I will be breaking down my take on the draft for each team just as I started with Minor League Ball a season ago. Like then, this is a six article series, going East to West for the AL and NL. I will break down four picks for each team with those being:
Best Pick: Likely a Monday selection that I love as a fit and/or upside for the organization.
Reach: A selection I just don’t like, or at least as early as the player was selected.
Sleeper: Likely a Tuesday selection that the team got lower than I would have selected them, providing good value.
Deep Sleeper: This will be a pick often after the 10th round that will likely be signed (most often a college senior) and provide value in the system and potentially become a future big league player. Some will be inside the top 10 rounds depending on how the draft unfolded for that given team.
To see the other lists, use the links below (to be added as the articles post):
Best Pick: Chase Strumpf – 2B – UCLA – Round 2 – Pick 64 – When Strumpf’s name was announced at the draft, he was about to step into the on-deck circle as UCLA looked (and succeeded) in knocking off Loyola Marymount to proceed to the Super Regionals. When he stepped to the plate, he launched a three-run bomb that helped them advance. Power isn’t really a big part of his game, although he has enough to grade out pretty close to average. The real impressive pieces of Strumpf’s game are his plus hit tool and his ability to play a very strong second base.
Reach: Ryan Jensen – RHP – Fresno State – Round 1 – Pick 27 – Jensen did sign for more than a half million under slot, which makes this less of a reach as that nearly made up enough money needed to sign their sixth round pick, and my sleeper, Ethan Hearn. Jensen will likely need to move to the bullpen as he doesn’t have the body nor the delivery to hold up to a starting workload. He also struggles with command and lacks a viable third offering, although his big fastball and quality slider could make him a solid late inning reliever, just looking for more upside or more secure floor than this in the first round.
Sleeper: Ethan Hearn – C – Mobile Christian School (AL) – Round 6 – Pick 192 – Hearn was my third ranked catcher in this draft but was the 12th selected, although he was the first prep catcher selected which is always a risky selection. He has a bigger body and lacks the lateral mobility I typically like from a catcher, but the feet are good when popping up to make a throw and the strong arm makes him a guy who can post sub-2.0 pop times. He also has plus raw power with a decent left-handed stroke that should lead to enough contact to get to that power. I would not have criticized a team had they taken Hearn late in the first round, so the sixth round and paying him “second round money” is an easy “sleeper” decision for me.
Deep Sleeper: Nelson Maldonado – OF – Florida – Round 21 – Pick 642 – I gave real consideration to Adam Laskey and Hunter Bigge for this spot, but both still have a year of eligibility left and neither have signed as of the time of this writing, so I broke the tie and went with the senior. Maldonado has an elite eye at the plate and some pop in the bat, although the power has been inconsistent. He is rather limited defensively as he is likely a LF only type guy, but has the upside to hit enough to become a decent fourth outfielder.
Best Pick: Nick Lodolo – LHP – TCU – Round 1 – Pick 7 – There was little surprise when Lodolo was announced to the Reds with the seventh pick as he was strongly linked to them for a while ahead of the draft. He is long and lanky but has good body control and a whippy 3/4 slot creating real run on all his pitches. The slider is a wipeout pitch while he has a borderline plus change to go with a running fastball that gets into the mid-90s. There was something in his delivery that reminded me of Chris Sale, and he could be a poor man’s version of Sale, which should make the Reds incredibly happy.
Reach: Eric Yang – C – UCSB – Round 7 – Pick 204 – I don’t like Yang as a pick in the top 10 rounds as I don’t see a true path to the big leauges for him. He is a solid receiver behind the plate, but not special. His arm is average at best, he showed flashes of some pop in the bat and has a good eye at the plate, but I doubt he ever really hits enough to carry him to the highest level. I would rather have seen the Reds go with a proven senior they can get for a lower cost and use the funds for the multiple players they got who may need over slot (Rece Hinds, Quin Cotton, Tyler Callihan, Yan Contreras).
