LA Times

Mailbag: MLB Draft 2017

Taylor Blake Ward and Jeff Ellis got together to answer questions from Twitter in an end of the year mailbag focused on the 2017 MLB draft. They look at the projected strengths for the draft, talk about the loss of picks, and who some of their favorite players are along with much more.

It is time for a Scouting Baseball mailbag. Taylor Blake Ward and Jeff Ellis took your questions from twitter on the MLB draft.

Q: "Any chance Hagen Danner lasts until the second round?" - Kyle Privia (@KylePrivia)

Taylor: This really depends on how teams view him - as a pitcher, or as a catcher. By my own personal rankings, he's one of the top 20-30 pitchers in the draft class, which is grossly heavy on arms. That would suggest he could be one of the multitude to fall, strictly based on him being a non-southpaw prep arm. Even though I believe he's better on the mound, he could be one of this class’ top five catchers, which is something this class is relatively weak on. That could raise his stock. It really depends on where his primary focus is going through spring ball, but scouts have plenty of notes on him as a pitcher, and he could get some helium leading up to the draft as a catcher. At this very moment, I have him as a late first round pick - as a pitcher.

Ellis: I think he is more likely a second rounder than a first rounder, to be honest. He reminds me a lot of former California prep arms Kevin Gowdy and Drew Finley, who were advanced pitchers, but lacked overpowering stuff. Finley was a third rounder and Gowdy a second, both in weaker drafts than this year’s appears to be. Danner is also going to be viewed as undersized for a right hander, which won’t help him. I think that, unless his stuff plays up this fall, he is a likely second rounder or later. I actually like him more as a catcher, and think if he hits well this spring the consensus will shift on him, much like it did with Josh Lowe a year ago. As a catcher, I think his draft ceiling is higher, but as of now I just don’t see a first rounder in this class, judging Danner how teams will. 

Q: "Who's your favorite player in the upcoming draft?" - Joshua Zoepfel (@jzoepfel)

Taylor: Every year, it consistently changes all the way up to draft day and even after. However, I do have a particular favorite in this draft that is one of the most talented. I've watched Tristan Beck pitch since he was in high school, and when I found out he was telling teams he wouldn't sign and opt for Stanford, I told Jeff that he'd be a top five pick in two years. Though the crop has changed and will continue to change, I still believe he's one of the top 10 prospects in this class. Of course, Hunter Greene is a different kind of talent and is seemingly everyone's favorite, and one of mine as well. Seth Romero, Royce Lewis, Brady McConnell and Alex Scherff are really exciting players and standouts, in my opinion.

Ellis: It's very early for this, but Jake Burger, third baseman from Missouri State, and MJ Melendez, a catcher from the Florida prep ranks, would be near the top. I have been on Burger since last year, when he put up big power numbers and reports on his defense at third were encouraging. Melendez is the son of a coach, with plus bat speed and pop times at catcher. The pure athletic numbers on him all show massive upside. One more player I have to note is Wil Crowe, part of a loaded staff at South Carolina. If healthy, he should rise up boards as an innings eater type with some velocity as well. 

Q: "Who has the highest upside besides Hunter Greene?" - Joshua Zoepfel (@jzoepfel)

Taylor: Usually when you refer to upside, you start by looking at the loudest tools. With this class, I came up with nine names off the top of my head that I felt have the highest total ceilings, but will give you the pitcher and position player I felt had the highest upside, outside of Greene. 

Jordon Adell is the best two-way guy in this class, and could be a first-rounder both as an outfielder or pitcher, but the offensive tools are just so cool. He's a great athlete who already has a strong arm, defensive abilities and is wicked fast. At the plate, he drives missiles to all parts of the field with a violent swing. The problem is that he has serious swing-and-miss concerns and contact may not be optimal in the future. If he can adjust, you're looking at a five-tool player who I feel has the same kind of game as Adam Jones.

