Scouts have a reputation for complaining about draft classes in any year where they aren't overwhelmingly good. This year's draft class is down, but I've written that it's just a function of not having those handful of elite prospects. It turns out the pessimistic scouts may be right this time, as the draft class is coming into greater focus and almost every player is ranked higher on my board that he would be in most years. Let's run down the list.
The Top Half Of The First Round
The top of the list has been the same for me for a few weeks now and I mentioned this last week when I said that Appel was a clear #1, Gray was a clear #2 and the next three players (Frazier, Manaea, Bryant) all had a case to eventually become #2. This doesn't mean that's how the first five picks will go, but how the industry as a whole see those players' talent.
There's clear reasons those players may not get into the top two: Frazier is a smaller guy with no projection that might have to move to RF, Manaea's stuff is down a notch from the summer and he just hurt his hip and Bryant is likely a lower-average right fielder. That said, you don't have to go any further than the Astros at #1 overall last year to see the industry consensus ranking upended for legitimate reasons when they went cheap, took one of the players in the top group and saved money for later. I haven't heard anything to make me think Appel and Gray aren't the top two picks this year but it's still very early and there are three other defensible choices.
I wrote a lot and podcasted about Austin Meadows' shortcomings the past week but still have him at #7. He's got considerable upside and my biggest concerns look fixable. Colin Moran is ranked as high as I can logically have him but he should go in the top 10 regardless.
Where the lack of high-end depth in this class becomes obvious is at #8 with Jacksonville's Chris Anderson. He's the definition of a potential #3 starter and that guy often goes in the middle of the first round and sometimes in the 20's. That gives you a good idea of how I feel about the players just behind Anderson--solid everyday guys with either a high probability or a little more upside--and why scouts are down on this class.
The industry seems to prefer Kohl Stewart as the top prep arm in the class and Braden Shipley is a recent helium guy shooting up boards with his professional bloodlines (NFL WR Jordan Shipley is his cousin) and plus fastball-changeup combo. Ryne Stanek, Jon Denney and J.P. Crawford were mis-cast as top 10 prospects earlier in the process and fit more where they are now, while Dominic Smith and Phil Ervin are about where they've been for the past year.
The Bottom Half Of The First Round
Hunter Harvey is a little more raw than Stewart but very well may overtake him if he can straighten up his delivery and consistency some before June. Hunter Renfroe & D.J. Peterson have been hitting out of their minds lately, Peterson as a future 1B and known prospect and Renfroe as a toolsy outfielder that has caught and relieved in the past. D.J.'s brother Dustin has been attracting a lot of scouting heat as a high school infielder in Arizona and there's talk he may settle ahead of his brother in the rankings.
I've covered how much of an enigma Aaron Judge is, and prep lefties Ian Clarkin and Trey Ball are slowly progressing--Clarkin with command and the lanky 6'6 Ball with velocity. Prep catchers McGuire and Ciuffo have held steady in a deep class with Ciuffo offering power and leadership while McGuire is a better athlete, defender and hitter but came in overweight this spring.
The bottom of the first round will be littered with college arms and, right now, those names look to be Andrew Mitchell, Aaron Blair, Bobby Wahl, Andrew Thurman and Jonathon Crawford. Crawford's and Wahl's stocks are down due to diminished stuff and a blister affecting command, respectively, while Thurman's and Blair's stocks are up with new velo into the mid-90's. Mitchell is a tougher read as he started the season in relief and is now transitioning into the rotation.
Jake Brentz caught the eye of a number of scouting directors at Jupiter in October when he came out of nowhere to touch 95 with a four-pitch mix despite almost no pitching experience. The athletic lefty touched 97 recently and has all the elements scouts are looking for except for track record. Phil Bickford was a known guy but went from 88-92 to touching 96 in recent weeks while Matt Krook was another California prep pitcher that was known but has been hitting 95 most of the spring.
Likewise, prep hitters Billy McKinney and Ryan McMahon have emerged. McKinney has been showcasing his advanced hitting ability and center field profile while McMahon has grown into his 6'3, 195 pound frame and showed game power with a third base profile.
On the college side, Eric Jagielo is limited some by contact and possibly moving to 1B but keeps hitting for power in games while Austin Wilson has top 10 potential but has been picked apart for years and just got back on the field from an early-season injury.
