2016 MLB Draft Preview with Chris Crawford
As Jay’s great post below mentions, the first round of the MLB amateur draft kicks off tomorrow, and unlike last year, the M’s actually have a first round pick. They pick first at #11, and then again with the 50th overall selection. If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that we always check in with draft expert and Baseball Prospectus prospect guy, Chris Crawford. This marks the fifth iteration of this draft Q and A post, meaning it has now earned adjectives like “venerable” and “traditional.” So if you’ve read JY’s piece, dive into the gravitas-laden 2016 Draft Preview.
1: The M’s have three selections in the top 100, and an actual first-round pick, something they didn’t have last year. Set the context for us: is this an above-average draft class? Average-to-mediocre, but better than last year’s, or what?
I have said this in a few different interviews, but this draft class is frustrating. On paper, this class was one of my favorites in several years. Pretty much everything that could go wrong did, and it’s now one I’d say is a tick above-average, and maybe that’s just me being an optimist. We’ve seen worse classes this century, but we’ve certainly seen better.
2: Who should the M’s take at #11? Who WILL they take?
The latter question might actually be easier to answer than the former, and that has to do with the frustrating nature of the class. The Mariners are going to take a college player unless something nuts happens.They’re basically hoping one of the “”big” three college bats falls to them: Louisville’s Corey Ray, Tennessee’s Nick Senzel, and Mercer’s Kyle Lewis. The name that is the most likely to fall to them is Ray — not that I’m predicting it to happen — and if he is there, they should jump on it, I think he’s the best player in the class. Assuming those guys are gone, they’re looking at guys like Boston College right-hander Justin Dunn, and Miami catcher/first baseman Zack Collins.
3: This year’s class seems quite rich in pitching, with both the college and HS ranks supplying a lot of high-ceiling arms. If you were the GM, would you go with Florida’s AJ Puk with the first pick, or go for one of the HS arms like Riley Pint or Jason Groome?
Well, it has some high upside prep arms for sure, but the college arms I’m not so sold on. Jason Groome has a ton of upside. He flashes two plus-plus pitches and shows a pretty good change, too. Riley Pint touches 100 right now, and he shows a pretty good change for good measure. The college arms are pretty mediocre, in my humble estimation. The best of them is Puk, and when everything is clicking he shows a 70 fastball and 60 slider. The results are middling, however, and he has had back issues, which always scares me. Philly is going to take Puk it looks like and it’s not the worst top pick, but it’s not what I would do.
4: A year ago, you mentioned that all of the showcases mean fewer impact position players will hit college, tilting the balance (eventually) towards the HS ranks. Do you think the HS bats are better than this year’s college crop?
I think it’s pretty close, but only because of guys like Senzel Puk and Ray, which have sort of become an anomaly. My favorite prep bat is Blake Rutherford, an outfielder who could have three plus tools in his hit, speed and power. Mickey Moniak isn’t far behind, he’s ahead by most because he’s more likely to stay in center, and he’s also a year younger than Rutherford. There’s also Delvin Perez, who is my favorite prep position player in the class. There are serious concerns about his makeup and whether he can stay at shortstop, but he’s one of the few future stars in this class in terms of ceiling.
5: Do you look back at how a draft class does after a few years in pro ball and compare it to what you saw going into the draft?
Yes, but no. I look back more as a “curiosity” thing, but I don’t look back and look at how I did in terms of rankings/what guys did/didn’t work out. I am a firm believer in process (a term many baseball fans have grown to hate but it’s a good one, darn it), and that’s what I go by. Some guys work out, some don’t, but I can only look at the process of a draft class. But I always look back just to compare and contrast.
6: One interesting trend, if you could call it that, has been the resurgence in talent coming from Puerto Rico. The M’s Edwin Diaz was drafted out of PR a few years ago, and that Correa person went 1-1 a few years back. This year, Delvin Perez could be in the mix at #11, if he’s not gone by then. The year the M’s got Diaz (and Kristian Brito) out of PR, there was a lot of talk about the draft killing baseball in Puerto Rico. What’s changed? Is this influx of talent just luck? Something different in secondary schools/instruction there? Or is MLB doing something different?
Some of it is instruction. These baseball academies are doing a much better job of preparing these guys as prospects. Some of it is also cyclical — there just wasn’t a ton of elite talent coming out of that area for a little while, but for the most part, I think the instruction has played the biggest factor.
7: We talk about it every year, but what do you think will happen to the draft process in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement? Neither the owners or players association has much of an incentive to change the system, given that it seems to be restricting bonuses; the primary group who’s upset about it are the agents…the people who aren’t technically supposed to be involved with these amateur players. That said, I can imagine both sides might want some tweaks. What do you think each side might want to see change?
I think it’s gonna stay pretty similar, and that’s really disappointing. This system is terrible, it hurts the players, it hurts the teams that are trying to get better, and it barely rewards those who lose players. It’s also saving the owners a ton of money, so I think it’s here to stay. One tweak might be to give more funds in the allocation pool, but I don’t think that’s a lock. It’s all very silly.
