As a Chicago Cubs fan and an MLB draft aficionado, these are the best of times, as well as the worst of times. As much as I hate seeing my team lose year after year, it’s exciting to see them get a top pick in the draft and further build one of the best farm systems in baseball. Having said that, I would much rather see them winning and picking at the end of the first round. That’s clearly not going to happen this year as they are currently 15-27 (.347) and the proud owners of the worst record in baseball. So, putting the 2014 MLB draft on the back burner for a moment, mostly because I am burnt out on covering it for the past 12 months, let’s take a look at some guys who should be at the top of the draft boards a year from now.
Now, I fully understand much will happen over the next 12 months, and there absolutely will be players at the top who are not mentioned here. There is also the strong possibility that some of these guys could have setbacks or fizzle out, leaving them off the top lists. For now, here are my top 25 for next year, in no particular order:
Mike Matuella, RHP, Duke
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Matuella has everything you want when looking at a potential 1.1 player. At 6’-6” and 225 pounds, the right-hander has the size of an imposing ace. With a fastball that touches 97 mph and sits 93-96, a potential plus 12-6 curveball that sits 79-82 mph with great depth, and a tight, 83-86 mph slider that also shows plus potential, he has the stuff you want in an ace. He also adds a 87-89 mph change-up that is already a decent offering, rounding out a four-pitch mix. Most importantly, he has the results to back it all up. Through 51.2 innings this season, he has a 2.61 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 65 K/12 BB. He is holding opponents to a .174 BAA and has allowed just one home run. This is a kid you are going to hear a ton about in the next 12 months.
Daz Cameron, OF, Eagle’s Landing HS (GA)
A top prospect list wouldn’t be complete unless there was an outfielder from Georgia on it. Daz has been a well-known name for just about his whole life as his dad, Mike Cameron, was a 17-year MLB veteran known for his power, speed and defensive abilities. Like his dad, Daz is a gifted athlete with plus speed, a strong arm and great instincts — all of the ingredients to stick at center field and be a great defender. Offensively, he has explosive bat speed and raw, developing power. His speed plays up on the base paths and he is one of the best power/speed players available in the 2015 MLB draft with some silly upside. Committed to Florida State.
Nathan Kirby, LHP, Virginia
Obviously, this would make me very happy. Taking the bias out for a fellow Kirby, however, he has some of the best stuff in his class, and his upside as a power arm from the left side makes him a legitimate candidate for 1.1. The 6’-3”, 190 pound southpaw has a plus curveball, a fastball that sits in the low/mid 90s with late life and movement, as well as a change-up that is rapidly getting better. He has great command of his stuff and can be unhittable at times, as evidenced by his April 4 outing against Pittsburgh in which he struck out 18 in a no-hitter. After posting a 6.06 ERA, 1.72 WHIP and 37 K/13 BB over 32.2 innings as a freshman, Kirby dominated the New England Collegiate Baseball League, striking out 81 over 54 innings with a 2.32 ERA. Through 13 starts this season, he is 8-1 with a 1.58 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 91 K/20 BB over 85.1 innings. He is holding opponents to a .180 BAA and has allowed just eight extra-base hits. Kirby was also named to the 2014 Collegiate National Team.
Alex Bregman, SS, LSU
I have been enamored with Bregman for years and would love to see him wearing a Cubs uniform someday. Aside from his talents, he is an extremely high-character kid with great instincts for the game, and he is a leader in every sense of the word. He is an alumni of Team USA Baseball and always seems to come through in the clutch. As a freshman, he hit .369/.417/.546 over 67 games with 18 doubles, seven triples, six home runs and stole 16 bases. He drew 24 walks to just 25 strikeouts, showing an advanced approach at the plate. This year, he is hitting .292/.374/.420 with 12 doubles, five home runs, 11 stolen bases and has drawn 24 walks to just 19 strikeouts through 55 games. He has all the tools to stick at shortstop, but even if he moves over to second base, his offensive potential and intangibles are what have him in talks for 1.1.
