The 2019 MLB Draft is upon us, and a few threads that help comprise the full, 40-round tapestry have piqued our interest. The individual players involved, and the pirate crew of scouts and analysts who shape their organizations’ futures are, of course, annual focal points of the process. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, then you’ll also want to check out our prospect resource, The BOARD, which has player rankings and reports for this year’s draft class. It will be updated continuously over the next few days. You’ll also want to refer back to the draft order, pick values, and bonus pool amounts, which can be found here. For the latest gossip, please enjoy our recent mock draft.
Rounds one and two of the draft begin Monday, June 3 at 7pm Eastern. Day 2 includes rounds three through ten and begins Tuesday at 1pm; the final thirty rounds begin Wednesday at noon.
As is the case every year, this draft has some deeper themes and details. Here we outline some of the things we find fascinating, or that individuals who play a role in this process (amateur scouting personnel and player reps) are talking about.
Forward Thinking Now Means Tools
During the Moneyball era, traditional, scout-centric teams took upside/tools, while progressive teams leaned on statistical performance and perceived safety. These days with showcase stats, TrackMan and other advanced tech, better understanding of biomechanics, draft models, and the rising cost of elite major league free agents, the progressive clubs now feel comfortable taking upside players just like the traditional teams did. Tools can be quantified to some degree (i.e. spin rates, velo, exit velo, etc.) and, especially when a progressive scouting org is also a progressive player development org, teams are confident they can shape those tools into performance even if the player in question hasn’t performed. It moves the group of players valued due to their performance — think big conference college players with strong peripherals — down the board board if they don’t have sufficient physical talent. The Dodgers and Yankees, who both also seem less inclined to care about pitcher injury, are two prominent examples of teams who operate this way.
Some Annual and Perennial Individual Team Strategies
Some of these seem to drive a club’s thinking year after year. Some are dictated by the way this year’s draft, both in talent and in pick order, is structured. We’ll probably start to see Houston’s recent strategies — college bats with statistical resumes and measured power, pitchers with backspinning four-seamers and 12-6 curveballs — start to spread to other clubs who have hired away Astros front office defectors, like Baltimore and Atlanta have. The same could be said for Miami, which now has influence from former Yankees front office members. New Orioles GM Mike Elias was part of several drafts in Houston where the Astros saved money on early picks in order to be able to signed more expensive players with their next few selections. The gap between Adley Rutschmann and the next best player in the draft may be too much to justify this strategy this year.
Cleveland seems to heavily weigh age, as they’ve ended up drafting some of the youngest high schoolers available each of the last several years. They also seem to weigh multiple years of performance more heavily than the most recent season, which is how they ended up with players like Shane Bieber and Mike Papi. Minnesota cut underslot deals with two early college picks last year, then spread out money to six-figure high schoolers later. The Phillies have operated similarly and seem likely to do so again due to the gap between their first and second picks. The Angels have moved on from college performers to big high school athletes, a strategy that the Rangers have utilized seemingly forever.
Resume Holes and Using Comps as a Guide
Players, even the best ones, have flaws. Mike Trout has a 40 arm. Every player in this draft has a blemish that could spread, and infect their entire profile at some point. Some of these can properly be put in context by looking across the entire prospect population, amateur and pro, or by examining past cases. Here are some notable ones from this year’s class.
Kody Hoese, 3B, Tulane
Hoese was an eligible sophomore last year but was drafted so late that he returned to school. Then he hit .391/.486/.779 with 23 homers and began generating first round buzz. He checks most of the boxes of a first round hitter, but is both old for the class (he’ll be 21.9 on draft day this year, basically the age of a senior sign) and has just one year of notable performance, though those numbers are bonkers: 1.265 OPS, 23 HR in 58 games, 39 BB to 34 K. His offensive tool grades are pretty similar to Reds 3B Jonathan India (the 5th overall pick last summer), though India had a five-year track record with scouts, performed against the SEC, and was a better defender. That said, India was 21.5 on draft day, not much younger than Hoese. Some teams are wondering if the context of his performance is pushing him down further than his resume suggests.
