Editor’s Note: In any sport, someone who grades a draft the week after it happens is bound to look like a fool down the road. One can judge the value of the players taken relative to expected position, but even this is fraught with issues. I mean, who cares if a team grabs a player sooner than expected if they blossom into a star? I will also admit I enjoy reading draft reviews. They are interesting and help you to get a good overview on what a team did, so there is a place for them for sure.
Instead of grades, I am going to rank teams in each division top to bottom in order of the drafts I liked best to least. Just because a team is at the bottom does not mean I hated their draft; last year, for instance, I loved just about every draft in the NL Central. This is just my opinion and, of course, I am only one person, so I can easily miss on players. Still, having seen a few hundred players this year, I do have some strong opinions on who excelled and who did not.
I am sticking to the top 12 rounds mostly, as I think most teams come out and try and sign those first 12. The first 10 are more of a guarantee, but, more and more, we see teams not start to gamble more till close to 15. If I see anyone I really like later who has a chance of signing, I will comment.
I thought I would lead off with the AL East, a division which saw teams take a pair of sliding top talents in round one, Blake Rutherford and Jason Groome. This was a division where the first pick happened at 12, and saw just one team lose picks thanks to free agent compensation. Consistently one of the best divisions in baseball, the AL East came away with a very strong day one.
Let’s see how they ranked.
1) Boston Red Sox
It would be very hard to start without mentioning that they got the pitcher I thought was best in this class at 12, in Jason Groome. This was interesting, as I had heard them linked to Matt Manning, but didn’t think they could afford his rumored $5 million dollar bonus demand. I was told Groome’s demand was north of that, even. I was also told no deal was in place here, that the Red Sox would try their best, but, if he decides to go to college, so be it. It is similar to when the Pirates took Mark Appel in 2012. I have to note, though, that if Boston fails to sign Groome, that would drop them to the bottom of this list. Losing the value of the first year of development is too big of a loss for such a high pick.
They followed that pick up with C.J. Chatham (round 2), who hits and I believe can play shortstop at the upper levels. He had a lot of heat late in the process and I think he could have gone as high as the Dodgers' third pick. It was a shortstop weak class, but Chatham is a solid second round value to me. Shaun Anderson (round 3) was stuck in the bullpen, because Florida was loaded with pitching. There is a chance he can start with his pitch mix, but, if he can’t, then you have a quick moving bullpen arm.
Bobby Dalbec (round 4) has as much raw power as any player in this class. This year was a disaster for him, and I wonder if going from third wheel to main attraction affected him this year. He is a nice gamble, especially if it’s for slot. You try him as a hitter and see if you can rebuild his confidence. If he fails, then you can try him as reliever, since he throws in the mid-90s. Brady Bramlett (round 13) is a big-bodied senior pitcher, who has a chance to be a swing arm down the road. Robby Sexton (round 14) saw his control greatly improve this year, trimming nearly five walks per nine off his average, and you can never have enough lefties. Lastly, I had a fourth-round grade on Nick Quintana (round 11); love the bat and I think he can catch down the road. I think he was drafted as fallback; if Groome fails to sign, then they could shift money to Quintana. I just can’t see how they could afford both.
My favorite pick was Michael Shawaryn (round 5). He is a lot like Dalbec in that, this time last year, he was viewed as a likely first-rounder. He was a horse for the first two years at Maryland and for Team USA. I have postulated that he needs rest, and that the issues with his release point are just due to a tired arm. He has a chance to be a back-end starter, with the floor of a reliever. I am still a fan of his and think that, if he gets anywhere near slot, this was a great value. Shawaryn needs some time to rest. I think he should get back to where he was a year ago, when he was widely considered a late first rounder and a future starting pitcher in the majors.
2) Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were rumored to be on many prep players, but instead went the conservative route early, like I had expected. T.J. Zeuch (round 1) was a player that was going to go in the first round. The 6’7” right-hander was one of the few players this year to really show improvement and elevate his stock. The last two years, he has put up good numbers, both at Pittsburgh and in the Cape. I think his command and control are both slightly under rated skills. He had low walk rates in both settings, as well. Once he returned from injury, it was a nonstop arrow up for Zeuch. J.B. Woodman (round 2) is a player I put at 60, even though he was in the 100s most places. I saw an athlete who started to put things together and excelled in the top conference in the country. It takes some players longer; this especially can be the case when that player was a big time football player. Don’t get me wrong, kids should be multi-sport athletes, but missing fall and summer ball can put some guys behind. Bo Bichette (round 2) was the only prep player the Blue Jays took in the top-five rounds. He has the potential to be a plus bat at second, but it’s a very loud swing that could cause problems down the road. Cavan Biggio (round 5) never quite turned into the player many expected at Notre Dame. He has a great eye at the plate, posting high walk totals. He has a chance to play second, but, if he has to move off the position, it will limit his value, because of lack of pop and inconsistencies with the bat.
I thought it was funny to see the Blue Jays take Andy Ravel (round 9). He came into Kent State with the same amount of publicity as Eric Lauer, and ended up getting drafted by the team that drafted Lauer out of high school. Ravel isn’t a big guy and doesn’t have over powering stuff, yet he has been a pretty consistent performer, with the pitch mix to possibly start.
Zach Jackson (round 3) is a nice upside gamble. He has two plus pitches and good velocity. He was bounced from the bullpen to the rotation and back. His control has been an issue throughout school, but the stuff is there to be an elite back end arm. Kirby Snead (round 10) is the opposite of Jackson. The lefty is a safe arm, who excelled more thanks to control and command rather than great stuff.