Justin Hooper, LHP, De La Salle HS (CA)
Hooper recently committed to UCLA, but if he keeps progressing at his current rate, he will never step foot on campus as he could be a legitimate top-five player. At 6’-6” and 220 pounds, the southpaw has a lean, projectable body and a quick arm. He has added some serious velocity on his fastball over the past year and now sits 90-93 mph and can touch 96 mph. He adds a 74-76 mph curveball with hard break and his change-up is still developing. With his size, easy delivery, fast arm and projection, he will be fun to follow for the next year. His command has been a bit shaky this year as he has 48 K/31 BB over 35.1 innings, but he has allowed just 15 hits, showing easy swing-and-miss stuff.
Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (FL)
Rodgers gets a lot of praise for his all around game and instincts for the game. Defensively, he has great actions at shortstop and could stick there due to his strong arm, soft hands and athleticism. He has above-average speed (6.84/60) and is one of those players who makes the game look easy. Offensively, he has very good bat speed and generates a lot of power from his 6’-1”, 180 pound frame. As he matures, he should gain more power and he already uses the whole field with consistent contact. Through 22 games, he is hitting .397/.488/.823 with five doubles, eight home runs and 10 walks to 10 strikeouts. Committed to Florida State.
Juan Hillman, LHP, Olympia HS (FL)
A teammate of 2014 projected top-five pick Nick Gordon, Hillman is a 6’-2”, 190 pound southpaw with plus command and a fastball that can touch 92 mph with more in the tank due to his athleticism and quick arm. He adds a potential plus 1-7 curveball with great depth and his change-up is already a solid offering. He has great mound presence and attacks hitters on both sides of the plate. Over 57.2 innings this year, he had 79 K/12 BB and allowed just 28 hits. Committed to UCF.
Ryan Johnson, OF, College Station HS (TX)
It’s all about upside with Johnson. At 6’-3” and 200 pounds, the left-handed hitter has a sweet stroke and massive power potential — maybe the best in his class. He is still learning on the defensive end but he has a strong arm and is a good enough athlete to stick in a corner outfield spot. Through 30 games this season, he is hitting .494/.580/.865 with five doubles, five triples, six home runs and has drawn 12 walks to 13 strikeouts, showing good pitch recognition. He could have a monster senior season. Committed to TCU.
D.J. Stewart, OF, Florida State
Stewart may be the best all-around hitter available in the 2015 MLB draft. At 6’-0” and 230 pounds, the left-handed hitter has an advanced approach and tremendous power. His stance is something to behold as he crouches very low but it works for him due to his bat speed and pitch recognition. He is a good athlete but is most likely headed to left field at the next level as his arm is just average. His bat, however, is elite and the track record is there. Through 48 games, he is hitting .362/.478/.588 with 20 doubles, seven home runs and 36 walks to 30 strikeouts. As a freshman, he hit .360/.469/.560 over 60 games with 25 doubles and five home runs.
James Kaprielian, RHP, UCLA
Kaprielian was recently named to the 2014 Collegiate National Team. The 6’-4”, 200 pound right-hander features a classic three-pitch mix headlined by a 91-94 mph and a slider that sits 81-84 mph with sharp bite. His change-up is coming on fast and he has very good command of all three. As a freshman, he posted a 1.55 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and allowed just 19 hits over 40.2 innings with 53 K/24 BB. He then went to the Cape Cod League and had 38 K/6 BB over 26 innings, wowing scouts with his stuff and command. Through 14 starts this season, he has a 2.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 97 K/33 BB over 98 innings, holding opponents to a .205 BAA. He already has the size and arm, if he continues to work on his offspeed stuff, he’s a legitimate candidate for 1.1.
