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.
For the second year in a row, the St. Louis Cardinals are at the top of the NL Central's draft rankings. This is a division that had two teams pick in the top five and another that did not pick until pick 104. Unlike last year, the NL Central was not the top division overall. There were a few teams' drafts I didn’t love. There was a big divide between the top and bottom of the NL Central this year.
I know it’s late in the process, but I am changing these a bit. I decided for my favorite pick section I am going to make it my favorite post 10th round pick. So this means more analysis for everyone, which is good for you, I hope.
1) St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals were the only team to end up with six players from my top 102. They had the advantage of three picks in the top 35; only San Diego had more picks early on. They used these picks to grab a lot of interesting players; not just in terms of talent, but in terms of back-stories, as well.
The Cardinals started it out by taking Delvin Perez (round 1), one of the best shortstops in the class and, really, one of the best players in this entire class. If Perez had a plus attitude and work ethic, he would have been the top selection in the draft. The tools are there for him to be a star. The question is, will he work hard enough to get there? The character issues that had been talked about all year were highlighted at the end of the draft period when he was busted for PEDs.
Next up was another prep player, Dylan Carlson (round 1). Carlson was well known to scouts, but he seemed to have a lower profile among the writing community. I had him to the Cardinals in round two because I knew they loved him. The Cardinals did not want to risk losing Carlson, so they drafted him in the first round and saved $559,500 in pool money in the process. Carlson is a big kid who projects as a corner outfielder, with a strong arm and a chance for above-average hit and power tools from both sides of the plate. Walker Robbins (round 5) was the only other prep player the Cardinals selected in the top-10 rounds. This went against their recent history of selecting a lot of high school pitchers in the early rounds. Robbins is a likely first baseman and, with his size and swing, he should hit for power down the road.
After the first two high school bats, the Cardinals then hit the college pitcher ranks heavily with Dakota Hudson (round 1), Connor Jones (round 2) and Zac Gallen (round 3). Hudson is head and shoulders above the other two. He really excelled all year in the SEC. Hudson faded a bit towards the end, which hurt his stock, but he pitched 79 more innings this year than the previous two years combined. He was one of the best picks in the first round.
Jones had first round talk before his strikeout rate plummeted. Virginia's history of failure when it comes to producing big league pitchers may also have come into play. For such a strong program, Virginia has never produced so much as a solid back-end of the rotation starter. Their best pitcher has been a reliever, Javier Lopez, and his 8.4 WAR is the highest in school history (Sean Doolittle, who was drafted as a hitter, could catch Lopez, as he has already amassed a 4.3 WAR).
Gallen has average stuff and is undersized, which is why he slid, despite excellent production this year. His command and control look like potential plus skills and, combined with four average pitches, give him a very good chance to be a back end starter.
The Cardinals finished first in my NL Central ranking because they drafted so many players I liked. Before I move onto to my favorite pick, I have to mention a pair of catchers the Cardinals took, Jeremy Martinez (round 4) and Andrew Knizner (round 7). I predicted a catcher to the Cardinals in the third round because I saw an organizational need and this draft was strong at that position. It seemed most teams agreed and we saw a run on catchers in round three. I was a big Martinez fan and thought he was the best catcher in the PAC-12 this year. He is an average catcher defensively, but his offensive profile gives him a chance to start. He is a polished hitter, who has gap power and uses the whole field. The numbers I use all had him very high. Knizner seemed to regress every year from a standout freshman season. After his freshman year, he looked like a possible high pick, playing on a well scouted team, which featured Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner. His junior year numbers were the worst of his career, but his athleticism and ability behind the plate should serve him well in the Cardinals' system.
My favorite pick past the 10th round was Jonathan Murders (round 31). I know nothing about him, but think of all the headline potential with a last name of Murders. I also want to be on the good side of a person whose family name is Murders. The player I liked the most, for reasons other than his name, was John Kilichowski (round 11). It was a year to forget for the 6’5” lefty, who went from a starter to the bullpen and had the worst year of his college career. He is already 22, making him older in draft terms, but a 6’5” pitcher from one of the top schools at developing pitchers, Vanderbilt, is a great value in round 11.
2) Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers were one of the mystery teams going into the draft. No one was completely sure what they would do. I had so much misinformation surrounding them throughout the process. They ended up following a similar path to last year, taking the top player on the board and often raiding the college ranks early.
They started out with Corey Ray (round 1), who I have virtually written a book on this year. He won’t be a star, but he should be a rather safe left fielder, who you can put in the two hole and forget.
Lucas Erceg (round 2) had some character red flags or he would have gone in the first round. He has right-handed power potential and can stay at third. His production has been off the charts in school, and he appears to be the third baseman of the future for the Brewers.
