2014 MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford
The first round of baseball’s amateur draft kicks off on Thursday, June 5th. You’ve seen JY’s list of names to be aware of, and you’ve no doubt heard some discussion about local players thanks to the brilliant seasons of Oregon State and, shockingly, the University of Washington. As we’ve done the past two years, we’ve attempted to summarize some of the big issues in the draft in a Q and A with Chris Crawford, proprietor of MLB Draft Insider, a writer for ESPN, and now the head honcho of a new site, DraftTotheShow.com. The draft changed markedly with the imposition of bonus pool caps in 2012, and we’ve seen teams, players and agents struggle to come to terms with how to value draft picks (some of which now CAN be traded) and the consequences of free agents signing with new teams. You can argue that teams now clearly OVERvalue draft picks, and that their reticence to sign a, say, Stephen Drew, is foolish. Then, you look at the value of pre-arb players, or the new team-friendly extensions like the one Jon Singleton just signed, and you start to argue it the other way. The draft isn’t necessarily *better* than it’s ever been, but it’s certainly more complex and interesting.
So let’s get to it:
1: Who will the M’s select at #6? Who SHOULD they pick?
As I mentioned — or at least should have mentioned — in the last time we did this, the Mariners are one of the more secretive organizations in baseball. I have been told that they are considering several guys, but the name I have heard that they’re hoping fall to them the most is Alex Jackson, a catcher/outfielder out of Rancho Bernardo High School. I’ve also heard names like LSU right-hander Aaron Nola, Olympia High School (Orlando) shortstop Nick Gordon and a plethora of others that are being considered, but it sounds like if Jackson is still on the board, he’s the guy.
And if that’s who they do take, I don’t think it’s a bad choice. This is a terrible offensive class, and he’s the only guy that I think could have a plus hit-tool and plus power tool in the entire class. I can already hear Mariner fans groaning about taking another catcher, but Jackson will likely move to the outfield and he’s a good enough athlete to play a solid right field. He won’t be able to help until 2017, but, the upside and floor are too high for me to pass.
If the class is so bad, do you think they should be focusing on the arms? Or does the fact that the class has no depth not matter when you’re making the 6th overall pick? IS Jackson the 6th best player in the draft?
I suppose that’s the million dollar question. I still think you have to take the best player on your board and trust your scouting department to find guys that will be valuable players. They are there every year, they’re just a little less obvious.
I have Jackson as my 5th best player currently. If he’s there, I think the Mariners would do just fine to take him.
2: In the previous two iterations of this draft discussion, we’ve talked a bit about the new draft pool spending caps and how they might alter the value of draft picks. We’ve not seen anyone overshoot the cap, and to the extent that there are rumors about busting the pool caps, it’s on the international side. This process seems to be doing what the owners wanted it to do. So, this year, one of the bigger stories is that Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales, two pretty well-known players, have missed the entire first half because teams were hesitant to yield their first round pick. Are teams OVERvaluing their draft picks (especially those in the back end of the 1st round)? Did the fact that they’re now essentially price controlled make them MORE valuable, or is there just a broader understanding that a solid pre-arb player is worth his weight in gold, and that the draft -particularly the first round – is a good place to get such players?
It’s a great question. Personally, I think it just kind of depends on the player. Would I give up a late first-round pick for a shortstop like Stephen Drew for a couple of years? Personally, I would. For Morales? Absolutely not, and I can’t blame a team for not giving up a first-round pick for a guy with his injury history/production.
The fact of the matter though, is that they shouldn’t HAVE to be making that decision. The point of the compensation system was to award teams who lost their quality free agents, not to punish teams. As long as it’s set up like this, you’re going to see guys who are sitting out until June. I hate it — and I’d be stunned if it was this way after the next CBA — but for now, it’s the way it is.
