This might not be my favorite time of the year (to be honest...I do love Christmas time) but MLB draft season is among my favorite times of the year. Every year I digitally pen the same thing: the MLB draft doesn’t get as much hype as the NFL draft. I mention how long it takes MLB players to get to the majors compared to their football peers and how the Golden Spikes Award isn’t even in the same hype stratosphere as the Heisman Award (seriously can you name three of the five past Golden Spikes winners? - answers at the end). Okay, you get it.
The Royals for the first time since 2007 have a top two pick, and the first time since 2012 picking in the top five. On the one hand, that’s good that they haven’t picked that low because it means the team has generally be not-awful. However it’s bad because it goes to show where the team currently is. You know, ebbs and flows and all that.
People said last year, probably myself included, that the 2018 draft was maybe the most important draft for the Royals, and while that may not be untrue, there is an argument that this year in more important. Yes, getting however many picks it was in the first however many picks in the first two rounds was great for adding value, having the #2 overall pick carries more weight. You don’t typically get to add a star level player at 18th overall. You can do that at #2, and the Royals need stars if they want to be in contention.
General managers get fired for blowing top five picks, well, blowing too many top five picks (yes, I know Moore has “blown” arguably three top five picks and a fair number of top twenty of picks). We don’t know the length of the proverbial rope Moore has with the Glass family and the board of directors (which includes four Glass family members), but I’d venture he probably still has some slack yet. So even if Moore and Co. blow this pick (which me probably won’t know for a few years), I’m not sure this will be the death knell.
The Royals will have the following picks in the first four rounds:
Okay, have we covered all that? Good. Let’s talk about some prospects.
Adley Rutschman, C Oregon State
Might as well start with the best player in the class. People will want to compare the presumptive first overall pick to prior picks. He’s not Bryce Harper, David Price, or Stephen Strasburg, generational talents, but he’s as good as anyone has been that isn’t in that tier.
The switching hitting plus defender, who has plus raw power and an above average or better hit tool, Adley is hitting a ridiculous .429/.576/.805 this year.
I guess...he’s not a great runner? That’s really about it, and while you can’t expect anyone to be Buster Posey, that’s a possible outcome for Rutschman.
It’s unlikely that Rutschman doesn’t get taken by the Orioles, but they’d be fools not to take him (oh God what am I setting myself up for). There are rumors that even if AR somehow falls to the Royals, they will go with Bobby Witt Jr.
Bobby Witt Jr, SS Colleyville Heritage HS, TX
The presumptive one-two overall pick, Witt Jr fits the typical athletic mold that the Royals like. BWJ brings plus power, speed, and defense at shortstop, where you could see a 50 hit tool if he tones down some of the aggressiveness at plate and becomes more patient.
Witt has been locked in for the Royals at their second pick for awhile, but for some of the major publications he isn’t second on their board (ie: Keith Law of ESPN, Eric Longenhagen/Kiley McDaniel at FanGraphs, and the Baseball America crew).
Witt Jr brings a few concerns: as I mentioned above, he’s aggressive despite mostly good mechanics, which could lead to swing and miss issues once he gets to pro ball. Secondly, he’ll be 19 on draft day. That alone doesn’t doom him, but as Rany Jazayerli pointed out a long time ago, age on draft day is important. Finally, BWJ raises a concern that he hasn’t faced particularly good competition this spring.
That profile kind of sounds like...Bubba Starling doesn’t it? Age concern (Starling was 19 on signing day), hit tool concern, and weaker competition (Starling being from Kansas; though to be fair a much different climate than in northeast Texas).
But even if the Royals take Witt Jr over Andrew Vaughn (that might not be what I would do) it wouldn’t be a reach.
Witt Jr is the son of former 3rd overall pick Bobby Witt, who had a lengthy and productive MLB career for almost twenty years as a pitcher.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B University of California
Vaughn is very likely to be the best hitter in the draft, either prep or college. He could wind up as a 60 hit 60 power guy at the plate. If he played a position other than 1B, he’d likely be the first overall pick as he’s a better hitter than Rutschman. However Vaughn is pure bat, being a 1B or DH for whichever team calls his name.
