Outfielders in Draft have considerable potential
After Frazier and Meadows, scouts face challenge of having to project development
There is a prototype of what an outfielder should look like and every Draft season, scouts are on the lookout for amateur prospects who fit the mold.
It's a basic blueprint -- big, strong (think 6-foot-3, 210 pounds or so) -- with multiple tools and plenty of projection. The only problem is, of course, that the amateur baseball factory doesn't always churn them out looking like that and scouting staffs can only pick from what's available.
There is some serious talent among the outfielders available in next month's First-Year Player Draft, with perhaps as many as seven, from both high schools and colleges, who are candidates to go in the first round. Some are "what they should look like," but have a long way to go in their development or have some potential holes in their games. Others don't quite look the part but have some serious ability. Where and when these outfielders go on Draft day is still very much anyone's guess.
Any discussion of outfielders must begin in Georgia, where neighbors and friends Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows have been vying for top high school player honors. Frazier gets a slight edge, one spot ahead of Meadows in MLB.com's Draft Top 100 prospects list. But just because they are from the same area and play the same position doesn't mean they are cut from the same cloth.
"They are a little bit different," one scouting director said. "Frazier's a strong kid who's a little more like a college player. He's developed and has unbelievable strength for a high school kid. He has unbelievable bat speed and power for a kid who's really not that big. Meadows has outstanding projection to his game. They're both very good players and I'm confident both will go in top 10-12 picks."
The other outfielders among the top five -- and even the two beyond them -- hail from the college ranks and can be sorted into Meadows and Frazier-like categories. Fresno State's Aaron Judge and Stanford's Austin Wilson -- 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-5, respectively -- fit the mold, and there are definite tools there, though those tools come with some question marks.
"With Wilson and Judge, there's a lot more projection there," the scouting director said. "You've not had the unbelievable performances. You're banking on the tools there. Judge and Wilson will not be consensus players because you haven't had the performances you'd like to see."
Samford College's Phillip Ervin fits more into the Frazier profile, a 5-foot-9 player who has performed well this year, and doing so for much of the spring with a bad ankle. Scouts will have to look past the size stigma with him as well.
"He's not exactly the blueprint of what your first-rounder is supposed to look like," the scouting director said. "[He and Frazier] are both smaller guys who are very good players. They are not exactly the design, but what are we supposed to do? We're going to pass on Ervin because he's not 6-foot-4? I'm not."
Because of the question marks around Judge and Wilson -- namely, will they hit enough to make the most of their considerable tools? -- teams might want to look a little further on the list for other options. Mississippi State's Hunter Renfroe has similar skills to Judge and Wilson and has performed well in the Southeastern Conference, one of the best in college baseball. That's why his name has been on the rise as the Draft approaches.
Another option could be Michael Lorenzen from Cal State-Fullerton. While Judge and Wilson profile as right fielders, there is no doubt Lorenzen can stay up the middle in center. While he's been a bit inconsistent with the bat, he has performed better of late for one of the better college teams in the country. The fact that he's thrown up to 98 mph as Fullerton's closer offers a nice backup plan if the outfield thing doesn't work out.
"If you're going to have Judge and Wilson, I think you'd have to have Lorenzen on that list," the scouting director said. "The tools, they can't be denied. He's got all five if he can hit enough for the power to come out. I'm going to take the center fielder over the right fielder. If he hits .230, then we'll just pitch him.
"If you asked me, I'd have Renfroe and Lorenzen in before Judge and Wilson. I think Renfroe goes in the top 16-17 picks. There's a question on Lorenzen's bat, but also with Judge and Wilson. If that's the case, why not take Lorenzen? If he doesn't hit, he'll pitch in the big leagues."
To find out what happens, tune in to all of the Draft coverage, starting on Thursday, June 6. It begins with the Draft Preview Show on MLB Network and MLB.com at 6 p.m. ET, followed by live Draft coverage at 7 p.m., with the top 73 picks being broadcast live on MLB Network and streamed on MLB.com. Rounds 2-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on June 7-8. MLB.com's coverage will include the Top 100 Draft Prospects list; Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player; and the Draft itself. You also can keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. Get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
All seven of these outfielders have the potential to hear their name called very early. And even those a little concerned with just how projectable some of the college outfielders are admit that the raw tools will get teams to take the risk.
"If you're right, you're going to be really right," the scouting director said.