What do you think happens? Obviously Scott Boras isn’t a fan of this at all, but frankly, he’s the only guy whose clients had to sit out. Cruz saw the writing on the wall and might get a nice payday next year. Is the process irrevocably broken, or is everyone still feeling around for how this all works? We learned something this year about how teams value draft picks, and the value (positive or negative) of tendering an offer for arbitration. Does this whole thing get slightly less awful as time goes on? I’d assume this is working quite well for owners. Do you think they’ll give this up in the next CBA?
I won’t pretend I have the answers, but I think “slightly less awful as time goes on” is the best way to put it. The biggest thing for me is figuring out how you “reward” teams that lose free agents, but don’t punish teams that sign them. I just don’t get the point of punishing teams that much for trying to improve their ball clubs. The ends don’t justify the means, in my opinion. But I have no idea how exactly they fix it.
3: Did you happen to catch Russell Carleton’s article on the draft at BP (it’s here)? He found solid, though not great, correlation between signing bonus and MLB value in the first round. But the weird thing was that this correlation didn’t continue into the 2nd round. There, the correlation was tiny…and actually negative. What could be driving this? Talented players with big question marks falling into the 2nd and disappointing? Just bad luck in a couple of draft classes? In your mind, is the 2nd (and 3rd, and 4th, etc.) round categorically different than the first round? Is the drop-off in talent that large?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I think teams, in general, are doing a better job of scouting the draft and using it as a way to build a system, rather than trying to fill needs or get bang for the buck in the first round, so you don’t see nearly as many high risk, high reward guys make it into those later rounds — with some obvious exceptions. As much as cash plays a part of it, if a guy is really that talented, teams are going to pay — the days of seeing guys like (gulp) Ryan Anderson falling to the 17th pick are over. There’s always luck, but in general, I think teams are doing a much better job of valuing the draft.
4: Last year, we talked a bit about how the position of the draft, the position that had a strange accumulation of high-level talent, was the catcher spot. Fast forward to 2014, and the position that’s got a lot of high level talent is…catcher again. Alex Jackson, Kyle Schwarber and Max Pentecost are all consensus first-rounders, though it’s fair to say that not everyone sees them staying at C in the pros. Is the perception that it’s a C-heavy draft mistaken – does the talent drop off a cliff after these three? If not, why do there seem to be more big hitters who’ve managed to stick at C in HS/College? We’ve seen catcher offense increasing in MLB…is this a response to that, or did some change in the amateur ranks help boost big-league catching offense?
I actually think of those guys, only Pentecost is a lock to stick at catcher. Jackson has the ability to catch with a cannon for a right arm, but like I said earlier I think he’s moving to the outfield. Schwarber is an interesting bat who has a chance to stick behind the plate, but I’d put the odds of him staying as a backstop professionally at less than fifty percent at this point. It’s a pretty steep drop after Schwarber — especially on the college side — with high school guys like Jakson Reetz (Norris HS, Nebraska) and Chase Vallot (St. Thomas Moore HS, Louisiana) next in line.
5: Aaron Nola’s one of the top collegiate arms, and someone who figures to be drafted somewhere in that 3-8 range; somewhere close to where the M’s pick. He certainly didn’t have the hype of a Rodon or even a Jeff Hoffman coming into the year. Is he worthy of the 6th pick? How would you compare him to Kevin Gausman, another LSU guy who didn’t have tons of hype before his junior year?
If Nola is still there and Jackson isn’t, I think he’s who the Mariners take, and it wouldn’t be a terrible value selection by any means. He’s got two 60 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) pitches in his fastball and change, and he commands the heck out of them and an above-average breaking ball. He’s unfairly being compared to Michael Wacha, but it wouldn’t shock me one bit if he was a member of someone’s rotation by 2015.
OK, so he’s no Michael Wacha. How does he compare to ex-Gonzaga bulldog Marco Gonzales, another guy who didn’t really jump out at you, but had a very good change-up?
I think he’s better than Gonzales, he throws considerably harder far more consistently than Gonzales does, and his breaking-ball is better too. The only advantage Gonzales has over him is the arm slot and being left-handed, but otherwise Nola is the superior prospect. That being said, if Gonzales was in this draft, he likely would be a top 12-15 pick.
