The college board

What if you had to run your team’s draft without the benefit of scouting reports? Not a good situation to find yourself in.

With draft-eligible college players, though, we do have an extensive statistical record to go on. College stats are far from telling the whole story, especially if we want to answer questions about a player’s ceiling, or if a starter will need to convert to relief. But with proper adjustments, and including newer developments like defense and baserunning stats, we can get a good grip on how well college players have performed.

And that’s what I have for you today: a college draft ranking that uses nothing but the numbers. Lucky for you, we have a lot of numbers.

For batters, we’re looking at every aspect of each player’s game: offense (tweaked for park and schedule, with some adjustment for luck on balls in play), play-by-play-based defense and baserunning, and a positional adjustment. We’re also going beyond the 2010 season, weighting the current year as just part of the skill estimate next to lesser weightings of the ’08 and ’09 seasons.

For pitchers, it’s a bit simpler. We eliminate much of the effect of team defense, eliminate a good deal of the luck on balls in play, and adjust home run rate. Convert it all to runs over the typical three-year college career, and we can put hurlers on the same scale as hitters.

The disclaimer

Yes, this is a ranking of draft-eligible players. But no, I don’t particularly recommend that people throw out their draft boards and use this to guide them through the first round or two. (I only recommend that they move up Tyler Holt. A lot.)

Some of these rankings match what will happen on draft day, and some of them will seem wrong, perhaps comically so. Many big names, like Zack Cox and Anthony Ranaudo, are nowhere to be seen.

If a player has only recently turned his potential into production, or has lost a lot of time to injury, he’s all that much tougher to forecast. The fact that those guys don’t appear on this list doesn’t mean they are bad draft choices—instead, they’re evaluated a bit more like high schoolers, on the basis of tools.

Taking the place of high-ceiling guys like Ranaudo are generally safer bets who have thrown lots of innings at more modest (but still high!) levels of success. That leaves us in the familiar debate: Should you take high-risk, high-reward guys, or opt for the lower-ceiling players who are more likely to reach the majors, albeit as role players or back-of-the-rotation starters?

I’m not going to take a stand on that today. But this kind of list will tend to lean toward the lower-ceiling guys who have stayed healthy.

The college board

Enough caveats, let’s see the list!

Each player is listed along with a number on a scale between 0 and 100. Roughly speaking, zero is an average college player (a few “prospects” are negative, but it’s rare), while 100 is what would’ve happened had Alex Rodriguez gone to college. If Rice’s Anthony Rendon were draft-eligible right now, he’d be in the mid-80s.

1. Drew Pomeranz – Mississippi – LHP – 71

To some eyes, Pomeranz has slipped a little of late, and yes, his 2010 season isn’t up to the standard of his sophomore year. His walk rate has crept all the way to 4.7 per nine innings, which only looks good next to his 13.2 K/9.

In a mediocre draft class, Pomeranz remains at the top despite some struggles. In three years as a starter, he has averaged more than an 11 K/9. His 2009 season was the best single-year performance of any draft-eligible pitcher. Despite those recent blips, he’s been very consistent, and the ceiling looks to be high.

2. Yasmani Grandal – Miami – C – 70

I wrote about Grandal last week, rating him as (surprise, surprise!) the top college catcher. Here’s the amazing part: If you took away the positional adjustment, he’d still be the highest-ranked batter, and his 2010 season would still be the best among draft-eligibles.

3. Barret Loux – Texas A&M – RHP – 64

If you can’t get Pomeranz’s 13 strikeouts per nine, perhaps you’d be interested in Loux’s 12, which come accompanied by fewer walks. His 2010 season is the best among pitchers listed here, almost as good as Pomeranz’s 2009.

4. Chris Hernandez – Miami – LHP – 62

I could probably write an entire article about the process that leads Hernandez to show up so high on the list. Give how skeptical you probably are right now, maybe I should. Hernandez doesn’t even show up in a lot of top 100 rankings. For instance, Perfect Game has him at 131.

What’s most interesting about Hernandez is that his best year—by far—came as a freshman. His 2008 season was almost on par with Pomeranz’s 2009. Looking at Hernandez’s 2010 season, you might think of him as a low-risk, low-ceiling guy, but that freshman, age-19 season says otherwise.

