The MLB draft is almost here, with the first round on Thursday, and the final rounds finishing on Saturday. Every draft is an exercise in endurance, and no matter how thin the talent pool seems there are talented contributors to be found. However, some drafts it is easier to find contributors.
This is one of the tougher drafts.
The primary culprit is a thin college hitting crop. College hitters are the safest bets to develop. There are some college guys with good sticks, and they rank in the top 10 (as they should), but the next tier of college hitters is virtually non-existent. The trail off is fast and noticeable.
So who do you draft without many safe bets? Well, you either reach for guys without much upside, or you roll the dice in hopes of reaping a bigger reward.
I chose to go for bigger rewards on my list this year. As a result my list features a whopping 19 high school seniors, as well as one JUCO player. This is easily the youngest list I've ever compiled. The days where I only rated college prospects are long gone. The list is still certainly mine though, for better and/or for worse. Even among the prep ranks I have some players lower on my board than most anywhere else, as well as others I am higher on than most. See what you think of my top 33:
33. Josh Hart, CF, Parkview HS (GA) - Georgia always has good prep talent, and this year is no exception. However, Hart might not have received the attention he deserves thanks to the depth in the state. Hart is perceived as a slap-hitter that will go as far as his speed and defense carry him. However, Hart also hit four home runs this year, which doesn't make him a slugger, but it suggests more power than what he's given credit for. Hart has a chance to become a top of the order hitter at premium defensive position.
32. Anfernee Grier, OF, Russell County HS (AL) - Grier hasn't received the same level of buzz that some of the other top prep hitters, but I like what he has to offer. He was one of the more productive high schoolers in the country and his swing is fluid with a nice rhythm to it. It is unclear what position he will end up at, though somewhere in the outfield or second base seem like the leading candidates. Grier's bat profiles well at either position.
31. Hunter Dozier, 2B, Stephen F. Austin - I
haven't gone totally off the deep end. Dozier is a classic pick for my
list, a high-performing college bat from a smaller school. Dozier
currently mans shortstop but seems certain to move off the position. He
has both speed and power, and for the time being a great batting
average. I have some concerns over his walk and strikeout rates,
particularly given the rather low level of competition he has faced. I
think Dozier will have to decide if he's going to be a low-average hitter
with some pop, or more of a contact hitter with speed. Either way, he's
got an interesting mix of tools, particularly in a thin crop of college
30. Robert Kaminsky, LHP, St. Joseph Regional HS (NJ) - Kaminsky has been all over my board as I put it together. On one hand, his production is incredible. I like his breaking ball a ton, and he is from a northern state, traditionally a place where prospects get overlooked. However, Kaminsky is also a bit undersized and only pitches - making me wonder if his athleticism is below some of his two-way prep peers. The size and athleticism questions ultimately pushed him down my board but his strengths can't be ignored.
29. Zach Farmer, LHP, Piketon HS (OH) - Farmer looks to me like a victim of pitching somewhere besides the south. He is a 6'4" southpaw with a fastball that gets into the low 90s and overwhelming production. Farmer has a commitment to Ohio State, and seems to generate plenty of local buzz, but not so much at the national level. Perhaps some of the problem is that there are many good prep lefties in this draft class that are hard to separate, and he simply got lost in the shuffle since he pitched fewer innings as a player in the north. He's in that group of interesting prep lefties for me, obviously.
28. Hunter Green, LHP, Warren East HS (KY) - Green had a very productive senior season, both at the dish and on the mound, though his future is as a pitcher. He has a clean windup, though his arm angle might result in some control issues or notable platoon splits as a professional. Green's stuff and ideal pitching body are enticing though. Basically, he is the quintessential high-risk prep arm that's easy to dream on.
27. Dustin Peterson, INF, Gilbert HS (AZ) - Peterson plays shortstop for the time being but will certainly move off the position. He might settle in at second or third base. Peterson's best tool is his bat. He is the younger brother of DJ Peterson, one of college baseball's best hitters, and a good bet to show up later on this list (hint, hint). Although Peterson has garnered some buzz later in the draft prep process, I still seem to be higher on him than most. I like the bat, plain and simple, and I think he has enough athleticism to work into a decent enough defender somewhere to make his bat a real asset.
