We’re some three weeks away from Major League Baseball’s First-Year Players Draft, during which droves of high school and college baseball players will be chosen by MLB organizations to fill their farm systems. Most all of the draftees will never make it further than the low minors. A handful of the college guys, however, are already too advanced for short-season or instructional ball. Mind you, this group is merely a tiny fraction of the overall draft class — there aren’t many guys worth noting for fantasy baseball purposes just yet. But there are some. So for the next few installments of this Scouting the Unknown series — which is typically reserved for already-pros — I’m going to highlight some draft prospects who could be bringing fantasy relevance to the not-so-distant future.
Braden Shipley | RHP, Nevada
Gifted pitchers tend to arrive in the majors a bit more quickly than the hitters. 2012 first-rounders like Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha are already on the cusp of breaking through in the bigs, and both could be making impacts in fantasy ball this year. Braden Shipley is one of the few 2013 draft prospects who could find himself on the mixed league radar a year from now. A University of Nevada product, Shipley displays a rare combination among pitching prospects: supreme athleticism and plenty of polish to go with it. His fastball is a plus offering, siting low- to mid-90s, touching elite velocity on occasion. His changeup, though, is the pitch that stands out — probably the best change in the draft class, and he throws it with confidence and great deception. Reports on his breaking stuff are mixed, but most scouts are optimistic that his hard curve will blossom into a third plus weapon. At 6-3, 190, Shipley’s frame projects well as a starter. A mid-rotation gig seems the most likely destination for him, but there’s front-end potential here if development goes well. Expect Shipley to be drafted within the first 15 picks.
Kris Bryant | 3B/OF, San Diego
It’s true that college pitchers tend to push toward the bigs a bit more quickly than hitters, but there are always exceptions. Take Mike Zunino, for instance. Drafted third overall last June, Zunino has climbed through the minors with haste, and will almost certainly surface in Seattle this summer. Kris Bryant is the top college bat in the 2013 draft class, perhaps the best overall bat in the class, regardless of age. Huge power is his best asset (28 HR through 191 AB in 2013), but the rest of his tools at the plate are quite good, too. His career AVG at San Diego sits north of .350, he draws plenty of walks (.506 OBP), and he seldom strikes out. Bryant’s advanced skillset could draw top 5 interest, and it’s extremely doubtful he’ll slip past pick 10. He should be the quickest moving bat in this year’s crop.
Jonathan Gray | RHP, Oklahoma
At 6-4, 235, Jonathan Gray throws hard — really hard. He’s comfortable sitting in the upper-90s, and he cranks it up to the triple digits with ease. The heater is an easy plus-plus pitch, and it only serves to amplify the effectiveness of the slider and the change — both solid offerings with plus potential. Altogether, the repertoire is a wonderful whiff generator (112/19 K/BB in 94 IP this season). Provided his command stays sharp as he ventures into pro ball, Gray’s pure stuff could have success in the upper levels right away. A Class-A assignment to begin the year seems more likely, and probably more prudent, but I expect to see him reach Double-A by year’s end. I also expect him to be off the board before pick 3. Cubs and Astros fans should be excited at the prospect of landing this one.