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ESPN MLB Insider, UCF Alum Kiley McDaniel Opines on the Latest Pro Knights

McDaniel talked about now-former Knights pitchers Jeff Hakanson and Trevor Holloway in an interview with Black and Gold Banneret on Tuesday

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Kiley McDaniel was ESPN’s lead analyst during its 2020 MLB Draft coverage last week.
Allen Kee / ESPN Images

Last week’s MLB Draft gave short shrift to Jeff Hakanson. Throughout the two days of coverage, the telecasts on ESPN and MLB Network seemed to analyze each of the 160 players drafted with some amount of depth.

But right after Hakanson was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays in the fifth round on Thursday night, the draft took a commercial break. ESPN didn’t say anything about him, and he got all of about 10 seconds of attention on MLB Network, which consisted of a generic height-weight-position summary.

I’ll look past the fact that his last name is pronounced HAYK-in-son, not HAK-in-son, because I am guilty of that mistake many times over, including while having my expletive-laden freakout once he was drafted.

So, what does the baseball scouting community think of Hakanson as well as well as the second UCF Knight who has chosen to go pro, right-handed pitcher Trevor Holloway? If you have to choose just one person to answer that question, you can’t choose anyone better than ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, especially for the purposes of this site.

Not only is McDaniel an insider, ESPN’s lead analyst for the draft, a scouting guru who has worked for four MLB teams and a recently published author of a book largely about scouting, he is also a UCF graduate, class of 2007.

Due to the heavily shortened season and the Knights’ lack of elite draft prospects, McDaniel admits he didn’t make it out to John Euliano Park to see any Knights in person. But after talking with an area scout who liked Hakanson, he got a full rundown prior to the draft of what the 6-foot reliever possesses: “It’s 92-95 (miles per hour with his fastball). It’s pretty TrackMan friendly. Pretty good breaking ball. It’s funky. He throws strikes. Lots of swinging strikes. But the stuff isn’t loud enough. There’s not enough track record. You just don’t quite have all the things there.”

While that may not sound like a glowing report, McDaniel thinks Hakanson can reside in a major league bullpen if things break right for him.

“In a best-case scenario, this is roughly what guys that are middle relievers in the big leagues look like,” he said. “... And the stuff is roughly what big leaguers have. And you don’t have to tweak him a lot; you don’t have to change his grip on his fastball or anything like that in a meaningful way. So, this definitely is a guy that in a normal draft I think would have gotten a lot of attention in Rounds 5 and 6, and then maybe even in Rounds 10 through 15 as an over-slot guy that people really like.

“Obviously, this year, a lot of teams were looking for college relievers to take under slot in the fifth round, so he just happened to be the type of player that I think actually had more demand this year than he might have had in other years.”

When the topic switched to Holloway, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Yankees on Sunday, McDaniel brought up the name of Levi Thomas as a comparison. Thomas is a right-handed pitcher out of Troy University who was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the fourth round last week.

“He’s, like, four pitches, slightly above-average but close to average stuff, and just pitchability and funk and deception and things like that,” McDaniel said. “Holloway, I think, is a slightly lesser version of that, where it’s maybe fringe stuff instead of slightly above-average stuff, and throws strikes.

“If you think you can improve him a little bit, then there’s a chance [Holloway] gets to the upper levels of the minors and sort of gives him a chance to get up [to the majors]. But these undrafted free agents, especially on the college side, the idea is more that these are guys that are good guys to fill out a minor league roster, that they’ve got a shot to get up to the upper minors, get on a 40-man roster, maybe reach the big leagues.

“But I would guess one or two, maybe three, max, of these undrafted free agents will actually get to Triple-A and the big leagues and up at that level. So you are just kind of looking for qualities you like. And for Holloway, I think it’s a lot of non-tools things like pitchability, feel for the game, coachability and things like that.”

This covered a small portion of a 40-minute conversation with McDaniel, who also talked about how going to UCF helped facilitate his baseball journey, his memories of UCF athletics from his days as a student, and the question that he is fielding at a near constant frequency now: What are the chances we will have MLB games this year?

Listen to this week’s edition of the Black and Gold Banneret Podcast to hear the full interview.