Thursday, July 25, 2013

2013 baseball recruiting class, part 2

Continuing the series begun last week, this post will serve as sort of a closing-down of the offseason, even though it's only July; tomorrow begins the ACC football previews, which we'll intersperse with various other football-type things as August rolls along.

Connor Jones - RHP
Great Bridge HS (VA)
Drafted: 21st round, San Diego Padres (628th overall)

By virtue of being the best prospect in the state of Virginia and a potential top-5-round pick (had he not committed to a school where signability is a legit concern for MLB scouts) Connor Jones is easily the most well-known member of the class.  (Jones, by the way, ended up just five picks behind UVA senior Reed Gragnani.)

Jones was named the top player in the state by just about everyone who did that, and was a very legit pro prospect.  He throws a 91-93 fastball that's reported by multiple sources to have a very good sinking action, a highly desirable trait for both college aces and pro prospects.  His second best pitch: probably his breaking ball, and he'll probably need to work some on his changeup before he's ready to be ace material.

That he dropped all the way to the 21st round is a function of his announcement that he would not sign in the MLB draft, not his talent; Keith Law rated him the 25th-best prospect in the draft and called him one of the draft's "few premium right-handed prep arms."  Obvious comparisons to a right-handed Nathan Kirby go here, as Jones has the same pedigree that Kirby did coming in.  Kirby's fastball proved awfully flat and hittable once he got to Charlottesville, and he spent the season making some headway on that but never really cracking the starting rotation.  In-stone predictions for Jones, therefore, would probably be unwise, but it's fair to assume he'll start off right in the mix for innings, whether as a starter or reliever.  And he appears to have the mental makeup and dedication to improve and succeed, so even with Kirby as a cautionary tale, there's no reason not to be excited about the possibilities.

Austin Nicely - LHP
Spotswood HS (VA)
Drafted: 10th round, Houston Astros (287th overall)

Nicely is a hard thrower for a lefty and would've made a solid left-handed addition to the staff, but we'll have to file him in the could've-been category; Nicely signed with the Astros for about a $610,000 bonus, which was more than $400,000 above his slot.

Daniel Pinero - INF
Western Tech. Inst. (ON)
Drafted: 20th round, Houston Astros (587th overall)

The 'Stros only went 1-for-2 with UVA prospects, though, as Pinero didn't sign with Houston.  Pinero is a big guy whose 6'6" size will probably put him at first base sooner or later, though he does prefer shortstop.  Pinero is a key part of Canada's junior national team, and in the 18U Pan Am championships in 2011, made the all-tournament team as a first baseman.

Perfect Game has a high opinion of Pinero, rating him a 10 of 10 as a prospect and suggesting that he does have the athleticism to play short or third base.  They also mention multiple times his line-drive hitting ability, and between that and his "projectable" frame (he's kind of long and skinny and at 6'6", 200, he could add another 20-30 pounds) he has potential to be exactly the kind of extra-bases hitter that BOC likes in the middle of the lineup.  Pinero might be in line for a few at-bats here and there as a first baseman in 2014, and might get a shot at third base as well; shortstop is out of the question with Brandon Cogswell around.  Long-term, that height probably consigns him to first base, but there's a great possibility he follows in Jared King's footsteps as a top-notch defender there and reliable hitter as well.

Jack Roberts - RHP
James River HS (VA)

Roberts can talk with Ben Carraway about what it'll be like to follow in the footsteps of an accomplished older brother at UVA; he is not only the younger brother of perfect-game tosser Will Roberts, but a high school teammate of Nathan Kirby as well.  With a name like Jack Roberts, he's the clear winner of this year's Hard to Google Award, but he's got a fastball that sits around 89-90 and still on its upward trajectory, and made Rawlings's all-region first team in the mid-Atlantic.  Also of importance: Roberts was the Richmond T-D's male scholar-athlete of the year this spring.

Righties will be a bit more plentiful on the roster next year than southpaws, and Roberts will find himself in a fight for innings.  It probably won't be til 2015 that he starts to be a major part of the mix, but at a minimum during his career he should provide good, solid depth.

Matt Thaiss - C
Jackson Memorial HS (NJ)
Drafted: 32nd round, Boston Red Sox (953rd overall)

Nate Irving handled so much of the catching load that it's plain he'll do the same next year, and it's not really even clear that he'll leave after the 2014 season as a junior.  With Robbie Coman looking like a decent bet for heir apparent, it's possible Matt Thaiss might have to wait a little while for his chance.

Might not be smart to bet against him either, though.  Thaiss's MLB scouting report described him as an "elite defensive catcher" and "has an advanced understanding of the game and plays aggressively."  High praise for a prep draft prospect.  Thaiss hit in high school for a relatively low average (in the .300s) as compared to a lot of high schoolers that routinely reach the .400s and .500s, but had decent power and went on a rampage in this spring's Carpenter Cup, which is a Philadelphia all-star tournament that pits regional all-star teams from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware against each other.  Thaiss doesn't have much of a path to the lineup as a freshman, but that MLB report is very encouraging and, if it pans out that way, will give Thaiss a clear path to eventually grabbing the starting role.


As a whole, this recruiting class doesn't need to carry the water for the future the way the past couple have done; the way the numbers have been shaking out means we're in a small cycle for this year and will probably see a much bigger class in 2014-15.  But there's not much filler here.  Connor Jones provides the star power, there's good pitching depth with guys like Adam Bleday and Jack Roberts, and I really like each of the position players' potential to work their way into the starting lineup in the future.

Don't be too worried, this year or any year, about the lack of high-level draftees.  UVA has cemented a nasty reputation among MLB teams as a black hole of signability.  Guys like Connor Jones drop from the 1st round to the 21st.  Players that might be drafted in the mid-20s just aren't bothered with.  It took a signing bonus of roughly 450% of the recommended slot to pry Austin Nicely away, and at this point, when a player says before the draft that he's not going to sign, teams take him at his word.  It makes draft position a fairly unreliable indicator of our incoming talent level.  It's not huge, so this isn't a class I'm over the moon about, but I like it.

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