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2015 MLB Draft in Review: In-betweens and should’ve-beens

Some stars, some average, and some flamethrowers headline the 2015 class.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We tend to think of all first overall draft picks as either boom or bust. Mark Appel and Bryce Harper are both well known for very different reasons. But there’s a spectrum of top picks ranging from Brien Taylor to Alex Rodriguez. There are Shawon Dunstons and Phil Nevins who fall in between, with lengthy careers despite never reaching their full potential.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Dansby Swanson with the first pick of the 2015 draft, then traded him to the Atlanta Braves the following winter. Now, he’s 212 games into his major league career, but we still don’t know what to make of him. He’s only posted a 78 wRC+, though it’s up to an even 100 this year. His UZR is -0.4 at shortstop, but DRS is less kind to him at -4.

Swanson is certainly a major leaguer, but beyond that we can’t be certain. At 24, he can still become the elite hitter he once promised to become. Or he could just settle in as a generic, unspectacular roster piece, closer to Dunston than ARod.

Like Swanson, the rest of the 2015 draft class is also sort of in-between. The college draftees are in their mid-20s, and have mostly shown what they are. The high school picks are largely still prospects- some more exciting than others. Let’s take a look back at what went right and wrong for that draft class.

The Hits

While the jury is out on the #1 pick, the second pick is already a star. The Astros grabbed Alex Bregman out of LSU and he quickly ascended to the majors. He’s achieved a 121 wRC+ through 1048 PA. His walk rate has increased and his strikeout rate has declined in each of his three seasons.

The Red Sox also found a cornerstone in the first round, selecting Andrew Benintendi 7th overall. Like Bregman, his walk and strikeout rates have trended in the right directions each year. With a .361 wOBA in 2018, he could be in the midst of his best season to date.

Two picks later, the Cubs drafted Ian Happ. All he’s done is blast 31 home runs through his first 154 games while playing five different positions. The versatile switch-hitter has a 145 wRC+ batting right-handed and 123 wRC+ from the left side.

The Misses

The first pitcher selected was Dillon Tate, fourth overall by the Texas Rangers. Thirteen months after being drafted, the right-hander was getting shelled in Single-A. His velocity dropped to the low-90s, and the franchise cut bait, trading him to the Yankees at the deadline. He’s reinvented himself to an extent, but he’s still only striking out 19.4% of batters in Double-A this year.

Tyler Jay became the first lefty pitcher drafted when the Twins picked him sixth overall. Everything went just fine until he reached Double-A Chattanooga. In parts of three seasons at that level, he’s only registered a 1.54 K/BB. He’s been exclusively a reliever this season.

And then there’s Brady Aiken. a year after the Astros selected him first and then infamously refused to sign him, the Indians picked him 17th overall. Beyond the Box Score described him in detail in yesterday’s 2014 Draft Review, but suffice it to say things haven’t gone according to plan.

The Prospects

Some of baseball’s best prospects came from the 2015 draft. Here are the current residents of the MLB.com Top 100 prospects from this draft class.

  • #10 Walker Buehler, RHP Los Angeles Dodgers, selected 24th overall
  • #12 Brendan Rodgers, SS Colorado Rockies, selected 3rd overall
  • #16 Kyle Tucker, OF Houston Astros, selected 5th overall
  • #23 Triston McKenzie, RHP Cleveland Indians, selected 42nd overall
  • #28 Mike Soroka, RHP Atlanta Braves, selected 28th overall
  • #49 Willie Calhoun, OF Texas Rangers, selected 132nd overall (4th round by the Dodgers)
  • #54 Kolby Allard, LHP Atlanta Braves, selected 14th overall
  • #71 Chance Adams, RHP New York Yankees, selected 153rd overall (5th round)
  • #73 Beau Burrows, RHP Detroit Tigers, selected 22nd overall
  • #77 Austin Riley, 3B Atlanta Braves, selected 41st overall
  • #87 Jahmai Jones, OF Los Angeles Angels, selected 70th overall (2nd round)
  • #89 Ryan Mountcastle, 3B Baltimore Orioles, selected 36th overall
  • #99 Peter Lambert, RHP Colorado Rockies, selected 44th overall (2nd round)

Beyond the First Round

There have already been a few 2015 draftees who have reached the majors despite getting skipped in the first round. Here are 5 significant contributors who defied the odds.

  • LHP A. J. Minter- The Braves picked minter 75th overall (final pick of the 2nd round) while he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Despite not pitching until 2016, he rapidly ascended to the major leagues as a lefty reliever. He recorded a 43.3% K rate in Atlanta last year (26 out of 60). While his strikeouts dropped to a more realistic level this season, he has established himself in the Braves’ bullpen.
  • OF Harrison Bader- Bader was the 3rd round pick (100th overall) of the St. Louis Cardinals. He quickly rose all the way to AAA, where he spent much of 2016. He debuted in the majors last July, and now has a 116 wRC+ in 2018 through 78 plate appearances. The speedy outfielder has a future as a fourth outfielder if not a starter.
  • RHP Jordan Hicks- Five picks after Bader, the Cardinals selected Hicks. Yes, the same Jordan Hicks who throws 105 MPH.
  • SS Paul DeJong- Are you noticing a theme here? The Cardinals absolutely crushed the mid rounds of this draft. The best of them all is probably DeJong, their starting shortstop. Last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up has doubled his walk rate this year (from 4.7% to 9.4%) without losing much power (8 home runs so far).
  • RHP Phil Maton- Maton is a decent reliever who’s appeared in 61 games for the Padres. Whatever. The crazy part is that he was drafted in the 20th round! The 597th overall pick rocketed to the major leagues less than two years after his professional debut. The chances of any 20th round pick making the majors is very slim, especially so soon after being drafted. He’s stuck on the DL at the moment, but he’s already declared himself one of the biggest success stories of the 2015 draft.

Daniel R. Epstein is an elementary special education teacher and president of the Somerset County Education Association. In addition to BtBS, he writes at www.OffTheBenchBaseball.com. Tweets @depstein1983