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 West had teams drafting from 6-30 in the first round. It saw one team grab five of my top-100 players, tying the Chicago White Sox for most in the AL. It also saw another team only grab two, the lowest of any American League team that did not lose draft picks this year. For this division, there was a clear top two, a middle two, and then a bottom. It was the easiest of the AL divisions to layout for one of these pieces.
1) Oakland A's
The A’s surprised everyone with how often they went for pitching. They started the day with A.J. Puk (round 1), the left-hander who had been viewed as a top-two lock up until the final week of the draft year. Puk has a ton of upside, thanks to his size, velocity, and pitch mix. His command and control have been a mess in college. I comped him to Drew Pomeranz, a former A's pitcher, pretty early in the process and stand by that. Next, they grabbed Daulton Jefferies (comp round A). If not for an injury, which shut him down for a few games, Jefferies would have been a top-25 selection. He is an undersized right-hander who doesn’t have plus velocity, but gets it done with three average to above-average pitches. Next, they grabbed Logan Shore (round 2), the safest player in this draft. He should be fast-tracked to the majors, as there is not a lot of room for growth. He should be a safe, fast-moving arm. When you look at these three picks, the A’s could have built 3/5 of their future rotation.
Skylar Szynski (round 4), who hails from the prep ranks of Indiana, looks like a back-end starter type. He was the first prep player the A’s selected and he has already signed. Szynski was their fourth arm in the top five picks. He was also the fifth straight player from my top-100 to go to the A’s. JaVon Shelby (round 5) was busted for Adderall a week before the draft. He also followed the Kentucky tradition of stumbling during his junior year and seeing his stock crater. He is a good athlete, from a baseball family, and he has bat speed for days. He looked like a potential late first rounder or early second rounder at the start of the year. I love the upside value of a Shelby here. Brandon Bailey (round 6) was a player who was close to my top-102. He is all of 5’9”, but the numbers were off the charts for the right-hander from Gonzaga. He is a numbers-over-scouting guy, but when I see a strikeout rate over 11 and a walk rate under three, I see a pitcher who has a floor as a reliever.
My favorite pick should come as no surprise to anyone who followed me throughout the process. Sean Murphy (round 3) was a player I was high on. He suffered a hamate injury, which hurt his numbers this year. On the day I saw him, he did it all. He is a clear plus defender behind the plate, with a 70-grade arm. One just has to look at his frame to see the plus right-handed power potential. His defensive skills alone will make him a future backup, but, if his bat clicks, he could be a very good starter down the road.
2) Seattle Mariners
The Mariners getting Kyle Lewis at pick 11 was going to earn them points. A team that was set on college players took the top college player on my board. I liked HS OF Blake Rutherford more, but if you were set on a college player, there was none better than Lewis. He has the highest ceiling of any of the college bats in this class. His swing-and-miss has always been a concern, and part of the reason I had him lower than most, but he’s still a great value overall.
The Mariners grabbed some infield bats I really liked. Bryson Brigman (round 3) might have to move from shortstop to second, but you have to give him a chance at short. The bat will play at either position. With the lack of shortstops in this class, I was surprised he lasted that long. Donnie Walton (round 5) might have been the top senior this year in college baseball. The son of a coach and scout, Walton looks like a future utility guy. He can hit and get on base while playing multiple positions on the infield, none of them plus nor awful, though. Walton is a guy everyone loved; I’ve heard nothing but positive reports and I would be more surprised if he did not make the majors than if he did. David Greer (round 10) posted a high BABIP, with gap power and slow improvement over each year. I think he might end up in the outfield long term, but I like the offensive production and numbers for a player taken that late.
Thomas Burrows (round 4) is a lefty reliever whose numbers for Alabama were sick this year. He has been fantastic the last three years in the closer role. This year, though, he raised his game with a K-rate over 13 and a BB-rate under three. One can never have enough lefty relievers, and Burrows is a bet on performance in a top conference. Reggie McClain (round 13) has been on the radar for a while, dating all the way back to high school. He started out at Georgia, but found his way to Missouri, where he performed well the last two years. He is a player with plus control; he might not have an out-pitch, but he walked just nine players this year across 101 innings.
My favorite pick after the first round was Joe Rizzo (round 2). Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has had a long history of taking high-upside gambles in the second round. He goes for prep talent there, but Rizzo is not his typical "loud tools" prep player. Rizzo had some late first round talk, despite being well below six feet and without a defined position. The kid can hit; his hit tool is right up there with Rutherford in this class. He might end up at first down the road, but the bat will play.
3) Texas Rangers
I have to disclose that, while their drafts often work out, the Rangers and I often seem to disagree on draft picks.
