-Ed. Note: Everybody welcome back Kris Brauner, who has briefly rejoined us with his extensive thoughts on the upcoming draft. The 40 (FOURTY!) rounds of the 2014 MLB Draft run from June 5th-7th, with the opening round being aired live on MLB Network tomorrow night at 6pm CST.
The MLB Draft is always a tough one to project, and that's primarily because the draft marks just the beginning of the process where college coaches and fans sweat out decisions from the top players from both their team and signing class. Unlike in other sports, baseball players and signees can elect to pull out of the pro ranks after being drafted if the negotiations with the pro team don't go as desired. They have until July 18th to sign a professional deal or else they'll be on LSU's roster for 2015.
The 2014 Draft will mark Year #3 of the "new" system where teams have a cap on the amount of money they can spend on draft picks selected in the Top-10 rounds. We're starting to get a handle on the dynamics of that and a better idea of what to expect....which is that anything goes. One thing we know is that college seniors will often get drafted well above their value into the Top-10 rounds because pro teams know they can jam those guys on their salary and pay them way below slot value. What other choice does the senior have other than to sign the deal the club offers them? For example, Mason Katz was picked by the Cardinals in the 4th round with the #127 overall pick in last year's draft. For 2014, the slot value for that pick is $404,000; however, Katz signed for just $95,000. This tactic affords the pro team more money to use to ensure their other top draft picks sign and don't run off to college.
The top eight rounds of the draft should be considered the danger zone. The large, large majority of players selected in the top eight rounds end up signing professionally. Out of 256 picks in the top eight rounds a year ago, I count just seven that did not sign pro contracts...four high school prospects and three college juniors who returned for their senior season. Generally, the pro teams talk to these players before selecting them to gauge their asking price so there will not be any surprises during negotiations.
Now a look at what damage LSU may suffer as a result of the draft:
Aaron Nola will be a Top-15 pick and a millionaire. There is 0.0% chance he returns to LSU next year.
Joe Broussard seems likely to be picked in the Top-15 Rounds somewhere. Broussard is a junior, but 2014 is his fourth year at LSU due to an injury, so he's probably ready to get on with his professional career. It would also be tough to top the numbers he's compiled and the stuff he has shown this season. When you factor in his recent history with injuries, it makes even more sense for him to go pro and thus, returning for 2015 seems highly unlikely.
Aside from those two guys, I'm not sure LSU loses another underclassman. Despite being just a sophomore, Mark Laird is draft eligible this year. The scouts seem to really like Laird's speed and defense, and he appears on many Top 500 lists. However, Laird doesn't strike me as a guy that is in a huge rush to get to the professional level. He could return to LSU next year and still have leverage in next year's draft as an underclassman. I suppose if he's drafted much higher than expected and is offered a nice bonus, he could decide to take it but the odds really favor him returning.
Kade Scivicque, Conner Hale, and Tyler Moore will all be names worth watching, but none of them appear to be worthy of a draft pick that would warrant leaving. None appear on any Top 500 lists that I can find. Tyler Moore and Conner Hale have been red hot lately and could be in the midst of playing themselves into being drafted. That may even be likely for Moore.
A guy like Zac Person may warrant a draft pick simply because he's a lefty with pretty good stuff, and if drafted he may decide to move on to the pro ranks while he has the opportunity. But I still think the odds favor everyone returning except for Nola and Broussard.
Despite a dreadful season at the plate, don't be TOO surprised if Jared Foster gets picked somewhere. He had a nice season a year ago and a good showing in summer ball last year. He's also got the speed and athleticism that scouts think they can mold. If he is picked somewhere, he could very well be encouraged to sign since LSU will likely need to clear some roster space.
As for the seniors, LSU will be losing Sean McMullen, Christian Ibarra, Kurt McCune and Nate Fury. Christian Ibarra was selected in the 32nd round last year but with his offensive production way down from 2013, it's tough to see him going much higher than that. Sean McMullen could warrant a mid to late round draft pick as well.
Examining the draft prospects of the Signing Class is much more complicated.
Lefty pitcher Mac Marshall out of Georgia is almost certainly going to be drafted very high and sign professionally. He has been projected anywhere from the bottom of the first round to around #55 overall. Even at the low end of that spectrum, the slot value is still on the plus side of $1 million. His stock has been sliding a tad this spring, which provides some hope for LSU fans. Whether it's Joey Gallo or Justin Williams or Johnny Eiermann, every Signing Class seems to have a guy that is an extreme long shot to end up in college. This year, Marshall is that guy. But sometimes, as was the case with Kevin Gausman, that guy shows up to LSU. Some recent rumblings indicate that Marshall may actually be leaning towards coming to LSU. He even went on Baton Rouge radio on Tuesday afternoon stating that if he's not a first round pick, then he's coming to LSU. But we'll see how those feelings change when a big check is put under his nose.