26. Hunter Harvey, RHP, Brandys HS (NC) - Harvey is one of the harder throwers in this draft class as he has been clocked in the upper 90s at times. He is also the son of former MLB pitcher Brian Harvey, which likely boosts his stock in some team's eyes. Harvey pairs a looping curveball with his fastball, which at times shows some flashes of brilliance (he gets a batter to duck on one that goes over the plate in the video). As I write Harvey's report here, I wonder why I don't have him ranked next to a few pitchers coming up on the list. The list is real deceptive at this point. Harvey is part of a sizeable pool that's very close to equal in my eyes.
25. Kyle Crockett, LHP, Virginia - Crockett
has a high basement and relatively low ceiling. He is an elite college
reliever, who succeeded in the Cape Cod over the summer. He should be
able to help an MLB bullpen in very short order and carve out an MLB
career as a lefty reliever who is more than a LOOGY. There's value
there, but only so much since he is a bullpen arm.
24. Jordan Paroubeck, CF, Serra HS (CA) - Paroubeck
is overshadowed some by his teammate, first baseman Dominic Smith. Most
have Smith ahead of Paroubeck, but I do not. I like Paroubeck's ability
to switch hit, better athleticism, and chance to play a more premium
defensive position. His offensive numbers are a step below many of the
premium prep batters in this year's draft, but he has two strokes to
develop as a switch hitter. His actions in the box are loose and quick. I
am curious to see what kind of hitter and all-around player he becomes
with some seasoning.
23. Alex Gonzalez, RHP, Oral Roberts - Gonzalez
is a quintessential good college pitching prospect. His statistics are
flawless - few walks, few dingers, lots of strikeouts. His repertoire
has a chance to be MLB average, which is good enough to overpower
college hitters, but not good enough to become a star in the majors. He
had a nice summer in the Cape Cod league, and could move quickly through
the minors before carving out a career in the middle or back end of an
22. Sam Moll, LHP, Memphis - Moll
is a quintessential type of prospect that shows up on my list at some
point. He's got great production but surprisingly little attention. He
had a nice showing in the Cape Cod league over the summer, and backed
that up with a good campaign at Memphis in the spring. He's a lefty to
boot. I see lots to like. Maybe he's a victim of the tough luck that pops up in this short video of him pitching.
21. Braden Shipley, RHP, Nevada - Shipley is higher on many other draft boards thanks to a fastball that reaches the mid to upper-90s. He simply hasn't performed at the high level I'd expect out of his explosive stuff, though he has steadily improved and his quite good numbers. The college game isn't exactly the same as the pro one, but swings and misses are swings and misses. Shipley gets his fair share of them, but top prospects get much more than their fair share.
20. Nick Ciuffo, C, Lexington HS (KY) - Ciuffo's best tool is his bat, which would get him attention at any position, but especially at catcher. There are the usual questions about whether he will stick at catcher or not, but he will decide that with the way he plays as a pro. The bat is promising, though I feel his bat lacks the same kind of thunder that some of the prep bats I have ranked ahead of him possess.
19. Sean Manaea, LHP, Illinois State - Manaea
is a polarizing figure heading into the draft. I land on the upper end,
in case you are wondering. Manaea erupted on the scene with an epic
summer in the Cape Cod league. He struck out an astounding 85 batters in
51.2 innings, allowing only 21 hits. Manaea overpowered hitters with a
mid-90s fastball from a deceptive arm angle. However, this spring,
Manaea's velocity dipped into the upper 80s and low 90s. Some injury
concerns popped up as well, mostly from a rolled ankle. The
disappointing spring cooled buzz around Manaea considerably, and
recently some arm issues popped up in his very last start of the season.
However, I still see a pitcher who struck out over 11 batters per 9
innings without his best stuff that fought through a fluky injury. I
would be willing to gamble on the real Manaea being the overpowering one
from the summer, particularly in this draft, with how thin it is on
players with star potential.
