: Bryan Reynolds
Reynolds once had top-10 talk. I have not been his biggest supporter throughout the process, and often wondered aloud what had made him such a highly rated player. I think this is a lot closer to what his value is, though. He’s a good athlete, with speed, but a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. He should be a complete player, who moves quickly for the Cards.
Got that? Reynolds is a "good athlete" and a "complete player" who should move quickly through the Cardinals system, so we'll just assign him to the smartest drafting organization in baseball, because, well, we don't think much of him.
Meanwhile, I think Reynolds might be this year's Bradley Zimmer – a good player with speed, athleticism, on-base skills and a history of performance that twenty teams talked themselves out of in 2014 because no one tool of his was elite (though all were basically average or better). It only took him a year to reach AA, where he continues to demonstrate solid on-base ability and increasing power. Likewise, I think Reynolds could provide a Kole Calhoun or Andre Ethier like value at the corner for the Angels, and be here before the Trout era is done (which is not something that is likely to be said for the young prepsters in this class, who are unlikely to arrive before 2020).
That one take should give a tease of my own early round board that I'll post Thursday morning. Suffice to say, I'm mostly in accord with the others above, but I'll save a little space near the top for Vandy's three-hole hitter as well.
In any event, the day is nigh, and we'll see how all this shakes out soon enough!