MLB Draft Preview: Infielders

Thank you all for you wonderful comments.

To read part one of the series, highlighting Right-Handed pitchers, go here. To read about the Left-Handed pitchers, go here. And yesterday’s column looked at the Outfielders.

Today, we’ll see the prominent infielders. And when I say infielders, I’m including catchers.

If you have been reading mock drafts, you’ve seen the names Zach Cox and Yasmani Grandal come up often. Infield is an interesting position grouping. The first two players off the board will be infielders.

Similarly, the Mets are set at three of the four basepath positions. Four if you plan for Tejada/Havens/Flores to someday take the position.

Anyway here are the top infielders.

Bryce Harper: Consensus number 1. Lord Boras doesn’t want him to be a catcher, but that’s where his bat is most valuable.

Manny Machado: Constantly compared to A-Rod. Will go second overall.

Zach Cox: Okay, this guy has been linked to the Mets often. If you Google a few mock drafts, you’ll see many of them have the Mets taking Cox. Cox plays 3B and 2B. Sooooo…what’s so special about him that the Mets would draft at a position we (may) have filled?

Make no mistake, when you draft Cox, it’s for his bat, not his glove. Cox is an average fielder, not good, not bad. Cox is a draft eligible Sophomore from Arkansas who has seen his batting average of .266 in 2009 rise to .428 this year. His OBP went from .342 to .514 in that span. He also cut his K’s significantly while increasing his BB rate. So did he just open the door to his potential, or is it a bit fluky.

He has power, but I don’t trust it. He’s hit very few HR’s at Arkansas to be considered a real power bat. His HR actually went down while his percentages increase. He doesn’t hit many doubles either, even when you compensate for a college season being shorter. Citi Field will not help him at all.

As for the average, the enormous jump spooks me a little. Was he playing below his talent in his first year? Was he playing out of his mind in the second?  The real Cox is somewhere in the middle, but I don’t see it as enough to justify him. I see him hitting for a good average, above .300, but not a game-changing player.

In Monday’s Righty preview, I liked Deck McGuire as being a safe, quick-to-the-majors, but low-ceiling pick. That is a comparison with Cox. He shouldn’t take too long to make it to the majors, and he will actually be a decent, stable player.  But pitchers and hitters are not the same.

This may be the only player that I have a significant difference with the other scouts and analysts, and what do I know, but I do not like this pick. I see his bat as good but not great. He rises from being in a weak draft class, but there are better players out there. He will not be the best player available, if you subscribe to that theory of drafting. I may be too harsh, but I see Daniel Murphy with better bat speed.

I will support him if the Mets do draft him, and who knows, I may be dead wrong in 5 years, but I don’t think he’s a good 7th overall pick.

BTW: Even though I’ve been quite negative, he actually would become our best hitting 2B prospect if drafted.

Yasmani Grandal: Grandal has generated quite a bit of buzz on this site, and for good reason. Grandal is the best college catcher on the board (I don’t count Harper as college). Grandal led the ACC in batting average with .428, and 13 HR’s. Grandal, just like Cox above, had a breakout year, and significantly improved on his percentage stats. Grandal, a Junior at Miami, is a switch hitting catcher, who is better from the left side. When he makes it to the majors, his power will come from the left. It’s possible that he could abandon hitting right-handed, but I believe that whoever drafts him will train his right side to be a steady contact hitter. Look at Lance Berkman: Berkman is clearly much better in avg. and power from the left side, but he’s .265 as a right-handed hitter. Not that great, but good enough that pitchers must respect his ability to hit.

The trait that teams look for in a Catcher is defense. Grandal is good defensively. He has a strong arm, but he will need to work at throwing runners out. His defense behind the plate is good. He’s not going to get passed balls, and he can catch throws at home as long as they’re in the neighborhood of home. His defense will need to be honed in the minors, but he has the tools to make runners respect his arm.

Why is Grandal better than Cox, even though they both had statistical surges in their final college years? For one, Grandal has another year of college in his belt, so there has been more evidence of progression. Cox will hit for a better average, but I think Grandal will have more power. I also see Grandal’s defense being better in the long run.

He will not be .300 hitter in the majors, but he will have good power. He should have a better OBP that Rod Barajas. At best, he could be a poor man’s Matt Wieters. He won’t have close to the stats that Wieters will, and Wieters will always be better defensively, but Grandal will hold his own as a switch-hitter, and as a defensive presence.

At worst, he’s a switch hitter with the same HR numbers as Rod Barajas and better percentages. At worst, you may need a veteran defensive backup, like Henry Blanco to cover him in the early season.

As you can imagine, drafting Grandal would mean Josh Thole has just become expendable. Grandal, though he shouldn’t take long in the minors if all goes well, will be at least two plus years away. ETA: 2012-2013.

Those are really the two infielders you should know for the top 7. Let’s take a look at three more, though.

Yordy Cabrera: A SS out of High School. Cabrera hits for power, and will need to work on his average and making contact. He may not be good defensively at SS, but he should be able to handle himself. I love the name “Yordy.” In seriousness, I see a .280 player with 20+ HR’s.

Christian Colon: Has some power but that’s not the focus of his game. Has some speed, but not a focus. The Junior from Cal-State Fullerton makes the routine plays routinely at SS, and hits for contact with a good eye. Could have a long, good but unspectacular career. Safe pick.

Kolbrin Vitek: A very good pure hitting 2B. The Junior from Ball St. can swipe a few bases too, but he will be drafted for his batting average. Good, but not great defensively.