He’s also a rare right handed fielding, right handed hitting first baseman, further being held down by the fact that college 1B rarely go in the top five picks. If he ends up struggling against right handed pitching, he’s nothing more than a weak sided platoon hitter, which is a tough ask to go #1 overall.
Vaughn had a ridiculous sophomore year, and has been very good this year as well despite pitchers avoiding him at all costs. Someone mentioned he has been similar to Joey Bart (San Francisco Giants catching prospect) who was just so good of a hitter that he struggled to perform up to his prior standards because he just couldn’t get anything to hit. Teams realized this and just had to remember that Bart may have been adjusting his approach because of it and should switch back when he gets to pro ball (Bart has had no trouble doing so).
Still, give me a guy who can hit and I’ll figure out where to play him later. He’s not entirely un-athletic, he’s just mainly slow, but it’s not inconceivable that you could stick him at third base or left field and live with it.
CJ Abrams, SS Blessed Trinity HS, GA
Abrams and Witt Jr are apt to be compared to each other, both being arguably the two best prep bats and both playing shortstop. Their tools though are a bit different. Whereas Witt Jr is a plus power, plus defending SS, Abrams is a plus hitting, double-plus speed guy who may or may not stick at shortstop. Witt Jr might be Trevor Story, whereas Abrams might be...Julio Franco? Jose Offerman?
There are some who think Abrams could end up with plus power, as he’s already average or so and he’ll grow a bit more. Won’t take much squinting to see plus hit, plus power, plus speed guy who might stick as shortstop or could move to center and still stay up the middle. Abrams also is a few months younger than Witt Jr.
JJ Bleday, RF Vanderbilt
Another year, another Vandy guy in the mix to go in the top few picks. They’ve had eight players go in the top eight picks since 2004, though just two of them hitters (Dansby Swanson and Pedro Alvarez). Bleday will likely make that nine players and three hitters in June.
He’s a tier below Rutschman and Vaughn when it comes to college bats, but he’s leading that tier. He’s a very good hitter who has come into some power the past year or so. He’s a bit awkward yet athletic, and while he is a corner outfielder, he could play you some centerfield if need be.
It would take some convincing, but I could see a team preferring Bleday to Vaughn, even with the difference in the bat if you like getting some defensive value. He is the player I could see the Royals taking over Vaughn (even though the consensus seems to be Witt Jr.).
Riley Greene, RF Hagerty HS, FL
Greene could be compared a bit to (now) Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic who went sixth overall to the Mets (and traded in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal) last year. Greene might stay in center and while he has some speed and defense, he might also move to a corner spot.
Nick Lodolo, LHP TCU
Weird that this is the first pitcher I’ve written about here but it’s kind of lining up as bats at the very top. Lodolo (alongside Manoah and Thompson below) though stands in the first tier of college pitching. The Pirates tried to grab him at 41st overall back in 2016 but he went on to be a Horned Frog where his decision to not sign went from disaster to great (they usually end up as a disaster). He’s been much better the past year, throwing three above average pitches with above average command. The arm slot is low, and from the left side, which could make him hard of left handed hitters but feast-worthy to righties. He’s a somewhat rare college pitcher with above average current stuff that could still add some size and growth.
Hunter Bishop, LF Arizona State
Bishop is this years late-riser, where he was more of an afterthought to go somewhere on day one but now is certainly going in the front half, if not the top 10. He destroyed non-conference pitching early on this year and out hit Vaughn and Rutschman but has cooled off a bit now in conference play. He’s got plus power and moves well, but he’s made strides in making more contact and getting to his power this year. The Sun Devils have him playing between center and left, where left being his likely ultimate destination.
Bryson Stott, SS UNLV
Early on this spring I liked Stott more than Witt Jr and Abrams. Partly because of my preference of college bats overall, but also because of his performance and ability to stay at SS. I’ve toned that down a bit and still like him, even if he’s “just” an average or above defensive SS with a 55 hit tool and 45 or so power. He’s probably not going to be Troy Tulowitzki, but he’s on my shortlist for potential draft day steal.
