2015 MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford
With the M’s seemingly stalled out around 8 or so back of the Astros, it’s tempting to focus a bit more than usual on the 2015 MLB draft. Fittingly, the draft starts today, and we can set aside the futility of the M’s offense for a while. But unlike recent seasons in which the need for an escape and a quick hit of hope have been just as necessary, the M’s don’t have a first round pick. Due to the new CBA and the M’s signing of Nelson Cruz, the M’s first pick will come at #60 overall. That’s not to say that this is hopeless – the M’s have found some solid values in that region, with Brad Miller and Taijuan Walker both supplemental selections (and, ok, both went off the board a dozen or more picks before #60). The M’s have done a decent job in the middle rounds as well, though perhaps they’ve struggled to get those guys over the “good in short-season” hump. Still, the draft is always a fascinating few days, as it’s a great case study in how teams respond to changing incentives.
As you know, and as we‘ve talked about in these posts in recent years, MLB radically changed the draft in 2012, bringing in bonus pools and imposing harsh penalties for teams who exceeded them. In subsequent years, we’ve seen teams first toe the line, then blow the similar pool system out of the water on the international side. But no one’s done it (yet) with the Rule 4 draft. That might speak to how teams see the players/scouting domestically versus internationally, and it may be because MLB didn’t understand how to set the penalties, but it’s another example of something I look for in the draft: organizational theory concepts playing out in real time.
But enough about that – we’re here to talk about pro baseball adding another cohort of the best amateur talents to its ranks. We’re here to wonder what a guy like Brendan Rogers can become in the bigs, and what Brady Aiken could do if he stays healthy. It’s been a down year for the class of 2015, made worse by injuries to several top pitching prospects. But that doesn’t mean it won’t add any impact players to the minors and, eventually, to big league rosters. Amateur scouting operates in conjunction with player development, and I think that interplay has never been as important – particularly with so many of the top arms coming off of injury. Yes, pitchers get hurt, but chipping away at pitcher attrition is worth millions in this sport, and the team that can get an Aiken or a Mike Matuella healthy and effective is a team that’s going to have a pretty big advantage.
As we have each year since 2012, we’ve discussed the draft with an actual draft expert – Chris Crawford of BaseballProspectus.com. Chris has been focused on the draft for years, and he really knows his stuff. I was going back over the previews we’ve done, and man, that’s a good track record. So go check out Crawford’s prospect work at BP, like this mock draft, perhaps, and dig in to this year’s draft preview:
1: Last year we talked about the impact that the new free agent compensation rules were having. Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew both went unsigned until the draft, and both essentially imploded (though Kendrys is having a nice year so far in 2015). This year, the M’s didn’t blink at offering Nelson Cruz a contract, and willingly gave up their 1st round pick to do so. Is this a case where the market is adjusting the value of these picks, or is this just a case where the M’s wanted a player, and had to weight 2015 a bit more highly?
It’s a good question. I think it’s a case where the Mariners realized Cruz fit in so many ways (right-handed power hitter has seemingly been a need since Jay Buhner and Edgar left) that it didn’t really matter where they picked, they were going to give up that pick. That being said, a lot of teams seemed willing to give up their first round selections, as seen in the five teams that gave up that right this year.
2: Related to that, what do you think happens to the draft system in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement? It seems like the pool system has done its job of holding down bonuses for top draft picks, but it’s come at something of a price. The Brady Aiken…uh…situation last year was an extreme example of what the pool system can do, and how one deal can make or break 3-4 more. For potential picks, the current system is clearly worse than the one it replaced. But do you think owners like it enough that they’ll fight to keep it? What about the players association? The pool system probably has shifted a few more dollars towards veteran players, so would they fight to keep it? Or might they see it as a way of reducing bargaining power of the Kris Bryant types?
I think the pool portion — unfortunately — is here to stay, as it’s done exactly what you said, and that was the biggest concern with basically everyone but agents. I do think the compensation system part is broken, and I think that sees some changes because it’s sort of become a lose-lose system for players and teams. I certainly hope they make adjustments though, something that puts more emphasis towards taking the best player available and less emphasis on punishing teams who try to improve their roster.
