The 2018 MLB Draft is finally over, and from a narrative point of view, this was definitely one of the more... intriguing, polarizing, and possibly agonizing events since the Brady Aiken debacle a few years back.
I’ll cut to the chase here: Luke Heimlich was not drafted this year. After being considered a possible first-rounder, the Oregon State pitcher was discovered to have plead guilty to one felony count of sexually assaulting his six-year old niece when he was 15 years-old. It was an absolutely awful story, one where the parents tried to push a Sports Illustrated rehabilitation piece to boost his stock, and while some teams floated the idea of it, he went undrafted this year.
It was ultimately a positive thing that the sport would not accept this, but also literally the bare minimum of human decency, and it’s so cynical that we don’t expect our sports franchises to abide by it. I don’t have much more to say other than to please read the Baseball Prospectus piece from Beth Davies-Stofka on how this process affected victims of abuse, and why it’s important that someone like him does not have a public platform.
Now, on to the actual draft itself. The biggest story of the first round was the Athletics’ pick for Kyler Murray, a high-profile Oklahoma football recruit who was widely considered to be the heir apparent to Baker Mayfield. The A’s banked on a football player taking the guaranteed money of a baseball contract, not to mention reducing the risk of CTE, and he agreed to $5 million and will play a single year with the Sooners before playing baseball full-time.
I consider this to be a pretty monumental shift in what could be a football-to-baseball pipeline as the dangers of the sport become readily apparent to teenagers who not only value their earnings, but also their health and future. We’ll see if this becomes a trend in the years to come.
There were two other big story lines to occupy Day One: Brady Singer’s fall to 18th overall (which ended up being a nice value for the Royals), and the confusion over Matthew Liberatore’s signability that let him fall to 16th and allowed the Rays to sign value-pick Shane McClanahan in the compensatory round.
If we’re going to talk about who got the best player of the round, it was the White Sox nabbing second baseman Nick Madrigal. All else being equal, players like him have a much higher success rate than even a Casey Mize, so while they’re “valued” similarly, college position players have a very good track record at second overall.
That sums up most of my thoughts on the first round, and while I couldn’t even begin to tell you who “won” the overall draft based on scouting grades alone (I absolutely am not a scout), I have quite a few scattered thoughts that will give you an idea of my overall feelings.
- The Astros taking Seth Beer in the first round was incredibly surprising but very forward-thinking and an absolutely smart move. This is a team that is winning right now and will be excellent for at least the next half-decade, so they added a clear designated hitter on a team of great hitters. He has a load of raw power that scouts believe will translate, and I think he goes the Kyle Schwarber route of shooting up to the big leagues rather quickly.
- The Yankees drafted two two-way catchers in the first two rounds. Anthony Siegler is a highly-rated catcher, switch hitter, and a possible pitcher, and Josh Breaux (announced by Nick Swisher in that exact voice) is another decent-hitting catcher with a fastball that can hit triple-digits. Shohei Ohtani and Brendan McKay may start the trend, but willit actually be a wider trend? We shall see.
- The Rangers went almost exclusively high-schooler which fits their draft model almost identically. I find it a little odd considering how much they’ve whiffed on the ceiling of their prospects, but I suppose that’s attributable to bad luck as well. Cole Winn is considered as high-floor as a high school pitcher gets, and Jonathan Ornelas is the defense-first high school shortstop we know and love. It’s a high variance draft, but it could lead to dividends.
- Tristan Beck went once again in this draft, for the third time in fact, and this time he will likely sign with the Braves. After missing last year with a back injury and widely considered a first rounder last year, the Braves taking the risk after grabbing stud Carter Stewart makes it a nice combination of low(er) risk and higher risk players.
- Oh yeah—about Stewart. There was a great piece in Baseball America on his possibly 80-grade curve, and how Trackman rated his curve spin rate as one of the better ones even among major league players. As Trackman data becomes more prevalent, I’d imagine we’ll start noticing major league caliber pitches earlier and earlier. It’s even more important with high schoolers where the process is more important than the counting stat results.
- There were a couple of bloodline players to take note of: Kody Clemens, son of Roger Clemens, was drafted in the third round by the Tigers as a second baseman. Griffin Conine of Duke, son of Jeff Conine, was drafted by the Blue Jays predictably in the second round; his power is his calling card. Benji Gil’s son Mateo was drafted in the third round by the Cardinals, and he can pitch as well as play shortstop. Prep lefty Ryan Weathers is the son of Drew Weathers, and he was drafted as the Padres’ first pick.