18. Travis Demeritte, 3B, Winder-Barrow HS (GA) - I think Demeritte has a chance to be a mini-steal for whomever drafts him because he hasn't received the publicity he deserves. The attention in Georgia has been on the two phenomenal outfielders in Loganville (though on different teams), Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier. However, Georgia has several intriguing prep prospects and Demeritte is among them. He's got a good bat with plus power and the chance to stick at the hot corner defensively.
17. Trey Ball, LHP, New Castle HS (IN) - Ball, as the linked video suggests, is a two-way prospect. He has a nice stroke with a slight uppercut that suggests good power potential. However, Ball is 6'6", and although he uses a compact stroke with his big frame, tall hitters simply have too large of a strike zone to cover to hit for high averages. However, Ball's tall, lanky frame is great for the mound, where he also excels. Ball's hitting prowess speaks to his overall athletic ability, and he might be a tad underrated since he hails from a northern state, where baseball seasons are much shorter than in the warmer south. Ball is on every team's radar though.
16. Kohl Stewart, RHP, St. Pius X HS (TX) - Most have Kohl Stewart ranked higher than I have him. Part of his problem for me is that he is too good at too many things. Stewart is committed to Texas A&M as a football recruit, where he would be the heir apparent to Johnny Manziel. That's quite the decision Stewart has ahead of him, depending on where he goes in the draft. The reality is that Stewart is a great prospect, with a great arm and biting breaking ball. However, he is still a prep pitcher, and there is an inherent boom-or-bust kind of risk with prep arms. I like Stewart, but I don't love him like some recent prep arms (Archie Bradley comes to mind). I am not sure I would shell out enough cash to sign Stewart away from college football, and that tension weighs him down a bit on my big board. I might not even consider him if I were in an MLB scouting department, not because I don't like him, but just because I probably don't like him enough with his enviable options.
15. Carlos Salazar, RHP, Kerman HS (CA) - I will tell you right now Salazar is the top prep arm on my list. I haven't seen another list with him listed as the top prep arm. I'd say I am going out on a limb with him, but I also feel the prep arms in this draft class are an exceptional mess to rate this year. There's a rather large pool of intriguing guys without huge differences. Salazar tops my list because he is a flame-thrower, reaching the upper 90s, and he also has a big 12-6 curve ball he already flashes a feel for. Salazar features the classic power pitcher combo and his results suggest he already has a good idea of how to use it. He's also wise beyond his years - or at least wise enough to make sure he can't be identified in the baseball team's Harlem Shake video.
14. Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood HS (WA) - McGuire
should be the first local player taken in the draft, and very well
could be the first catcher off the board too. McGuire brings maturity
beyond his years with a nice left-handed stroke and good defensive
skills behind the plate, particularly for his age. McGuire's overall
package with maturity beyond his years gives him a higher basement than
many prep picks, but at the same time it might suggest a lower ceiling. I
ranked some other prep hitters ahead of him in part because they
produced similarly with less refined approaches. That suggests to me
more room for growth in the future. Still, McGuire is a fine prospect
with a real chance to anchor down some franchise's catcher spot for a
long stretch of time.
13. Jon Denney, C, Yukon HS (OK) - There
are some questions about whether Denney can stick behind the dish or
not, but those questions plague pretty much any and every prep catcher.
Denney flashes enough agility and arm strong to suggest he's got a
chance to stick, and he combines that with a nice bat. Denney packs some
good power in a simple stroke. Many have Reese McGuire ranked ahead of
Denney at this point, but Denney's power potential makes him the more
intriguing prospect to me.
12. Riley Unroe, SS, Desert Ridge HS (AZ) - I am higher on Unroe than most, though he is on many top prospect lists. Unroe is a switch-hitter that absolutely raked his senior season. Some think he can stay at shortstop, others think he will have to move. The scouting reports, defensive position (and questions), switch-hitting, and surprising power all remind me of current M's prospect Nick Franklin. I'd let Unroe play himself off shortstop. He's obviously most valuable there, but I think his skillset plays just fine at second or third base.