3: Ok, so the Mariners. They’re not picking until the 60th selection. Who are some names that they might select?
It’s tough to project who is going No. 2 right now, much less No. 60, but there are some players who make sense if they make it that far. The Mariners have shown a propensity for going north of the border, and there are two Canadian bats that would be good gets in Josh Naylor — a first baseman with big time power and an improving hit tool — and Demi Orimoloye, a right fielder with three 60 tools in his power, speed and arm. If they chose to go the college bat route San Diego shortstop Kyle Holder is a plus defender with a fringe-average hit tool, and LSU’s Andrew Stevenson is sort of a rich man’s Austin Cousino with a better hit tool and more speed with the same flair for the spectacular defensively. The college arms that fall to that spot are more than likely relievers, but an arm like Josh Staumont out of Azusa Pacific could be intriguing, as the right-hander has a 70 fastball and will flash an above-average slider, though he has no idea where either is going too often.
4: In your mind, is it easier to get real value around the #40-70 picks now, or is it harder? Players are showcased, you can watch college baseball on TV, there is much more coverage of amateur baseball than ever – thanks to people like you – but does that mean that the odds of an elite-level talent slipping that far have gone down? Or are the odds of finding someone worthy of the pick a bit better?
Definitely easier, though this year could be a bit of an exception to that rule because it’s just not a very good draft class. Still, the amount of opportunities to scout have improved substantially because of the showcases and television opportunities. Of course, the draft never really plays out in a BPA way because of all the reasons we’ve discussed, but the point that it is easier to find diamonds in the rough is accurate.
5: One way to go is to pick someone with elite level talent but a lot of question marks on health or performance. Last year, we saw Jeff Hoffman undergo TJ surgery but still get picked early in the first round. Brady Aiken’s undergoing TJ now – will he go about where Hoffman did, or is there any hope of him slipping further? Last year, Carlos Rodon went from easy 1-1 guy to something of an enigma, but he still went very early. Do you think teams have adjusted, and no longer make too much of current-year stats/consistency-of-stuff?
I think Aiken goes in the first round, but where he goes is another multi-million dollar question. I’ve heard anything from No. 7 to Boston — if the medicals are right — to No. 23 to the Dodgers, with San Fran, St. Louis and a few other teams showing various levels of interest.
As for the bigger-picture question, I’m honestly not sure. I think talent always wins, and guys like Hoffman, Rodon and Aiken who show ace-like stuff just aren’t going to last very long on boards, no matter how much “inconsistency” they show.
6: It seems no one’s all that thrilled with the draft class this year. Last year, you were worried that no one could hit. Do you think the hitting depth is better this year? How about the pitching side?
The one saving grace of this class is that the college bats are slightly better than last year, and there’s a good chance we see the first two picks of the draft come from the college side in Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman — though that’s looking a little less likelier than it did last week. That being said, there’s very little here behind the plate and both the college and high school pitching are as bad as it has been in several years. It’s probably the worst draft class I’ve covered, and I’m actually not sure it’s all that close.
7: Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s the result of the big league draft becoming much more of a big deal, but it seems like we’re seeing more players essentially select their draft class. Phil Bickford left CS Fullerton after a year to go to a JC and make himself eligible for the 2015 draft. A savvy move to take advantage of a down year, or another mixed signal from a guy who already turned down the Blue Jays after being drafted 10th? I believe a prep prospect changed his graduation year as well. Will we see more of this?
I think so, yes, especially guys who have reported medical issues like Bickford did. While Bickford’s stock has dropped this year, he would have been absolutely wiped out by the 2016 class, which is one of the strongest collegiate pitching classes I’ve seen — better even than 2011.
8: It looks like MLB is pushing for pre-draft medical work that teams could share. Thoughts? A good way for everyone to know what’s what, or more leverage for owners vis a vis players?
Personally, I think it’s a pretty severe violation of the player’s rights, but so is the draft, and I recognize that owners are going to get their way on most of this stuff. Pick your battles, I guess.
9: What can you tell us about the draft class here in the Pacific Northwest? Any first-round candidates?
