Draft Preview, Pt. 1: Manaea slipping, Renfroe rising

The Pirates pick twice on Thursday’s Rule IV draft (which starts at 7 p.m.): No. 9 because the team failed to sign 2012 first rounder Mark Appel, and No. 14 because of last year’s standings.

A general consensus is that after Stanford righty Appel, Oklahoma righty Jonathan Gray and San Diego State third baseman Kris Bryant, the talent levels off. There are certainly high upside picks in several high school guys — including Kohl Stewart, who is a hair behind the top trio — and ample power bats coming out of college, but those three are recognized as the best in this class.

The odd thing, though, is that I could see any one of Appel, Gray or Bryant falling as far as the sixth pick. Look at Appel last year: he was expected to be the first player off the board, but slipped to the Pirates at No. 8.

The biggest factor in his declining stock was a perceived high asking price, and, as a Scott Boras client, the uncertainty of meeting those demands to sign the big right-hander.

Gray could see a similar fall off the draft board, but not for financial reasons. The Sooner junior tested positive for adderall in a pre-draft drug test. According to the linked article, Gray was the only prospect of the 200 subjected to the screening to fail for any reason. This likely won’t damage his stock too much, if at all, and I still suspect he’ll be one of the first three players taken.

Before I move on with my predictions for the first four picks and player bios, let me remind you of this.

There is no more slotting system, and teams must keep their spending under the assigned budget.

With that said, I see the first four picks shaping up like this:

1. Kohl Stewart, RHP — Houston Astros
2. Jonathan Gray, RHP — Chicago Cubs
3. Kris Bryant, 3B — Colorado Rockies
4. Mark Appel, RHP — Minnesota Twins

I’m going to suspend the rest of my mock draft because its going to be horribly wrong and cluttered. And since there is so little transparency after the first four selections, any two of the 12 players I’m profiling could be chosen by Pittsburgh, which has a $8,884,600 total budget with $5,599,400 (63 percent) allocated to the first two picks.

The ranks are based on how much I want the Pirates to draft the guy and how probable it is (in my opinion) that he actually is taken. I’m not clever with math and formulas and weighting stuff, so I just averaged the two numbers. Each is out of 12.

First half of these ranks come tonight; second half to run tomorrow.

12. Sean Manaea, LHP, Indiana State
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  • Want: 12 of 12
  • Probability: 10 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: Feb. 1, 1992 – College Junior
  • Bats: Right, Throws: Left
  • 6’5″ – 235 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes:

  • Manaea’s stock skyrocketed last summer after a torrid season in the Cape Cod League. In 52 innings, the sizable lefty racked up 85 strikeouts and a .119 batting average against. Scouts then saw a power fastball, which sat at 88-93 mph and was difficult for hitters to barrel up. Baseball America reported that Manaea lost velocity late in his outings.
  • The main concern with Manaea isn’t his velocity or his stuff or his repertoire, which also includes a solid slider and an inconsistent change up, but rather it’s his durability. His delivery is unorthodox and requires that he use substantial force in his hips. You can watch his motion in this video. After missing time during his junior season because of hip problems, his stock naturally slipped. Then Manaea was sidelined because of shoulder issues, causing one N.L. scout to say that he is no longer a first-round prospect and that his ceiling is at the back of a rotation, as Christopher Crawford wrote on May 27 (ESPN Insider only).

    If David Littlefield were still the GM of the Pirates, I would be confident he’d swipe Manaea with the ninth pick, because it seems that most teams fear that the Indiana State hurler’s regression is too severe to be a high draft selection.

    The reason Manaea is 10-of-12 (in terms of the probability I think Neal Huntington drafts him) is that I don’t know exactly what’s wrong with his shoulder and hips. If the Pirates don’t find his injuries to be serious, they could opt for him at No. 14. I certainly hope they don’t, but I’m leaving it an open possibility.

    Manaea is a Scott Boras client, too. The Pirates haven’t avoided Boras in the past, and this year won’t be any different. Manaea’s agent relationship is notable, though, because Boras could advise him to return to school in hopes that he can avoid injuries and regain the Cape Cod form that made him so sought after last summer.

