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 Central.
National League Central
The Cardinals have managed to remain a top team in baseball over the last decade by drafting and developing as well as any team. Over the last few years, the Cardinals managed to scoop up some of my favorite players and this year was no different. It was interesting to see the highly conservative Cards not take a college player until their fourth pick, which came in the third round. They grabbed Nick Plummer (round 1), a favorite of mine, first. He has the potential for 60-grade power and hit tools along with an advanced approach at the plate. Next came Jacob Woodford (competitive balance A), a 6'5" right hander who was surging up boards leading up to the draft. Next the Cardinals took Bryce Denton (round 2), who has some of the top bat speed of any prep player in this draft. He has a chance for plus right-handed power from a corner outfield spot. Harrison Bader (round 3) is another plus bat speed guy, and he has a chance to be at least a solid platoon guy. He put up big numbers with the Florida Gators this year.
Kep Brown (10th round) really caught my attention. He was hurt and missed most of the year, but the 6'5" outfielder had some of the best raw power of any prep bat. Normally you would assume any top ten pick is signable but one has to wonder since they took him in the 10th, and the loss of pool money would not be detrimental. The Cards were on a mission to add right-handed bats and no team added a better collection. I can't fault any selection for the Cardinals; they just continue to excel on draft day like no other team.
The Brewers had one of my favorite drafts. The started out strong with Trenton Clark (round 1), who many thought would be gone by that point in the draft. Next they got Nathan Kirby (competitive balance A), who was once thought to be a likely top-10 pick before an injury and some inconsistency over the past year. Then they added Cody Ponce (round 2), who many thought would be a first-round lock. All three were talents that slid to them and they took the best player available, which is always a winning strategy. In the 4th round they took another sliding talent in Demi Orimoloye, a player with a lot of swing-and-miss but plus speed and potential plus right-handed power. He was another potential first-round talent before the season. If you're counting, that is four guys with preseason first-round buzz.
Blake Allemand (round 5) was one of my highest-rated college seniors. He is a switch-hitting shortstop with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts and he had a little pop in college. Eric Hanhold (round 6) is a big kid who profiles best out of the bullpen. If I have to pick a selection that I would change, it would be Nash Walters (round 3), but that is only because I am not super familiar with him and had other arms I had rated higher than him. He has some very good measurables and he is young, which are positives. That's how far I have to dig to find fault with what the Brewers did in the draft. This was one of the top drafts and it's hard to really fault any pick.
The Cubs are yet another team in this division that had an impressive draft. Ian Happ (round 1) was my guy in this process who put up big numbers, does a bit of everything, and one of the youngest college bats in the draft. He is younger than Andrew Benintendi, who went two picks ahead of him. Speaking of Benintendi, Donnie Dewees (round 2) put up numbers very similar to Benintendi. The only knock is the level of competition that Dewees faced, which should be balanced by the fact Dewees did very well on the Cape a year ago. I think the Cubs are the only team to get two of my top-25 players. After that they added Bryan Hudson (round 3), a 6'7" lefty with developed secondary stuff . Ryan Kellogg (round 5) went a hundred picks after his teammate Brent Lilek and I liked him more. He has a chance to be a back-end starter. Dave Berg (round 6) was one of the top closers in college baseball. The senior sign is a submarine style pitcher which might make him a righty specialist but one who could help by September.
Kyle Twomey (round 13) pitched for Berg's rival USC and was a third-round pick by the Oaklaknd A's out of high school. He has performed well at USC and has the chance to be a backend lefty starter. The pick I wonder about is Darryl Wilson (round 4). His stock rose as he beat up on weaker competition in Ohio. He didn't have the best performances against top-level competition during the last summer showcase. I think he has the potential to be a centerfielder, but I also worry about the cost of signing him away of Vanderbilt. If he is not an expensive sign, then I would be fine with this selection.
The Pirates might be fourth in the Central but they would have been second in a few other divisions. They managed to grab three of my top-75 in their top-three selections. Kevin Newman (round 1) and Kevin Kramer (round 2) will go through the system together as the shortstop and second baseman of the future. Both are high-contact, get on-base types who project to have above-average bats for those positions. Ke'Bryan Hayes (round 1) didn't have a sexy skillset but looks like an everyday starter at third thanks to his defensive value and potential plus hit tool. Jacob Taylor (round 4) to many was the top junior college arm in this draft. He is one of those guys who switched to the mound in college which means he has a little more upside and room for development. J.T. Brubaker (round 6) I scouted in person for Akron. He was the staff ace and one of the top pitchers in the MAC. A big right-hander, he has a chance as a back-end starter and worst case could end up in the bullpen.
Mitchell Tolman (round 7) intrigues me thanks to his stats. He walks more than he strikes out, hits a lot of doubles, and has a high BABIP, which shows good contact at the college level. He is a late pick but could be the surprise pick in the Pirates class. The pick I am not super high on, and this is like every team in this division was very hard to find, is Casey Hughston (round 3). He is an upside pick as a sophomore with power to all fields. I read reports that his plate discipline had improved but he still had a 2.5:1 strikeout to walk ratio. He has so many tools but the plate discipline is a concern for me and would have pushed him outside of the top 100 players in this draft.
If I was doing a straight winners and losers piece, every team in this division would be winners. They all did very well. This might be why every year it's a tight race in the NL Central division that involves multiple teams making it into the playoffs. The Reds were a team that swung for the fences early and often which means this draft could easily end up the best or the worst of all teams in the Central. They reached on a few players and that put them at the bottom but it was far from a bad draft. Tyler Stephenson (round 1), if he develops, brings an All-Star level bat to the catcher position. I have said it several times but it needs to be pointed out prep catcher is the most bust-prone position in the draft. This is why I am not in favor of drafting them early. Next was Antonio Santillan (round 2), a maxed-out pitcher at 6'3" and 240 pounds. He has hit 98 MPH but his mechanics need a lot of work. Blake Trahan (round 3) was a player I had been told would go in the first round. He has plus speed and some surprising pop for an up-the-middle talent. Ian Kahaloa (round 5) won't be 18 until October. The right-hander is hitting 97 and sits mid 90's. He was my favorite pick of the Reds because of youth and fastball velocity. His secondary stuff and command need some work, but I would bet on him developing.
The next round they got Jimmy Herget (round 6), who many think will end up a bullpen arm because he throws from a low three-quarters slot. If you want to draft a quick to the majors reliever in 6th round, I won't complain. Where I don't like drafting a quick to the majors reliever is in the top 75 picks. The Reds have a history of trying to convert college bullpen arms into starters having done it the last two drafts with high picks. The issue with doing that with Tanner Rainey (competitive balance B) is he is soon to be 23 and it's a bit late to do such a development unless you don't mind him not debuting until age 26 or later. He has big heat but no real third pitch. He is a good athlete who raked as a hitter in college, as well as hitting 97 MPH. The small school arm was a little over valued in the process to me, however. I just don't believe in drafting relievers before the fourth round; it's a matter of philosophy.