Once again, we’ve done a refresh of all of our draft rankings. They get tweaked multiple times per week in subtle ways, but every few weeks they need a larger overhaul when there are over a dozen guys who have moved around in the key spots. That’s what happened this weekend. We reset the trend arrows a few days ago to clean things up a bit visually. Here are some notes on where we stand now:
- There is now a level of comfort amongst scouts with the hierarchy of college pitching in this year’s draft. TCU LHP Nick Lodolo is the consensus number one, West Virginia RHP Alek Manoah is the consensus number two, and Elon RHP George Kirby is most scouts’ third choice. Some scouts have Kentucky LHP Zack Thompson third, but he’s had durability issues dating back to high school, so when his medicals come out, he could go anywhere from 10th to 40th.
- As for high school pitching, it’s a big more muddled. I’m heading out tonight to see the guy who most feel is the best prep pitcher in the draft, Florida prep RHP Matthew Allan. Behind him, most scouts have another Florida prep RHP (whom I’ll see Friday), Brennan Malone. Illinois prep RHP Quinn Priester’s area kicks off a bit later than the Sunshine State but some scouts had him up to 97 mph in his last start, so he may jump into that top tier with Allan and Malone after another couple starts. New Jersey prep RHP (and son of Al) Jack Leiter was good in front of lots of heat last week at NHSI, and he’s probably next in the pecking order, with months of speculation that it’ll take $3 million or more to keep him from going to Vanderbilt. This, along with the varied rankings of prep pitching from team to team, likely makes him a target for an overslot bonus later in the first round by a club with multiple picks (similar to how the Cardinals landed Jack Flaherty).
- Some preferences in the early picks are becoming clearer. It still seems like Adley Rutschman at one (Orioles) and Andrew Vaughn at two (Royals) are the two easier ones to project with what we know at this point (the full draft order and slots can be found here). Rutschman’s lead at the top spot is still significant, so it would take a major injury or an uglier-than-expected medical to make Vaughn a real option at the first pick for Baltimore. The buzz is that the White Sox are leaning heavily to college prospects for the third pick, with Nick Lodolo in the mix along with the next tier of college hitters, which can be ranked any way at this point (UNLV SS Bryson Stott, North Carolina 1B Michael Busch, Vanderbilt RF J.J. Bleday, Arizona State LF Hunter Bishop, Missouri RF Kameron Misner is the way we have them lined up right now). There’s similar buzz that Miami is also looking hard at college options and that Lodolo is in their mix. Things get a bit hazier beyond that and also depend on the picks at three and four. The general feeling is that this top 10 isn’t strong enough to make every club just take the best player available, so there’s some chatter that clubs picking outside the top five may take a money saver with the first pick and move that money to float a prep prospect to their second pick. That strategy may be more fraught than normal this year with Arizona in possession of a $16 million bonus pool and set to pick 16th, 26th, 33rd, and 34th.
- We’re up to 271 total players in the 2019 list now and we’re adding to the 2020 and 2021 lists weekly. We also have a handful of 2022 prep names ready for when the unsigned 2019 prep players join that class as college players. I’m starting a Florida swing this week and should see all of the potential first rounders in the state along with a couple Florida State League games. Last weekend, I saw Nasim Nunez, Louisville/Clemson, UNC/Georgia Tech, UNC Wilmington/Kennesaw State, Georgia/Vanderbilt, and a Triple-A game between the Braves and Orioles affiliates. Eric is running around the Pacific Northwest and he’s always bouncing around the backfields and local amateur games back in Arizona. We’ve got new Sony high speed cameras, so stay tuned to the FanGraphs Youtube page (Mackenzie Gore or Ryan Jensen) and Instagram account (Austin Riley or Michael Busch) to see what we’ve been seeing on the pro and amateur end of things, likely at 960 frames per second.
- Georgia has seemed like it was on the verge of being a top tier program for decades, with all kinds of built-in advantages, and now it appears to be coming together. The 2020 group is strong, headlined by the top two pitchers in the class (RHP Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox) along with the Saturday starter (LHP C.J. Smith), and the 2019 class also has a potential first day headliner (3B Aaron Schunk) along with solid day two depth pieces (RHPs Tony Locey and Tim Elliott, SS Cam Shepherd). The top tier SEC programs (LSU, Vanderbilt, Florida have been the top tier recently) often have more than a half dozen top 5-7 round prospects for the next two drafts, a strong freshman class, and a strong high school senior crop. Georgia is joining a number of other strong programs (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Auburn) in challenging for an extended stay in the top tier, and some would argue a few of those already have.
- Along those lines, Miami hasn’t broken through yet, but has a very strong 2020 class with five players (SS Freddy Zamora, 3B Raymond Gil, 1B Alex Toral, RHPs Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon) on THE BOARD, while only being slated to lose one player who’s on the 2019 list (RHP Evan McKendry).
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.