6: Speaking of Hoffman, it seems that every year a really, really talented pitcher suffers an injury and forces teams to think carefully about how to evaluate him. Last year, it was Sean Manaea, who the Royals got after saving a bit on their first pick. The year before, it was Lucas Giolito. This year, it’s Hoffman, who’s undergone Tommy John surgery this spring. He’s still looking like a first round pick. Is that a good idea? Is this a way for a team to get someone with #1/#2 potential outside the top 5? Are teams not evaluating the risk of TJ surgery accurately – is it kind of insane to spend millions and a first round pick on someone with this kind of red flag?
I’ve heard Hoffman attached to lots of teams — including Seattle — and he could go as high as pick No. 4 to the Cubs, with more likely landing spots being to the Blue Jays at 11 or the Giants at 14. Ideally, no, it wouldn’t be a great idea to take a pitcher who won’t be able to pitch until April or so of next year, but it’s not a great class and Hoffman has the best pure stuff of any college pitcher not named Carlos Rodon, so, I get it.
Why do you think that is? Have teams fundamentally changed/shifted in how they view a TJ surgery, or is Hoffman just so good that they can’t ignore the potential?
I think it’s much more the latter than the former. Hoffman reminds many of a poor-man’s Adam Wainwright with his fastball and curveball combination, and he wouldn’t have gotten past the White Sox if he were healthy.
7: Touki Toussaint’s an interesting story – Haitian immigrant, not a lot of baseball experience – with the makings of a great FB/curve combo. He’s raw, lacks command, etc… but “the makings of a great FB/curve combo” sounds good, and it also sounds like Taijuan Walker. Do you think the M’s success in taking a completely raw, not-much-experience-with-baseball player and turning him into the #5 prospect in baseball makes them more likely to look at someone like Toussaint? Or is it essentially impossible to imagine taking on that much risk at #6 (while Walker was in the 40s). Is there anything to the Walker/Toussaint comp?
I love Toussaint, but I think he’s one of the most volatile prospects in this draft because of the lack of command. At times he’s 70/70/55 with his stuff, but there have been outings where you struggle to give the command a 40 grade. Tough to take a guy who can’t throw strikes early, but he’ll almost assuredly go somewhere between 9 and 22 because of his stuff.
If the Mariners were picking in that range, I think they’d consider him, but not at pick no. 6.
8: Michael Conforto’s a northwest/Pac 12 guy that’s probably more familiar to lots of folks than Toussaint/Hoffman. What are the odds he’s selected? In your mind, are the “great baseball players” undervalued compared to the “jaw-dropping tools” guys? Is a lottery ticket for a Buxton/Trout worth more than a guy with a shot to move up the ladder quickly? How good are Conforto’s tools and skills?
I’ve heard Conforto mentioned with the Mariners quite a bit over the past few months, though slightly less lately. I think the only way you see him taken is if Nola and Jackson are off the board, and that doesn’t look likely. While I think he’s the best collegiate hitter in this draft, I don’t think he’s worthy of that high of selection, as he’s a poor defender and he may be a platoon guy as well.
9: One of the big stories of the year has been the spate of TJ surgeries, and as we mentioned with Hoffman, it’s taken a toll on this draft as well. Do you think this alters how teams see drafting pitchers versus position players? Are position players more valuable now?
I don’t think so, and in fact, I think this should actually make pitchers MORE valuable. What’s happening right now is disheartening, no question about it, but it also is a good reminder that depth in your pitching ranks is awfully important. In general, I prefer the everyday hitting prospect, but this draft’s strength is pitching, and reaching out of fear is something that I’ve always frowned upon.
10: Sean Newcomb’s a lefty out of a smaller school who’s put up big numbers in his junior season. How do the M’s assess his development? Northeastern kid, probably fewer miles on the arm, but also playing slightly weaker competition. Is Newcomb for real?