    11. Austin Wilson, RF/LF, Stanford
    20130605-170959.jpg

  • Want: 11 of 12
  • Probability: 11 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: Feb. 7, 1992 – College Junior
  • Bats: Right, Throws: Right
  • 6’5″ – 245 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes:

  • If he wasn’t besmirched by the lingering Stanford-batter stigma, Austin Wilson could be an easy top-10 pick. Stanford’s coaches are known to disrupt a hitter’s natural approach — most notably the discouragement of pulling a ball — and place too much emphasis on mechanics as opposed to performance.
  • Wilson is not an exception, which is a major reason as to why his tools haven’t come to fruition and his upside is based largely on projection. As it stands, Wilson has the bat speed and strength to put a charge into the ball. He has some moving parts to his swing — most notably in the hands — and he can struggle picking up on pitch types, but Keith Law projects Wilson to have 70-grade power (on the 20-80 scale) in the future.

    With above-average speed and a cannon of an arm, Wilson profiles as an excellent corner outfielder who can play center field and not embarrass himself in the majors.

    Wilson suffered a stress reaction in his elbow during the season, which would affect his swing and production, but it was a mild injury and is not expected to be persistent.

    I don’t at all expect the Pirates to take Wilson at No. 9, but they could opt for him at 14. He’s almost like a lottery because of his projection-above-performance status, and I would love to see the Pirates gamble on the athletic righty with their second first-round pick. I don’t suspect Wilson would be an expensive sign, as his stock could not grow past being a top-15 pick in the next year. The Bucs could nab him right on or just below budget and save money for their third pick at No. 51.

    Given the likelihood someone like Hunter Renfroe (No. 7 on my list) or Dominic Smith (unranked) is available for the 14th pick, though, the Pirates will go for a safer bet with equal signability standards.

    10. Aaron Judge, RF/LF, Fresno State
    20130605-170551.jpg

  • Want: 9 of 12
  • Probability: 12 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: April 26, 1992 — College Junior
  • Bats: Right, Throws: Right
  • 6’7″ — 255 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes:

  • The most striking part of Aaron Judge’s game isn’t his power or his swing or even his colossal size — it’s his position. At 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, Judge’s frame is one never before seen patrolling the outfield, but he is surprisingly agile and has an above-average arm. Keith Law said he could shape up to be Jason Heyward, defensively.
  • On offense, though, you get what you see with Judge. Baseball America tabs the Fresno State product as a future .250 hitter with tons of power and tons of strikeouts. The publication also explains that some scouts question whether his enormous batting practice shots can translate to the live game. He has long arms but still maintains a short, compact swing that he uses to drive the ball with his strength.

    As a potentially solid right fielder who can hit 30 home runs annually, Judge is worth the risk for the Pirates and their 14th overall pick. Like Austin Wilson’s situation, however, I don’t think they’ll reach for him if Hunter Renfroe or Dominic Smith are available.

    One reason I could see Judge being picked there, though, is Pedro Alvarez. Neal Huntington used his second overall selection on the high-power, frequently-whiffing corner bat in 2008, and Pedro has been money when he barrels the ball.

    And that’s the other reason I can see Huntington passing on Judge. How often Pedro makes contact is critical to his success, and, well, he hasn’t been as successful as the Pirates imagined back in ’08. I don’t think Huntington will want to risk a first-round pick on a guy who could easily be exposed in pro ball when Renfroe, Wilson and Smith offer varying degrees of better stability.

    None the less, power is the rarest of commodities in baseball, and I wouldn’t mind — or totally doubt — it coming from the rare-framed Judge.

    9. Ryne Stanek, RHP, Arkansas
    20130605-172317.jpg

  • Want: 8 of 12
  • Probability: 9 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: July 26, 1991 — College Junior
  • Bats: Right, Throws: Right
  • 6’4″ — 180 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes:

  • Ryne Stanek has the ideal pitcher’s frame at slightly over six feet and just below 200 pounds. I assume he’ll add a bit more weight in the next couple years and get close to an even 200. In other words, he has the physical tools to be a workhorse at the top of a major league rotation. And with a fastball that touches 98 mph, his stuff indicates that such a billing is not unreasonable.
  • In 2010, Stanek was drafted by the Mariners with the 99th overall pick, but he chose to attend college at Arkansas. The decision paid off; he was very successful as a Razorback, finishing his junior season with a 1.39 ERA in 97 1/3 innings. However, Stanek’s peripherals suggest that he wasn’t as brilliant as his earned run average would indicate.

    Despite flashing upper-90s velocity, a power slider at 84-87 mph and an average change up, Stanek sported just a 7.31 K/9 rate while walking 3.8 per nine. The numbers are perplexing.

