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2017 MLB Draft Thoughts

A few stray thoughts on the top of last month’s MLB Draft before we get too far away for them to matter anymore…

1 – Hunter Greene is an outstanding prospect. I did not write about him nearly enough this past calendar year. Everybody knows about the heat. Breaking ball can be special. Enough of a changeup to work with. And his athleticism is quite literally second to none among high school pitchers in recent memory. He’s as close to the ideal teenage ball of clay imaginable. I’m a huge Royce Lewis fan and think the Twins will be quite happy with what they are getting with him (plus bat over arm fits my personal first round scouting ethos), but I can’t help but think they wind up regretting passing on the draft’s best talent sooner rather than later. Maybe regret is too strong a word since, again, Lewis is really good in his right. What’s a slightly softer word than regret that would work here? Whatever it is, sub that in instead.

2 – As much as I like Greene, it does feel a little funny that he couldn’t climb the 1-1 mountain and stake his claim as the first ever high school righthander to go first overall in the draft. It’s clearly not a knock on Greene as it is obviously out of his control past a certain point, but I wonder if the 1-1 HS RHP thing gets in teams heads a bit and gives them cold feet before making their selection. If Greene couldn’t do it in this class, then is it ever going to happen? Could say the same about Riley Pint, a slightly lesser prospect but in arguably a slightly lesser draft class, last year. The Kumar Rocker debates over the next eleven months could render this paragraph obsolete before too long. Or maybe the Ethan Hankins debates. Or maybe the Rocker/Hankins debates. Or maybe the Rocker/Hankins/guy we’re not yet ready to throw into the 1-1 mix who emerges in a big way these next few months and into the spring debates. That’s not very catchy, though.

3 – My quick scouting notes on Greene focused as much, if not more, on his abilities as a position player. That happened for two reasons. First, the notes are just that: notes. I don’t publish everything — I try, but sometimes time or obligations elsewhere get in the way — so the notes are pretty much the bare minimum information needed to get an idea of what a player is like in as short a blurb as possible. I kind of figured that everybody with even a passing interest in the draft knows who the top guys are, so I wind up updating the note sections of those players less and less as the spring drags on. That’s the boring logistical reason. The fun reason is that I genuinely think Greene had a case for being drafted as a shortstop (third baseman, really) rather than as a pitcher. I’m not sure I would have had the guts to do it if my job was on the line…but I sure as heck would have considered it beyond what I believe most others did. In time, I think Greene could have grown into the prototype at third base. We’re talking Gold Glove caliber defense with 30+ home run power. My prospect comps for him were obviously boom/bust future is unwritten types in Jake Gatewood and Josh Lowe, but both the Frankie Piliere comp (Robinson Cano!) and my own Hanley Ramirez comp are undeniably exciting. Another great prospect comp I heard after the fact for him as a hitter was Fernando Tatis Jr. We probably know too much about him to make this a fair question, but if Tatis was in this class where would he go? Have to think 1-1, right? I need to stop talking about this right now before I get myself too worked up at the realization that Greene won’t get the chance to hit regularly as a professional. You can say I’m overrating him based on small scouting samples. You can say I’m buying into the mythology more than the man. You can say that holding such an extreme minority viewpoint, never a wrong move to make in theory, doesn’t hold up logically when so many other smart people disagree. You can even say holding this position in the first place is a sneaky way of never being wrong as it deals with a hypothetical that will almost certainly never become an actualized reality. All fair points. Damn if I still can’t feel a certain way about this pitching over hitting decision going down as one of the draft’s underrated what-ifs.

4 – One of the fun discussions I got into with a pal recently centered on where Greene ranked in the larger context of every draft I’ve personally covered since starting the site in 2009. It’s an impossible question to answer knowing what we know now, but I did my best to be as honest as I could with pre-draft evaluations only. Feel like Dustin Ackley ranking fifth should be a little bit of proof of said honesty. The toughest call here is at the top, predictably enough. Harper is a no-brainer, but two/three/four can be in almost any order. I’m guessing that my own preference for the safety of a bat over an arm would have had me rank both Bryant and Rendon over Strasburg if they were all in the same draft class. Then again, Strasburg was STRASBURG; it’s difficult to overstate how massive a prospect he was in his draft year. He might be second behind only Harper. Anyway, that’s picking nits and completely unknowable without the benefit of a time machine and some creative selective memory loss. The real point here is to see where Greene ranks. When it comes to prep righthanders, Giolito and Taillon remain in a tier alone at the very top. Greene, Stewart, Pint, and Cole (whoops) are in the next tier down.