I know that the Mariners have scouted Newcomb heavily, and with good reason. He’s got a fastball that will touch 97 from a (very) low effort delivery, and he’s got a slider that will flash plus and a change that will show above-average as well. I think he’s the third best college pitcher in the draft, and if Nola is off the board, it wouldn’t shock me one bit if the Mariners took Newcomb.
11: Overall, is this draft class better or worse than 2013’s? How about 2012’s?
I think it’s a really hard class to grade. The pitching depth is really good, the offensive depth is atrocious. Because of the the former, I rank it ahead of 2012, but because I’m not positive anyone can hit, I can’t rank it ahead of 2013.
12: Who’s the best pure hitter in this draft class?
On the high school side, it’s Jackson. On the collegiate side, Conforto.
13: The M’s second pick is #74. How about a few names that the M’s might be considering with that pick?
It’ll depend on what direction they go at with six, but I can give you some talents that could fall into that range. Jeren Kendall (Holmen High School, WIsconsin) might be tough to buy out because of his Vanderbilt commitment, but he’s a four tool player who can absolutely fly and go get it in centerfield. St. Louis University right-hander has a big fastball that will touch 97, with two average secondary pitches to boot. And Milton Ramos (American Heritage Academy, Miami) might have only a 35 hit tool, but he’s one of the best prep defenders to enter the draft in the past three or four seasons.
14: Last year, we talked about the fact that the Northwest had a couple of first-rounders, with HS catcher Reese McGuire and Gonzaga lefty Marco Gonzalez. This year, we haven’t. Oregon’s got two solid players in Ben Wetzler and Conforto. Good year/bad year/average year for the northwest? Where does Ben Wetzler go? Suspended once, probably could’ve been twice, but great numbers when he’s been out there.
Last year was a bit of a banner year for the Northwest, and this year sort of pales in comparison. The only other potential day one guys — in terms of talent anyway — are Trace Loehr, a shortstop out of Putnam High School in Milwaukie Oregon, and Andrew Summerville, a left-handed pitcher out of Seattle Prep. Wetzler has had a great statistical season, but probably doesn’t go in the first four rounds as the pure stuff just isn’t there.
15: The big off-the-field draft story this year involved Wetzler, of course. The Phillies reported Wetzler (and Jason Monda of WSU) to the NCAA for using an agent as an advisor, and Wetzler was suspended by the NCAA for the first part of the year. This was something of a scandal, and brought to mind the saga of James Paxton at UK years ago. Now, we’ve heard the Phillies’ scouting director defend his actions in print. People have been talking about this for months – have your thoughts changed on the episode at all? Was this vindictiveness? Is it more nuanced than that? Does this impact the Phillies at all this year?
My thoughts haven’t changed. They can claim whatever they want, I’ve heard from numerous sources that this was an act of vindictiveness, and they should be ashamed of themselves. At the end of the day I don’t think we’ll see any boycotts or anything of the sort, but it was one of the more egregious acts I’ve seen, and I really feel for both Monda and Wetzler for putting them through this situation.
16: Carlos Rodon was the consensus 1-1 guy coming into the year, but his results were a bit up and down. We’ve seen this happen a lot recently, whether it’s Manaea, or Ryne Stanek, or any number of guys (maybe Aaron Crow?). He’s still going to go very, very early, but what do you make of his situation? Why’d the consensus most-talented-pitcher-in-college struggle in his junior year, and how’d he get through that?
We’ve seen this happen, but never to the extent of Rodon. As good as Manaea and Stanek and those guys were, they were far from the locks that Rodon was. It’s one of the most surprising things I’ve seen in my time covering the draft. As for why it happened, I think it’s hard to pin it on one thing, but the biggest issue has been the fastball command, which just hasn’t been there like it was for most of his freshman and sophomore seasons. He also wasn’t throwing as consistently hard as he was in 2013, which could be because of some minor mechanical stuff, and also sadly could be because he was worked so hard in the previous year. He’s still a very intriguing talent, but there’s a ton more risk here then there should be.