No first-round guys for me, but a few that could go late day one or early day two. The best is probably Parker McFadden, a right-hander out of Yelm — yes, Yelm — who has touched 97 mph on guns and has some projection left, though the secondary offerings are well behind. UW catcher Austin Rei is a plus defender with a plus arm who will go in the first four rounds, though the offense leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said about Braden Bishop; a centerfielder with plus-plus speed and defense but a hit tool that trails someone like Stevenson.
10: Do you think injuries are actually up, or are we just more and more aware of them – with Aiken ailing, and Mike Matuella getting diagnosed with spondylosis, it seems like a lot of the top guys have some big question marks. Are there more injuries overall, or is it just that the draft class is a bit thin, so each injury seems “bigger” somehow?
I think injuries are up, and I think they’re going to continue to rise because as good as individualized coaching has become to clean up mechanics — both on the mound and in the field — these are still unnatural acts that are being preformed so often and so hard that it’s just natural for them to happen. Could this be just a bad run of a couple seasons? I suppose, but I kinda doubt it.
11: Former M’s CF Mike Cameron’s son Daz has been a big-time prospect for a few years – at one point a potential 1-1 selection. At this point, it’s looking like he’s slipped a bit. What do you think of Daz Cameron, and what kind of pro do you think he’ll be?
He’s a very nice player, one who has actually seen his stock rise this year thanks to the class dropping and him performing well. The issue with Cameron is there is no standout tool, but there’s also no weakness. He could go as high as five to Houston, with teams like Boston, both Chicago’s and Miami showing strong interest.
12: Last year, the M’s took HS C/OF Alex Jackson. It was a move that seemed like a no-brainer, the best HS bat in the class. After struggling mightily in the MWL, he’s now back in instructs. Any idea what happened here? This happens from time to time, even with college guys (Mark Appel comes to mind), so it’s not the kiss of death, but how should this color our view of Jackson and the M’s, if at all?
Honestly, I think it was a panic move, one that I wouldn’t have made even though he was struggling mightily in Clinton. There just wasn’t enough sample size there to suggest he wasn’t ready for the league, though I will say that htis move really doesn’t hurt his development all that much — he likely wasn’t a fast-track guy anyway.
13: Are we looking at a “new normal” for college hitters? That is, with the growth of Perfect Game/AFLAC all-american showcases/etc., good HS hitters get identified and signed. Are the guys going to college noticeably less toolsy than they were even 10 years ago? Has the draft pool system changed that calculus a bit by capping the potential payoff for staying in school for three years? Or is this just a coincidence, and we’ll see a few more Tulos/Longorias/Ackley…whoops, nevermind/Rendons in the next few years?
I think you hit the nail on the head, and I actually think college hitting classes are going to get worse rather than better (though they can’t get much worse than what we had in 2014). Teams are going after these guys much more aggressively now, and so few legit top 100 talents are making it into the college ranks. Of course we see guys like Dansby Swanson and Bregman thrive under said circumstances, but again, exception to the rule. Teams that are looking for the next Kris Bryant are going to come away disappointed, there just aren’t many of those guys that exist — especially in the collegiate ranks.
14: Joc Pederson, George Springer, now maybe Joey Gallo…all of these guys have serious issues with strikeouts, but they also have some extremely loud tools. I think baseball in general has moved towards high-K, high-damage hitters, and you see that in overall K rates, as well as teams spending first round picks on guys like Springer. So, are amateur programs consciously focusing on, say, power or discipline more than contact now? Do you think coaching is actively encouraging this, or are we just seeing more of it because teams are drafting and developing more of these types? Were these guys undervalued before, or were they properly valued (HR power is always valued), but these are just the 1-in-a-million shots who paid off?
I think it’s more the latter (drafting and developing) than the former (coaching), but I also think this is also a case of taking the prep bat and developing the prep bat rather than the college bat who has bad habits and/or isn’t as talented as the prep. This isn’t the wildcat offense either, the power and walks isn’t going anywhere.
15: Kiley McDaniel wrote an article about short right-handed pitchers being undervalued, particularly at the top of the draft board. 1: do you agree? 2: Who do YOU think is undervalued?
I think that’s fair. As for guys I think are undervalued, Mike Nikorak is one that isn’t getting enough credit; he’s a 70-60-55 if he develops right, and you don’t see too many of those come around — and there certainly aren’t many in this class.