The 2015 draft is officially a week old, more or less, and the dust is finally starting to settle. Some teams did well – Cubs, Astros, Diamondbacks, Twins, and Giants to name a few – and, of course, there were more than a couple surprises along the way. For the first time in history, shortstops went in each of the first three selections, the Indians called Brady Aiken’s name with the 17th overall pick, Michael Matuella slid from a potential top pick all the way to the third round, and the Angels selected Fresno State backstop Taylor Ward.
With contract negotiations firmly underway, I wanted to take a look at a handful of prospects with the best chances of becoming the first player from this year’s draft class to make their respective big league debut; first, though, a little history.
The chart below illustrates the first player to reach The Show in each draft beginning in 2000:
Of the last 15 prospects to debut first in each class, 13 have been pitchers, six left-handers and seven right-handers. So, statistically speaking, if (recent) history is any indication it’s highly likely that another pitcher will likely become the first debuting player again.
And now the candidates:
David Berg, RHP, Chicago Cubs: I am unabashedly one of Berg’s biggest supporters; I could very easily be his biggest, truthfully. Prior to the 2014 draft, I wrote that "[...he] should move quickly, perhaps being one of the first players from the 2014 draft class to make it to the big leagues." And then he promptly plummeted – inexplicably, in my opinion – all the way down to 17th round (I would later offer up my opinion as to why that happened in a question posed on my personal site). Undeterred, I once again wrote that he should be worthy of an early round selection this season.
Simply put, the sidewinding right-hander has been one of the most dominant collegiate relievers in recent memory: he tallied a career 241-to-44 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 267 innings for the Bruins to go along with his 1.11 ERA. And his career accolades are just as impressive.
Chicago can legitimately make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but they have a mediocre bullpen – they rank 16th in ERA and xFIP – so the environment for a polished relief specialist seems ripe for the picking.
Tyler Jay, LHP, Minnesota Twins: The plan – or the assumed plan – is to stretch out the sixth overall pick and mold him into an upper part of the rotation-caliber arm. But Jay is coming off of a 2014 season in which he tossed just 62.2 combined innings between his time with Illinois, Team USA, and the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League. This year he’s already surpassed that amount (66.2 IP), so he’s likely to see a couple dozen innings in professional ball before being shut down for the year. Minnesota, perhaps the biggest surprise in baseball, has one of the worst bullpens: 30th in xFIP (4.38), 20th in ERA (3.64), and 30th in strikeout rate (a laughably low 5.88 K/9). Jay could be an option if the club decides to keep him in the bullpen for the rest of the year and look to stretch him out in 2016 a la Brandon Finnegan.
Thomas Eshelman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton: The Greg Maddux of college baseball, Eshelman spent three years in the Titans’ rotation and never finished a year with an ERA above 1.90. But it’s his ability to command the zone – he posted a jaw-dropping 313-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 371 career innings – should be the reason he’s fast-tracked to the big leagues. Houston’s not in dire need of any pitching at the moment, but he could be a late-season call-up to help take some innings away from some of the other younger arms.
Carson Fulmer, RHP, Chicago White Sox: The Sox have proven on two occasions in the past couple of years that the organization won’t stand in the way of pushing collegiate starters quickly to the big leagues (Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon). And while Fulmer isn’t as polished as his potential future rotation mates, you can’t discount the club’s aggressive approach. Fulmer could be a relief candidate if he’s aggressively promoted in order to govern his overall innings.
Riley Ferrell, RHP, Houston Astros: I’m hesitant to include the power-armed right-hander in the list because his walk rate ballooned to a career worst – by a large amount – 5.97 free passes per nine innings. Couple that with the fact that Houston has one of the best bullpens in the game, and it doesn’t bode well for the third round pick. But as the ‘Stros continue their march toward the playoffs, the club could find the itch to add a little more firepower if Ferrell can command the zone like he did his first two seasons with the Horned Frogs.