KATOH’s Thoughts on the First-Round Picks

In an attempt to better quantify the meaningfulness of college baseball stats, I recently applied my KATOH methodology to college baseball players. You can read about the details of my methodology, my findings and some of my projections over at The Hardball Times. My piece on college hitters went up on Friday, while I dropped my analysis of college pitchers on Monday.

Now, using the KATOH models I developed, let’s take a closer look at the 13 college players who were selected in the first round of yesterday’s draft. I stopped short of including the players taken in the compensation or competitive balance rounds, but I’ll address many of these players — along with those taken in the next few rounds — in the next week or so.

Please note that my KATOH forecasts for hitters tend to run a bit higher than the ones for pitchers. For this reason, I recommend you compare hitters’ projections to only hitters, and pitchers’ projections to only pitchers.

1. Dansby Swanson, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

As many anticipated, the Arizona Diamondbacks took Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson first overall. KATOH agrees with the industry consensus that Swanson will be pretty darn good. Thanks to his .348/.441/.648 showing, my system pegs him for 6.1 WAR through age-28. Among the college hitters projected to go in the first two rounds, only Alex Bregman and Andrew Benintendi topped that figure. It’s hard to go wrong drafting a shortstop with Swanson’s offensive ability, especially in the power department.


2. Alex Bregman, SS, Houston Astros

Swanson looks very good statistically, but Bregman was the KATOH favorite in the 2015 draft. His 11.2 forecasted WAR was the highest among draft-eligible college bats. Bregman may not have Swanson’s power, but he compensates by excelling in other areas. The LSU product struck out just 7% of the time this past year, and stole a whopping 37 bases in 63 games. Skill sets like that are generally precursors of good things, especially coming from the shortstop position. However, KATOH doesn’t know that Bregman’s defense may force him to move off of shortstop in the long-term, which would cut into his value.


4. Dillon Tate, RHP, Texas Rangers

Dillon Tate was the first arm off the board in the draft, and he’s certainly a good one. Tate’s 1.4 projected WAR through age-28 was one of the highest marks among college pitchers. Working out of UC Santa Barbara’s rotation, the hard-throwing right-hander held opposing hitters to just a 2.26 ERA. His 2.4 BB/9 wasn’t great, but he made up for it by whiffing 9.7 K/9 and by allowing very few hits.


6. Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins

Tyler Jay, the first southpaw taken in last night’s draft, pitched almost exclusively in relief at Illinois. However, given his three quality pitches, most expect the Twins to test the waters with him as a starter. KATOH doesn’t like that his strikeout numbers fell short of elite while working out of the bullpen in the Big 10 Conference. As a result, it forecasts him for just 0.8 WAR through age-28.


7. Andrew Benintendi, OF, Boston Red Sox

Red Sox draftee Andrew Benintendi’s 2015 campaign earned him very high marks from my KATOH system, culminating in a projected 8.6 WAR through age-28. The University of Arkansas outfielder posted solid plate-discipline numbers, hit for gobs of power and put up good stolen-base numbers in the SEC this year. KATOH also likes that Benintendi’s only a sophomore. Benintendi’s younger than most draft-eligble players, and doesn’t turn 21 until next month.


8. Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox

Carson Fulmer stayed on the board a bit longer than expected last night before the White Sox nabbed him with the eighth overall pick. KATOH really likes what the Fulmer did last season, when he posted an excellent 12.0 K/9 from Vandy’s rotation. His 3.6 BB/9 gives KATOH some pause, so his walks will be something to monitor. But, with a projected 1.2 WAR through age-28, KATOH still likes him better than most other pitchers who came off the board last night.


9. Ian Happ, 2B, Chicago Cubs

The Cubs may have a glut of young infielders in their organization, but that didn’t stop them from taking college second baseman Ian Happ with their first pick. Happ hits for power and draws walks, but KATOH’s a bit turned off by the rest of his game. In particular, his 19% strikeout rate is a little scary, and makes him something of a three true outcomes hitter. As a result, KATOH foresees just 1.0 WAR through age-28.


16. James Kaprielian, RHP, New York Yankees

Alex Bregman was KATOH’s stand-out hitter, but James Kaprielian was the creme of the crop on the pitching side. His projected 2.9 WAR was the highest of all pitchers taken in the first round. The 6-foot-3 righty posted solid stats across the board at UCLA, pitching to a 2.02 ERA and a 9.6 K/9. It also helped his cause that he played in the Pac-12 conference, which does a fine job of churning out big leaguers according to my model.


19. Kevin Newman, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kevin Newman is another Pac-12 player who put up excellent numbers in college, and is therefore adored by KATOH. Newman’s biggest long suit is his ability to put the ball in play. He struck in a mere 5% of his plate appearances at Arizona last year, which enabled him to flirt with a .400 batting average. Throw in that he plays shortstop and steals bases, and there’s an awful lot to like here. Newman’s projected 5.6 WAR through age-28 ranked fourth among draft-eligible college bats.


20. Richie Martin, SS, Oakland Athletics

Richie Martin was the sixth shortstop — and the fourth of the college variety — taken within the first 20 picks last night. However, unlike the other three college shortstops, Martin didn’t have a stand-out statistical performance. His pedestrian power and strikeout numbers at the University of Florida yield an unspectacular forecast of 1.3 WAR through age-28.


24. Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Although he wields a mid-90s fastball and an excellent curve, Walker Buehler’s statistical performance hasn’t quite matched up with his stuff. Relative to other SEC pitchers, Buehler’s 9.3 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 at Vanderbilt were both closer to good than great. His KATOH projection of 0.4 WAR was the lowest of any pitcher drafted in the first round.


25. D.J. Stewart, OF, Baltimore Orioles

D.J. Stewart makes his bones by hitting homers and drawing walks. The Florida State outfielder belted 15 homers and posted a Bonds-ian 23% walk rate in the ACC this year, which resulted in a robust .318/.500/.593 batting line. On the downside, Stewart’s 16% strikeout rate is higher than you’d like to see from a first-round pick. His projection of 1.1 WAR through age-28 would have come in a bit higher had he come out of the Pac-12 or the SEC.


26. Taylor Ward, C, Los Angeles Angels

KATOH’s not at all impressed with Fresno State catcher Tyler Ward. Ward’s 2015 strikeout and walk numbers were respectable, but his overall offensive performance was very run-of-the-mill, resulting in a .304/.413/.486 offensive showing. The fact that he put up those numbers in the non-elite Mountain West Conference — rather than the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, or ACC — also hurts his cause.

In fairness, Ward’s a catch-and-throw guy, who’s supposed to be quite the defender behind the plate. KATOH knows nothing of Ward’s defensive acumen — other than the fact that he plays catcher — so it surely underrates him in that regard. Still, regardless of what he’s capable of behind the plate, it’s hard to get excited about a guy who puts up a sub-.900 OPS as a junior in the Mountain West Conference. Ward’s KATOH forecast rounds to 0.0 WAR.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Hey Chris. What does KATOH think about Thomas Eshelman?


Scroll down about halfway to the table with the players here:

KATOH had him as one of the best college pitchers in the group.