11. J.P. Crawford, SS, Lakewood HS (CA) - Physically, Crawford reminds me a bunch of Manny Machado, and he looks real similar to me when he's out at shortstop (a good thing). In the batter's box is a different story though. I don't see much power potential in Crawford's swing, and the way he loads has a bit more motion than I prefer to see. With that said, Crawford's production at the plate took a quantum leap forward in his senior season and he's got the kind of body that suggests some more power could come as he matures. Crawford's growth at the plate, along with his potential to develop more power and/or stick at shortstop, are what earned him this high of a ranking. I don't see a star, but I see a player who could be a respectable hitter with good defense at the most premium position on the diamond. That's value.
10. Zane Evans, C, Georgia Tech - I'll
admit I'm going out on a limb placing Evans this high. He isn't even in
MLB.com's top 100. However, you loyal Musings readers know I have a
history of posting unique rankings, both for better and for worse. Evans
pitches in relief for Georgia Tech to go along with his catching
duties, which speaks to his arm strength. He combines the arm strength
with good power, though his strikeouts are a bit higher than I would
like to see. Still, Evans has produced in the ACC, the best college
baseball conference if you ask me, and he brings some power potential at
a premium position. I think he would rate higher on most prospect lists
if he hadn't shown very poorly over the summer in the Cape Cod league.
While that's a concern for me, his 50 bad at-bats in the Cape don't wipe
out the hundreds of good at-bats in the ACC. Evans is also a
candidate for a bit of a bump in production when he drops pitching
altogether as a pro. He isn't a star in the making, but who is in this
draft class? Evans brings some nice tools to a tough-to-fill position,
giving him the potential to be a nice contributor.
9. Austin Meadows, OF, Grayson HS (GA) - Early
on, Meadows was in the discussion as possibly the best prep position
player in this year's class, but his stock has cooled some as the spring
progressed. I wouldn't go as far as saying he had a disappointing
spring (he batted .535!) but he went from being perceived as a five-tool
talent to more of a four-tool one. Meadows didn't flash big-time power,
though he still has a nice stroke with some power, good speed, and good
outfield defense. If Meadows can play a good center field he profiles
as a quality starting outfielder. He would be a wise target for the Mariners with their first pick, though it looks like he won't make it to pick 12.
8. Tim Anderson, CF, East Central CC - Anderson,
if you ask me, is the most interesting prospect in this year's draft.
Not necessarily the best, but the most interesting. Anderson only
started playing baseball full-time a few years back after focusing on
basketball for most of his prep days. However, he has taken to the
diamond quickly. He plays shortstop for the time being, but I think he
ends up finding a home elsewhere. The first thing that stands out about
Anderson is his blazing speed, which has drawn him some comparison to
Reds farmhand Billy Hamilton. However, Anderson also has 10 home runs on the year, which suggests to me more power than he gets credit for.
Anderson's athleticism intrigues me, and at 19 years old with relatively
little baseball experience he might just be growing into the ballplayer
he could become.
7. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Mississippi State - Renfroe looks like an athlete with all the tools to succeed at a high level, and this spring his numbers finally backed that up. Renfroe has good power, a pretty good contact rate, some speed, and some defense. He doesn't have a glaring weakness, yet also doesn't possess a real strength either (at least on paper, though scouts tend to see some great tools without the production to match as of yet). Renfroe is also a bit aggressive for my taste and a little more plate discipline might help him take another step forward, but the progress he made this year and the weakness of this draft class make him a first-round lock. In fact, Renfroe is a very logical and realistic target for the Mariners in the first round.
