2013 MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford of MLB Draft Insider
Major League Baseball’s amateur draft – or at least the first round of it – kicks off one week from today. The M’s have three picks in the first 100, starting with the twelfth pick overall. The pick was evidently important to the front office, as they seemed hesitant to sign free agents that would’ve resulted in forfeiting their first-round pick. To be fair, that same scenario played out for other teams too, resulting in Kyle Lohse waiting a long, long time to sign. So who are some of the players that could shoot up prospect lists a year or two from now? Like last year, I reached out to Chris Crawford, proprietor of the draft-focused site MLBDraftInsider.com to get the scoop on the draft class overall and some of the players the M’s might grab at #12. You can check out Chris’ latest mock draft here, ask him questions on twitter there, or dive into the rather lengthy Q and A below.
1: Who do you think the M’s pick? Who *should* they pick?
It’s really difficult to project who the Mariners are going to select this year since they are 1. notoriously tight-lipped about their process and 2. aren’t picking in the top five, which they seem to be every year. That being said, there’s quite a few players tied to them, including Lakewood High School (Calif.) shortstop J.P. Crawford, New Mexico first-baseman D.J. Peterson, Grayson High School (Ga.) outfielder Austin Meadows and Arkansas right-hander Ryne Stanek. If I was going to guess which of those the Mariners select right now, I’d lean towards Crawford.
Would I have a huge problem with the Mariners taking Crawford? No, he’s a shortstop with good defensive instincts who’s bat would play above-average at short or if he had to move over to second base. The only name I would be disappointed with in that range is Peterson, as I just don’t think he has the upside to justify taking in the first round, though many scouts disagree with me.
How do you compare the hit tool and power tool of Crawford and Meadows? Meadows has been ranked higher the whole year (and last year too), but Crawford’s obviously had a good year to put himself in the conversation. If they’re both available, do you lean Meadows, or does an above-average bat at SS trump the pedigree?
Offensively, Meadows is the far superior player. He’s got good bat speed and if he adds some loft he’s going to hit for power. Crawford’s offensive game is much more limited; he’s not very big (6’2″, 175) and while he has good bat speed its difficult to project big power numbers. I lean Meadows simply because the upside is too good to ignore, especially at pick No. 12.
2: How do you think this draft class stacks up with other recent years’? Last year, you mentioned that the 2012 class was a step behind 2011 and 2010’s…do you still think that’s the case? Overall, do you think talent evaluators are able to forecast this (draft class quality) reliably? Or is it something that can only be judged in hindsight?
It’s a case of quality or quantity. The top five prospects in this class are really good, with two future aces in Mark Appel and Jonathan Gray, a plus-plus power hitter in Kris Bryant who I think can play third base, a pitcher with two 70 pitches in Kohl Stewart and a very intriguing athlete in Meadows. After that, the quality wanes quite a bit, with very little available in terms of college bats and not a single left-handed starter who will go in the first round assuming Sean Manaea’s injuries push him out.
As far as judging this class accurately, I think it’s an interesting question. This was the year of the pop-up; Gray was considered more of a second-third round guy when the year began, and names like Nevada right-hander Braden Shipley and Mississippi State’s Hunter Renfroe coming from no where to being possible top ten picks. Pop-up’s help increase the depth in the class, but also make scouting difficult as there isn’t the pedigree that some of the other top names have. Guys like Peterson, Renfroe and Reese McGuire have a ton of varying positions from the scouts and talent-evaluators I talk to, but there does seem to be a sort of consensus in this year’s draft compared to others.
3: From an outsider’s point of view, it looks like the draft class’ strongest position is at catcher, particularly the high school backstops. Local kid Reese McGuire heads up that group. The M’s could, conceivably, have their pick of McGuire, Ciuffo, or Denney. Of course, they just took Mike Zunino last year and they have some depth at the position, even despite Jesus Montero’s faceplant. If McGuire (or Ciuffo) is on the board, should the M’s take him? If not, why not?
It definitely is the strength of the class, though I wouldn’t take any of them in the first dozen picks. McGuire is one of — if not the — best defensive catchers I’ve ever seen, with the strongest arm of any backstop in the class. I just can’t take a hitter with a 40-45 hit grade that high, defensive star or not. There may be some local pressure — and the Mariners have seen him a ton — but I don’t think he’s going to be available anyway. Ciuffo’s got average tools across the board with the potential for maybe above-average power, but more of a late first-round talent, the same with Denney who probably will have to switch positions long-term.