The Sandwich Round & Beyond
The known shortstop, Oscar Mercado, has been low-energy this spring and is slipping while the unknown shortstop, Tim Anderson, has emerged out of nowhere and may overtake Mercado, who was though to be a lock first rounder entering the spring. It's a very down year in Florida for top-end talent but Mercado, Chris Okey and Tucker Neuhaus may all be taken before the second round. Okey has had a tough spring at the plate, though it seems fixable, while Neuhaus keeps getting hurt but may be primed for a late season/pre-draft workout breakout with his late-coming tools.
On the less exciting end, three lefties are all basically where everyone thought they'd be all year: Marco Gonzales, Kevin Ziomek and Rob Kaminsky. Gonzales is a crafty lefty with a plus changeup, Ziomek is a big funky lefty with solid-average stuff and a track record, while Kaminsky is a smaller prep hurler with above-average stuff but no projection or plane.
Prep center fielders Josh Hart, Ryan Boldt and Terry McClure are all somewhat similar as plus runners with average at best power and quick-twitch athleticism. College arms continue even lower on the list with a former top hitting prospect, Michael Lorenzen, leading the way as a fastball-slider reliever that has been up to 98 mph. Ryan Eades, Trevor Williams and Jason Hursh are all guys that have been pegged for the sandwich to second round for almost 12 months and have held steady.
Just Missed & Rising Stock
Jordan Sheffield is off to see Dr. Andrews due to a sore throwing arm but showed an above average curveball and fastball that hit 98. If he can avoid surgery, he could also come on late like Neuhaus to save his draft stock. Other prep arms in the mix for the sandwich round include Connor Jones (big righty, three-pitch mix), Nick Eicholtz (ultra-projectable righty with solid-average now stuff), Carlos Salazar (smaller righty that's hit 97 but limited offspeed) and Kyle Serrano (college coach's son with limited projection has hit 95).
Likewise there have been a group of lefties emerging and holding steady in the second round range. Juco arms Cody Reed and Stephen Tarpley are near opposites: Tarpley is a smaller guy scouts have known for years with three pitches, while Reed is 6'5 and threw 81-83 under three years ago but is in the mid-90's now.
Kent Emanuel and Tom Windle are big school college lefties with average type stuff and command that have been in this range for awhile unlike Ft. Myers brethren Sean Brady and Brian Bixler. Prep arm Brady went from 86-89 over the summer to 89-91 touching 93 this spring while Bixler popped up with similar velocity and a plus change at nearby Florida Gulf Coast. Southern California prep LHP Blake Taylor (Hawaii signee) is projectable and has had a recent velo spike up to 95 mph with a three pitch mix--he may not be done climbing the board yet.
Some college righties are also in this top-50 mix, including Stanford's A.J. Vanegas. Vanegas brings two knockout pitches when he's healthy and just returned to the bullpen, hitting 97 recently. Health, changeup and command are the three questions but he could rise quickly. Mike Mayers is the unsung second part of Ole Miss' Friday-Saturday rotation combo while Scott Frazier is a well known 6'7 monster that's been up to 95 with a plus slider when he's right. Oral Roberts has a pop-up guy in Alex Gonzalez, who has good size been up to 95 with some feel.
There are also a few college bats in contention for the list, led by Chad Pinder, who I saw recently. A team may draft and send him out as a second baseman where his bat/power profile even better and could get him into the sandwich round. Conrad Gregor is a patient lefty-hitting first baseman that hasn't put up big numbers as he's been pitched around. Hunter Dozier is emerging late as a bigger guy that will play third professionally but has the hands and strength to be a factor both ways. Ryan Cordell is also a smaller school, bigger guy that's emerged late with plus speed and an athletic swing.
The last group of near misses and rising hitters come from the prep and Juco ranks. John Sternagel is a very well-known third baseman that shows above-average offense and defense but the body and power are question marks. Colin Bray is another late-developing, athletic big guy with tools. Garrett Hampson and Stephen Wrenn have come on late and are both 70 runners with feel at the plate.
Some other names to file away include Oklahoma LHP Dillon Overton (solid stuff but has been inconsistent), LSU 2B/3B/CF JaCoby Jones (huge tools, terrible approach), Tulane RHP Tony Rizzotti (popped-up late, three pitches & up to 96), Florida prep C Brian Navarreto (raw defensively but big arm & power), Oklahoma prep IF Drew Ward (good athlete but weak competition), Notre Dame righty Dan Slania (reliever up to 95 with three pitches at times), North Carolina prep RHP Joe O'Donnell (super sleeper, great athlete, NC State hoops recruit just started playing recently), Miami-Dade JC 3B Victor Caratini (smooth lefty swing and solid defender but lack of power demands a super-utility profile) and Savannah State RHP Kyle McGowin (small school, big numbers, has hit 95).