The only prep players Milwaukee took in the top eight rounds were a pair of catchers, Mario Feliciano (comp round B) and Payton Henry (round 6). They have very similar profiles, as right-handed catchers with above-average power potential from the right side. They both have issues with contact, but the power potential and the ability to stick at catcher are what got them drafted early. I think Henry has a better chance to stay at catcher, while I think Feliciano has the better offensive profile.
I have to talk about the trio of right-handed pitchers the Brewers drafted: Corbin Burnes (round 4), Braden Webb (round 3) and Zach Brown (round 5). At the start of the season, Brown had first round talk and Webb was an unknown. Brown struggled throughout the year and ended up signing for slot in the fifth. Burnes is the best athlete of the group, but also faced the weakest competition throughout the year, pitching in the WCC. Webb was the rare draft-eligible freshman. It was his first year back from injury and, after putting up huge strikeout numbers, he faded a little down the stretch. Burnes probably has the best chance to stay a starter. Webb is the most likely major leaguer and he has the floor of a reliever.
My favorite post-10 round pick was Cooper Hummel (round 18), a catcher from Portland. He barely played his first two years. His freshman year, he posted an OPS of .312; outside of ISO and batting average, that is a bad number for pretty much everything else. He played more as a sophomore, but still didn’t show much in limited action. This year, he finally got a chance to play and posted an OPS of .912. He showed some gap power and walked a lot. There is a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. He plays in a small conference, and I know nothing about his defense, yet the numbers and general growth made me take notice.
3) Cincinnati Reds
The Reds only selected three of my top-102 because they chose not to spread the funds around and ended up punting half of their picks in the top-10. This is why they are third; while I love the early picks, after the fifth round their draft became too senior heavy. The Reds' draft was the definition of 'go big or go home'. They had the largest spending pool in this class, at nearly $14 million and spent $11.4 million on their first four picks. That left $2.6 million for the final 36 picks of their draft. The Reds have already signed three seniors, Alex Webb (round 9), Lucas Benenati (round 10), and Andy Cox (round 7) for $5,000 each to help cover the cost of those early picks. If a player signs for $5,000 that means no one called to tell them that, if they fell to the 11th round or later, there would be a greater amount of money waiting.
Those first four picks are enticing, however. Nick Senzel (round1) was the number two player on my board. He has hit everywhere, walks more than he strikes out, and started to show emerging power this year. If the power continues to grow, he will more than likely be the best hitter from this class. After saying all of that, I was shocked to see him get a $6.5 million bonus. I am willing to bet he will be the highest- or second-highest paid player in this class.
Taylor Trammell (comp round A) could have gone in the teens based entirely on his athleticism. He has plus, plus speed and should be able to be a plus defender in centerfield. Trammell has a chance to be a five-tool player down the road. His price tag was also surprisingly high, as he was paid like a top-10 player in this draft. Chris Okey (round 2) is a no-doubt catcher who put up big numbers the last two years. He should be a starting catcher down the road, with a little bit of pop.
Experts were divided on the Reds' fourth pick, Nick Hanson (round 3), going into the draft. Some see a big-bodied pitcher who was a late bloomer with a lot of upside. Others see a player with massive control and command issues who was incredibly inefficient on the mound. If you want boom-or-bust talent, then Hanson is your guy.
One could argue that there were three tiers to this Reds' draft. The elite talent tier at the top, the solid pitchers with upside, and then the senior/cheap signs. This second tier started with Scott Moss (round 4), a big lefty who would have started for most college teams, but got buried at Florida. He missed time with Tommy John surgery, or he probably would have been in the rotation this year. There is a lot to like about Moss, a 6’5” lefty who comes from a great program, hits 95, and doesn’t have a lot of innings on his arm. Speaking of lefties, Tyler Mondile (round 6) did not get the attention of fellow New Jersey lefty Jason Groome, although Mondile did face Groome this year on the field. Mondile sits low 90s but has hit 96. He is a bit smaller, at 6’1”, so one would not expect him to gain much velocity going forward. I thought he would profile best as a reliever down the road. Fifth-round pick Kyle Hendrix took a step backwards this year as a reliever for TAMU. He has hit 100 MPH with his fastball, but this year his control took a major step-back. His walk rate per nine nearly doubled from his sophomore year. If he can bounce back, there is a chance for a closer with huge velocity.
My favorite pick after the 10th round was nearly Mitchell Traver (round 17), a righ- handed pitcher from TCU. He could have been a much higher pick, if not for the fact that his list of injuries is taller than he is, which is rather amazing considering he is 6’7”. Instead, I have to mention Colby Wright (round 25), a second baseman from Kansas. It was a banner year for Kansas, which saw several players taken in the draft. Wright has always walked more than he struck out. This year, his power spiked, as well. There is a chance he could turn into a solid utility player down-the-road.
4) Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates are one of the teams with the fewest selections from my top 102, as they took just two players from my list. One of those picks I gave a third-round grade to and, instead, he went in the 40s.