Southern California has a good crop that I'll see all year long, but there's one guy I just keep wanting to see. Hans Crouse has the most electric fastball in this draft, and I'm sure there will be arguments, but that's my take and I'm sticking to it. He sits in the mid-90s regularly and I heard a report he was up to 99 MPH in the early autumn months. He has an inconsistent off-speed pitch, but regardless of the break, it gets swing and misses and will continue to do so. His mechanics are so whacky, though, and constantly change, so it's hard to get a read on him and how he'll adapt and throw strikes. Like his arsenal, he's a fire ball on the mound, and it's really cool. The dude could be an ace in the future, or a nasty reliever, but either way, he's going to be a stud.

Ellis: When it comes to ceiling in this draft, as of now, there are two names for me, Greene and Jo Adell. The only other player I would put close is Royce Lewis. All three are plus athletes. Adell could be a star in centerfield with his power, arm, and speed combination. The only question is will he hit enough? Lewis is a plus runner who lacks the power of Adell, but has few questions about his ability to hit. Adell has the higher ceiling of the two hitters, but Lewis is a much safer bet. 

Q: "Why can't draft picks be traded?" - Sean Cronkite (@CronkiteSean)

Taylor: I thought this would be something at least spoken of in the most recent CBA negotiations, but it apparently didn't pick up any head wind if it was. It'd make the draft more interesting, but there's also 40 rounds, so a little more challenging to decipher what pick is worth what, and that's for the GMs to decide. It'd be much more interesting if the comp picks were traded more often, and it'd be a great way for teams to boost their farm system.

Ellis: I think picks were not allowed to be traded decades ago, for fear of teams selling them off. Since then, nothing has really been done to change this rule. The closest we have seen is that they allowed trading of competitive balance picks. These picks have been used to sell off bad contracts the past few years, which might explain why MLB has not changed anything about draft pick trades. I think there is also the fear that trades would give more leverage to players, which makes it unlikely to be a wholesale change anytime soon.  MLB does not want a player saying he won’t play for certain teams and then try to get other teams to trade up for them, as has been seen in other sports.

Q: "Do the holes in Jordon Adell's swing concern you?" - AaronTheMoorIsLess (@AaronTheLess)

Taylor: Yes and no. This is no knock on his current coaches, but they aren't professional coaches. Once he begins to work with guys who are paid to help their organization develop players into stars, and his swing is assessed by amateur scouts and cross checkers, there will be a team who will feel they can correct any excess movements in his swing. He's also a guy who I've heard has fantastic makeup and listens to what he's told, so even the smallest amount of advice could take an incorrect hitch or added violence to his swing away.

I've seen Adell once in my lifetime and he was stellar, with a pretty swift swing and great bat speed. I've only heard of the swing-and-miss concerns, but they come up in conversation pretty quickly. Another item is his plus-plus athleticism, which can help fix a lot of issues in this category. To me, if he figures it out and can correct these problems in the slightest amount, he could be considered as a first overall pick and future five-tool star, and forget all about the swing-and-miss problems. Keep in mind that Mike Trout missed on high-and-tight fastballs in the early stages of his career. Not saying he's of that caliber, but the adjustments of pro ball are constant and I feel he can adapt.

Ellis: It is a big concern, as nothing outside of injuries is more likely to derail a minor leaguer than the ability to make contact. If he had a projected plus hit tool on top of everything else, Adell would likely be the top player in this draft. Even if he ends up a player with a 40 hit tool, I think the rest of the tools are enough to make him a potential All Star. He has the speed and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. There is a risk here, but the ceiling of Jo Adell with even an average hit tool is an MVP candidate. So yes, I’m concerned, but not concerned enough to drop him out of the top ten. 

Q: "Which college pitchers will go through the minors quickly? (i.e., Andrew Heaney, Chris Sale?)" - AaronTheMoorIsLess (@AaronTheLess)

Taylor: There's two ways to look at this. One is a guy who has incredible "stuff" and can miss bats with ease while pitching in short stints of relief. This isn't to say those guys will remain relievers, but they could be a strong asset in assisting a team's immediate needs (see: Finnegan, Brandon; 2014). Most of those needs come from lefties, and there's only two prominent southpaws in the college ranks AT THIS MOMENT (can change by draft time). I'd say Brendan McKay could be that kind of guy and help quickly.