Alek Manoah, RHP West Virginia
Man...Manoah just looks like a monster pitcher, listed at 6’7” and 240lbs, throwing upper-90’s deep into games. He’s kept his size in check, which has lead to his gains this spring, throws arguably two near-70 grade pitches (fastball and slider) and has good command. His short track record of continued success (he’s switched between starter and reliever as a Mountaineer but after a strong Cape Cod performance he’s been very good in the rotation). There is some above normal reliever risk because well first, he was a reliever at one point, but also it’s really just two pitches and you have to bank on the command sticking. It’ll be between Lodolo and Manoah for which college pitcher gets his name called first.
Corbin Carroll, CF Lakeside HS, WA
Could be a bit of a range on Carroll. Some have him inside the top five prospects and other more mid-round. He’ll get comparisons to Mickey Moniak, who the Phillies took first overall in 2016 and has a career MiLB line of .254/.296/.374. Both are diminutive in stature (I don’t mean that as an insult) but both did a lot of things well. Moniak was from a better baseball area (San Diego) but Carroll has probably done better against his competition relativaley. Carroll does a bit of everything and is a great runner who can stay in center.
On one hand, if he were a few inches taller, he’d be up there in discussion for the best player in the class and on the other hand, we’ve seen guys like Jose Altuve, Jose Ramirez, Alex Bregman, and Marcus Stroman tell you that size doesn’t matter (#HDMH).
Shea Langeliers, C Baylor
It’s probably not correct to say that there were two players vying for best catcher in the country, as Rutschman pretty much had that nailed down, but Langeliers is no slouch. He’s known a bit more for this defense than offense, where he grades out well in every category (arm, framing, blocking, receiving). The bat is more good than great, and he profiles as a solid everyday guy with the floor of a Martin Maldonado, Ryan Hanigan, or Tyler Flowers type.
Matt Allan, RHP Seminole HS, FL
Allan is the best prep pitcher in this weak prep (and overall) pitching class. That’s not a knock on Allan, who has a prototypical pitchers build, will barely be older than 18 on draft day, and has two present above average pitches in his fastball and curveball. Barring any last minute surprises, the Gators won’t be adding him to their rotation next year.
Zack Thompson, LHP Kentucky
While it sounds like Lodolo will be the first college pitcher taken, Manoah and Thompson might duke it out for the next one (and neither would be a surprise if they went ahead of Lodolo either). Thompson had an elbow injury last year but has been fine this year, he’s a bit closer to Lodolo than Manoah, where he is a four pitch mix guy with good offerings than two standout pitches.
Josh Jung, 3B Texas Tech
Good hitter with potential emerging power that needs to be tapped in to and shown in games. Jung has played both 3B and SS for the Red Raiders but where he ends up (3B, LF, RF, 1B) is a question that remains unanswered.
Jackson Rutledge, RHP San Jacinto JC, TX
The best junior college prospect, Rutledge transferred to San Jacinto from Arkansas after an injury, with an eye to re-enter the draft after a stint at Kentucky. Rutledge may have surprised himself, as he’s now throwing upper-90’s now with two good breaking balls.
Brett Baty, 3B Lake Travis HS, TX
Baty has some of the best prep power in the class and has some ability to hit too, where you could realistically see him as a 50 hit, 65-70 power third baseman, but where he plays isn’t a lock. I kind of get an Austin Riley vibe, where Riley was able to convince folks he could stick at 3B.
Youngest top players on draft day:
SS Kyren Paris (17.6)
SS Yordis Valdes (17.8)
CF Maurice Hampton (17.9)
SS Gunnar Henderson (17.9)
LHP Blake Walston (17.9)
3B Keoni Cavaco (18)
RHP Matt Allan (18.1)
Oldest top players on draft day:
3B Brett Baty (19.6)
RHP Jack Leiter (19.1)
SS Bobby Witt Jr. (19)
3B Tyler Calihan (19)
CF Corbin Carroll (18.8)
RHP Brennan Malone (18.8)
*Golden Spikes Winners:
2018 - Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn
2017 - Louisville 1B/SP Brendan McKay
2016 - Mercer OF Kyle Lewis
2015 - Arkansas OF Andrew Benintendi
2014 - Kentucky 1B A.J. Reed