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2018 MLB Draft: First round highlights

We take a look at the industry consensus and research on the most important round of the draft.

MLB First Year Player Draft Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

A first round pick in the MLB Draft can make waves for any organization. Nail a pick, and you have yourself a cornerstone in your franchise. Flop on one, and you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Much of this can all be a crap-shoot, but at the same time it cannot be taken lightly.

Some drafts have those big “phenom” type prospects, such as the Bryce Harpers and Stephen Strasburgs of the world. This one here does not. The big names in this draft include Auburn RHP Casey Mize (considered the top prospect in this draft), Wichita State 3B Alec Bohm, Oregon State 2B/SS Nick Madrigal, Georgia Tech C Joey Bart Florida RHP Brady Singer, Arizona prep 3B Nolan Gorman, and Wisconsin prep OF Jarred Kelenic.

Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn

The overall favorite to be the selected by the Detroit Tigers at number one overall, Casey Mize has posted ridiculous numbers in his third season in the SEC. After owning an absurd 12.1 K/BB ratio last year, Mize has gone even further this season, striking out 133 batters in 95 innings while walking a microscopic ten batters, good for a 13.3 K/BB.

Mize possesses a deep arsenal, holding four plus-pitches in his repertoire, plus-command on all. Uniquely, the cutter and splitter are his calling cards, while mixing in a hard slider as his breaking pitch.

Via Baseball America

“The Auburn ace is making a strong case as the best pitcher in the 2018 draft class and it’s not just because of statistical performance. Scouts rave about the deep repertoire that’s allowed Mize to strikeout 38 batters in 25.1 innings over his first four starts, while walking just three. Some evaluators say he has four plus pitches between a fastball in the mid 90s, a devastating split-finger, a mid-80s slider and a recently added cutter that’s in the upper 80s.”

Via Fangraphs

“Mize’s delivery is a little funky but it works for him, and he walked just nine hitters in 83.2 innings last year. He sits 92-96 mph with a solid-average slider and above-average changeup, though some scouts are worried about his durability.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“Mize can get swings and misses with three different pitches, the best of which is a mid-80s splitter that dives at the plate. He sets it up with a 92-97 mph fastball that he commands exceptionally well despite its running life. His mid-80s slider has taken a step forward this spring, consistently grading as a plus offering, and he also has developed the ability to turn it into a harder cutter when he desires.”

Alec Bohm, 3B, Wichita State

While Mize is the best pitcher and best overall player in this draft, Bohm might get the nod for the best pure hitter available in this player pool. A career .314/.391/.543 hitter in college, Bohm took his stock from late first round/early second round into the top five with a monster junior season that saw him slash .332/.433/.616.

What amazes me was how he noticeably improved his power numbers (ISO .214 in 2017, .284 in 2018) this year while at the same time improving his plate discipline numbers (1.07 K/BB ratio in 2017, 0.63 in 2018).

Via Baseball America

“Bohm has some of the best raw power in the class and has always a good track record of having that play in games in the past, but he’s taken a step forward across the board so far this spring. Each of his triple slash numbers are markedly improved from his freshman and sophomore seasons with Wichita State, and both his isolated power and walk rates have improved each season while he’s cut his strikeout rate every year as well. Perhaps the biggest change in Bohm’s statistical profile is that he’s now walking more than he’s striking out. Cynics might point to him doing it against lesser nonconference opponents, but if you compare Bohm’s first 22 games each of the past three seasons there’s still an obvious trend in the right direction. In 2016, Bohm had a 12-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 22 games. That improved to 16-to-12 during 2017 and the ratio is currently 8-to18 this season. There’s not a huge change with Bohm that’s shooting him up boards—it’s simply the fact that he continues to improve year after year in addition to his extremely impressive wood bat track record (.351/.399/.513 with 5 home runs in the Cape Cod League and .330/.407/.552 with 11 home runs in the Coastal Plain League).Nick Madrigal, 2B/SS, Oregon State”

