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2017 MLB Draft in Review: Two-way prospects, slot games

After Shohei Ohtani has made waves, we look at a recent draft with two two-way players in the top five.

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (and by new, I mean the 2011 variety) came changes to the amateur draft, and paramount among them was the institution of a quasi-“hard-slotting” system. Instead of teams getting a recommended slot value and then ultimately using their money to divvy it up as they saw fit, the league made sure that a team could offer no more than the total Signing Bonus Pool, meaning that if you had $5 million to spend and spent it on your first pick, then you are not allowed to sign any more players.

What this creates is a gamification by which “best player available” isn’t necessarily the rule. If a team wants to go under-slot in their first pick, they can use the extra cash to sprinkle bonuses for players who may have signability issues later in the draft.

This is why in the 2017 draft, we actually saw the best player available, Hunter Greene, selected second overall out of Notre Dame High School. Signed by the Reds over-slot at $7.2 million, he came into the draft a possible two-way player, but it seems like now he’ll stick to pitching.

He was quite the competent infielder, but his pitching is what turns an otherwise run-of-the-mill first-round infielder into a possibly star-caliber pitcher: a triple-digit fastball, a potential 50 slider and curve. Although he has picked up around 30 professional at-bats, he now has made about 10 starts and has allowed 25 earned runs in 21.1 innings. It’s a long ways away and the risk is high, but he could very well be a star of the future.

The actual top pick was Royce Lewis, a shortstop out of JSerra Catholic High School and signed under-slot at $6.7 million. Lewis is a line-drive-power hitter with range, and even though the jury is out whether he can play in the infield or outfield, and which one, I would imagine the Twins would be happy with a 110-120 wRC+ center fielder with gap power and good defense.

Because there are no WAR totals or anything like that, I summed up the picks followed by their FanGraphs Top 100 prospects ranking:

2017 MLB Draft Top Prospects

Name Pick # Prospect Ranking
Name Pick # Prospect Ranking
Royce Lewis 1 38
Hunter Greene 2 42
MacKenzie Gore 3 33
Brendan McKay 4 22
Kyle Wright 5 26
Keston Hiura 9 24
Jo Adell 10 66
Nate Pearson 28 76
Tristen Lutz 34 68

There are a few interesting notes on who remain here. Brendan McKay, for example, is actually a two-way prospect. He would be a top prospect on either side of the ball, and he has already been above-average as both a hitter and pitcher as he makes his way to High-A. Even though it’s rare to see two-way players at all, it’s possible we may have two in the league in a few years’ time.

Keston Hiura has taken on some of the most helium of any in the top ten, and Baseball Prospectus had the following the say on his outlook:

“OFP 70—The version of Willie Calhoun that has an average second base glove. Likely 55—Uh, Earth-1 Willie Calhoun... We are very confident in... Hiura’s offensive projection. We’re throwing darts blindfolded at the defensive one. The bat should be good enough that he will stand somewhere in the majors and be valuable, but there is a wide range of outcomes—wider than you’d expect for a top college bat—based on exactly where that is.”

Tristen Lutz, another Brewers prospect who is pegged for a corner spot, had a similarly positive write-up from BP:

“I really dig the way this kid gets into his back leg at the plate; he fires his hips hard, the trigger is lightning quick, and the bat speed into the zone is ferocious at the point of contact. It’s a quick, violent swing, with excellent precision in barrel delivery and thump to all fields. He’s got a good kind of aggressiveness on the bases, maxing out a run tool that should hang in the fringe-average range at full maturity after a bunch of years average of better.”

There is probably another half-decade before we can even begin to decide what this draft looks like, but as of now, we are not wont for interesting prospects.