Since he showed up at Miami, he has struck guys out, and the guys he doesn’t strike out, he coaxes ground balls out of. His ground-out/air-out ratios from the last three years: 99/48, 117/40, 142/59. Combine that with a K/9 near 10 each year and a K/BB that has never dipped below 3, and you’ve got yourself a big-time sleeper.

5. Deck McGuire – Georgia Tech – RHP – 61

McGuire profiles quite a bit like Pomeranz, and the two were often paired at the top of draft lists earlier this year. The righty has suffered a bit more this year, seeing his K/9 fall to about 9.5. (Yes, that’s good, but keep in mind the level of competition and McGuire’s apparent status as an elite.) He’s also gotten lucky with balls in play, and this rating knocks him down a bit to reflect that.

6. Matt Harvey – North Carolina – RHP – 60

Harvey’s actual draft status depends on whether a team wants to gamble on him as a starter. His college results have been similar to McGuire’s, only with more walks. His placement on this list is thanks to his cutting back on those walks, from 5.3 per nine last year to 3.2 this year.

7. Tyler Holt – Florida State – CF – 60

Finally we get the second position player after Grandal. But if you only read mock first rounds, you might not even be familiar with the name. As we’ve started looking at stats beyond batting lines, Holt’s name keeps coming up.

He’s been among the best center fielders in college baseball all three years, and he’s been near the top of the baserunning lists for the last two years, as well. He doesn’t mash on par with, say, Kyle Parker or Hunter Morris, but he’s in double-digit home runs this year and working on his second straight season in four-digit OPS territory.

In short, he looks for all the world like another Jacoby Ellsbury. I don’t think he’d be an overdraft at No. 23, where Ellsbury was taken. If he falls to 128 (where Perfect Game ranks him), I’ll consider him (at the very least!) the steal of the draft. Appropriate for a guy who has swiped 26 bases in 27 attempts.

8. Drew Smyly – Arkansas – LHP – 57

The Razorbacks are well-represented in this ranking, even if Zack Cox didn’t make the cut. Smyly is tops among the pitching staff, with about 10 strikeouts per nine and a 3.5 K/BB ratio.

9. Trent Mummey – Auburn – CF – 55

Here’s the only defensive outfielder I like more than Holt. He’s been slowed by injury this year, missing the first six weeks of the season, but he’s hit well since then. His 2009 season is the best single-year performance of anyone on this list, thanks in large part to an otherworldly performance in center field.

10. Chris Sale – Florida Gulf Coast – LHP – 55

These rankings don’t take into account Cape Cod League performance. If they did, Sale would probably be higher. He’ll certainly be taken higher on June 7. His 2010 season ranks second only to Loux’s, with 135 strikeouts against 12 walks. Yeah, FGCU doesn’t play the toughest schedule, but 135/12? Sheesh.

11. Christian Colon – Fullerton – SS – 55

12. Mike Bolsinger – Arkansas – RHP – 55

The first senior on this list, Bolsinger was dominant in the closer role last year, only to return to the rotation in 2010. His groundball tendencies are magnified as a starter, something that teams must be happy to see.

13. Tyler Lyons – Oklahoma State – LHP – 55

Lyons, the other senior included here, had a big season two years ago. The flip side is that his current year is his worst yet—not exactly the kind of thing that rockets you up real-life draft boards.

14. Derek Dietrich – Georgia Tech – SS – 55

15. Chad Bettis – Texas Tech – RHP – 53

16. Robert Morey – Virginia – RHP – 52

17. T.J. Walz – Kansas – RHP – 52

18. Pat Dean – Boston College – LHP – 52

Dean has struggled a bit this year, but even with his other peripherals taking a hit, he’s kept his walk rate at about 1.5 per nine.

19. Austin Ross – LSU – RHP – 52

Who would’ve figured Ross would show up on any list ahead of Ranaudo?

20. Cody Stanley – UNC Wilmington – C – 50

Stanley is kind of the Tyler Holt of catchers. For the last two years, he’s done everything well—even run, which is a rarity for someone who could stick behind the plate.

21. Kyle Parker – Clemson – OF/1B – 50

At the plate, Parker posted better results than any other draft-eligible player. It’s everything else that knocked him out of the top 20. Also concerning is his strikeout rate of 18 percent.