Via Fangraphs

“He’s a solid athlete who’s a fringey runner, can stick at third base, and has sneaky quickness to project as average to possibly a little above at the hot corner along with a plus arm. Given his length and broad shoulders, he could put on enough weight to become fringy at the position or move to a different corner, but he would likely add more power if that happened. You can quibble that his hands aren’t loaded in an ideal position for power (his bat is sticking straight up rather than being slightly coiled around his head at foot plant), but he has so much power that he still gets to it in games with these mechanics. This also makes him more likely to have a 50 bat with, say 55-60 game power, from his 70 raw power, whereas those more traditionally power-based mechanics may produce something like a 45 bat with 60-65 game power. It’s more of a choice than a deficiency, in other words. Bohm will likely appear within the top five of our forthcoming re-rank of the draft-eligible prospects and is in play as high as the third overall pick from what we’ve gathered so far.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“Bohm manages the strike zone very well and makes consistent hard contact from the right side of the plate. He doesn’t strike out as much as Jenista, has an edge in bat speed and his stroke is more geared to generate power at this point. He understands that he doesn’t have to sell out to hit home runs, so he doesn’t.Brady Singer, RHP, Florida”

Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech

In the two seasons following his freshman campaign, Joey Bart added significant offensive value to his game, raising his wOBA from .321 to .297 his sophomore season and bumping it to an absurd .466 his junior season.

Via Baseball America

“In addition to his progress behind the plate, Bart has made tweaks to his batting stance and has shown an overall improvement in his approach at the plate. As a freshman, Bart’s stance was more spread out. He had a hard time catching up to velocity on the inner half and was susceptible to breaking balls away. He now has a far more upright posture at the plate, standing taller and looser, allowing him to tap into his plus raw power more often in games. Hall noted that Bart is chasing fewer breaking balls, and his improved strikeout rate would seem to support that. Scouts grade Bart as at least an average hitter with plus power, but he’s made gains as a pure hitter, and he spends hours at a time in the batting cage working on just that.Nolan Gorman, 3B, O’Connor HS (Arizona)”

Via Fangraphs

“Bart was a solid prospect out of high school and has developed well in college, with solid performances and four average or better tools — with the ability to stick behind the plate at a position that’s always at a premium.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“Bart’s bat speed, strength and leverage give him power to all fields from the right side of the plate. He has the swing and the feel to hit for a solid average, and he has made huge strides with his plate discipline this spring. He has enough natural pop that he doesn’t need to sell out for home runs, and he’s not falling into that trap as much as he did in the past.”

Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha West HS (Wisconsin)

Jarred Kelenic very well might have the prettiest swing in this draft. He screams tools, showcasing plus-speed, a plus-arm in the outfield, and plus-power.

Via Baseball America

“Overcash called Kelenic one of the five or six most advanced 16-year-old hitters he has ever seen and so Kelenic said his primary goal for this year’s Area Code Games is to be the best outfielder at the event. He also knows that he needs to work on recognizing breaking pitches and picking out the ones that he can drive. But even those tweaks feel like picking at nits. Hitters’ head coach R.J. Fergus said that while Kelenic still has a long way to go before he can be as good as his former summer league teammates, he is already stronger and has a better throwing arm than either of them. He has already flashed five-tool upside, has more pop than almost every other player in his class and has plenty athleticism and arm strength to stick in center-field. “In scouting, there are guys and there are dudes. Some scouts might like the guys but everyone likes the dudes,” Coleman said. “Jarred is a dude.””

Via Fangraphs

“Kelenic makes so much look easy that you forget how tooled-up he is. He’s a 60 runner with a 70 arm, but Kelenic’s advanced feel for loud, all-fields contact is what has him up here. He could hit, hit for power, and stay in center field. He’s rumored to be playing for a travel team this spring to allow scouts more looks than the short high-school season would allow.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“Compared to a more athletic version of Mark Kotsay, Kelenic stands out most for his hitting ability. He has tremendous feel for the barrel and repeatedly demonstrates a professional approach from the left side of the plate. With his solid raw power and speed, he can contribute offensively in a variety of ways.”

Nick Madrigal, 2B/SS, Oregon State

Heading into the start of the college baseball season, Nick Madrigal was seen by many as the favorite to go number one overall. Though an injury to his left hand/wrist keep him out a few weeks, disrupting his stock.

Nothing concerning with the season Madrigal put up though, slashing .395/.459/.563 in 29 games. He’s got quite the feel at the plate too, striking out in an insanely-low 5.5% of his college plate appearances, with an even crazier 3.7% (five times in 135 plate appearances) mark this season.

Via Fangraphs

“The 5-foot-7, 160-pound second baseman is an outlier in almost every way: 70 bat control, 70 speed, aggressive offensive approach, above-average defense at second base with great feel for the game and performance track record.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“While Madrigal might have been more of a gut feel kind of player for scouts, he now has track record on top of being a scout favorite. Analytics departments love him because of his approach at the plate that led to more walks than strikeouts in 2017, and while he doesn’t have a ton of over-the-fence power, he makes consistent hard contact and is a legitimate extra-base threat. His speed and instincts should allow him to continue to be a base stealer.”

