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.
The AL Central had a pair of teams pick in the top 10, and another team pair of teams that lost picks, due to free agent compensation. In general, I would say that everyone did pretty well in this division. I thought the top two teams did very well, each having at least four players who were in my top-100 players.
1) Chicago White Sox
The White Sox drafted five of my top-100 players, which was going to make them a favorite of mine. They started with Zack Collins, who I thought was a bit of an overdraft. Yet, he was still a solid get for them there, as a bat-only prospect who has a chance to be a middle of the order hitter and does everything at the plate. They followed it up with Zack Burdi (round 1), who can help this year as a reliever, and then possibly be stretched out next year to start. He should be the first player to the majors from this class, and could help as early as late July. Then they grabbed Alec Hansen (round 2), maybe the most talented arm in the college ranks. If there is a team that has a long history of fixing or getting the most out of arms, it is the White Sox. I have no issue with the White Sox using a second round pick on a high boom-or-bust potential here and think there are few teams who could do better to get the most out of Hansen.
Alex Call (round 3) is a bit of a reach, but I assume the deal is under slot. Call has hit and hit and hit in the MAC. This year, his power exploded and his ISO went up to .309, as he had 13 homeruns after having just six the last two years combined. The White Sox were heavy at the MAC tournament and they must have liked what they saw in Call. He did a bit of everything on his way to being the best hitter in the MAC this year. They followed Call up with another guy who just hits in Jameson Fisher (round 4). He doesn’t have a position and played against weak competition, but he hit over .400 this year and .389 two years ago. One of the older players in this class, with his hit tool he should be dropped in High-A this week, with the hope of getting him reps in Double-A before the year is done.
My favorite pick, though, was Luis Curbelo (round 6), one of the last players to get taken from my Big Board. Curbelo was a top-100 player nearly everywhere. He went 176 in the draft. After a very good summer, he struggled a bit in the spring and saw his value drop. He is more than likely going to have to move off of short, but I would try him at second before third. The offensive profile would be plus there, as it would at third, frankly.
I honestly think the White Sox added four or five guys who have a legitimate chance at cracking their top-10 prospect list. This was one of the best drafts in the entire league to me.
2) Minnesota Twins
After months of rumors that the Twins would take a safe college arm early, like they did last year, they instead went with the approach they have taken for the years before 2015: lots of high upside prep talent. They started with Alex Kirilloff, a prep outfielder from the Pittsburgh area. He has big, natural power, and has always hit well. There are questions about his bat speed, and some thought he might have to move to first, though that chatter got quieter as the spring went on. The Twins then went with another power bat prep player from a cold weather state, with Ben Rortvedt (round 2). Rortvedt is a catcher/first base prospect, whose calling card is his bat, and the power contained therein. He is sub six feet, but with his strength and bat speed, you could see him as a top-five offensive catcher very easily. Akil Baddoo (round 2) is a guy with 20/20 potential. He isn’t the biggest guy and, more than likely, will have to play left field, but he’s a baseball rat, who could be Corey Ray like in three years.
The first college player they selected was Griffin Jax (round 3), the right-hander from the Air Force. He started to gain a lot of talk over the last month, thanks to his athleticism and four-pitch mix. The question was, could he get a wavier for his owed service time? It would be a rather big deal to lose a pitcher for two years while he served. Going in the third, it seems likely he will. If you love numbers, then you have to love Thomas Hackimer (round 4). The senior reliever from St. John's had a strike out rate of nearly 12, a walk rate just above three, and a hit rate barely above four. The Big East is not a strong conference, but the numbers got my attention for sure. As a senior reliever, he should be well under slot, to help with the four prep players they drafted early.
My favorite pick, though, was Jose Miranda (round 2), a shortstop out of Puerto Rico, who I had in the 70s and put the sleeper tag on. I was lucky to talk with a scout the week after he got back from Puerto Rico, and he raved about the kid. I said there was a chance he would be the best shortstop prospect from Puerto Rico this year. He might have to move off to third, but the scout I talked with thought he had a chance to stay at short, with at least average hit and power tools. There is no team that seems to know Puerto Rico better than the Twins, so it should be no shock they grabbed Miranda.
3) Cleveland Indians
The Indians had a very interesting draft. They basically drafted the exact same type of arm three times, took three polished prep players, and no senior signs. I feel the need to give full disclosure in case you didn’t know. I am an Indians writer when I don’t write on the draft. As a matter of fact, I have written up every single Indians draft pick for six straight years now. I know their draft better than anyone outside of the organization. You can find a write up on every single pick on the Indians Scout site, so head there for more detail than you would ever need.
I was not a fan of the drafting of Will Benson at 14. He is a great kid, and I hope he proves me wrong. Yet, there is a reason he was listed in the 30s on most boards -- his hit tool is a mess right now. His swing has changed in the same at-bats during games. On draft night, I rated his future power as plus with his hit tool below-average; right now, it’s well below. A great kid with loud tools, he reminds me a lot of Courtney Hawkins a few years ago. Again, I will reiterate; he is an awesome kid, by all accounts, and the Indians have had success fixing swings of late. Logan Ice (round 2) was the first of six catchers the Indians would draft, and the safest bet to stay behind the plate, with average offensive tools that would make him a potential starter down the road.
