It’s that time of year again, when everyone does their homework, researches who they think their team is going to get in the MLB Draft, and then they immediately forget who they are and say “Hey, remember that guy?” when they’re playing in the Mexican Winter League eight years down the road.
I kid, because the round we’re going to focus on will probably contain a few solid big league contributors, as they always do. In particular, we’re going to start with our lightning rods at the top, Adley Rutschman and Bobby Witt Jr.
Rutschman is the consensus top pick, and there’s very little chance the Orioles pick anyone else at the number one spot (except maybe Witt, which I’ll get to). Rutschman is the rare first overall catcher out of Oregon State, and the tools are all there. The comparisons will always be to Joe Mauer at first, and that’s fair, but catching is a tricky position: if you fail, you get a bullpen catcher, and if you succeed, you fill the one elite position that is essentially the hardest to fill.
FanGraphs gives him the bold 60 Future Value (I’ll be referring to this page a lot), and they state that “Other than speed, [all of his tools] could end up with all 55s and 60s,” evidencing “excellent defens[e]” and “ all-fields doubles power and tremendous feel for contact.” Baseball America (referred to a lot as well) makes the obvious leap that he is the “best catching prospect since Buster Posey in 2008 and Matt Wieters in 2007.”
Weiters was always going to be a comparison, too, and while it was a success in the sense that, yes, he produced over 15 wins, rebuilding teams are really hoping for twice that if they look to dig their way out of a long-term hole, and it is those same Orioles dealing with the fallout.
Which is why Witt Jr. is a small, small possibility to the Orioles in that he should otherwise fall to the Royals. Witt’s knock, though, is lack of competition (which is normal for a 19 year-old), and that looks even more unfavorable when he’s showing more “swing-and-miss than evaluators would have liked” according to Baseball America. He’s still seen as higher floor, though, because he showcases the rare combination of speed, power, and defense, essentially the mold of the player you’d want in baseball circa 2019 and beyond.
Another college hitter rounds out the top three in Andrew Vaughn, who also could conceivably go first through fifth in a number of scenarios, and that’s because, once again, he’s a high-floor college bat. Vaughn hit .402/.531/.819 with 23 home runs for California and .308/.368/.654 in the Cape. As Aaron Judge probably taught people six years ago, raw power goes a long way, and an 80-grade can take you to the top of board.
The best prep bat will go just after him in Riley Greene, an outfielder committed to Florida, and FanGraphs has said that a good comp is Alex Kirilloff, who went fifteenth overall and is now a top-fifteen prospect in baseball.
There are a ton of other college bats to fill out this round; it’s kind of crazy how much this class and draft strategy in particular has floated that way. JJ Bleday of Vanderbilt also tore up the Cape ( .311/.374/.500) and the pluses are his approach and mechanics at the plate; Bryson Stott out of UNLV sports “remarkable hands” in FanGraphs’ words; Hunter Bishop gets high marks for having his ups-and-downs and battling through adversity; Shea Langeliers is another catcher out of Baylor whose prowess is more on the defensive side.
The pitching is incredibly, incredibly thin at the top. One of the reasons is because Jack Leiter, son of Al Leiter, is committed to Vanderbilt and whose asking price of $4 million should keep him out of the draft because of his late-ish first round projection. Even the best pitcher, lefty Nick Lodolo out of TSU, has reportedly shown little improvement since being drafted by the Pirates, and despite a decent arsenal, just hasn’t been consistent.
Zack Thompson of Kentucky (college once again) sports a similar profile, and Baseball America says that “Scouts typically project him as a future No. 4 starter.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, and we haven’t even seen a prep arm, and one would say Matthew Allan or Quinn Preister (who had less scouting time because of the cold weather) get the top nods.
There are so, so many moving parts to a draft, and especially a first round, so buckle up. There are a few fascinating story lines in this round to follow closely, so we’re looking forward to see the best college bats win.