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 National League East.
National League East
No team had more picks early than the Atlanta Braves. They got to pick five times in the first day. Kolby Allard (round 1) was the top prep arm in the class and they got his teammate, Lucas Herbert (round 2), the top defensive prep catcher. Mike Soroka (round 1) was one of what seemed like a hundred Canadians drafted. Josh Graham (round 4) was one of my favorites; I am always a sucker for guys who have reason for hidden upside. He is an undersized right-hander who was a catcher his first two years at school. He pitched for the first time collegiately this year and was very successful, averaging a strike-out an inning. He needs some work but here is a kid sitting 95 with the beginnings of solid secondary stuff and he has pitched just one year in college. Worst case seems to be a back-end bullpen arm. The pick I did not love was A.J. Minter in the competitive balance B round. Now if he signs for senior sign money then I take this back. I still don’t get why you would take a guy that high who pitched only 58 innings in college and has had multiple injury concerns. I get he hits 97 but at some point you wonder if he can ever stay healthy.
While I don’t agree with the first pick, there are a lot of guys I am very intrigued by who the Phillies drafted. My favorite was Scott Kingery (round 2). He has potential plus hit and speed tools at second base. If you can have an up-the-middle player at the top of your line-up, that is incredibly valuable. Greg Pickett (round 8) is a player who dropped on boards this spring but was viewed as a potential top pick early in the process. I had him going to the Rockies at pick 28 in my first mock. He has swing-and-miss concerns but one of the best power tools among prep guys. The downside is there is some Larry Greene to him; I am sorry I know that’s a low blow. Josh Tobias (round 10) was my top senior this year. He is a 5’8” switch-hitter who hits better from the right-side and can handle nearly any position on the field. He might not do it super well but he seems a very likely utility player.
Kyle Nowlin (round 30) is a late pick who caught my attention. He isn’t big, he plays for a small school, and is not a super athlete but he raked in college. Into the month of May, he led all of the NCAA in homeruns before cooling off at the very end. Ben Pelletier (round 34) is the most intriguing guy. He is a Canadian kid who was homeschooled and qualified for the draft even though he is currently 16. A South Florida commit, he is the youngest player I can recall being eligible for the draft ever.
So here it comes: Cornelius Randolph (round 1) is not a guy I hate. I just had him 20 and don’t see a plus tool. When you add in rumored higher-end salary demands, I would have passed. I would have taken Trenton Clark or Nick Plummer myself. I feel like it was a worst-case situation for the Phillies in terms of who went one to nine but Randolph to me wasn’t worth a top-10 pick.
The Nationals were lacking a first rounder but they made up for it with maybe my favorite Day 2 of any team. They started out by drafting Andrew Stevenson (round 2) who was one of the best defensive players in this draft and who should be quick to the majors. Rhett Wiseman (round 3) is a guy with double-digit homeruns this year to go with double-digit steals. He was the second-best offensive performer for Vanderbilt and was a top performer during their championship run a year ago. Mariano Riveria Jr. (round 4) didn’t play baseball in high school, so pitching is pretty new to him. He made a big velocity leap this year at Iona which makes you wonder how much development he could still have. He is undersized but one of the arms I thought could have the most growth. Matt Crownover (round 6) is a guy who has been a known entity since high school. All he does is get people out and pitch well. Two other Clemson arms went over him even though he was the ace because he is 5’10”. With their first six picks, the Nationals only took one guy bigger than 6’1”. They targeted highly productive, undersized talent and that is an approach I can back. My only knock would be Blake Perkins (round 2). A perfectly good player, but I would have gone another way there. This is more of a nitpick than a knock.
The Mets lack of picks – particularly losing a pick in the high teens to overpay Michael Cuddyer – hurts them a lot. If they had that pick and got someone like Kevin Newman this draft would have been the top in the division. David Thompson (round 4) is a surprisingly good athlete; a former quarterback who should move to the outfield for the Mets. He was highly productive at Miami and had some of the best right-handed power totals of any college players. There were some injury concerns but that’s a solid pick in the 4th round. They followed that with my favorite pick, Thomas Szapucki (round 5), a left-hander who hits 95, has deception, and is looking at some advanced stuff. I believe his pitches had the highest RPM of any prep arm in the class. He has a good slider and a change which could be average. He looks like the next great Mets pitcher. Corey Taylor (round 7) is your dude if you like gaudy stats. He worked out of the bullpen for Texas Tech and gave up two earned runs in 57.1 innings. If you were wondering, that’s a 0.37 ERA. A senior sign, he could be a quick to the majors as a 5th/6th inning relief arm. The only pick I would that I didn’t love was Desmond Lindsay (round 2). He has great upside and if he signs underslot, I kind of understand the idea as swing for the fences with a pick that also saves money. I just don’t like not grabbing a premium talent with your top pick, as for all the upside that Lindsay has, he was not one of the top-75 players in this draft because of a low floor, as well.
I found the Marlins first round selection surprising but was not shocked to see Josh Naylor (round 1) at 12. I had heard him linked to several teams and in my final mock, I said he could go in the first round as high as 11. They reached for power with that pick. My biggest concern is that his best position looks to be DH. Justin Jacome (round 5) was in the grouping of pitchability lefties I liked this year. Getting him at 176 is a good value, as he his worst case scenario is a reliever with a good chance to be a back-end type. Isaiah White (round 3) is a raw, athletic outfielder who had a lot of buzz entering the draft. Cody Poteet (round 4) had some command problems for UCLA but somehow found ways to be successful. No one I really love in this draft, but my favorite pick would be Jacome. The pick I don’t get is Brett Lilek (round 2). It all comes down to his command and when you’re walking a guy every two innings that concerns me. It was a very high pick to spend on him in my opinion. I understand the talent but I need production two early on.