Sleeper: Tyler Callihan – 3B – Providence School of Jacksonville (FL) – Round 3 – Pick 85 – It is hard to call a guy who signed for more than double slot a sleeper, which is why I almost went with Rece Hinds or Quin Cotton, but ultimately this was a great selection by the Reds. Callihan easily could have been selected in the first round as he has an advanced hit tool and quality raw power. The arm and bat both project well for third but the glove is his big question mark. He was announced as a second baseman, which makes even less sense for me, and he has seen time behind the plate at times. Ultimately, it will be the bat that carries him, but if he can stay off first base he can be a special selection.
Deep Sleeper: Patrick Raby – RHP – Vanderbilt – Round 17 – Pick 504 – If the Reds can sign Yan Contreras, he will be a real steal in the 12th round, but Raby is a senior and all but guaranteed to sign. He doesn’t have the raw stuff of most well-regarded draft picks, but he has a track record few can match. He has been a four-year contributor at pitching powerhouse Vanderbilt and struck out more than a batter per inning this season. His fastball tops out around 90 and has an average curve and change, but he may be able to work his way into a spot starter in time, which is a quality return in round 17.
Best Pick: Thomas Dillard – C/OF – Ole Miss – Round 5 – Pick 163 – I was not big on the Brewers draft, which is represented by the fact I have their fifth-round pick as their best pick. He has plus raw power and good bat speed that allows him to hit well from both sides of the plate. What makes me like this pick most is the fact he was announced as a catcher. Dillard was a catcher in HS and saw minimal time there while at Ole Miss, but he could be a special bat for the position if he is able to improve the receiving ability and feet behind the dish. The arm is more than enough to play there and could allow him to play right, although his range is quite limited and he may end up at first if catching doesn’t work out, where I would end up ranking this as just another eh selection for the Brewers this year.
Reach: Antoine Kelly – LHP – Wabash Valley College – Round 2 – Pick 65 – Kelly is a 6’6” lefty who can touch 98 with ease and triple digits are likely in his future, there, I said nice things about him. The next time he shows a quality secondary offering just may be the first time as he has a slider but it spins more than it breaks, and he throws a change but it is incredibly inconsistent and easy to read. None of his pitches are thrown with much in terms of command and the delivery needs work. He has a special fastball, but I like Tanner Scott’s FB (reliever for the Baltimore Orioles) and Scott has shown at least one average secondary offering, and his big league ERA is over 5.5. I fear Kelly is all fastball but little else.
Sleeper: Gabe Holt – OF/2B – Texas Tech – Round 7 – Pick 223 – Holt has spent most his time in Lubbock as a second baseman but his future is most likely in center. He has plus-plus speed that allows him to steal plenty of bags and cover a ton of ground defensively. He knows his role and does not worry about creating much in term of launch angle, instead going for a line drive approach to all fields and letting his legs do the work. He is most likely a future utility guy, but he has the upside of an everyday player who gets on base and makes things happen once there and I would not be shocked if he has the best career of anyone in the Brewers draft class this year.
Deep Sleeper: David Hamilton – SS – Texas – Round 8 – Pick 253 – This is one of the few day two guys who will be highlighted as a “deep sleeper” for me, but Hamilton is a guy who missed the entire season and may miss some of next season too after blowing out his Achilles. Hamilton’s calling card is his speed, which is a real question now given the injury he sustained. If he gets back to his pre-injury form, he still wasn’t a lock to go on day one of the draft, but he should be able to hold down short and slap the ball around the ballpark enough to have an impact. He can take a medical redshirt and return to Austin to improve his draft stock, but I hope he signs, finishes his rehab, and gets on the field sometime next Spring.
Best Pick: Quinn Priester – RHP – Cary-Grove HS (IL) – Round 1 – Pick 18 – My initial reaction to this pick wasn’t glowing, but the more I look at the pick the more I like it. He has a big fastball that can get into the upper 90s with life, and a high-quality curve that has plus potential. His change is far behind the other two pitches as he simply hasn’t needed it coming from a cold weather region that his fastball is usually enough to blow away hitters. He has good command and a quality delivery to go with a body that has plenty of projection left in it. Still don’t love Priester and I don’t believe he has the greatest of upside despite the big fastball, but he could turn into a low-end number two starter or high-end number three, which is an excellent return.