My favorite post round one pick was Woodman, but I have talked at length about him. So instead, I wanted to give a player some time who I also really liked. Joshua Palacios (round 4) stepped right into the SEC this year from San Jacinto College, and proceeded to hit .385. He posted big BABIP numbers his entire college career, which is a great indicator of future success. He doesn’t bring any power, but his hit tool, speed, and ability to play all three outfield spots gives him a chance to make it to the majors.
3) New York Yankees
This is a draft I am conflicted on. I loved the first two picks; they grabbed some of the top players on my board. Their top-three picks were strong, but after that, they seemed to settle into a very low upside, money-saving mode. They took nothing but senior signs from the sixth-round on. I have to comment that this isn’t the old days, where senior signs where the best seniors in the class. Many seniors will turn down low ball offers, feeling they can get more if they wait until the 11th round.
The Yankees first rounder was the top player on my board, Blake Rutherford. I see a guy who could potentially be a Michael Brantley type of talent. He could have a plus plus hit tool, with above-average power. He slid because of age and possible bonus demands. I had little concern about his age, think this was the best pick in the first round, and see a potential number three hitter for the Yankees down the road. Nolan Martinez (round 3) was taken right around his valuation. He wasn’t the biggest kid, but was hitting the low 90s with a clean delivery. He is a safer prep arm, more a pitcher than a thrower. He looks like a potential back end starter down the line. Dom Thompson-Williams (round 5) played well for South Carolina this year, his first after transferring in. He showed gap power and speed this year. There is the chance for some growth, as he has played just the one year of NCAA level baseball.
The Yankees took three players with very similar offensive numbers and profiles in Tim Lynch (round 9), Dalton Blaser (round 8), and Keith Skinner (round 7). They are players with little power, who rarely struck out, and posted good walk totals. The focus on this draft was often all about guys who can get on-base. Skinner plays catcher, while the other two play first base.
It should be no surprise that my favorite pick, outside of the first round, was Nick Solak (2). I had him graded as one of the top 60 players on my Big Board. I knew I was going to be alone on an island rating him this high, but that’s fine. He is a no-doubt second baseman, who hits and works extremely hard. He showed gap power, and on-base skills all year. I think he is the future second baseman for the Yankees. Solak is the kind of guy who gets undervalued, because of what he can’t do, instead of paying attention to what he has done.
4) Baltimore Orioles
A year after taking a rather safe numbers over scouting bat, the Orioles came back with a safe numbers and scouting arm. Cody Sedlock (round 1) was rumored to go as high as 17 to the Astros. One has to wonder if his overuse this year concerned a few teams, and caused him to slide a little. The upside is that this was Sedlock’s first year as a starter, after working out of the bullpen for Illinois the last two years. So there is not as much wear-and-tear as there could be here.
They followed up with Keegan Akin (round 2), a player who I saw pitch. The floor here is rather high, as a backend reliever with two plus pitches. If his third pitch can develop, then there is a chance for mid-rotation arm here, thanks to his pitch profile. I liked JoJo Romero more than Matthias Diez (round 2) in terms of JUCO arms, but it is easy to see why the O’s gambled on him with their third pick. He is a big kid, who put up big numbers this year and has a chance to start.
I wasn’t as big on Austin Hays (round 3) as others, but think there is a good chance for a corner outfielder or platoon bat there. Lucas Humpal (round 9) was an interesting senior sign; he has nice control and command, but no exciting pitches. Zach Muckenhirn (round 11) is a similar type of pitcher to Humpal, more command than stuff. Ryan Moseley (round 8) is a player with a lot of upside, if you can fix him; but when was the last time the O’s fixed a troubled arm?
Preston Palmeiro (round 7) is a player I actually liked quite a bit and thought was a good value in the seventh. He is going to get dinged because he had a bad Cape, is six feet tall, and plays first base. On top of that, the ACC, while an excellent conference, was a little down on top-shelf pitching this year. So people judged Palmeiro and moved on. I think he could end up being a fill-in type player, maybe a bit more. In the 7th round, to find a guy who has a good shot at the majors is a solid find.
5) Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays had been connected to Joshua Lowe (round 1) for weeks, and ended up taking him at 13. There is some boom and bust potential, but always the fall back that he could work as a reliever if he fails as a hitter. He is the top two-way player in this class. He has plus power potential and he is a plus athlete. Later on, they grabbed his big brother Nathanial Lowe (round 13). Lowe was on his third school in three years when he arrived at Mississippi State. He showed solid gap power, walked more than he struck out, and had a high BABIP. Since he plays first and didn’t hit a lot of homeruns, he was more than likely undervalued based on his production.
I was not a big fan of Ryan Boldt (round 2), who showed little progression over his three years in school. The tools are there, but he never turned into the player we all thought he would become. Jake Fraley (round 2) looks like a future back up to me. He can play all three spots in the outfield and has nice speed, but didn’t show enough to be a top-100 player.
Easton McGee (round 4) is a big kid with low 90s velocity, but I often find that guys who are 6’7” or larger can have problems with their mechanics. The upside is that they often can easily add velocity as they get stronger. He has the upside to be a number three pitcher, to me. J.D. Busfield (round 7) is another 6’7” right-hander, but his numbers at school show him to be a different type of pitcher. He posted a great walk rate, but an underwhelming strikeout rate for Loyola.
My favorite late pick was nearly Nathaniel Lowe, but, instead, I want to highlight Kenny Rosenberg (round 8), a left-handed pitcher from Cal State-Northridge. Now, I will admit he is not a guy I knew well until I did research. Yet, when I see a lefty with a strikeout per nine of nearly 11 and a walks per nine under three, I pay attention. He also posted a low hit rate per nine. The numbers alone here make me think he has a chance as a lefty reliever down the road.