Brett Baty, 3B, Lake Travis HS (TX):
On tools, Baty is not that different than recent amateurs like Triston Casas, Nolan Gorman, and Austin Riley. But he’s older (19.6) right now than most of the high school players taken in last year’s first round (Casas is 19.4) and age relative to peers is an important variable. Some individuals with teams think the industry has overcorrected on age, or doesn’t take the body into account when considering it (Simeon Woods-Richardson was young for last year’s class, but was physically mature). Baty needs to perform immediately upon entering pro ball or the way he’s perceived as a prospect will take a hit across the market.
Jackson Rutledge, RHP, San Jacinto JC (TX):
Rutledge has power stuff that you could argue is among the best in the class, but there’s little precedent for a prospect who throws this hard, with this type of body (Rutledge is 6-foot-8, 250), having sustained big league success; we don’t feel comfortable comparing anyone to CC Sabathia, who has accumulated the second-most WAR of any big league pitcher this century. Better, recent prospect examples include Sal Romano, Tyler Kolek and Nate Pearson. That’s a wide range of quality. You could argue Alek Manoah also belongs in this group. Not all teams are scared off by the body type, but it sounds like some teams would move either one of these two bigger pitchers toward the back of their first round college arm rankings because of it.
One recurring issue we see with readers’ interpretations of the draft is thinking of a prospect ranked 40th as clearly better than the one ranked 50th. Once you get that low, it’s not always clear who is better, and we also have a less efficient market for information than we do with minor league prospects due to the inherent secrecy of a draft and the privatization of elements of the process (TrackMan data that’s harder to come across, private workouts, etc.). Here are some groups of similar players who we have ranked near each other, but the exact order of which may end up flipping many times over the next few years. We’d suggest you think of them more as part of a group than as having a specific ranking.
Second Round College Lefty Starters
T.J. Sikkema, Missouri
Ethan Small, Mississippi State
John Doxakis, Texas A&M
Erik Miller, Stanford
Tommy Henry, Michigan
Sikkema has an above average fastball, and an average breaker with command and a changeup that are both enough to start. Small has an average fastball, a below average big breaking curveball, and a formerly plus changeup that he doesn’t use much given his resurgent velo but lots of deception and feel, using the modern vertical approach to pitching. Doxakis’ velo has varied (90-93 at best, 88-91 lately) but it’s mostly an average heater and his 55-flashing slider has plus or better results, so he may have the highest floor given a potential pen fit. Miller hit 97 mph on the Cape (with reliever command) but has been mostly 87-92 this spring with average stuff and inconsistent results. Henry looked to be clearly the best of this group early this spring when he was 90-93 with above average stuff and feel, but he’s been more 88-91 lately and had a couple outings where he wasn’t touching 90 mph after the first few innings. Like Small, Henry is also almost 22 on draft day, as well.
Second Round Major College Infielders
Braden Shewmake, Texas A&M
Chase Strumpf, UCLA
Aaron Schunk, Georgia
Josh Smith, LSU
Cameron Cannon, Arizona
Drew Mendoza, Florida State
Nick Quintana, Arizona
Brady McConnell, Florida
Shewmake is probably a second baseman and has a sweepy, contact-oriented cut with limited power but a long track record of performance. Strumpf likely is second base-only and is a similar player to Shewmake, but has more pop to the point where he should probably add more loft to his swing. Schunk is an above average defensive third baseman who some clubs may try behind the plate, and he also pitches in relief for Georgia. He has average raw power and an opposite field/low launch angle approach that pro teams are eager to adjust, though he’s also almost 22. Smith can passably play all the infield spots and is 50 or 55 across the board but has a squatty frame, some quirks to his swing, will be nearly 22 on draft day, and missed all of 2018 with a back injury. Cannon may be the most advanced bat of this group with mostly average other tools. Mendoza has massive raw power and has been productive, but strikes out/walks a lot (25% of both), is just okay at third base, and is a low-energy type. Quintana has been on the national scouting radar for half a decade and projects for average offense and defense for some scouts, a bit below for others. McConnell has had a big spring after a bumpy freshman year, and some see above average tools across the board while others see a 35 or 40 bat, an inconsistent glove, and production only with lots of strikeouts.