6. DJ Peterson, 1B, New Mexico - I
had a hard time deciding where Peterson would go on my big board. He
plays some third base at New Mexico as well, but I see him settling in
at first base as a pro. Peterson's value is wrapped up in his bat, and
he has produced crazy stats the last couple years. However, he has also
produced them in a non-elite conference (though still quality, the
Mountain West), and more importantly, in a stadium that is the college
equivalent of Coors Field. However, even Peterson's power numbers stick
out like a sore thumb (in a good way) when compared to his teammates,
and there is little doubt that Peterson is a good hitter. Maybe the thin
air in New Mexico isn't a huge factor. I'm still skeptical of
Peterson's power numbers, but this class lacks stars. A guy like
Peterson who could be great, and looks like a safe bet to be solid, is
going to go early. He would be a nice fit in the Mariners system, but I
don't see him making it to the M's first pick.
5. Clint Frazier, OF, Loganville HS (GA) - This is the guy I'd like to see the Mariners take, but I don't think he'll last. We shall see. There is an outside chance he does. Frazier isn't considered a full-fledged five-tool prospect like most highly-touted prep outfielders are. However, this draft class doesn't have the star power most drafts have (heard that line before in these write-ups?) and Frazier has some exciting tools to play with. The best part of the video I've linked to for Frazier are the gasps from the crowd when he hits a few baseballs near the end, after the 5-minute mark. Frazier isn't huge (listed at 6 feet) but he brings some precocious power to the batter's box without a long, unwieldy swing. Frazier's all around solid skillset, combined with his major power potential, is why I'm so high on him.
4. Colin Moran, 3B, North Carolina - Fun fact about Moran: his older brother, Brian, is a lefty reliever in AAA Tacoma (and a guy I rated on my 2009 MLB Draft list). Colin is the most polished, pure hitter in this draft class. He lacks big-time power, and doesn't look like a bet to develop much more as he matures, but what he does offer is a level stroke from the left side with a mature approach at the plate. The combo results in a menagerie of line drives all over the field with lots of walks and few strikeouts. It's hard to see Moran being a star, but it's very easy to see him as a steady contributor for a long time.
3. Kris Bryant, 3B, San Diego - Bryant hits dingers, plain in simple. He hits them very often, and they tend to go very far. He already has 30 home runs this season, a record with newer, duller aluminum bats. Bryant has also walked over 50 times this season, which speaks to the fear pitchers have for him, and how well he does at destroying the few mistakes he sees. Inbetween, he strikes out a bit more than I'd like to see, especially against good (but not great) competition. Bryant plays an okay third base too, flashing surprisingly soft hands from what I've seen. However, I wonder about Bryant's broad frame filling out and limiting his range. It's easy to see Bryant being the next Mark Reynolds or Chris Davis, because I think the contact concerns are real. Then again, this is a great year to be like Reynolds and Davis. Bryant's huge power potential, particularly in a weaker draft where there are few complete packages, are what earns him this high of a spot on my board.
2. Mark Appel, RHP, Stanford - Going back to school is going to work out for Appel. Really, since he's getting a Stanford degree through an athletic scholarship, it's hard to argue Appel made a bad choice even if he left money on the table by pitching in his senior season. However, it will be surprising if he falls lower than number two this year. Appel is the most polished pitcher in the draft class and already possesses a really good mix of pitches, with the mid to upper 90s fastball that you would expect out of his ideal pitcher's frame. Seniors have to be overwhelming to be better prospects than college juniors, but Appel is precisely that. He doesn't look destined to spend much time in the minors, and has the making of a frontline starting pitcher.
1. Jonathan Gray, RHP, Oklahoma - It became clear early on that Gray and Appel are a step above everybody else in this draft. You won't get much of an argument out of me for Appel over Gray, but I still have my reasons for going with Gray. His fastball is absolutely electric, hovering around 100 mph for multiple readings in the video linked to, with a natural tail to boot. Appel's fastball is also elite, but Gray's is wicked. His overall wind-up and stuff remind me some of Justin Verlander. This draft lacks high-end talent, but Gray is an elite talent that would be in the discussion for the top pick in most any draft class.
This will be an interesting draft for the Mariners. The depth is in prep lefties and prep catchers, neither of which should be high on the M's priority list. However, they are at a position where they might have a chance to snag a player who nobody sees falling out of the top 10 right now. Then again, who exactly should be a top 10 pick in this draft is up to considerable debate.