Via Minor League Ball

“The only negative here is size: Madrigal is listed at 5-7, 165. Not long ago that might have been enough to keep him out of the first round entirely, but the superior careers of Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve plus the increased emphasis on analytics when evaluating college players makes the size factor negligible at this point. Nobody holds his height against him, not with his overall balance of skills and tools.”

Brady Singer, RHP, Florida

Like Madrigal and Mize, there was once a time where Brady Singer was getting looks as a possible candidate to go first overall. He’s only pitched in thirteen games this season, but the 2.25 ERA and 92:18 K:BB ratio in 88 innings is appealing.

Via Fangraphs

“Singer was an unsigned Blue Jays second-rounder out of high school and has performed well in the SEC, attacking hitters from a lower, Aaron Nola-type slot with above average stuff and good feel for his craft.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“Singer checks off all of the boxes teams are looking for out of a potential top pick. Long and lean, he has a terrific pitcher’s body that has thus far proven to be durable. He’ll throw his fastball up to 95-96 mph consistently, with plus life. His slider plays well off of his fastball, a second above-average pitch he manipulates in terms of depth and velocity. His changeup continues to improve and should give him a third above-average offering. He commands the ball well, gets high marks for his makeup and is a plus competitor.”

Via Minor League Ball

“Singer is listed at 6-5, 210 (he was 180 in high school), born August 4th, 1996. His fastball is his best pitch, up to 95-96 with boring action in on right-handed hitters when things are going well. He can also show a plus slider and has made good strides with his change-up this spring; a recent in-person report from Burke Granger at 2080 Baseball describes the change with “above average deception and tumble, parachuting out of the zone.” One of the few complaints about Singer in 2017 was the need for a better change-up and it sounds like things are going well in that department.”

Nolan Gorman, 3B, O’Connor HS (Arizona)

Nolan Gorman exhibits arguably the best power in this draft class, consistently being marked with a 70. There are questions with the glove at third though, raising the question that perhaps he’ll end up at first.

Via Fangraphs

“Gorman was some scouts’ favorite prep prospect over the summer. He showed 70 raw power from the left side, performed well in games, and — despite a thicker, powerful frame — exhibited quick enough feet to stick at third base. This spring, Gorman got a little bigger, though it isn’t bad weight, and his actions at third base along with his quickness have regressed a bit, though his arm is still above average. Most scouts just assume he’s a first baseman now since he’s not quick enough (roughly a 40 runner) to be average in a corner-outfield spot. At the least, it’s in the area of Braves prospect Austin Riley, where Gorman will have to work on staying trim and quick to stick at third. Even then, it may only be for part of his pro career.”

Via MLB Pipeline

“The left-handed hitter has as much raw power as anyone in the class, with some scouts giving it as high as a 70 grade on the 20-to-80 scale. And it is power that does show up in games, though he didn’t swing the bat consistently well all summer. There are some holes in his swing, which will lead to some swing and miss, but those who have seen him when he’s locked in have seen his ultra-quick hands and bat speed. He did show that he can make hard contact against good competition at times over the summer, though he’d been a bit inconsistent this spring. One concern was whether he could stick at third, and while Gorman showed well at the hot corner at a variety of summer events, some of those worries did resurface this spring.”

Via Minor League Ball

“So, let’s start there, his defense. He is a third base prospect with question marks around whether or not he can stick there. His arm is nothing special but isn’t a negative either. In the end it will grade out about 50 because he can get some zip on it when he needs to. In the game last Wednesday I was at along with scouts from about 15 different teams, he showed the good and bad in his defensive ability.”

WAR vs Draft Pick

While the common perception may be that a lot of the draft is luck, there is a decent correlation between draft selections and the selection’s career WAR pre-free agency, as pointed out by Matthew Murphy at the Hardball Times.

Photo Credits: Hardball Times

As seen on that visual above, WAR peaks at the first overall pick unsurprisingly. There is still a significant uptick in production between picks ten and twenty. Once the picks start coasting into the second round, it does seem like luck plays a factor to a certain extent.

With all that being said, it seems like if there is a round in the draft that isn’t a crap-shoot, it probably is the first round. After all, it is the round that everyone gives their attention to leading up to the draft.