22. Andy Wilkins – Arkansas – 1B/3B – 49

Wilkins’ Parker-like season came in 2009, and also like Parker, power is the extent of his resume.

23. Brett Eibner – Arkansas – OF – 49

I promise, there’s no “Razorback adjustment” giving all Arkansas players a five-point bonus. These guys are just good. Some teams may still consider Eibner a pitcher—in fact, rated on the mound, he’s a 43, good for the top 50.

24. Hunter Morris – Auburn – 1B/OF – 49

For a corner guy, Morris is well-rounded, with a .517 wOBA and solid defensive numbers at first base. Some teams may take a step back based on the 8.7 percent walk rate and 17.1 percent strikeout rate, though.

25. Chance Ruffin – Texas – RHP – 48

Like Bolsinger, Ruffin has succeeded in both the bullpen and the rotation. He’s still more of a “potential” guy than a “performance” guy, and he’ll probably come off the board well before a lot of the pitchers in this list.

The rest

For most of the big names you don’t see here, there’s no complicated explanation or huge surprise accounting for it. Two pitchers inside the top 35, Alex Wimmers and Jesse Hahn, are good examples. Both have had good years, but neither has ever put up a huge performance like, say, Dean’s 2009 campaign, so their appearance on conventional draft rankings is based more on what they could be than what they are.

Another typical explanation applies to guys like Michael Choice, Kolbrin Vitek, Rob Segedin, Jedd Gyorko, Asher Wojciechowski and even Zack Cox. They’ve shown this year that they are elite-level college players, but they didn’t do much of the sort in previous seasons. Gyorko, for instance, was barely above average last year.

And of course, some draft prospects have yet to show elite-level performance at all. There’s plenty of room to wishcast the futures of youngsters like Gauntlett Eldemire, Michael Kvasnicka, Leon Landry, Austin Wates and Rob Brantly. But if you were putting together a team to win the Midwest League crown next year, you wouldn’t want any of those guys on it.

In the end, of course, a stats-only ranking is just another perspective to bring to the table. I’m perfectly happy to concede that Chris Hernandez and Tyler Holt really aren’t top-10 talents.

But hey, if my team picks one of those guys in the supplemental first round, I’m going to be mighty happy about it.

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Comments

  1. Sean Zerillo said...

    As a UM student I have been watching Grandal and Herndandez throughout all three of their college seasons since all of our Freshman years coincided. Grandal was actually trusted with calling the pitches for what was the #1 team in the country for most of the 2008 season. Although he doesnt have the best arm at gunning down runners, his game calling ability is very advanced and seriously overlooked. He is a very intelligent player. While scouts say he lacks the bat speed, keep in mind he was named the MVP of the wood bat Cape Cod League last summer. His power and plate discipline are for real. I dont think he gets enough credit.

    Chris Hernandez is going to be an even better pro than Yasmani. This kid was dominating the best college hitters in the country, on national television, as a true freshman. He doesnt throw very hard, but his fastball has a lot of cut on it and generates a ton of groundballs as you pointed out. Scouts may be scared off by his sophomore season, but his peripherals were just fine. Miami was a mess defensively (especially around the infield) last season though which really hurt him.

    It pains me to say it, but you’re right on FSU’s Tyler Holt as well. The kid is an incredible hitter and has a suprising amount of pop for his size. He reminds me more of a Denard Span type than an Ellsbury though.

  2. Mike Rogers said...

    How do you handle James Paxton? I actually liked Paxton and Loux’s 2009 seasons more than Pomeranz (I don’t have 2008 numbers in yet, nor do I have 2010 data for beyond the Big Ten so far). Granted, I don’t have park factor/strength of schedule numbers custom tailored to the parks these guys pitched in (I’m using team numbers) because I don’t have that info, but Loux was essentially equal and Paxton K’d 33% of batters and walked just 6%—better than both Loux and Pomeranz in 09 (in the SEC, to boot).

    Always love this stuff, though, Jeff.

  3. Carter said...

    No Bryce Brentz? Kid is one of the best players in recent college history and his game translates to any level. If he played at a school like UNC or LSU he’d have a ton of hype around him.

  4. Mike Rogers said...

    I’m just guessing, Carter, that Brentz doesn’t rate well defensively in Jeff’s studies. That’s probably the reason he’s off the list.

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