The Pirates had been tied to more than a few prep bats, but when Will Craig (round 1) was still on the board with their first pick, the Pirates jumped at the chance to add the right-handed power bat who put up big numbers the last two years in the ACC. His numbers were quite similar to fellow first-round pick Zack Collins; both are players with power and patience who will likely end up at first base in the future.
Craig was not the only college player who I wrote about this year that the Pirates drafted. Stephen Alemais (round 3) is a no-doubt shortstop, a fluid athlete whose defense is his only average tool. His offensive profile doesn’t present much. His best case is a 45 hit tool with 25 power. He has a chance to make it as a utilityman, but I think the bat is too light to profile for anything more.
The Pirates took three left-handed pitchers in the top six rounds. The first was Nick Lodolo (comp round A), a 6’6” lefty who some scouts I talked to think might have to change his delivery. I was also told he had signing demands north of $1 million. Lodolo is a highly projectable left-hander, who is going to take a while to develop for the Pirates. Braeden Ogle (round 4) was one of the many East Coast left-handed prep arms generating talk this spring. He would have gone higher if he had been able to maintain his velocity, which topped out at 96 early this spring. Ogle is a lot like Lodolo in that he is a prep lefty who needs some work, but has a pretty high ceiling. Cam Vieaux (round 6) is yet a third big lefty arm selected early by the Pirates. Vieaux's numbers jumped up this year for the Michigan State Spartans and his walk rate, in particular, stood out by being below two.
My favorite late round selection was Garrett Brown (round 23). While I saw Western Carolina in person, I was greatly disappointed that Brown did not play that day. He is a very odd prospect. This is just his third year of college baseball, but he graduated from high school in 2011. As a matter of fact, he was a 43rd round selection by the Colorado Rockies that year. The 43rd round doesn’t even exist anymore. The 2011 draft took place before the slot system was established. Brown played sparingly as a freshman, then spent the next two years concentrating on football. He had been a quarterback in high school, but played running back, wide receiver, and quarterback in college. He even was a return man at points. In 2015, after two years off, he returned to baseball and barely played. Brown finally got a full season in 2016 and put up solid numbers. He is an excellent athlete, whose best trait is his speed, though he did show a little gap power this year, as well. Despite being one of the older players in this class, Brown is an interesting talent.
5) Chicago Cubs
This should come as no surprise that the Cubs are at the bottom of the NL Central rankings. They didn’t have their first pick until slot 104, thanks to their off-season free agent signings. The Cubs didn’t draft a single player from my top 102. Chicago had the smallest amount of pool money and, combined with the late pick, it was almost impossible for them to make a big impact.
Thomas Hatch (round 3) is a six foot tall right-hander, who missed all of last year with an elbow issue that did not require surgery. He is similar to Oakland A's comp round A pick Daulton Jefferies, in that both are smaller right-handers without big velocity, who profile as back-end starters due to excellent command and control and three average pitches. The Cubs have shown zero aversion to smaller pitchers for the past few years, so Hatch made a lot of sense. The physical opposite of Hatch would be Duncan Robinson (round 9), the right-hander from Dartmouth, although he is a very similar pitcher to Hatch in terms of his profile. Robinson is a command control pitcher, despite being 6'5''. He had a walk rate per nine under one this year as a senior, walking just seven batters all year.
The Cubs did take a few big names in the top-10, although they were all relievers or players I project as relievers: Bailey Clark (round 5), Chad Hockin (round 6), and Dakota Mekkes (round 10). Clark excelled in his first few starts for Duke this year before hitting a wall. He has the size to start at 6’4”. I think he projects as a reliever long term, based on his performance this year. There is a chance he could rebound back to the pitcher who many thought would be a possible first-round starter earlier in the year.
Hockin has never been a starter, not in high school or college. He did start two games his first two years in school, but even though he had his best statistical season this year, he did not get a chance to start. This was very unfortunate for him and his draft value. His brother was a second round pick for the Cleveland Indians and his grandfather is Harmon Killebrew. The bloodlines and the production are there to make him an interesting selection.
Mekkes closed a few games for Michigan State this year. He had the highest strikeout rates in the country, at 15.16 per nine, but also had a walk rate of nearly seven. He is a big guy but doesn’t throw hard. As a 10th-rounder, Mekkes is a good gamble as a pitcher whose strikeout rate was off the charts this year.
My favorite pick after the 10th was Trey Cobb (round 12), another undersized right-handed pitcher from Oklahoma State. The Cubs' area scout was able to land the top two pitchers this year from the Cowboys. Cobb posted a strikeout per nine over 11, with a walk per nine under four. There is a chance he will have to go to the bullpen. Cobb's numbers actually intrigue me more than Hatch’s, although Hatch has much stronger command and control and a workable third pitch. The Cubs won’t worry about Cobb's size, and I expect they will give Cobb a chance to start in the minors.