McKay is also a starter who could move through the minors with ease, due to his strike-throwing abilities and polish as a pitcher. That's the key asset in finding these guys - polish or guys that don't need a lot of development. For me, Kyle Wright and Alex Faedo are closest to the Major League level, but if you want a star talent, you need to develop them and teach them how to attack the best hitters. Imagine throwing a young 20-something on the mound to face hitters like Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout. Even the worst MLB hitters are dominant against guys who've only recently faced teenagers and college hitters.

Ellis: It's Alex Faedo, as long as he is healthy, and Brendan McKay as my fallback. Both of these pitchers are pretty much maxed out, so no one expects added velocity. Both have been big game pitchers for two seasons in a row in tough conferences. They have shown excellent control as pitchers, and are exactly that—pitchers, not throwers. They come from two of the best programs for developing arms and should be ready to be dropped in A ball from the moment they are drafted. I could see either of them in the majors some time in 2018, if a team is very aggressive with them. The reasons we often see college pitchers move more slowly is that they are transitioning from a pen arm to a starter, are viewed as still developing, or have problems with control and command. None of these stand out as issues for either pitcher who, while they still have some work to do, can polish their secondary stuff while moving up the ladder in the minors. 

Q: "Do you think Brady McConnell's age will hurt him in 2017 MLB Draft?" - Kevin Shannon (@LucianCharms)

Taylor: We don't have to venture too far back to find an answer to this. When you look at the 2016 draft, Blake Rutherford was a month into his 19th trip around the sun. This year, McConnell will be 22 days younger than Rutherford was when drafted, just a few days beyond his 19th birthday. Rutherford fell to the 18th selection, despite being considered a consensus top 10 draft prospect. Whether this had to do with the $3+ million signing bonus desired or his age will always be an unsettling question.

The tools and talents were seemingly above his selection point, which makes you think McConnell could fall a few picks below where he may go if he was 18. Age and size are parts of the draft process, whether we like it or not, and McConnell has the smallest knock that could take him a step down. HOWEVER, I feel that McConnell being a shortstop that will stick long term, with plus-plus speed and some raw power, is going to make teams jump at taking him. His talents are just too good, the dude is a gamer, and if I had an early first-round pick, he'd be near the top of my board.

Ellis: Yes, it will hurt him, and before anyone gets mad at me, remember that Blake Rutherford was number one on my final Big Board of 2016. I am not saying this as an attack on McConnell, who I liked enough to put 10th on my first Big Board of 2017. I am saying this because it's the nature of the draft. Will Benson went higher than Blake Rutherford last year and, while Benson was cheaper to sign, I have little doubt that the two year age difference on draft day had an effect. McConnell will be off certain team’s boards, based on what I have seen the past few years. He has one advantage over Rutherford, though, which is that he plays shortstop, a position that rises on draft day. Still, the age will hold him back, and could see him be picked in the late teens, much like Rutherford a year ago. 

Q: "What's the strength of this draft and how does it compare to the average draft?" - Rahul Setty (@RahulSettyHH)

Taylor: The strength of this draft is arms, and primarily in the college ranks. As for the average draft, it's ever changing. When you glance back at the last few, it was prep position players and college pitchers last year. The year prior, it was shortstops. Year before that, pitchers in general. You can glance at each draft and you begin to change your opinion because players develop differently and you add bias due to Major League performance. This draft is pretty fun to me, though, with multiple front-of-rotation arms like Alex Faedo, Kyle Wright, J.B. Bukauskas, Seth Romero and many others. My favorite part is that these guys are hungry when I see them, and really have a hatred for their opponent, which I haven't seen in a while. I dig this draft.