1 – Bryce Harper
2 – Kris Bryant
3 – Anthony Rendon
4 – Stephen Strasburg
5 – Dustin Ackley
6 – Carlos Correa
7 – Lucas Giolito
8 – Gerrit Cole
9 – Jameson Taillon
10 – Hunter Greene
11 – Alex Bregman
12 – Brady Aiken
13 – Carlos Rodon
14 – Kyle Zimmer
15 – Jay Groome
16 – Kohl Stewart
17 – MacKenzie Gore
18 – Riley Pint
19 – AJ Cole
20 – Kevin Gausman

5 – “He’s Harper to me.” That was the first sentence of an exchange I had with a friend about Royce Lewis. A better writer could probably find the way to make those four words into the kind of hook that gets me more than a few hundred readers a day. Instead, allow me to explain what he was talking about. The rest of the chat was about how Lewis, like Harper, is skilled enough and athletic enough to stick at his high school defensive spot (shortstop for Lewis, catcher for Harper), but the impact potential each guy possessed as a hitter made it worth it to move him ASAP to let hitting, hitting, and hitting some more become the primary developmental focus. Makes sense to me. So far, however, the Twins are sticking with Lewis as a shortstop. I’ll contradict myself immediately here because I think that’s great. This almost goes back to my Alex Jackson argument from a few years back. People tried to compare his situation to Harper’s at the time, but that never made sense to me. Harper as a hitter was clearly special. Jackson as a hitter was really impressive, but impressive in the way that the top prep hitters are in every draft. His bat wasn’t SO good that you had to go out and rush him to a less demanding defensive spot to get the full power of his offensive game unleashed. I feel similarly about Lewis. He’s an excellent prospect as a center fielder, but in the same way there are excellent high school center field prospects in every draft class. As a shortstop, however, the bat would be special. Missing in this surface-level analysis is the liklihood of the individual players at actually sticking at the more challenging defensive spots. I’ll go to my grave thinking Harper not only could have been a fantastic defensive catcher in the big leagues, but could have done so with little to no short-term damage or delay to his offensive growth. Jackson is a guy that I’m not sure anybody, myself included, genuinely thought could play regularly behind the plate. That wouldn’t have stopped me from trying him there, but knowing realistically he might not make it would have been an important consideration to have in mind prior to selecting him. Lewis is somewhere in between the two for me. I think he can be a quality defender at shortstop with a ton of work between now and his eventual big league debut. Whether or not that amount of work makes it worth it — developmental time is finite, so prioritizing one skill or another is a real consideration — is almost impossible for me to say sitting as far removed from the day-to-day situation as I am. My hunch is that it can be done, but it won’t (and for good reason). We’ll see.

6 – Self-serving site update interlude! I messed around with the formatting of the site for a few days, but, as you can plainly see, we’re right back to where we started. While I don’t love the current look — it’s fine, just a bit tired…though I hate how the pages at the top now that I’ve added to it — it was literally the only theme I found out of the dozens I tried that allowed for the search function to give you the entire post history all on one page. I’m not sure if anybody else cares about that at all, but I sure do. I search my own site all the time. When I do, I search it and then Ctrl+F for whatever it is I’m searching. Every other theme made the Ctrl+F part unusable because the search results would only give me the first few lines of each post. This theme, however, gives you the entire post every time. I love that. So whether or not the aesthetics feel right, function wins yet again. For now…

7 – MacKenzie Gore has me changing my mind every other day. If you ever wondered why I’m just a guy on the internet and not in a front office (LOL – like anybody wonders that), then look no further than the very sentence that came before this one. Real scouts and evaluators are paid to have a real opinion on all the big names at the top of the draft. They can’t be wishy-washy when they’re on the clock and all eyes are on them to make a final decision. I do my best to take a stand and I’d like to think nine years of ranking players lends some credence to that, but there are still certain players in every draft class that I never get a firm grasp on. That was Gore for me this year. I think I love him, but…if you only think it then can you really love it? Love should be an easy yes/no, right? Or am I oversimplifying something way more complicated than I’m making it out to be?