If the Mariners feel like a catcher is the best player on the board though, they should not pass on one just because they took Zunino last year. Take the best player available, always. If and when McGuire are ready to play, they either have a very nice problem or the ability to move one for another need. BPA, BPA, BPA.
McGuire’s profile sounds somewhat similar to another 1st round catcher the M’s took, Steve Baron. That didn’t work out so well. Catchers are tricky to develop for anyone, and the M’s seem to struggle with it more than most. Is that fair? Can McNamara ignore the track record here, or is his job BPA, BPA, BPA, no matter what?
I think it’s the process of the catchers they’ve drafted more than their ability to develop internally, though there’s a case to be made for both. McGuire’s swing isn’t near the mess that Baron’s is now or then, and there’s some power projection. Even if he’s a 40 hitter with 45 power McGuire can play everyday; Baron was never anywhere close to that. If the Mariners pass on him because of their past failures with previous catcher picks, it’s a mistake.
4: Ryne Stanek spurned the M’s to enroll at Arkansas, and he’s had a brilliant sophomore season and now an up and down junion campaign. He’s gone from someone in the mix at 1-1 to a guy the M’s could conceivably draft (Again). if he’s there, should the M’s take him?
Assuming Crawford and Meadows are off the board, absolutely. Stanek struggled with command this year but there are some mechanical tweaks they can make to get that back on track. He throws a curveball and a slider, but if I’m the Mariners I have him ditch the slider and get him to develop a change up, and he’s a potential No. 2. I understand the fear of drafting someone who spurned them once, and taking another pitcher may not be the sexiest thing the M’s could do, but again, best player available and it’s not like the Mariners current rotation has these prospects blocked.
Who does Stanek remind you of, either at the big league level, or guys who’ve been drafted in recent years?
I am no good at comps, but he’s pretty similar in build and stuff to Chris Stratton, a first-rounder for the Giants last year. That may not excite folks, but I thought Stratton was underrated last year and I think both guys can be solid No. 2 starters at their peak.
5: More generally, what do you think about a pitcher whose natural stuff is far ahead of his collegiate results? This obviously applies to Mark Appel, who clearly won’t get to the M’s, but you could’ve said the same thing (to a lesser degree) about Gerrit Cole in 2011 too. Is this a red flag, or is it just a developmental phase?
Well, I think there are a lot of factors that go into the results of a college pitcher that we have to keep in mind. One is pitch selection; some colleges are notorious for being extremely fastball heavy, which will limit the amount of bats you can miss. When the ball is put into play, some of these defenses are just awful,which lead to ridiculous BABIP statistics. With that being said, results can definitely be a red flag. Take for instance a guy like Arizona State’s Trevor Williams, a right-hander who will touch 96 with a plus change up and average slider, but hasn’t missed bat at all and has seen his stock drop from mid first-round to more of a second round guy. So yes, it can be a red-flag, but there are a ton of variables as well.
6: The other thing that can cause a pitcher to fall is of course health. We’ve seen this year in and year out with guys like Matt Purke, Tanner Scheppers, Lucas Giolito, etc. This year, it’s Sean Manaea’s turn. A few months ago, I would’ve had him as a near lock for the #1 overall spot, and now he’s unlisted in your recent mock (I know you’re not saying he’s below #50, but it’s a testament to the uncertainty around him). Would you categorize Manaea as a potential steal, or can you not talk about ‘steals’ when looking at a potential arm surgery?
It’s interesting, because it’s not just about the injuries for Manaea. The velocity has been inconsistent all year (though that could be related to the shoulder and hip), but more than anything his slider has only been an average offering which had already diminished his stock. If he can regain his form of the Cape Cod — when he was 96 with movement and an above average breaking-ball and change — than yes, you have yourself a steal. There’s very little evidence that tells me he’s that player, however.
