In his latest Big Board installment, Jeff Ellis breaks down some more of the top players expected to be taken in this year's draft.
Note*- Height, Weight, Age, and Zepp Labs data for all prep players is thanks to the Perfect Game website
51- 41 can be found here
40-31 can be found here
30-21 can be found here
This group is going to 12, instead of 11. I plan to make the top 11 a free article for all, and it should go up quickly after this one. This is why the article is a bit shorter than normal.
20. Clarke Schmidt, RHP, South Carolina
I talked about Schmidt as a first rounder a year ago and nothing has changed for me. His rate data is staying the same from a year ago. He rarely walks anyone while posting strong strikeout totals. He does this in the SEC, which means he is facing the top teams in the country. His brother, Clate, was taken a year ago by the Tigers, after he finished his senior year at Clemson. Yes, the brothers played on opposite sides of that rivalry. They are the same listed height, though Clarke weighs more, so you might wonder why Clarke is projected to go 19 rounds higher than his big bro. Well, Clate was ok in college, but bounced between roles, while Clarke has been a top pitcher in the SEC for two straight years. South Carolina is absolutely loaded with pitching. His teammate, Wil Crowe, is mentioned elsewhere in this piece, and Tyler Johnson should also go in the top three rounds, out of the pen. His size and the fact that he faded towards the end of the year are the big concerns. There is a pretty high floor as a back end pitcher, with a chance for a bit more.
19. Blaine Knight, RHP, Arkansas
I wanted to put Knight higher. I seem to be going on and on about him, but have not seen him getting a ton of run anywhere else. I know he is a draft eligible sophomore, which means that sometimes places are slow to pick up on a player, but the performance thus far has been impossible to miss. He faced a very strong LSU team this weekend and had his worst control outing of the year by far, walking three. He had walked two batters so far the entire season before this point. This isn’t like when Andrew Benintendi was a sophomore for Arkansas, either. Knight was really good as a freshman. He has a near 11 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. His walk rate is under one, with a strikeout rate over ten. It’s not like he is just some control righty either, as he has touched 97. He is a work in progress. He needs to add weight, but there is a chance that, with added bulk, his fastball, which sits low 90’s, could gain some mph. His secondary offerings are a work in progress as well. Nothing derails pitchers like inability to control and command their pitches. Knight has shown the ability to do this as well as anyone in the country this year. He is a sophomore who could easily add 30 pounds to his frame, which gives him a ceiling higher than your typical college arm. Knight is going to rise, it’s only a matter of time. If I had more guts, I would have had him at ten on my board. The profile is there for a two or three pitcher down the road, with a small chance for more.
18. Mackenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville HS (NC)
Gore isn’t the biggest guy and doesn’t throw the hardest, but he is a Pitcher with a capital P. He has been untouchable the last two years in high school. The North Carolina lefty is 6’2” and his fastball is a low 90’s pitch. He spots it well and shows strong command and control. He is a very good athlete. He has a chance to add some mph, as his frame could easily add bulk. When I talk with people, there are no negatives mentioned with Gore. He seems to be pretty widely accepted as a safe prep arm with two/three potential. While the profile is not exciting or one that pops, Gore has a lot of fans and should be a top 20 pick this summer.
17. Jo Adell, OF/RHP, Ballard HS (KY)
Jo Adell has tumbled on a lot of boards this spring. There is no doubt about the physical tools that Adell possesses. He has some of the best physical tools in this class. The concerns with his swing, though, have gotten loud enough that I have heard some people say that his future might be on the mound and not in centerfield. He has explosive bat speed, plus plus speed, and also has hit 96 with his fastball. The ceiling of Adell in centerfield is one of the best players in the entire game. The concern for everyone is will he hit enough or might he be one of those talented kids who never makes it to the majors, because of issues with contact? As a pitcher, he is behind, but his fastball and curve look like above average to plus pitches. There might be a lower floor as a pitcher, as these two pitches give him a good chance out of the pen. The ceiling and tools are pretty much unmatched in this class.