    How can a guy with plus stuff coax such few swings and misses?

    Stanek’s flaw is in his delivery and mechanics. He has a tendency to miss his arm slot by dragging his arm too far behind his body during the pitching motion. That alteration leads to diminished control (evidenced by walks) and command (evidenced by low strikeouts) — and a propensity for injury if his elbow or shoulder become stressed as a result of a lagging arm.

    A team with a top-10 pick is going to take the chance that these are fixable mistakes that can be pounded out of Stanek’s game with repetition and exposure to professional coaching. He’s certainly worth that risk, as he’s proven he can be formidable even with a shifty delivery.

    I think the Pirates will take him as a staple of the future rotation, along with Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, if he somehow slips to the 14th pick. The chances of that happening are slim, though, and Pittsburgh is sure to have some guys above Stanek on its board who will be there at No. 9.

    8. Austin Meadows, CF, Grayson High School (Loganville, Ga.)
    20130605-172102.jpg

  • Want: 10 of 12
  • Probability: 6 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: May 3, 1995 — HS Senior (Commitment to Clemson)
  • Bats: Left, Throws: Left
  • 6’3″ — 200 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes:

  • The first high schooler to appear on my list so far, Austin Meadows does not excite me as much as he does others. I see him as a solid comp to Austin Wilson, but with only slightly more upside to exceed my expectations and significantly more bust potential.
  • Meadows, according to Baseball America, added 10-15 pounds since last summer, but has not lost any athletic prowess. His size is remarkable — he looks HUGE even in August 2012 — but I suspect he is going to add another 15-20 pounds minimum to his frame — that’s also why I don’t think so highly of the Grayson high schooler.

    If he gains weight like I expect him to, he’ll have to move from center field to a corner outfield spot. With recurring questions about his power potential, Meadows does not profile too well for a position that is suited for all-stars and sluggers. I’m not saying he has no chance of becoming a 25-30 homer guy, but he doesn’t get the kind of loft from his swing that someone his size should and that will produce high power figures, according to ESPN’s Keith Law.

    Add in just average arm strength, and you’ve got yourself a man without a position in my eyes. I think his potential is somewhere around 10-15 home runs, a .280 average and a .340 on-base — which is the line of a solid player even if his defense fails to pick up.

    I do believe, however, that the Pirates could select Meadows if Reese McGuire and Clint Frazier don’t make it to the ninth pick. (There are certainly other players who I suspect Pittsburgh has rated above Meadows, but they are almost a lock to be gone before it’s the Pirates’ turn.) Those guys should be higher on the Pirates’ board, but there is no consensus on who’s the better of Meadows and Frazier. Neither player will be available at No. 14, so the only way I see Meadows coming to Pittsburgh is the above situation.

    7. Hunter Renfroe, RF/LF, Mississippi State
    20130605-172535.jpg

  • Want: 7 of 12
  • Probability: 8 of 12
  • Bio:

  • Born: Jan. 28, 1992 — College Junior
  • Bats: Right, Throws: Right
  • 6’1″ — 216 lbs.
  • Scouting Takes

  • Looking back at it, I wish Hunter Renfroe was ranked more highly on my list — and not just because of this video. (Look at the perfect timing of Montgomery Gentry singing “bang! bang!” and Renfroe’s high-fives!) He was all-tools-no-production until this year when he broke out for a .352/.440/.634 slash line.
  • I’m starting to really like this guy, who Baseball America said has “top-shelf power and arm strength” — that sounds like exactly the descriptors for an all-star caliber right fielder. Renfroe is athletic and was previously a catcher and pitcher before shifting to a corner outfield spot to allow a quick path to the majors. (He was clocked as high as 94 mph on the mound, if you’re curious.)

    He has a tendency to swing and miss frequently, but that comes with someone who projects to hit 30 home runs at his peak. To balance the whiffs, Renfroe shows some patience at the plate. In his junior year at Mississippi State, the physical outfielder took 34 walks against 39 punch outs.

    Keith Law projects him to showcase three 60-grade skills in the field: throwing strength, speed and fielding range. Combine an above-average fielder in an outfield corner with the power potential to match, and Renfroe makes for a quick riser through any farm system.

    I certainly hope I am wrong on my 8-of-12 probability ranking, and that the Bucs like him a bit more than I do, because I would love to have Renfroe in the farm system. He could advance rapidly enough — so long as he isn’t exposed for subpar pitch recognition — that he arrives before the summer of 2014.

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