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 NL East is, so far, the hardest division for me to rank. The top four teams are nearly interchangeable. I debated the order before I finally landed on the current one. This should be no surprise, as no division had more draft capital than the NL East. There were three teams who picked in the top seven, and the other two teams had multiple picks in the top 40 because of free agent compensation. Every team had a lot of capital in terms of picks and pool money. In the end, none of them messed it up and most excelled.
1) Washington Nationals
The Nationals are the third team I have reviewed to end up drafting five players from my top 102 this year. The Nationals had a pair of picks in the late 20s, and hit on both of them. First they grabbed Carter Kieboom (round 1), whose brother is a catcher in their system. I have been a big fan of Kieboom throughout the process. I think he has a chance to stick at short, which was echoed by the Nats once they drafted him. A mature, complete hitter, if he stays at short, he has a chance be a top-five player at the position.
Next, they took Dane Dunning (round 1). Dunning is a right-hander from Florida who put up excellent numbers this year working out of the bullpen. Most think he has a future as a starter; the only reason he did not start at Florida was because of their ridiculous depth.
Jesus Luzardo (round 3) was another pick that surprised no one. The Nationals have drafted several players (Erick Fedde and Lucas Giolito come to mind) who were fresh off Tommy John surgery. The left-hander might be on the small size, but he was bringing the heat before his injury. If he had been healthy, there is little doubt he would have been a first rounder. Speaking of potential first rounders, Nick Banks (round 4) was once thought to be a slam dunk one, then injuries and weak performance torpedoed his stock. He was always a bit of a tweener as a corner outfielder, but there is a chance for a starter down the road, based on what we saw last year.
I have to mention a pair of later round picks. Kyle Simonds (round 14) is a right-hander from TAMU who nearly threw a perfect game this year. He was just one error away from it, and ended up with a no-hitter. A big kid with a long history of success, he has a chance as a back-end arm. Conner Simonetti (round 13) is an undersized left-handed first-baseman, with huge strike totals. When you add in the fact that he is from a small school, then you can see how much his plus power is valued, to get him drafted where he did.
My favorite pick was Sheldon Neuse (round 2), a shortstop from Oklahoma. I think he profiles best as a super utility player. I also think he has a chance to catch, and has the work ethic to pull off the transition. A well thought of prep player, he finally put it all together this year. He was drafted as a third baseman, but I think he could fill in just about anywhere on the diamond.
2) New York Mets
The Mets did not take a prep player until the 11th round and, as of the writing of this article, had already signed four of the 11 players they took in the top-10 rounds. Despite skipping on prep talent, they still drafted four of my top 102.
The Mets led off with one of my favorite players, Justin Dunn, who slid to 19. I think he could help a team out of the bullpen this year, then be stretched out as a starter for the future. If he had been starting all year, I think there is a very good chance he would have been a top-10 pick. Next they redrafted Anthony Kay (round 1), the lefty from UConn. They had drafted him out of high school, and he was too good a value to pass on for them at 3. After being a team that historically leads with bats early in the draft, they went with two pitchers with their first two picks. They would not take another arm until the 6th round.
There are four bats which stood out to me in the Mets draft: Pete Alonso (round 2), Blake Tiberi (round 3), Gene Cone (round 10), and Daniel Rizzie (round 13). Alonso is the big name in this group. After being linked heavily to Craig, the Mets found a power hitting first baseman in round two. Tiberi and Cone are a pair of players who performed at a very high level in the ACC, despite their lack of big tools. They are both guys who are numbers-over-tools types. Rizzie is a catcher with a strong arm and the ability to be a solid defender. His bat didn’t play up enough this year in a weak Horizon league.
My favorite pick, relative to when he was drafted, was Colby Woodmansee (round 5). He has already signed for full slot value and, at that cost. I wonder how a shortstop with power potential lasted so long. He doesn’t strike out a lot, has a chance to stick at short, and could end up with above-average power in general, and plus power for the shortstop position. He will more than likely end up being my favorite pick in the fifth round.
3) Atlanta Braves
The Braves made the first pick that threw people for a loop on draft day, yet they did exactly what I had advocated for back in April. With the number three pick, the Braves took an arm they valued who might not cost as much as the big names, but could still be a frontline pitcher. This allowed them to add two more arms that some viewed as first round talents.
Those three prep arms to lead off their draft were Ian Anderson (round 1), Joey Wentz (comp round A), and Kyle Muller (round 2). I did not have any of these arms listed among my top three prep arms. Consequently, as much as I like the approach, I was not sure about the application. I actually had Wentz ranked higher than Anderson. All three players are still good prospects, but none of them were the top player on my board when they were selected.