Reach: J.C. Flowers – RHP – Florida State – Round 4 – Pick 124 – To be honest, if Flowers had been announced as an outfielder, I would actually like this selection, but I am not too fond of it as a pitcher. He probably had as good a chance as any in this class to be a two-way player and has elite athleticism that makes him an above-average defensive center fielder and quality base runner. He strikes out too much but there is real pop in the bat. Unfortunately, at least to me, we won’t see that as he was drafted for what he did as the Seminoles closer. His fastball gets into the mid-90s when at its best, but more often sits in the low-90s. He has a cutting slider that may develop into an above average offering, and a change that could come along enough to allow him to get some run as a starter.
Sleeper: Blake Sabol – OF/C – USC – Round 7 – Pick 214 – I don’t rule out Sabol being given a chance to catch where I think he has the athleticism and enough arm to give it a real run. If that doesn’t work, he will be just fine in the outfield where he covers enough ground to fill in at center, enough arm to fill in right, but is really a left fielder long term. He has a good eye at the plate, but doesn’t take advantage of it enough, attacking bad first pitches far too often. When he does make contact, his plus raw power allows the ball to travel, although the game power is still well behind the raw. If Sabol puts it all together, he is a first-round talent, it is just a question of whether or not he manages to do that.
Deep Sleeper: Chase Murray – OF – Georgia Tech – Round 13 – Pick 394 – I had some real doubt Murray would sign when I heard his name called, but it does appear he will. If you go off his sophomore and Cape Cod numbers, Murray looks like an easy day two guy, but he really struggled this past season and fell to day three. He has shown he can play center and hit for good average but the power is quite limited. Like many of the “deep sleepers” I will name, his most likely role at the highest level is as a bench option, where I think he could be a quality fourth outfielder.
St. Louis Cardinals
Best Pick: Zack Thompson – LHP – Kentucky – Round 1 – Pick 19 – A successful summer on the Cape and with the USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team launched Thompson into consideration as the top pitcher in the draft. He wound up being the fifth arm off the board but may be as “safe” an arm as any selected in round one. His fastball gets into the mid-90s with good tilt and some rune while mixing in two breaking balls that are above average. His change is already solid and should be a quality fourth offering to go with a repeatable and clean delivery giving him an easy mid-rotation to better future.
Reach: Trejyn Fletcher – OF – Deering HS (ME) – Round 2 – Pick 58 – Athletic, cold weather prep players are always an interesting case come draft time, and this is one I am not big on. He re-classified to be eligible for the draft this year rather than next but was still already 18 come draft day and there isn’t a track record against quality competition. He has an impressive arm and can really run, but I wonder if he will ever make enough contact to be a viable big league option. There is power but even raw may not be more than average, although the chances he is an above-average if not plus defender in center are good, so there is some floor, I am just not sold on the tools at the plate.
Sleeper: Jack Ralston – RHP – UCLA – Round 7 – Pick 215 – Ralston has a deliver I can’t make up my mind on as there is good control in the lower half but the arm whips right over the top with inconsistent release points. When at his best, it has massive downhill plane thanks to the fact he is 6’6” and his high slot, but he will whip the ball in the dirt and leave it high far more than you want, and the ball can become somewhat easy to find. He does have a hammer curve that misses barrels and a change that needs significant work. I do like the combo of that fastball and curve out of the pen when it isn’t as easy to get a read on the release point, and I could see him becoming a quality late inning option.
Deep Sleeper: Tommy Jew – OF – UC Santa Barbara – Round 13 – Pick 395 – The Gauchos flirted with a top 10 ranking at times this season, but then went two and out in the Stanford regional. One of the more upsetting moments for UCSB fans was watching Jew trip at first and flip over the bag before being carted off with his left ankle stabilized. He tapped into his power stroke this season and went from a slap hitting center fielder to a more traditional bat. There are more Ks than you want, but the added pop and impressive defense make up for it. That defense is above average D in center field where he allows his plus speed to cover a ton of ground and has more than enough arm for the position. His baseball instincts help him in the field and on the bases and, assuming a return to full health, he will outperform his draft position by a long shot.