This is the first piece in our “Early Draft Preview” series. To get things kicked off, I’ll take a look at some of my favorite prospects in this year’s player pool. Most of these players figure unlikely to fall to the Royals, barring any major changes, but it’s still convenient to get a feel of the best this 2018 draft class has to offer.
Kumar Rocker, RHP, North Oconee HS (GA)
6’5 250 lbs
I say with a fair build of confidence that Kumar Rocker is the most athletically gifted pitcher I have ever seen. Son of former NFL defensive tackle Tracy Rocker, he takes on a similar build to that of a football player. With as large a frame as he has, it is easy to envision a top-of-the-rotation, workhouse arm.
Watching Rocker throw baseballs is a fun hobby of mine. It is bizarre how easy he makes 98 MPH look. Working out of a quick 3/4 arm slot, his fastball runs with above-average deception, movement, and velocity, typically sitting at around 95-98 MPH.
It doesn’t end with monstrous fastball too. Rocker also possesses a hard slider that usually runs at around 84-85 MPH and a hard upper-80s changeup. So if the fastball isn’t working, guess what, there’s two above-average, swing-and-miss secondaries coming right at you.
The future bodes well for Rocker too. His delivery looks really clean (something hard to find with high school arms) and he generally repeats it well. Add this into his huge frame, and it isn’t hard to vision Rocker becoming a workhorse on the mound.
The buildup has long surrounded Rocker. He has been on MLB Draft radars for years now and last summer, when his hype peaked, he was being dubbed one of the better MLB Draft prospects in recent memory and was considered a good bet to go 1-1. But with inconsistent showings in velocity, Rocker has fallen slightly down the draft boards, currently being mocked in 8-12 range.
It seems unlikely such a high-potential guy like Rocker will fall to the Royals at pick #18. Barring injury or just a total collapse of draft stock, expect Rocker to be long gone before the Royals make their first selection.
Nick Madrigal, SS/2B, Oregon State
5’8 160 lbs
Now, as it presently stands, Oregon State middle-infielder Nick Madrigal is my favorite player in the draft. Madrigal will be heading into his junior season this spring, looking to continue his domination over Pac-12 arms.
- Freshman: 49 G, .333/.380/.456, 65 H, 11 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 15 BB, 14 SO, 8 SB
- Sophomore: 60 G, .380/.449/.532, 90 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 27 BB, 16 SO, 16 SB
Madrigal owns a nice amount of high-ceiling and high-floor to make him the ideal MLB draft prospect. Being one of the better contact hitters in all of college baseball should make the transition to professional baseball a relatively easy path.
The home run numbers might not be there with Madrigal right now, but his power should be something to keep an eye on down the road. Right now, he utilizes a beautiful line drive approach at the plate, using an elite combination of bat speed and hand-eye-coordination to rack up the hits. If he can build upon his 160 lbs frame and start turning a lot of those line drives into fly balls, 20 home runs isn’t out of the question.
Barring a disastrous junior season, Madrigal shouldn’t be close to being available for the Royals at #18. He looks like solid bat to land top five.
Greyson Jenista, 1B/OF, Wichita State
6’4 240 lbs
The pride of Eudora, Kansas, Greyson Jenista has busted into possible first round status after two mammoth seasons at Wichita State.
- Freshman: 57 G, .326/.413/.471, 56 H, 8 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 31 BB, 27 SO, 2 SB
- Sophomore: 58 G, .320/.413/.509, 74 H, 14 2B, 1 3B, 9 HR, 32 BB, 46 SO, 6 SB
Jenista generates his power with above-average bat speed, tons of strength, and a fairly sizable leg kick. He profiles to be an extreme fly ball hitter, frequently hitting the bottom-half of the ball with his silky-smooth swing, often crushing balls to the pull-side.
Jenista isn’t the fastest runner, but he gets the job done in the field and on the base paths with good instincts. His defensive profile mostly fits him with first base, though the outfield is definitely not out of the question, as with some more experience, handling the corners shouldn’t be much of an issue.
It was a strong 2017 Cape Code League showing (.310/.391/.401 in 39 games) that led to Jenista finding himself near the top of draft lists. Right now, he’s probably slated to go more towards the end of the first round, which would surely be in play for the Royals, but another solid showing in 2018 could easily drive his stock into the top ten.
Brady Singer, RHP, Florida
6’5″ 180 lbs
Possibly the favorite to be the Detroit Tigers selection with the first overall pick, Brady Singer rebuilt his draft stock with a big-time season at Florida last year. A highly ranked prospect coming out of Eustis High School in Florida, Singer opted to go at the University of Florida rather than signing with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2015 after being taken in the second round.
The early results at Florida weren’t thrilling, as Singer posted a 4.95 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 3.5 BB/9 in 43.1 innings, mostly pitching out of the Gators bullpen. Come sophomore season, Singer took back up a starting role and it’s safe to say he handled it well. In 126 innings last year, Singer put up a 3.21 ERA, 9.2 K.9, and 2.3 BB/9.
After watching some video, I know one thing. Singer has a very offbeat delivery. Working from a lower arm slot, the action he puts on his arm is vicious.
I dig the repertoire Singer holds. He’s got a fastball/slider combo that is to drool over. He commands both of these pitches consistently down in the zone, inducing a high amount of ground balls. He usually sits in the low-90s with his fastball, getting some insane sinking action on it.
I’m very intrigued to watch Singer develop as a prospect. You have to think there could possibly be some room for added velocity, considering lanky frame. The question is… will his arm hold up?
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Florida
6’4″ 170 lbs
The second right-handed pitcher from Florida featured in our early top draft prospects preview, Jackson Kowar might be one of the more advanced arms in the draft.
Working with a upper-90s heater, Kowar has superb arm speed that allows for a low-effort delivery. He might have the best changeup in the draft too.
Kowar is enticing arm to keep tabs on. If he can improve his command (shouldn’t be too hard with the way he repeats his delivery), don’t be surprised to see this projectable arm go top five this June.
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Forsyth Central HS (GA)
6’6″ 200 lbs
In simple terms of “stuff,” Ethan Hankins is easily the best player in this class. He possesses a fastball that has reached 98 MPH, swing-and-miss secondary offerings (curveball, changeup), and projectable command with a fine-tuned delivery.
The movement Hankins can get on his pitches is bonkers. Pure nasty.
Very polished for a prep-arm, Hankins has as decent a shot as anyone at going first overall this year (which would make him the first high school righty ever taken at that pick). It’s probably between Rocker and Hankins for the highest-ceiling player in this draft. I’m excited to see how their stocks play out in the coming months.
Others to watch: Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS (AZ); Nander De Sedas, SS, Montverde Academy (FL); Brice Turang, SS, Louisiana State; Nolan Gorman, 3B, O’Connor HS (AZ); Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha West HS (WI)
Photo Credits: Florida Athletics