The summer, rich with relevant amateur baseball, has ended. With it ends an important stretch on the player-evaluation calendar, one that is being weighed more heavily with each passing draft. We consider this checkpoint to be a sensible time to revisit our draft prospect rankings and make a sweeping update to the amateur wing of THE BOARD. A link to the 2019 draft board is here, but it can also be accessed through our brand new prospect landing page, which encompasses all of our content (shout-out to Sean Dolinar!) here.
Below we’ve attempted to anticipate some questions readers might have and to answer them as well as possible.
Q. Why is the summer so important for draft evaluation?
A. The high concentration of talent in collegiate wood-bat leagues and in scout-run high-school showcase events (which are designed to be evaluation-friendly) more closely approximates the talent environment of pro baseball. It’s hard to know if a high-school hitter facing a lot of suburban varsity, upper-70s fastballs is actually any good, but watch a prep hitter face Division I breaking balls and 90-plus mph fastballs for eight weeks, and you’re going to learn a lot about him.
Not only is eyeball evaluation more telling during the summer, but teams are now also extracting data. Most of the high schoolers in the 2019 draft class have thrown with a TrackMan unit active behind the plate or swung with a Blast Motion cap on the knob of their bat. Some teams are tracking cumulative statistical performance during this stretch, too. Inevitably, a few prospects slip through the cracks and aren’t widely seen during the summer, sometimes due to injury and other times because of commitment to a second sport. It’s very likely that a prospect or two whose name isn’t even on our current Board will pop up next spring and have first-round relevance.
Q. What changes did you make to THE BOARD?
A. We made heavy adjustments to our 2019 pref list and lesser adjustments to the 2020 and 2021 classes. Our 2021 ranking is still largely just a ranking of the unsigned high schoolers from the 2018 class who will (mostly) be draft-eligible again as juniors. We moved up unsigned Diamondbacks first-rounder, UCLA 2B Matt McLain, because we think we were low on him in the spring and also because his speed, high-contact, high-effort style of play is the type that sees the field quickly in college ball and performs.
The 2020 draft class, which has the early look of being one of the best in recent memory, is composed largely of last year’s terrific group of freshman SEC talents. Of our first 35 prospects in that class, 15 are from the SEC.
Q. Yeah yeah whatever, you lunatics, get to 2019.
A. Oregon State C Adley Rutschman (#PlayBadlyForAdley) holds the No. 1 spot in a tier of his own. Our next tier down is composed of up-the-middle players with some strong offensive traits and one that’s missing (some, like Texas prep SS Bobby Witt Jr. have big power but have contact issues, while the inverse is true for others) and polished corner guys with complete offensive profiles (Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn, prep RF Riley Greene, etc.). The player who took the biggest leap into this tier over the summer was Seattle-area prep CF Corbin Carroll. Carroll does everything — he’s a 70 runner with a plus arm who projects to plus in center field, has excellent feel for the strike zone, and possesses sneaky power — but is the second smallest player we have ranked, at just 165 pounds.
Observant readers will notice, further down the rankings, an unusually high number of 40+ FV prospects. These are players with volatile skillsets who we think have a chance to pop into first-round consideration next spring, flop down into the flat 40 FV tier, or either of those. Think of it as the very center of the talent that we’re waiting to fully bake.
In general, the 2019 class looks to be very hitter-heavy right now. The college hitter group is excellent and the high-school hitting class, which is well stocked with power hitters, has more depth than is typical. The high-school pitching class looks to be about average, while the college arms are relievery.
Q. What are amateur scouts up to right now?
A. Fall scrimmages have already begun at colleges where the weather turns cold more quickly, and those will continue throughout the country until mid-November. A typical D1 team will schedule two to four scrimmages against other schools (sometimes foreign teams, sometime pro minor leaguers or JUCOs) in the fall. Junior colleges are also having fall tournaments that are, like JUCO ball in general, becoming a more aggressively scouted portion of amateur baseball as TrackMan soaks up much of the data collection part of scouting at DI schools. Some amateur scouts have pro instructional-league coverage folded into their fall schedule, as well.
Q. When will you update draft rankings again?
A. Probably not until February, when the first few weeks of JUCO ball (which starts several weeks before Division I baseball does) will have been the focus of area scouts, and a few suddenly obvious top-two- or top-three-round talents will become more widely known.