8 – Some days I think Gore is an obvious future star with three — maybe four — above-average to plus pitches, ridiculous athleticism (the 1B to Greene’s 1A as an athlete in this class), and a veteran’s knowledge and appreciation for the craft. Some days I look at the delivery and body type, and I worry about how he’ll hold up making thirty starts a year and whether or not he’ll have the consistent command that will allow him to roll through a lineup three times every fifth day. I genuinely have no real feel for him. If we’re being honest, I think geography has something to do with it. Baseball America — who, as I’ve mentioned before, gets a load of credit for me for stepping up their draft coverage up to their usual standard once again this year — was hot for Gore all spring. Same with Austin Beck. Both players, of course, played their high school ball in North Carolina, the same state where the BA headquarters is located. Seeing a player up close and building personal relationships with the player, coaching staff, and members of the support system can sometimes make a really good player seem great; again, not a knock on the pros at BA, but just an observation of human nature at work. Maybe I’m projecting my own insecurities because that’s an issue I struggle with at times. You want the local guy you’ve seen and grown to like to do well so badly that you almost try to will it to happen subconsciously. I read Baseball America (and Perfect Game and D-1 Baseball) like any fan (everything but the actual rankings), so maybe their cheerleading, for lack of a better word, seeped into my own personal opinion on Gore (wound up loving him if you’re going off my rankings) and Beck (the opposite by the same standard).

9 – I’ll try my best to finish here with some very brief thoughts on the top college guys and prep guys on my board. This may get boring because there are only so many ways for me to write “I love this guy,” so bear with me. Adam Haseley – love this guy. He joins Scott Kingery, Rhys Hoskins, Sixto Sanchez, JP Crawford, and Mickey Moniak in one heck of an impressive top half-dozen in the Phillies system. Kyle Wright and Alex Faedo – love those guys. Atlanta’s collection of pitching depth is one of the craziest things I can recall as a lifetime prospect follower. Faedo might go down as the steal of the draft slipping all the way to eighteen. Cool to see he show why during the College World Series. I hope JB Bukauskas pitches in the Houston bullpen this October. How cool would that be? I also hope Keston Hiura’s wonky elbow gets resolved one way or another soon; I hate the black cloud of uncertainty hanging over an otherwise fascinating prospect. Evan White to Seattle was a fit I didn’t really consider pre-draft, but it feels perfect now. Not sure why, but I can very easily envision him in a Mariners uniform hitting doubles in Safeco (or whatever it’ll be called by then) feels right. Mentioned a very quiet Noah Syndergaard comp for Nate Pearson before the draft only to see him get drafted by Toronto…just as Syndergaard once was. That’s fun.

10 – Brady McConnell at Florida is going to be awesome to watch. I play no favorites with college teams, but Florida is at or near the top of the list of schools I’d recommend to any young man with their heart set on playing college ball. Shane Baz reminds me of somebody, but I can’t think of who it is exactly. It’s been driving me nuts lately. Not Ian Anderson, but close. I loved Trevor Rogers to Miami. I think age is vitally important in projecting amateur prospects to the big leagues. I also think age can be a little overrated when discussing pitching prospects. Rogers being a bit older than you’d like doesn’t bother me at all. I’m such a sucker for sweet-swinging high school first basemen. It’s a problem. Nick Pratto is my latest obsession there. One ranking that could haunt me in the years to come: Jordon Adell at 17. The more I’ve thought about him since the draft, the more I think he’s going to hit in pro ball. Some guys just have a knack for consistent hard contact; that’s Adell. I came this close — imagine my fingers VERY close together — to ranking Hagen Danner as a catcher, so I’m happy to see him begin his pro career there. Kevin Abel, Jake Eder, Steven Williams, Emerson Hancock, Jonny DeLuca, Noah Campbell, Alex Toral…college baseball is going to be a lot of fun with some of these freshman next year.

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