Brother Martin infielder Gregory Deichmann is definitely one to watch. Projections for him are anywhere from the second round to the ninth round (Perfect Game ranks him as their #266 overall prospect). Reportedly, Deichmann really wants to play for LSU and it would take first round money for him to pass up that opportunity. But believe what prospects say about that sort of thing at your own peril. They ALL say they really want to go to college so that the pro team is convinced they will have to pay up. Deichmann has a big time bat and would be the favorite to take over for Christian Ibarra at third base next season. Deichmann also turns 19 on May 31st, which means he'll be draft eligible after just two years of college. So if he goes to LSU, he'll have the opportunity to be drafted again very soon. If you believe the info being put out there just prior to the draft, then it looks like Deichmann is headed to Baton Rouge:
Brother Martin's Greg Deichmann is headed to LSU. Diechmann told MLB scouts he will not sign. Dad says "his heart is at LSU." #wgnosports— Ed Daniels (@WGNOsports) June 3, 2014
Mississippi infielder Bobby Bradley is on just about every Top 100 list out there which puts the chances of him playing at LSU as pretty slim. Bradley is the kind of big, power bat that LSU has really lacked in the last few years. Already at 6'2" 215 pounds, he's already got the body of a seasoned college player. One issue with Bradley is that he really only projects as a first baseman and doesn't possess a lot of versatility defensively. Often, the big power bats will take a year to get acclimated to the college game, so I think he's less likely than Deichmann to make a big impact right away, but he has the potential to be a star in the future, especially if the new baseballs next year result in more home runs hit across college baseball.
Illinois righty hand pitcher Jake Godfrey was a late addition to LSU's class, but he's a good one. He's a big (6'3" 215) classic power pitcher that would lend help immediately and could even compete for a spot in the rotation as a freshman. He's not rated quite as high as Marshall, but he's still way up there. Perfect Game rates him as the #124 prospect in the draft and Baseball America has him at #129, which would put him in the 4th round. It all depends on his asking price and whether he'd rather pitch in the minor leagues or for LSU. I'd put the odds of Godfrey showing up to LSU right at 50% or maybe slightly less.
Missouri's Alex Lange is a big righty at 6'3" 210 pounds with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and has touched 94 before. He also mixes in an effective curve and change. Perfect Game ranks Lange as the #413 prospect in this draft, which would probably put him outside of the danger zone of signing. Like Godfrey, Lange is a guy that will likely make an immediate impact and could compete for a job as a weekend starter right away. I like LSU's chances of keeping Lange.
Illinois lefty Jake Latz is another big kid at 6'2" 185 pounds and is more of a technician than Godfrey or Lange. He doesn't quite have the heat on his fastball; although, he occasionally dips into the low 90s. He has enjoyed an outstanding spring. As of May 13, Latz was 5-0 with a 0.00 ERA. Through 30 innings, he struck out 54 and walked just six. His stock has been rising, and now he's a risk to sign professionally. Perfect Game ranks him as the #363 prospect in the draft, which would put him in the 12th round. While still rated very highly, Latz gets my vote as the most underrated in this class. He's going to be excellent at the college level.
Destrehan infielder Austin Bain is a 6'2" 200 pound right hander from Dutchtown who has enjoyed a terrific senior season and has shot up draft boards. Bain also pitched for Dutchtown, and some scouts may be looking at him there. Reportedly, he's going to LSU to play infield though. He's up to #323 on Perfect Game's rankings, and that seems to be the high end of the spectrum for him. I really believe he'll play at LSU next fall. At least, one of his (potentially) future teammates sure think he's going to LSU:
Georgia infielder Grayson Byrd is the son of former LSU pitcher Paul Byrd. Byrd is a 6'3" 180 pound shortstop with very good overall athleticism and pretty good speed. I've seen the word "smooth" used to describe his actions defensively by numerous publications. He's very lean right now and will need to add some bulk but has a good bat from the left side and should be a good hitter in time. While most have Deichmann penciled in as Bregman's eventual successor at shortstop, Byrd may be the better player defensively. He's #439 on Perfect Game's list, and he probably comes from a pretty stable financial situation. So the odds of seeing him at LSU next year are good.
Illinois catcher Mike Papierski is a high school teammate of Jake Latz. The 6'3" 205 pound switch hitter has excellent power projection. He's #485 on Perfect Game's Top 500 list and seems like a good bet to end up at LSU. As of May 11, Papierski was hitting .344 with four home runs.
South Carolina pitcher Doug Norman is a 6'4" right hander that can touch 92-93 on the gun. He's had a good spring, going 9-1 with a 0.63 ERA this year. Thought not quite as tall, he reminds me a bit of Parker Bugg as a prospect. I haven't seen Norman's name connected to any draft discussion, so it seems safe that he'll make his way to LSU.