8: The M’s also pick at #50. Who might be available in that neighborhood? Would you say this class is deeper than previous classes? Does that matter past the first round? That is, is a “deep” class just one with 20-30 really good picks, as opposed to 5-10, or do you see it ripple down the line, with the 30-50 picks notably better in some class than another?
It’s tough to say who will be available at 11, much less 50, but the good news for the Mariners is one of the strengths of this class is the quantity of good — not great — players. The guy who gets taken at 25 isn’t going to be too much better than the guy who gets taken with the 50th pick, which is nice for Seattle. Assuming they go college with that first pick, you could be looking at a prep arm at pick 50 One of my favorites who could be available in that range is Ryan Rollison, a prep out of Jackson, Tennessee who shows two plus pitches in his fastball and curve, with a solid change for good measure. Another that could make sense is Reggie Lawson, a right-hander out of California who has seen his stock slip, but was a first-round “lock” before the season started and has big stuff when things are clicking.
9: I know you think the M’s were a little hasty in pulling Alex Jackson out of the MWL last year and back to instructs. This year, he’s hitting for pop, but is off to a 6 for 52 start. What’s the deal with a guy that everyone thought would hit? Is this just growing pains, or is the hit tool maybe a bit behind expectations? Related to that, do you think catching in HS delays a hitter’s bat? Like, if you had 2 kids with the exact same hitting ability at age 13 and the ability to play a few different positions, would the one who played OF be ahead of the one who caught at age 18?
So far, Alex Jackson is one of the worst misses of my “career.” I saw a plus hit and power tool in high school. He’s been nowhere close to that as a professional, even with the power he’s shown since his promotion. And your second question may be why. I wouldn’t let my kid catch. It’s terrible for the knees, and because you have to work so hard on the defensive end, it can’t help but hurt you offensively. That may seem like an easy excuse for why Jackson has struggled, but it certainly could have played a factor, that and his plate discipline going backwards.
10: The local pickings seem pretty slim, Chris. About the only guy many are talking about is Federal Way HS 1B Christian Jones. What do you think of Jones, and who else is out there from Washington/Oregon/British Columbia?
They are slim pickings. Jones is interesting. He’s got some power from the left side, but most think he’s gonna end up at first base, and that limits the value. Ian Hamilton of Washington State really saw his stock drop, but when he was pitching out of the pen, he looked like one of the best relief pitchers in the class. I imagine a team will take him in the first five rounds hoping he shows that form again. Bellingham’s Austin Shenton was also a potential top three round guys coming into the year, but his stock has slipped substantially.
In Oregon, we have Matt Krook, who has taken the biggest stock hit of any pitcher not named Alec Hanson. The best prospect in the state is now probably Oregon State’s Logan Ice, a catch with three average tools and who should stick behind the plate. British Colombia has Curtis Taylor, a right-hander with two above-average pitches in his fastball and slider, That’s pretty much it for the PNW. Not great.
11: Let’s talk about some of the college bats this year. How do they rate against the last few draft classes? Any Alex Bregmans in this class?
I really like Corey Ray, as you can probably tell from above. I think he’s going to be a guy who hits for average and enough power, and his plus speed along with outstanding instincts makes him a real threat on the bases. I like Lewis, too, he’s got more power than Ray, but he also has more swing and miss and I worry about small school guys with that kind of profile. Nick Senzel is a third baseman who can flat out rake, but doesn’t have the prototypical power you see from a third baseman. Think Kyle Seager with slightly less pop. These are all very good collegiate bats who all go in the top six probably, but I don’t think there’s an Alex Bregman or Dansby Swanson here. Mayyyybe Ray.
12: This draft seems laden with HS arms. Who’s the best of this year’s group who might be there at #11? Pint/Groome won’t be, but in the group including Matt Manning, Forrest Whitley, Kyle Muller and Ian Anderson, who do you think’s got the best balance of upside and risk?
I’d be stunned if the Mariners took a prep unless Groome or Pint someone how slid there, but there are some good prep pitchers who could make sense if they go BPA. Braxton Garrett is that next guy for me, a left-hander who has shown three plus pitches and a delivery thats easy to fall in love with. Anderson, Manning and Whitley are all fairly similar, but Manning has more upside than either, so I think he’s slightly ahead of Whitley and Anderson. It’s not a great class of prep pitching, but there are guys here to like/be satisfied with if Seattle goes that route.
Thanks to Chris for doing this once again. Ask Chris more questions in today’s BP draft chat, or hit him up on twitter, where’s he’s @CVCrawfordBP. Who do you think the M’s take? Who might fall? Where does injured Stanford hurler Cal Quantrill go? Should the M’s go for the, I don’t know, 3rd-4th best HS pitcher in a draft laden with HS pitchers, or get the 2nd best college bat in a down year for college bats?