They started the draft off with a pair of prep arms. Cole Ragans (round 1) is a left-handed prep arm with two potential above-average pitches and a solid third. There were some comparisons to Cole Hamels, but I don’t see that. He is one of the more polished prep arms in this class. Alex Speas (round 2) is pretty much exactly what we have seen the Rangers go for in the draft. A high-upside, big risk prep athlete from Georgia. I kicked myself over not mocking him to the Rangers in round two, because he made so much sense there. He is the opposite of Ragans in many regards. Speas has none of the polish and, right now, is all about easy velocity. He needs a lot more time and work, but the ceiling is very high.
The Rangers took a pair of players from Pittsburgh: Alex Kowalczyk (round 12) and Charles LeBlanc (round 4). Kowalczyk is a senior sign, whose numbers jumped up this year. He is one of the older players in this class, turning 23 in October, and played for three schools in four years. LeBlanc is a young for the collegiate class and is from Canada. Upon graduation, he went to a prep school for a year, so he was draft eligible since this was his third year out of high school, even though he won’t be 21 until next June. He has two years at Pittsburgh and is just 13 months older than Rutherford. LeBlanc is a good athlete, who hit well this year and walked more than he struck out. He doesn’t have any power, so he needs to stick up the middle to have a chance as a starter.
My favorite pick was Kyle Cody (round 6), which are words I never thought I would say. Last year, he was a second rounder and this year, after he struggled, Cody fell to the 6th round. I think his stuff can play up in the bullpen. While he has had control issues, he is a potential back-end bullpen arm.
4) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The talk on the Angels leading up to the draft was all about prep hitters. Instead, they popped Matt Thaiss (round 1) at pick 16. This might have been due to the fact that the Twins had taken Alex Kirilloff a few picks before, and Kirilloff had been heavily linked to LAA. Thaiss is an on-base machine with average power and he should move quickly. In the end, the Angels stuck to their traditional conservative approach.
Of course, the next two picks were about as far from the safety of Thaiss as possible. Brandon Marsh (round 2) is a big, raw kid with loud tools. His speed is plus and, with his size, there is a chance for power down the road. After the draft, there was a report that Marsh would go to Kennesaw State instead of signing. If true, the fact that he would choose to go to a small school over signing is a big red flag. It also severely hurts this class, and causes the Angels to fall to four in the division. The Angels and Rangers were close, so failing to sign a top-50 talent and losing out on a year of development for whoever they would have drafted in Marsh's place is a rather big deal. Now, I saw this listed in one place; it was a solid source, but still only one place. If Marsh changes his mind, then the Angels would move back up to third in ranking this division.
After Marsh, the Angels took Nonie Williams (round 3). Williams was home schooled. He just turned 18 and reclassified for the draft. He was the third prep player from Kansas to go in this class, setting a new record for the state. Williams has a chance to stick at short, with above-average hit and power tools.
The Angels grabbed a pair of players with plus defensive profiles up the middle in Connor Justus (round 5) and Troy Montgomery (round 8). I saw Montgomery multiple times this year. He showed plus speed and defense in those games. He walked a lot this year and showed some pop from his small frame. A future platoon or backup player, Montgomery was a great get late because the tools give him a pretty safe floor as a backup. Justus is a shortstop, who saw his numbers jump this year. He displayed gap power while walking more than he struck out. He was my favorite of their late round selections, because of his mix of numbers and athleticism. I was surprised to see him fall so far in a draft that lacked true shortstops.
5) Houston Astros
I was a big fan of the Astros' first two picks, but after that, it was not my most favorite draft.
After being mostly connected to college arms, the Astros went with high school right-hander Forrest Whitley (round 1) at 17. I had not expected him to go that high, but after Ian Anderson went at three, it caused the prep arms to come off the board very quickly. Whitley was the fifth high school pitcher off the board. I see a mid-rotation arm in Whitley. Ronnie Dawson (round 2) is a player I was very familiar with, having seen him multiple times. He looks like a linebacker, and has the power ability one would expect for such a player. His hit tool is the question, but the speed and power profile made him a second round player to me.
The Astros showed a preference for defense when they selected Stephen Wrenn (round 6) and Jake Rogers (round 3). Rogers was one of the top defenders in the entire class, not just at catcher, but one of the best overall. My concern here was that he was playing in a weak conference with Tulane and still posted a sub 600 OPS his first two years. His hit tool is always going to be well below-average, but what changed this year was his power explosion. He didn't hit a homerun during his first two years and then exploded for seven in 2016. I think there is a little chance he will hit enough to start in the big leagues, but his defense should see him get to the bigs. Wrenn showed some power on the Cape, but he had a weak junior year. He has speed and is a solid defender, so there is a chance for him to be a bench bat.
My favorite late round pick was nearly Carmen Benedetti (round 12) of Michigan, but I liked him better as a bat rather than a lefty reliever (which is what the Astros announced him as). So instead, I will go with the little talked about Spencer Johnson (round 16) of Missouri State. Johnson is a 6’4” outfielder who hit 24 homeruns this year. He had nine the previous three years combined, so it was quite the jump for Johnson. I get all of the reasons why he was not a top prospect. Yet, after the 10th round, numbers guys like him are exactly who I would want to roll the dice on.