This is just an amusing anecdote, but I have to comment on the fact they drafted Brandon White (round 12) and Brandon White (round 13). To make things even more confusing, both players are right-handed pitchers, of roughly the same build, from the prep ranks. I hope they sign just one of them, if only to avoid a lot of confusion.
Drew Harrington (round 3) was one of the many Louisville players to go early. He is a big lefty, with a clean delivery, who was a bullpen arm until this year. He is a two-pitch guy, which might mean that he ends up in the bullpen down the road. If his changeup develops, there is a chance for a backend starter.
My favorite pick was Brett Cumberland (comp round B). There was a run on catchers towards the end of the second and throughout the third rounds. Cumberland is one of the best hitters in college baseball this year. He combined power output with high average and walk totals. I don’t think he can stick at catcher, but he could be a guy who plays a few games there a week for a team. Cumberland was the first hitter the Braves took, and they would not grab another one until the 7th round.
4) Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies played it rather safe throughout the draft. They focused on prep players early, but ones who were of the safer variety. They made a lot of good picks, but none that blew me away or offered MVP or Cy Young potential. It was a strong draft, but unlike the other three teams above them, the Phillies did not have any extra picks, which hurt their ability to add talent, relative to other teams in the division.
They started out with Mickey Moniak, a safe centerfielder who is young for his age, has a strong approach, but is unlikely to turn into a 20-homerun guy. He should move quickly for a prep player and, because of his youth, has a chance to surprise. Next up was Kevin Gowdy (round 2) a pick that was so well known, I actually got it right in my mock. He is in an upper-tier of safe prep arms, similar to Braxton Garrett and Cole Ragans. Gowdy should move quickly and shows two potential plus pitches down the road.
Let’s start with the prep players of note that stood out to me, Josh Stephen (round 11) and Cole Stobbe (round 3). Stobbe is a very good athlete, who should be able to handle third He has a chance at above-average hit and power tools, but is likely closer to average for both in the future. Stephen is one of the many guys who put on a good show at the National High School Invitational and helped their stock. He reminds me a bit of Moniak, frankly, as a smaller outfielder who’s most known for his ability to hit. He is unlikely to stick in center and his speed is closer to average.
Now for the college players that stood out, David Martinelli (round 6), JoJo Romero (round 4), Cole Irvin (round 5), and Grant Dyer (round 8). Romero was my favorite of this group. He more than likely ends up in the bullpen as an undersized lefty, where his stuff could play up. Still, he shows four pitches right now and has a chance to start. Martinelli is a speed / defense outfielder, one of a few the Phillies drafted. I was not as high on him as others because I think he profiles as a fourth outfielder. Irvin is the typical command/control lefty who has a chance to be a backend starter. Dyer was much better for UCLA last year out of the bullpen, and that is where he profiles long term.
Not sure if Darick Hall (round 14) was my favorite pick, as I also really liked Jake Kelzer (round 18). Hall gets the nod post 10th round for me as a favorite because of his power. He had 37 extra base hits this year, 20 of them homeruns. In his first year for Dallas Baptist, he excelled. He was a two-way player, who was a starter as well. His arm is why many think he should profile in the outfield. Another plus for Hall is that he won’t turn 21 until July. He might be hard to sign, but would be an interesting add.
5) Miami Marlins
This marks the second year in a row where the Marlins are last in these divisional draft rankings. This year, they did a lot better than 2015, however. They took four outfielders in the top-10 rounds and two of them, Corey Bird (round 7) and Aaron Knapp (round 8), have very similar profiles as speed / defense outfielders with no power.
They did very well in the first round with Braxton Garrett, a safe, fast moving lefty with the chance for three above-average to plus pitches. Next, they took yet another big commit away from Vanderbilt, with Thomas Jones (round 2). Jones is a hyper athletic outfielder, who had several Division I football offers to play safety. He is raw, but there is a chance for a five-tool player down the road. There are worse approaches to the draft than going after Vanderbilt recruits.
Chad Smith (round 11) was nearly signed by the Indians last year after they took him in the 23rd round. He was reported as signing and, if you look him up on The Baseball Cube website, he is listed as having signed. He ended up at Mississippi and posted good strike out totals, with a high walk rate.
My favorite later pick was Dustin Beggs (round 16). He was the least heralded of the Kentucky arms, but out-pitched both Kyle Cody and Zach Brown throughout the year. He is a pitchability right-hander, who showed plus control throughout the year, posting a walk rate under 1.5. He has a chance to be a back-end or swing pitcher for the Marlins down the road.