Aaron Civale (round 3), Shane Bieber (round 4), and Andrew Lantrip (round 8) all have very similar profiles. They are all polished right-handed pitchers, whose best skills are command and control. They don’t necessarily have a single plus pitch, yet they each have multiple developed average pitches across the board. They are the definition of safe, fast moving arms, with plus control and command. After the success with Josh Tomlin, the Indians seemed to draft three guys cut from the same cloth.
Conner Capel (round 5) was a top-100 player on most boards. He is old for his class, turning 19 just a few days after Blake Rutherford. Capel brings speed, defense, and a strong work ethic. The Indians think he will be more of a power bat than an on-base guy. Ulysses Cantu (round 6) is a polished right-handed hitter, who has a chance to hit for average and 15-20 HR. He has no position right now, but the bat will play.
Nolan Jones (round 2) was by far my favorite selection. I had mocked him to the Indians several times throughout the process, as he just fit everything they tend to look for. Of course, I had him there at pick 14, not 55, where he went. He was a top-20 player on most boards, and I have no clue why it was he fell so far on draft night. I think he is the top player the Indians drafted, and the best pick in the entire second round.
4) Detroit Tigers
The Tigers draft was almost a one person draft. Matt Manning (round 1) was rumored to have a $4-5 million dollar signing bonus demand. The Tigers had a total of $5.4 million in pool money, so, in many regards, unless Manning takes a lot less money than reported, this draft becomes darn near a one person draft. Manning has the potential to be a frontline starter, but he is very raw, which makes him far from a safe bet. I love the upside and potential, but I am always leery of making any prep player the sole focus on my entire draft, especially when it’s a team that lacks depth in the minors.
The Tigers did not draft again until the fourth, thanks to the signings of Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann. They grabbed Kyle Funkhouser (round 4) here who, last year, turned down $2 million and won’t approach that this year. He is the same arm he was a year ago. A big guy, with control issues, who can be brilliant at times, but mostly looks like a back-end innings eater. His main advantage is that he should move very quickly.
They followed this up by taking an interesting pair of relievers. Mark Ecker (round 5) was about as dominant as a reliever can get this year, and did it in the SEC for TAMU. He had a strikeout rate of nearly 11, a walk rate barely over one, a hit rate under five, and an ERA of 0.39. Bryan Garcia (round 6) posted a high strikeout rate of over 13, with an okay walk rate over four. These pair of right-handers would be viewed as undersized, but have the production where one might hope they could move quickly. They should both be under-slot signings, as well.
My favorite pick, though, was Virginia shortstop Daniel Pinero (round 9). As a 6’5” shortstop, Pinero is virtually a baseball unicorn. I could not recall a shortstop of this size, so I had to dig it up using baseball reference. In the history of MLB, one player has been 6’5” and larger and played at least 50% of their games at shortstop, Mike Morse of Seattle in 2005. Pinero has played well the last two years for Virginia, in a park that is known for being hard on hitters. This year, he showed a lot more gap power, hitting 20 doubles after 14 the last two years combined. I am intrigued by players we have never seen before and Pinero, if he can stick at short, would be the first player of his size to handle the position. If he does move off, with his gap power, production, and eye at the plate, I think the bat will play elsewhere, or work as a utility player.
5) Kansas City Royals
It might not seem fair that the Royals are in last on my list, because of lack of picks, but that is at least partially the case. It is hard to judge them higher when they landed a single player in my top-100, the least of any team in MLB.
A.J. Puckett (round 2), from Pepperdine, was a late riser in this class. He has already signed and got a signing bonus of $1.2 million, so they paid him like a first rounder. This had effects later on that I will get to, since he was 250K over slot. Puckett looks like a mid- to back-end starter. He repeats his delivery with good velocity, which seemed to spike a little late. I have no issue with this selection or the price they paid.
Now, to sign him, they had to take a series of relievers to make up for that money over slot, Jace Vines, RHP, TAMU (round 4), Walker Sheller, RHP, Stetson (9), and Richard Lovelady, LHP, Kennesaw State (round 10). If they were honest, the hope here is that one works out. I would bet on the lefty with the low walk rate, myself, in Lovelady.
Khalil Lee (round 3) will more than likely also cost over slot, and be the second big name recruit that Liberty will lose in the draft this year, with Kirilloff being the other. Lee is an interesting two-way player, who was showing mid-90s velocity as a left-handed pitcher, but stands all of 5’10”. As an outfielder, which is what he was drafted as, Lee looks like the prototypical Royal. His best skills are his speed and defense, which both project as plus. His bat speed might also allow for double-digit homeruns from his small frame.
My favorite pick, though, if for no other reason than his amazing nickname, is Chris DeVito (round 8). He’s known as the Red Hercules, thanks to his red hair and large build. DeVito plays first base, but his best position is DH. He put up big numbers this year, playing in a very friendly hitter’s environment. He walked nearly as much as he struck out this year, just two strikeouts more, and his BABIP and ISO were quite high. DeVito will go as far as his bat takes him, but I am sure there will be many rooting for Red Hercules. Red Hercules, coming this summer, likely to Lexington and MILB TV screens near you.