16. Wil Crowe, RHP, South Carolina
Last year, I mentioned how I thought Wil Crowe was a likely first round pick in a year. I said a team with money should try and sign Crowe during the 2016 draft, as it would be like adding another first round pick. Crowe ended up being taken by the Indians in the 21st round. This was the second time the Indians had drafted Crowe, as they also drafted him out of high school. Crowe was nine games into his sophomore year when he ended up needing Tommy John surgery. He didn’t pitch at all in 2016. Crowe has pitched strongly this year back from injury and now will not be available for the Indians to draft for a third time. The 6’3” right hander has a fastball that has hit 97, but is a sinking pitch that is more contact based. He is a ground ball pitcher, who can use his curve to get strikeouts. His strikeout rate has been up this year and his walk rate has been strong. Normally pitchers in the first year back from Tommy John have issues with control, so it is very encouraging to see his walk rate as low as it is. Crowe has all the makings of a solid mid rotation starter.
15. Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State
Burger got my attention during his sophomore year, when he hit 21 home runs. The power totals were the first thing to catch my eye; the second was the fact that he struck out 35 times. This means he struck out 13% of the time which, while not ideal, was lower than I typically see with power bats in the college ranks. I started to dig, because the numbers intrigued me. The reports came back that he was an average third baseman, with a strong arm. He should be able to stay at the hot corner, which enhances his value. The power output, in and of itself, was impressive. When one digs deeper, it becomes even more so. Missouri State plays at Hammons Field, a AA baseball stadium for the Cardinals. This park is a strong pitchers park, according to the latest data I could find. It shows me the power is a legit plus tool. Burger is playing even better this year. All of his numbers have improved across the board. His strikeout percentage is down to 10%, and he has more walks than strikeouts. Burger won’t win awards for natural tools or basic eye tests. He has just produced time and time again. I have been the high man on Burger since last year, and will likely continue to be throughout the process.
14. Mark Vientos, 3B/SS, American Heritage HS (FL)
Mark Vientos is young. He won’t turn 18 until December, which is a massive positive to many organizations. Teams like the Indians and Rangers have shown a preference for such players over the past few years. Vientos has been on the radar so long that, if you go back to Kiley McDaniel’s ranks on the 2017 draft, he had Vientos at the top. Kiley stopped writing back in 2015. Vientos is not just young, but also has a lot of physical tools. His 60 times are average and he has plus bat speed. He is a big kid, at 6’4”, which, combined with his bat speed, makes it easy to project for plus power. The comp for Vientos has been Manny Machado for a few years, due to size and position. This is a bit unfair, as Machado is one of the top players in the game but, as a ceiling outcome, it is not impossible. Vientos is a high ceiling player. His youth, size, and physical tools give him a wealth of potential outcomes. It has been shown time and time again that the best predictor of future success is age relative to level. It is rather logical and simple. Players who move quickly are ones who play well, so of course the youngest guys at each level will often be the top players. Vientos’s power and hit potential at third make him a potential top five player at third in time.
13. Keston Hiura, OF/2B, UC Irvine
Keston Hiura can flat out hit. His ability as a hitter is why he is this high and why he has gotten talked about so much. Everything else about Hiura is a bit of a question. His position is likely left field. He has played DH all season, after elbow issues moved him out of the field. He played second last year, but didn’t play particularly well. He doesn’t run well enough for center or have the arm for right field. His power is up this year, but he also plays in one of the better parks for hitters in the country. His strikeout percentage is also too high for a player with his limited power. His BABIP shows a player with a strong hit tool, as do the reports on him. I would rate him right now as having the best current hit tool among any of the college hitters in this class.
12. Nick Pratto, OF/1B, Huntington Beach HS (CA)
Speaking of California players with strong hit tools, Pratto might have the best future hit tool in this entire class. He is a solid pitcher as well, but his ability with the bat means he is only being looked at as a hitter. Pratto has been a hot name this spring, thanks to his clean swing and strong approach at the plate. Pratto’s arm is strong (hitting the 90’s on the mound), so the fact he is listed primarily as a first baseman says as much about his defense there as it does about his potential outfield defense. He looks like a plus defender at first, though his arm strength means he might be tried in the outfield or at third. Pratto’s swing is often described with the word beautiful. It's the type of swing that makes scouts swoon. The swing, approach, and eye at the plate have steadily pushed Pratto up boards.