Late First to Comp Prep Pitchers
Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy HS (FL)
J.J. Goss, RHP, Cypress Ranch HS (TX)
Jack Leiter, RHP, Delbarton HS (NJ)
Daniel Espino, RHP, Premier Academy HS (GA)
Blake Walston, LHP, New Hanover HS (NC)
Hunter Barco, LHP, Bolles HS (FL)
Malone has been into the upper-90s, and has four pitches and starter command to go with athleticism, which gives him pretty universal appeal. Goss has a little less feel than Malone but comparable stuff and is in the mix in the same range in the 20s. Leiter is unsignable but fits in this group, flashing two plus pitches and starter traits at times, but Leiter is the least projectable, least consistent, and oldest of the three. Espino has a worrisomely long arm action and a maxed-out frame, but also flashes two plus pitches and while the command is just fine for now, he knows how to use his weapons. Walston is young and super projectable with a fringe fastball that should improve and a 65-flashing curveball that lets you dream. Barco is an lower slot, athletic lefty with track record but he had a strained muscle in his shoulder a few weeks ago that ended his pitching season. It isn’t a long-term concern as he was hitting the mid-90s in starts all year, working in a plus splitter and solid average but inconsistent curveball.
Late First to Comp Young Prep Shortstops
Keoni Cavaco, Eastlake High School CA (18.0)
Anthony Volpe, Delbarton High School NJ (18.1)
Brooks Lee, San Luis Obispo High School CA (18.3)
Kyren Paris, Freedom High School CA(17.6)
Matthew Lugo, Beltran Academy PR (18.1)
Gunnar Henderson, Morgan Academy AL (17.9)
Cavaco has the loudest tools, with a future 60 on his raw power and present 60s on his speed and arm, though his explosive swing needs some mechanical adjustments and he likely settles at third base. Volpe may not have any 60s but does have advanced feel for the game, a contact bat, and a great internal clock at shortstop. Lee projects as an above average shortstop and hitter, but his speed and power are below average. Paris is a plus runner and potentially plus shortstop who has gained strength this spring, but reviews of his bat vary widely. For some scouts, Lugo has average raw power, and 55s on the other four tools. Henderson fits somewhere in the middle infield and has a nice lefty cut with some pop and big homers this spring, but wasn’t great last summer and hasn’t faced much velocity this spring.
West Coast College 3rd-5th Round Catchers
Korey Lee, Cal
Matt Dyer, Arizona
Maverick Handley, Stanford
Carter Bins, Fresno State
Daniel Cope, Cal State Fullerton
Nick Kahle, Washington
Eric Yang, UC Santa barbara
James Free, Pacific
Lee, who runs well and has above-average bat speed, has some late buzz in sandwich round area. Dyer is not a good receiver and his swing is divisive, but he’s a plus runner with a 60 or 70 arm and he hit .393 in his only full D-I season. Handley is a plus athlete and ball blocker who receives fairly well. He has a 40 arm and a short, punchy swing. Bins can throw and has big power in his hands but is lacking in the hit tool. Cope is the most complete defender of this group. Kahle and Yang have strong peripherals. Kahle has twice as many walks as strikeouts this year and posted a .511 OBP, but Yang has the better build and is a better athlete. Free is a switch-hitter with power.
Six-Figure High Schoolers
One area where area scouts make the biggest impact is with the $200-500K high school player. In order for teams to pick up players like this, the area scout will have typically had to identify a lesser known player, built a relationship with him and his advisor in order to properly assess signability, and also have brought their crosschecker in to see that player, sometimes in a way that is strategically timed so other teams don’t know how much they like that player. This year there seem to be more players like this than usual. Information regarding this tier of player is the most sensitive, so we won’t share the names of players who we think fit, but pay attention to bonus amounts of signed late round high schoolers in the weeks to come.