Ellis: It's college arms, and it’s not even close. There are so many college arms in this class that teams into the 20s will get a solid college pitcher this year. My first big board went 11 deep, and five of those players were college arms. If I had gone to 12, then it would have been half college arms. I feel like the top arms this year are much better than a year ago. As of right now, I have four college arms I would rate ahead of A.J. Puk, who was the top college pitcher to most a year ago. The bats feel a bit light this year on both sides at the top of the class, though there is nice depth in the prep bat class. The prep arm class is significantly worse than a year ago, to me. It should be noted that I am sure at least two or three arms will pop up this year, as happened last year. I would say as of now it’s an average prep bat class, below average prep arm, below average college bat, and a plus college pitching class. I also am starting to think we might have to change expectations on college hitter classes going forward, as so many are now signing out of high school.

Q: "For a team like the Indians, how big of an impact would it be on a farm system going forward to lose a first-round pick?" - James Bailey (@jamestbailey89)

Taylor: Covering the Angels, I've seen all too well how this can impact a system. Now, it's not like the Indians - or any other team - went and signed three guys taking away multiple first and second round picks, but it did show its impact quickly. Over the tenure of Billy Eppler, he's had to rebuild the farm system and organizational depth with waiver claims on former top prospects, hoping one will garner half of his former ceiling. One first round loss won't be massive, and this draft runs pretty deep in talent, so it's not the worst thing.

Though one first-round loss isn't the worst thing, it can really take a hit on your overall depth. The Angels traded their top two prospects for Andrelton Simmons, and were suddenly at a standstill. If they were contending in 2016, they would have had to forfeit key Major League players to garner anything, leading to more holes. They didn't have pitching depth or positional depth, and that was due to not possessing anyone in the system who could help even in the slightest. The Indians aren't in that position, but if they forfeit another first-round pick next year, it could have a large scale impact within two to three years.

Ellis: It hurts a lot, as the consensus over the past few years is that the Indians are one of the best drafting teams in baseball. The pick loss hurts even more after the Andrew Miller trade, which ended up with the Indians losing four top 20 specs and three top 15 specs. The bigger loss than the pick, though, is the pool money and the loss of flexibility. The Indians have consistently signed their top pick for under slot and used that money to get talent later. The system has a lot of depth, though, but next fall it's going to be one of the bottom third systems in baseball because of trades, loss of picks, and graduations. 

Q: "This class is loaded with college arms. Outside of Hunter Greene and D.L. Hall, which prep starting pitchers can rise up boards come June?" - Joe Rawlings (@joe_RAWsports)

Taylor: We've already seen position guys rise up boards, like Royce Lewis, but it's far too early to tell. Even with showcases and Perfect Game events, scouts are still going to have to see these guys compete against other prep talents, and that can be a telling sign as to their desire, emotions and attack patterns on the mound in a full game, instead of seeing their raw tools in short stints.

Hans Crouse is a guy I just can't stop talking about. He's so entertaining, but he'll have to harness the entertainment and correct his huck-n-chuck mechanics while also showing more maturity as he becomes a man. There's going to be cold weather arms who come out of the wood work late, like Nick Storz (New York), Seth Corry (Utah), Sam Carlson (Minnesota) and Caleb Sloan (Colorado), but like I said, it's just too early to tell.

Ellis: The name to watch for me is Trevor Rogers, a prep left hander from New Mexico. His cousin is former Major Leaguer Cody Ross--bloodlines. He is 6’6”--size. I already mentioned left handed before. He hit 95 over the summer, and most think there is room for more velocity. He also has the advantage of being from a state which does not often produce talent. There is a bit of an elitist attitude that kids from areas with less talent can jump when they get real coaching. It also does not hurt when a kid is as raw as Rogers, and doesn’t have as much wear and tear. He has front of the rotation potential, and if things don’t work out, there is a chance for a back of the pen arm. It's a big risk, but a big lefty with velocity is going to consistently rise as the draft nears. If I could pick another it would be Blayne Enlow, a right hander from Louisiana. He shows the ability to command the strike zone, with size, and athleticism. I would also bet on him adding some velocity to go with his natural ability as a pitcher, which gives him potential as a front of the line starter. 

Cleveland Indians Tristan Beck Alex Faedo Hans Crouse Hunter Greene Jordon Adell Brendan McKay Wil Crowe 


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