Manaea’s Cape League performance was utterly jaw-dropping. Does a sustained period like that of 96mph with movement and two solid pitches to go with it make you more likely to pop him? Or do you say, well, it’s still a small sample, and anyone can do anything in a league where no one’s too familiar with wood bats, etc.? To me, that period of dominance is worth more than a guy who has the physical stuff and no history of results (Williams), or up and down results (Stanek). Not saying I’d take him no matter what, but is there something to the idea that he’s demonstrated a level of ability that the other guys haven’t? Or is that how any number of pop-up prospect busts happen (“I saw it for two weeks in the Alaska summer league….I swear it’s in there somewhere!”)?
There is definitely something to be said about the fact that we’ve seen Manaea reach those levels before, but there’s something to be said about we’ve seen Cape Cod wonders before. Christopher Beck was a guy who had top ten consideration coming into the season last year, and fell all the way to the second round because of inconsistent results and velocity throughout the season. I haven’t seen Manaea in person, but folks tell me that he’s changed his delivery since the summer, so maybe a team sees that and says “we can get him back to that.” That’s an awful big risk to take in the first round for a guy respresented by the Boras Corp. though.
7: There are any number of reasons position player prospects can fall in the draft too. Currently, you’ve got the following players coming off the board before #12. What would have to happen for the M’s to have a shot at them? Who do you really hope falls (for whatever reason), even if it’s unlikely?
* – Colin Moran
* – Clint Frazier
* – Hunter Renfroe
If Moran somehow fell to the Mariners he’d be on the board for about four seconds’ they love him but he’s going to go in the top five, top seven at the lowest . Meadows is a much more realistic target’ if Toronto or New York pass on him, then he’s going to be available, which I still find nuts. Frazier is the toughest player to peg in the mock, there are reports that Miami, Boston and New York all have interest in him, but he appears to be those teams backup plans. I think he might make it to Seattle, but if they have their choice between Meadows and Frazier they’re taking Meadows, and I think they prefer Crawford over Frazier as well. Crawford is going to make it to them unless Kansas City pops him, and I think that’s somewhat of a long shot. Renfroe could be there if the Mets and Pirates pass as well, but I’ve heard mixed reports as to whether the Mariners are interested in his services.
8: The flipside of the previous question. There are a number of players currently forecast to go below #12. What would make you opt for one of them instead? Is it wise to let a late season run (or college world series performance) alter your assessment? Is it small-sample noise, or is it just more data that can help you refine your selection? Even if they can’t jump to #12, who has the most to gain with a big showing in the postseason?
It’ll be tough to have anyone jump up for the Mariners this year, as most of the guys they’ve been connected to aren’t currently in the postseason, sans Peterson and Renfroe. Had Stanford made the tournament, he was a guy who’s stock could have risen considerably as he comes back from the stress reaction in his elbow, and the Mariners had shown some interest. The NCAA postseason isn’t going to have players jump whole rounds, but it can put guys on maps, a la Jonathon Crawford last year. It’s a little too small of a sample size for me to have guys jump based on a week, but they can give guys that extra oomph.
One guy ranked outside of my top dozen that I could see the Mariners considering though, is Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. He has enormous raw power, and looks like he’ll be able to play right-field at the next level despite being 6-7 260. Guys that big generally have to move to first at some point — and there’s a ton of swing and miss in his game — but he wouldn’t be a huge reach at pick No. 12.
What do you make of guys with swing and miss in their games? Personally, it’s a pretty big red flag for me, as just about everyone in the big leagues walked more than they K’d in college, or limited their strikeouts. It’s something that made me leery of a guy like Michael Choice, Drew Stubbs and George Springer, and obviously those are three of the very most successful guys with that particular trait. With teams more willing to tolerate strikeouts, is it just the same thing as a so-so power tool (or arm, or whatever)? Or is there still something to the idea that if amateur pitching is making you miss a lot, you may have a fatal flaw? Or does it just depend on each particular prospect’s skills and temperament?
It totally depends on what’s giving him trouble. If the guy is struggling with breaking-balls or good velocity, that’s going to give teams more concern than a guy who is swinging through fastballs or swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone. With Judge, it was more of a case of approach early on, but that has improved significantly. If a guy isn’t drawing walks while striking out a lot, that’s an issue.
9: Last year, the big story was the new draft slotting system brought on by the new CBA. How did the process run, from your point of view? Was it tougher to rank players? Easier? This season, do you think teams will attempt to ‘game’ the system, or are the penalties too steep? The Dodgers, for example, are blowing past the luxury tax threshold at the MLB level. Would it make sense for someone to spend like crazy in the draft, penalties be damned?