A pair of brothers from Barbe High School round out LSU's signing class. Bryce Jordan is more of a corner infielder that may eventually settle in at first base for LSU. He has also done some catching during his high school career, though I don't think catching is in his future. At 5'10" 200 pounds, he has a compact powerful swing that should translate pretty quickly to college pitching.
His twin brother Beau is (obviously) pretty similar to Bryce but plays in the outfield. Nether guy has the big size, blazing speed nor the "tools" that jump off the page at the scouts, so I don't believe the draft is a threat with them. However, both Beau and Bryce look plenty capable to be excellent hitters at the college level. They both remind me of other guys with similar skills that came to LSU without much of a sniff from the pro scouts out of high school such as Ryan Schimpf, Blake Dean or Mason Katz. Beau enjoyed a fantastic senior season, hitting 396 with 12 home runs, 43 RBI , 58 runs scored, and he also stole 37 bases. He's a candidate for the Maxpreps National Player of the Year Award.
So the best case scenario, which isn't terribly unrealistic, is that LSU loses Nola and Broussard from the current roster and only Bobby Bradley from the Signing Class. The worst case scenario is that LSU loses Nola, Broussard, Hale, Moore and Laird from the current roster along with four of the five pitchers signed as well as Deichmann, Bradley and one of the others. What's likely to happen is something in between those two extremes, and I tend to think it will be a lot closer to the first one that the last.
And if that's true, then LSU's 2015 roster may be one of the deepest I can remember, both at the plate and on the mound, in a very long time. It may lack a true superstar like Aaron Nola, but the quantity of top shelf talent should be as good as any team in the country. Here is what we could be looking at for a lineup:
Scivicque should probably take over the everyday catching duties, but Moore could obviously continue to do some catching and his value may increase with these new baseballs since he's got some pretty good pop. Chris Chinea might continue to catch as well or possibly be the full-time designated hitter.
If Moore is catching or not playing against a lefty pitcher, we could see Danny Zardon playing some more first base. If Bobby Bradley is around, he could earn some playing time at first base too, as could Bryce Jordan. If Moore leaves for the draft, then Hale probably becomes your first baseman with Robertson, Deichman and Zardon the leaders to win jobs somewhere at 2B and 3B.
Hale looks like the easy choice at second base, but I suspect Kramer Robertson will improve a great deal this offseason and come back ready to really contribute. His swing is right there, and since he had a big double against Arkansas on April 12, he has hit .296. Robertson may be a utility infielder and the number one guy off the bench. Or we could see Hale play some first base when Moore sits, allowing Robertson to play second base against left handers. It's not out of the question for Hale to DH while Robertson plays every day, either.
Of course, Alex Bregman will be at shortstop.
Deichmann seems like the easy choice to replace Christian Ibarra at third base. Assuming he is who we think he is, LSU will need his stick in the lineup. Danny Zardon's natural position is at third base, and he'll compete for the spot too.
Then you've got Grayson Byrd and Austin Bain providing even more depth or possibly stepping up to earn consistent playing time.
The starting outfield seems pretty set with Stevenson, Fraley and Laird. I doubt we'll see any of those guys come out of the lineup against left handed pitching next year. Cade Stone, Chris Sciambra, Jared Foster, and Beau Jordan will be the backups.
On the mound, competition will be intense. Obviously, Jared Poche looks to be the one sure thing heading into next year. After him, you'll have a number of guys looking to earn a spot in the weekend rotation, including several that are returning from injury.
Russell Reynolds was enjoying an impressive freshman campaign in 2013 before suffering an injury that caused him to miss the rest of that season and all of 2014. In 2013, he only pitched 19 innings, but that included four starts and he allowed just a .176 batting average along with a 1.89 ERA. He's pretty much full strength now and should be completely ready to go by the fall.
Hunter Newman also put together an impressive freshman season in 2013, and he was gaining steam when the season ended. He ended the year starting some mid-week games for LSU and started one against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. In his last three starts, he pitched 12 innings while allowing no earned runs and just three hits.
Big right hander Troy Whitty, Jesse Stallings and lefty Christian Palaez all missed their freshman seasons in 2014 due to injuries. Stallings and Palaez are probably bullpen guys but Whitty potentially has starter stuff.
Kyle Bouman will return as an option as a starter or maybe as the mid-week starter and long relief guy, similar to the role that Brent Bonvillain played in 2013. Parker Bugg is a guy that is likely to fill out his frame a bit, get stronger, and return with a few more MPH on his fastball. If that happens, you could want him starting games on weekends for you too. All of LSU's signees potentially have starting ability and could make an impact with Marshall, Godfrey and Latz seeming the most likely to me.
Other key bullpen guys like Zac Person, Alden Cartwright and Hunter Devall, should return too. The closer spot will likely be totally up for grabs. Last summer, nobody had any idea who would close for LSU in 2014, but Joe Broussard emerged. It will be interesting to see who emerges next spring.