Editor’s Note: It is very hard to grade an MLB draft. The reason is simple: there are a lot players I have not seen or had a chance to scout. In the top-10 rounds, I would say I have familiarity with 50 to 60 percent of players by the time the draft is done. Now before you want to pull my status as your favorite draft personality, if you watched the draft by the 6th round even the guys who do this as their main source of income were searching for stats and information on the players.
The other problem of course is the MLB draft is the most volatile of the three major US sports. While it does not have the hard cap other sports have, it has a fluid one which adds a degree of interest because teams have to figure out how to allocate the money and talent. Plus, the talent is typically years away and even the best picks have busted in the past.
So instead of rating winners and losers, I am going to slot the teams in each division by analyzing how effectively they used their position to add top talent to their system, as well as find sleepers and generally add players I, or others, believe in. I am not a Daz Cameron fan, for instance, but I can’t deny he is a good value in the 30’s. Also I am not going to ding a team for senior signs, as they are a necessary evil early otherwise I could just attack each senior sign for every team.
Without further adieu, the American League Central.
American League Central
The Cleveland Indians got a lot of love on Day 1 but not as much on Day 2. They spent their first three Day 2 picks on Mark Mathias (round 3), Tyler Krieger (round 4), and Ka’Ai Tom (round 5), three players who are very similar. Heck, Mathias and Krieger are both shortstops who played second and DHed this year because they had labrum surgeries. All three are guys whose main skill is a strong hit tool and getting on-base. These three picks were made after taking Brady Aiken (round 1), Triston McKenzie (comp round), and Juan Hillman (round 2), the three young arms with top-of-the-rotation potential. The Indians grabbed one more upside arm later in Jonas Wyatt (round 6), a big kid with mid 90’s velocity who needs to work on his secondary stuff.
As a bonus, you have to like a story like Nathan Lukes (round 7), who goes from college walk-on to Sacramento State’s all-time hit leader to a seventh round pick. Justin Garza (round 8) is a guy who I wonder what his cost will be as a 5’10” right-hander who just had Tommy John surgery. The Indians tried very hard to sign him back in 2012 and got their man this time. He was the number two pitcher for Cal-State, Fullerton behind second-round pick Thomas Eshelman. The pick I am a bit leery about here is Triston McKenzie. His future could be very bright but I get nervous when you need a kid to add significant amounts of weight. He’s 6”5, 160 and he’ll need that mass to increase his velocity. He is very projectable but the changes he needs to make to his body, along with talk of top-25 salary demands, means I would have shied away.Tyler Jay (round 1) which made it funny when they came back and took Kyle Cody (comp B), who is a guy I wrote a piece on to start the draft season about how I didn’t understand the hype. At the time he was widely considered a top-15 talent, so for once I was right, it seems. Trey Cabbage (round 4) was a great pick if you love fun names and a solid pick if you’re a Twins fan. He is a good athlete who doesn’t project any tools as plus but could end up with some above-average grades. Travis Blakenhorn (round 3) is a player the Twins were tied to heavily in the days leading up to the draft. He has some power in his frame. He is a bit of a dirt dog, a guy who is never going to stop working and trying to be a major league player. I do wonder what they will do since Blakenhorn and Cabbage both project at third base and you want both playing there every day.
Kolton Kendrick (round 8) is an interesting bat. Some think he has 30 homerun ability. I don’t see enough bat speed for it to be a reality but I have been wrong about similar players before. The pick I don’t like was actually a decent value pick. They took Alex Robinson (round 5), a reliever from Maryland, which is fine by me especially because he is left-handed. My issue here is they spent five high picks on relievers last year. I think Cody is a sure bullpen arm, as well. It’s a lot of investment in the least valuable area of a baseball team.
The Tigers were a team that surprised me in a good way on the first night of the draft. They went for undersized but productive players in the top-two rounds. My favorite pick (despite the hundreds of Twilight jokes since he was drafted) is Christin Stewart (round 1). The undersized lefty raked in the SEC and looks like a potential solid bat down the road. Beau Burrows (round 1) should be a fast-moving prep arm who doesn’t have much more projection. Cam Gibson (round 5) is a local kid whose dad, Kirk, played for the Tigers. Cam is one of the faster college players in this year’s draft and should be a major-league fourth outfielder relatively quickly. Nick Shumpert (round 7), another son of a major leaguer – this time Terry Shumpert – was a guy who has seen his stock take a hit. Shumpert is the more typical toolsy, high-upside pick the Tigers have loved to target. He could be a special bat at shortstop with above-average right-handed power and plus speed. He has some of the best bat speed in the class, but the swing-and-miss scared some squads away.
Drew Smith (round 3) is a fast-track reliever who should be able to help the Tigers next year. He is a right-handed pitcher who hits 99 MPH. He really fits what the Tigers look for. After the top-10 rounds, they took Joey Havrilak (round 18) from the University of Akron. He is another undersized outfielder but a guy who put up some of the best numbers in the MAC. Those post-10 round picks are the exact place to roll the dice on a numbers-over-size guy. Tyler Alexander (round 2) had some interesting control numbers, but I think he could have been available later if the Tigers wanted him. He is the pick I question with them grabbing him in round two.
Kansas City might be the first team to draft a pair of players from Indiana in round one. The two arms – Nolan Watson and Ashe Russell – are big time upside bets on a pair of well-known, cold-weather arms. Last year, the Indians drafted Cody Jones (round 6) after a down junior year, but he decided to go back for his senior year and bet on himself. It looks smart as he went 32 rounds higher. He might be a senior sign but he was one of the best in the class. He is an undersized switch-hitter with speed and the ability to play all over the outfield – sounds like a KC guy there. There are a lot of indicators that show Jones might be a surprise player down the road thanks to his high-contact rates and good eye at the plate. I was intrigued by Bryon Davis (round 8), a 6’6” lefty from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, but when I loaded the stats for the university they were from 2013. The pick after Davis they took a 6’7” lefty, Joseph Markus (round 9), from the JUCO ranks, so the Royals managed to go big and go home.
The pick I didn’t love is Josh Staumont (round 2). The Royals have been fantastic at developing big velocity guys for their bullpen and Staumont might have the best current fastball in this year’s class, but the command makes him unusable. At this point, you hope he can end up getting up to below-average command. I don’t like taking a reliever in the top-three rounds, let alone one with his command issues.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were one of the more conservative teams on Day 1 and 2, drafting exactly one high school player, Corey Zangari (round 6), a first-baseman from Oklahoma. He is a massive kid (6’5” and 240 pounds) who hit 19 homeruns in high school and hit 98 MPH on the mound. I was a fan of Blake Hickman (round 7) who I was surprised to see go in the 7th round. Three years ago, he was drafted by the crosstown Chicago Cubs as a catcher. He has not been sharp this spring but is still a 6’5” pitcher who has hit 96 and has only been a full-time pitcher for one year. His freshman year, he didn’t pitch at all. I loved the Carson Fulmer (round 1) pick and compared it to the selection of Chris Sale, who was also a guy many thought was ticketed to the bullpen. The White Sox looked past the height concerns which is why I was surprised when they took Zach Erwin (round 2) from Clemson. Erwin is a fine player, but I thought Matthew Crownover was the stronger pitcher, his control was not as good but he was much less hittable. The issue between the two is a matter of seven inches though.