Kyle Tucker, OF, Plant HS (FL)
Call me crazy, but I have a thing for 6’-4” left-handed hitters with tremendous power and an advanced approach at the plate. Like Daz, he has bloodlines as his brother is Houston Astros prospect Preston Tucker. Kyle has shown an incredible ability to swing for the fences while hardly missing a pitch. Over the last two years, he has hit 18 home runs and has struck out just seven times over 51 games. His size suggests even more power will come as he matures and he has great instincts in the outfield. He hit .556/.706/1.185 with nine home runs as a sophomore and is hitting .425/.537/.925 with nine home runs as a junior. Committed to Florida.
John Aiello, SS/3B, Germantown Academy (PA)
A switch-hitter with plus bat speed from both sides, Aiello has a ton of upside and a legitimate shot to stick at shortstop due to his strong arm (93 mph from infield), range and instincts. At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, he would be able to make an easy transition over to third base where the arm and developing power would play well. He shows more present power from the right side but projects to a high-average hitter. He is one of those players that makes the game look easy and is an alumni of Team USA Baseball. Through 21 games, he is hitting .482/.611/.778 with eight doubles, two home runs and 12 walks to nine strikeouts. Committed to Wake Forest.
Kyle Cody, RHP, Kentucky
Another player who is all about upside. If you just look at his numbers, you wouldn’t be impressed as he has 15 K/11 BB over 32 innings. One look at him, however, and you can see why he is on this list. At 6’-7” and 245 pounds, the right-hander is an intimidating figure on the mound and by the time the ball leaves his fingertips it is already halfway to home. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph and his secondary stuff is still under development. With his size, raw stuff and live arm, there is a lot to get excited about.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Vanderbilt
After working out of the pen for his first year and a half for the ‘Dores, Fulmer made his first career start on April 19 against Arkansas, tossing six shutout innings without allowing an earned run over his first 29.1 innings as a starter. The 6’0” right-hander can run his fastball up to 98 mph with ease and he adds a wipeout slider. He didn’t need a change-up as a closer but it is a solid offering and getting better. He has worked on his mechanics and he repeats his delivery well with less effort because of it.
Ian Happ, 2B, Cincinnati
A switch-hitter, Happ can rake from both sides due to his excellent bat speed and developing plus power. He also has great speed and a strong arm, giving him all the tools in the book. He was arguably the best offensive player at the Cape Cod League this past summer, hitting .293/.345/.469 with five home runs and 13 stolen bases over 39 games for Harwich, drawing rave reviews from scouts for his all-around play and IQ for the game. As a freshman, he hit .322/.451/.483 over 56 games with 13 doubles, six home runs and stole 25 bases. He has put up nearly identical numbers as a sophomore, hitting .322/.443/.497 through 51 games with 13 doubles, five home runs and 19 stolen bases. He has drawn 32 walks to 35 strikeouts, showing a solid approach at the plate.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, TCU
With an electric fastball that sits 95-98 mph, the 6’-1”, 200 pound right-hander was turning heads over the summer with the Collegiate National Team. He has continued to impress and dominate his peers as the closer for the Horned Frogs, striking out 48 to 10 walks over 30.1 innings, allowing just 14 hits. Aside from his plus fastball, he adds a solid curveball and change-up but the development of those offerings will determine his role as a starter/reliever. A lot of upside and if he gets into the rotation next year, you will hear a lot about him.
Jahmai Jones, OF/2B, Wesleyan HS (GA)
Jones has some of the best bat speed in his class and he oozes potential. He has great speed (6.6/60) and a strong enough arm to remain in center field, although a move to second base could happen. At 6’-0” and 215 pounds, the right-hander makes consistent, hard contact and there is a lot of upside for power as he matures. He could have a monster senior season if he puts everything together. As a sophomore last year, he hit .483 with 14 doubles, nine home runs and 32 RBI. Committed to North Carolina.
Jake Lemoine, RHP, Houston
With a plus slider that sits 82-86 mph with great depth and bite, and a 91-93 mph fastball that can touch 96 mph, Lemoine has two above-average to plus offerings. At 6’-5” and 220 pounds, the right-hander has the size to be a workhorse at the next level but he needs to refine his change-up to be considered this high. Through 14 starts, he has a 2.29 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 80 K/21 BB over 90.1 innings, showing improvement on his command this year. He was named to the Collegiate National Team early this year.
