Longtime friends here at Fantistics know that this isn't my favorite column of the year. The 2018 June Draft is upon us and we are tasked with predicting which of these kids will be productive major leaguers, two, three, perhaps five years from now. And hey, the trend is towards this becoming easier. Insights, data, and video travel easier, the timeline between the draft and their
Yes, I said it.
It's less so for some players of course, and "special" still shines, but to revive an apt cliché, for all of these players, it's a long and winding road from Monday to the Majors. And not to beg off here but honestly, between dealing with the majors and the minors, I just don't get down to college and below as often as perhaps I should this time of year. I'll barnstorm the Cape Cod league this summer as I always do, and I'll try to watch some of the College WS, but the over/under is about 6 pings before I am reaching for the remote. Still,
And it's still a crapshoot.
Don't believe me?
Take a look at the last 10 first rounds.
But with Dynasty Leagues, deep rosters, and the occasional same-year pick to promotion plot lines, we are compelled to take a look and take a guess. My general strategy here, as it is with prospects in general, is that you go big. Prospects are a high-risk game, so play for high rewards. This is even truer if you are speculating on players drafted 10-minutes ago. Go big. If the high-end reward isn't there, there are plenty of mediocre returns further down the road towards the majors that we know more about, so they come with lower risk and they take less of your time and resources.
All of that being disclaimed, here are 13 thoughts for the '18 draft...
The Tigers will likely either go Casey Mize or Brady Singer with the top overall pick. I think it is Singer, out of Florida, who is almost a central casting top-half-of-the-rotation starter. The Jays drafted Singer in the second round in 2015 but balked on the signing due to physical issues. That was Florida's gain and the 6-5/180 RHP did well both in the SEC and on Cape Cod. Perfect height, strong makeup, mid-90s velo and a good and variable slider ... There are some minor mechanical questions and he hasn't exactly been great all year, but as starter engine blocks go, he looks solid.
Mize is a possibility at #1 overall as well after doing exactly what he needed to do this year in regards to simply pitching through the year after some 2017 bouts with a tired arm and flexor strain. The 6-3/208 RHP doesn't have the elite velo of Singer but he can get to the upper-90s with good spin rate. He doesn't lead with velo however. Casey starts with his hard sinking splitter which can sit 5-10 mph below his FB. He also has a potentially plus slider which he can vary in speed and movement. His control is highly advanced and hopefully, his bulldog approach at pounding the zone will survive professional hitting. I put his ceiling at a #2, but I may be shortchanging him.
Ethan Hankins, a 6-6/200 RHP, is going to be all over the place in the rankings you see, largely because he's a wildcard, an intriguing wild card, but nonetheless, a wild card. First, he's a high school pitcher and second, teams may have to reach for him if they want to sign him. He's leaning towards Vandy and unless he's drafted highly and/or gets an offer that befits a high draft pick, he could easily try his luck again later after getting a college season under his belt and another year of physical maturity, well, under his belt. He may have the best fastball in the draft. Not the fastest, mind you, but the best (although he's more than capable of mid-to-high). He imparts tremendous spin with his fastball giving it so much life it could read this column and send me a nasty email. His change gets some of that spin as well which gives it nice run and he should be able to leverage his length into some downward plane and hopefully a deep curve. Spin rate is the buzzword lately, and Ethan is dripping with it. The problem is that if he doesn't go top 5, or to a team willing to spend, he's probably going to Vandy. He's exactly the high reward scenario I am talking about. Hopefully, one organization gets it.
OSU's Nick Madrigal is going to get me in trouble. At 5-7/160, the RHH second baseman is going to have to prove to me can be a valuable fantasy property. His size makes me prejudice about his power potential and while I think he'll have a speed game, I don't think it will be a compellingly productive speed game by the time he arrives in the majors. He's going to be a good MLB player I believe, and useful to an MLB team with his strong plate approach, contact skills and zone discipline, not to mention his plus defensive capability at 2B (if not SS). All of those things will help him be one of the first few bats off the board in this draft. I just don't think he projects to be able to provide enough fantasy counting stats long term.
Matthew Liberatore is probably the top LHP in the draft, a HS 6-5/200 lefty at that. He has velo that reaches into the mid-90s, but the real attraction here is his advanced craftsmanship. Matthew throws that FB all over the radar gun from sub-90 to mids by taking or adding a half a foot as he feels is needed. He also throws a big, leisurely curve as well as a strong slider and developing change. All of these pitches look pretty good as they stand and he throws them with varying levels of command right now, but he's smart about his craft and it's enticing to think about how good he can be when he has done this full time for a while, with professional guidance. He's fun to watch and there is so much low-hanging developmental fruit here, you can't help but get excited about how good he can be.
Joey Bart is a 6-3/225 catcher out of Georgia Tech and the thing that makes him compelling is that he committed to the position in college, so much so in fact that he made strong defensive gains to the extent that he projects as a professional catcher, and as a professional catcher with a bat. His plate approach has seen gains at Tech as well. He's bought into his raw power and that has allowed him to seek more discipline and contact and he's done that. He's also seen that he can get out of the park foul line to foul line, which allows him to take pitches deeper and that is a contributor to these gains as well. His path to the majors may be longer as he learns his position's defense at a professional level and, after that, he regains his confidence in his power with wooden bats. Given the fantasy outlook at the position, we'll be excited for him to arrive, but I don't think there's reason to carry him on your roster that long except perhaps in dynasty formats.