First, let me restate that I hate these new rules, and I think they make mock drafts very, very difficult. That said, I don’t base my actual player rankings on anything but who I feel will be the best players at the next level. I don’t see anyone ignoring the system though, the penalty is just too significant and the fear of losing draft picks without getting a player in return will always be too concerning.
Which players in the first round will be toughest to sign?
Manaea obviously is going to be a tough signing, and I can’t imagine him going to a team that doesn’t have multiple picks and extra allocation funds. Kohl Stewart could be a difficult signing with his commitment to play football at Texas A&M, and Frazier and Meadows will likely take to the last day, but I think they’ll all get done.
If you could change something about the draft process in the CBA, what would it be? This offseason, we saw the free agent compensation rules skew the market a bit as teams didn’t want to forfeit a first rounder, even outside the top ten in a so-so draft. Would you rejigger these rules? Or would you target the hard slotting system? I know the idea is that the slotting system keeps talent away from the game, but do we have any evidence that this is occurring?
Well, the first thing I’d do is get rid of the draft, but then I wouldn’t have very much to write about, so, ignore that. I would be okay with hard-slotting, but the agents would have such a fit that I can’t see it ever passing. If I could change one thing, it would be to significantly alter the compensation system for signing free-agents. The purpose of having compensation picks is to award teams that lose valuable players in free agency. Why should a team be punished for improving their ball club? Doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.
10: This was a decent year for draft prospects from the northwest. Tell us some more about Reese McGuire and Marco Gonzales. What are their ceilings? If you could drop them into the 2012 draft, where would they go? Do you have a sense of how fast they’d move once they get into pro ball? How does McGuire differ from another NW backstop, Clint Coulter? And how does Gonzales differ from other ‘safe’ picks, from Wacha at the top end to a Sean Gilmartin at the other?
As I said above, McGuire’s defensive abilities are sensational, he’s regularly had pop times below 1.8 and a few below 1.75. He has an incredibly quick release and the ball comes out of his hand on a straight line, and he’s improved as a receiver. It’s just a matter of if teams think he’ll be a good enough hitter to play everyday. I’m torn, but I think he’s so good defensively that it’s worth taking a risk. McGuire doesn’t have near the offensive firepower of Coulter, but he’s a far better defensive player and a better athlete.
Gonzales is definitely the safety pick in this draft, with a 45 fastball but a 65 change and 60 command. He’s sort of in between the names above, but he’s closer to Wacha than he is Gilmartin. He probably isn’t anything more than a mid rotation starter, but he could be in a rotation as soon as mid 2014.
11: Who’s the best pure hitter in the HS class, behind the two Georgians? Billy McKinney, Reese McGuire, Dom Smith, JP Crawford, Dustin Peterson?
I probably would say Smith, but I think he and McKinney are close. McKinney’s swing is beautiful, but Smith generates more hard contact and has slightly more power potential. McKinney is a fantastic hitter as well, and if either were better defensively I think they’d have top eight consideration.
12: Who are some names the M’s could opt for at #49 and #85? They obviously did well at positions in the 40s-60s in recent drafts with Taijuan Walker and Brad Miller, and they’ve got a number of kids from last year’s draft who could pan out at some point.
Well, here’s hoping they don’t take Joe DeCarlo again. There are a ton of prep left-handers in this class, and if a guy like Blake Taylor — a 17 year old with a good pitchers body and a low 90’s fastball — was available, he’d be solid value at pick 49. I’d also love to see the Mariners take a chance with Ryan Boldt at some point, a guy with three 60 tools but has taken himself out of first-round range because of a knee injury that eliminated his senior season. Another high-school hitter I’d take a chance on is Andy McGuire, an infielder out of Virginia with my favorite right-handed swing in the class, but will have to play third base at the next level.
13: Years from now, this draft will be known for X? Or will it be forgettable?
I think this class will be made or broken by the top three, if Appel, Bryant and Gray are as good as I think they might be, then it’s a special top of the class. If Appel is more of a mid rotation guy and Gray burns out and Bryant can’t hit, then this will be a very forgettable class.