Chris Betts, C/1B, Wilson HS (CA)
A left-handed hitting catcher, Betts uses his excellent bat speed and advanced approach at the plate to spray the ball to all fields. At 6’-1’ and 200 pounds, more power should come as he matures and his offensive potential is ahead of his defense right now. He does have a strong enough arm and the athleticism to stick behind the plate, however, and that would only increase his draft stock. He has stood out for his hitting abilities at many of the top summer events/tournaments. Through 30 games, he is hitting .333/.426/.556 with three doubles, four home runs and 12 walks to 10 strikeouts. Committed to Tennessee.
Kyle Molnar, RHP, Aliso Niguel HS (CA)
The 6’-3”, 200 pound right-hander shows a great fastball/change-up combo with great command. His fastball sits 89-91 mph and can touch 94 mph. His change-up sits 80-82 with great depth and he throws it with confidence and deception. His curveball is inconsistent but also flashes above-average when on. He is a very good athlete who repeats his delivery wellm and there is still room for projection. He had 63 K/12 BB over 60 innings this year. Committed to UCLA.
Stephen Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (TX)
Why not? The younger brother of possible 1.1 this year, Tyler Kolek, Stephen has a big arm himself, touching 93 mph with his fastball. At 6’-3” and 215 pounds, he has a great pitcher’s body and will only get stronger as he continues to grow. He is a better athlete than his brother and there is a lot of projection left with him. He had an up and down year and needs to show more consistency with his command. Through his first three starts, he allowed eight runs on 18 hits over 11 innings with 16 K/10 BB. He then was dominant over his next three starts, tossing 21 shutout innings, striking out 37 to just four walks. Committed to Texas A&M.
Kyle Dean, OF, Poway HS (CA)
At 6’-2” and 200 pounds, Dean is another player with huge upside with the bat as he shows a solid approach at the plate and his excellent bat speed projects to some big time power potential. He is a good athlete with above-average speed and his arm is strong enough to hold down right field where the bat projects well. Through 27 games this year, he is hitting .330/.427/.563 with eight doubles and four home runs. Committed to San Diego.
Walker Buehler, RHP, Vanderbilt
Buehler is a wiry kid with an electric arm. At 6’-1” and 170 pounds, his fastball sits 92-94 mph with late life, and there is room for more as he matures. His curveball shows plus potential with depth and late bite and both his change-up and slider are still developing, giving him a potential four-pitch mix. He never rattles and shows great composure and mound presence. He has posted a 2.31 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 84 K/27 BB over 74 innings, holding opponents to a .220 BAA.
Kyle Funkhouser, RHP, Louisville
At 6’-3” and 205 pounds, the right-hander showed an electric fastball at the Cape Cod League, hitting 97 mph and sitting 92-94 with life. His slider is a solid offering and his change-up is still developing. He has had command issues this season but he features some great swing-and-miss stuff when on. With continued work on his command, and work on his off-speed stuff, he has great potential due to his size and power arm. Through 14 starts, he has a 1.74 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 92 K/51 BB over 93 innings, holding opponents to a .202 BAA.
Nolan Kingham, RHP, Sierra Vista HS (NV)
With a classic three-pitch mix, great size and athleticism, Kingham has everything you want in a future frontline starter. The 6’-4”, 185 pound right-hander has a fresh arm as he was a shortstop his freshman year, and he has touched 93 mph with his fastball and sits 87-90 mph. He adds a 79-82 mph change-up with good feel and a 73-75 mph tight, 11-5 curveball. Considering how fast he has progressed already, there is a ton of upside and he also has the bloodlines thing going for him as his brother is Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand, Nick Kingham. Committed to Texas.
Five more: Josh Staumont, RHP, Azusa Pacific, Thomas Szapucki, LHP, Dwyer HS (FL), Austin Riley, RHP/OF, De Soto Central HS (MS), Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt, Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton
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