You are going to hear HS SS Nander De Sedas' name a lot, followed closely by Francisco Lindor's name because they come from the same HS (crap, I just did it too!). What's intriguing about Nander is his raw power. And at times he's shown the advanced approach necessary to tap into it, but his plate skills have been inconsistent this year. Part of that could be that he hasn't been a switch hitter long enough to stabilize his mechanics and approach, especially from the left side. He may have started too late and it will be interesting to see if whoever drafts him tries to limit him to the right-hand batter's box. It'll also be interesting to see if he sticks to SS long term, or, as I expect, he ends up at 3B by the time he reaches the majors. It'll also be interesting to see if he gets drafted high enough to stop him from going to Florida State.
We talk about the role physical maturity plays in projectability for a player, especially in the draft, and especially for pitchers. But that maturity doesn't stick to a timeline and it doesn't always show up at all at once. Witness 18-year-old Carter Stewart, a 6-6/200lb HS right-hander out of Florida. In his showcase appearances in the last 10 months or so he has brought his velo and the rest of his game a long way. He throws mid-to-high and has a really advanced, very pretty curve that sits -10mph and yet doesn't leisurely loop at that lower velo. It really bites and it is aggressive. That curve is going to be something 5 years from now. For now, Carter struggles with repeatability and arm action on his change, which is really malnourished at this point. But hey, he's 18. Reports seem to indicate that he both pays attention to mechanics and he's able to install changes. That's a good sign. He is committed to Mississippi and it remains to be seen if a team will draft a two-pitch (for now) 18-year-old high enough to keep him from going. He's a project, but he has ceiling.
Here's another way the game and the pipeline has changed the last few years. The whole raw power to game power shift has been accelerated. This is largely because the game, starting in the feeder levels, is trading contact for power. Strikeouts are ok in a way they haven't been in the past. This is an evolutionary response to the way the pipeline traded velo for command and craftsmanship with pitchers a few years ago. "Just throw hard and we'll work out the rest"... Ironically for hitters with raw power, in some ways, this leads to a better approach. If you allow hitters with raw power to lift (by accepting Ks more readily) they soon learn that they don't have to swing hard to get the ball out. That allows them to contain their swing, which leads to better contact, which leads to better results... #AlecBohm ... 6-5/240 Junior 3B at Wichita State ... All of this came together for Alec this season and he's shown tremendous bat speed, a good approach, and blossoming game power. Defense is a question but he's good enough to play 1B or DH and he projects to have the power to hold his own at those positions.
Brice Turange, 6-1/165 HS SS out of California. Read: Dustin Pedroia with a little more speed, and a little lower ceiling than Pedroia's, although it's going to take him a while to get to that comp. He's a Dirt Dawg and a valuable MLB player. I'm not sure, however, that in the long run, he'll do anything particularly well from a fantasy standpoint.
Either Jarred Kelenic or Travis Swaggerty will be the top outfielder off the board, but they should be drafted very close to one another (although they likely won't be). Swaggerty is a left-handed hitting Junior at South Alabama. He's 5-11/180, so I have game power concerns, and I think his power might be overstated. We'll see when he flips to wooden bats. That makes him a bit of a tweener because his speed and athleticism slots him as a centerfielder, and his discipline helps him to fit a top-of-the-order slot, but his hit tool is inconsistent because of contact issues. Pro pitchers will try and exploit that rather than give him the walks that such a big part of his offensive profile. If they force him to hit to maintain his OBP capability he may struggle and his OBP and his speed game are what you'd be buying in this draft (along with his defense)
Kelenic is more toolsy that Swaggerty and more prototypical at 6-1/196. He's a HS senior out of Wisconsin and his power is more projectable. His plate approach is advanced and the left-handed hitter has decent speed. In the end, I think Kelenic is a much better bet than Swaggerty except in the speed category although I don't think scouts agree, I think his draft position will stop him from going to Louisville
I think someone could get a bargain on Shane McClanahan, the left-handed South Florida Sophomore (RS), but despite a timing belt detour (TJS surgery in 2016), this draft will prove Shane right for passing on the Mets when he was drafted with the 779th pick in 2015. He'll improve on that draft position and that money considerably this time. Shane is the much-sought-after power lefty, reaching 100 mph with his rebuilt elbow and he throws 97 with scary consistency. He has a deep change as well and a slider that he's bringing along. He'll have 3 pitches when he reaches the majors. At 21, I'd like to see him with a few more pounds. He's 6-1/173 and despite his refit that leaves me with stamina and durability concerns, although he maintains his velo deep into starts, and I always seem to worry about the current physicality of draftees, so don't mind me. His mechanics are questionable as well and that has led to control issues, which is the skunk at the party here. And I'm concerned when pitchers have mechanical issues after TJS because you are very aware of and careful about mechanics as you return, so if you didn't clean up issues in that process, you may not be capable of cleaning up issues. Big arm, high ceiling, but there is a wide range of outcomes here. Think Tony Cingrani, only smaller, with more velo.
Registered members can click on the following link to see the complete Prospect Central article for this week, which includes other prospects: http://www.fantistics.com/