On Tuesday, we looked at some recent history to determine how often one of Baseball America’s top 40 draft prospects have typically been available at pick 53, which will be when the Mets make their first selection next week. What we discovered was that the odds of someone hanging around jumped up substantially around number 30 or so, and that any other drop was typically explained by one of three factors: (1) The player was injured. (2) The player was going to be difficult to sign. (3) Baseball America’s evaluation likely didn’t correspond with how teams regarded the player. I should point out that every once in a great while character concerns may also cause a player to fall further than he otherwise would. However, that last occurrence is very rare.
Today, I’m going to use those three criteria to highlight four guys in this year’s top 35 that I think may very well still be there when the Mets pick. I pushed it to 35 for two reasons. First, as someone pointed out in the comments the other day, over the past few years—since the overhaul of the draft process—players "sliding," as we’ve defined it, has been a lot less common. In 2012, the highest ranked player still on the board when the Mets picked was Tanner Rahier at 34. In 2013, it was Jon Denney at 25, followed by Hunter Green at 31. In 2014, it was J.B. Bukauskas at 33. I don’t blame it solely on the draft’s new economic structure, but that is the key factor. Another factor is that I think Baseball America has actually become better at identifying who teams will key in on. There are no Stetson Allies in the top ten anymore.
Unfortunately, the Mets will be hamstrung by their draft allotment for 2015. Lacking a first-round pick or any other compensation picks, the Mets have less than $3.6 million to spend on this year’s draftees—a pittance. Even if someone does fall to them, it’s going to be tough for them to justify throwing their draft away to sign that player. Most successful drafts don’t have all their eggs in one basket.
So without any further ado, four guys who have a better chance at still being on the board when the Mets pick:
Brady Aiken, #22
Last year’s top overall pick is an elite baseball talent. I gave him the second highest grade I’ve ever given a prep pitching prospect in seven years on the job, behind only Dylan Bundy. At 6-4, 205 pounds, he has ideal size. His fastball will routinely come in 92-94 and has been known to hit 97, plus readings for a southpaw. He doesn’t have much room for growth, but I do think he can eventually hit that 97 mark more frequently. His breaking ball is absurd: a sharp downer he’ll throw in the low 80s. It’s an easy plus pitch for me. Add to that a developing changeup and slider, and you have a guy with a lot of polish for a high school arm, especially when you also consider how clean he is mechanically. He’s a tremendous prospect.
But he just underwent Tommy John surgery a year after he more or less "failed" his physical with the Astros, causing them to re-negotiate while keeping several other prospects in limbo. A lesson was learned there, I hope, and not just by the Astros. When he failed to sign, he passed on college to have the opportunity to re-enter this year’s draft. He’s still going to want a lot of money despite the injury, and he has time: he can enter the draft again next year, and the year after that. Considering the Mets just have $3.5 million to spend, most of that would be needed to sign an injured pitcher. It’s just Tommy John surgery, but if he doesn’t rebound, the Mets wouldn’t have misspent a second-round pick; they’d have compromised their entire draft.
You’ll also notice I didn’t name Mike Matuella, another injured pitcher previously expected to slot in at number one overall. I think it’s a little less likely that he’ll fall to the Mets, but just about everything that applies to Aiken applies to him.
Phil Bickford, #28
Another pitcher who is back in 2015 after failing to sign in 2014, Bickford, also much like Aiken, has an elite arm attached to a 6-foot-4 frame. His arm strength is right up there with anyone in this draft, bringing a fastball that can sit in the mid-90s and will touch 98 or so. However, he has much, much less polish than Aiken, possessing inconsistent velocity—this year he’s mostly sat 90-93 while brushing 95—a slider that can be plus but can also be flat, a changeup he’s never used, and some whip-like mechanics marked by late elbow pronation.
Any team that drafts Bickford will be anticipating him to continue filling out that lanky frame while also returning to the form he showed on the Cape last summer when he was one of the very best pitchers out there. Last year he was looking for over $4 million, which would obviously price him out of the Mets’ range. However, if he’d be willing to take $2.5 million after being drafted 53rd overall—something that very few scouts have a good feel for right now—then he’d still leave the Mets with enough room to sign some other players, if not many. I’m not a Bickford fan, but if he’s there at 53 and relatively signable, he’d be a coup in terms of value for the pick.
D.J. Stewart, #30
Florida State’s outfielder has been a steady producer in college, hitting .346/.484/.566 in a relatively difficult conference while playing for an outstanding college baseball program. He doesn’t figure to be difficult to sign, and he’s not injured so far as I can tell. So why do I think he’ll drop?
I think there’s a good chance that enough scouts will be turned off by his crazy swing that teams will move in different, safer directions. Stewart has good bat speed and raw power, enough that he could hit 20-25 home runs annually, and he also has a patient approach a the plate, but there aren’t many hitters who look very much like him at the plate. And if there’s one thing scouts hate, it’s different. Personally, I have my doubts as well. He squats way down low, which doesn’t allow him to leverage what height he does have, and he spreads himself out wide. He’ll also add a toe tap as a timing mechanism, but not just a toe tap, a toe tap where he actually points his foot in toward his back foot. I don’t like the balance and I don’t like the toe tap; I think the whole thing could lead to contact and power issues. But he does have that track record of production, even with the wonky swing, and that counts for something. Will it count enough for the right team to draft him before 53?
Alex Young, #32
Young’s a pitcher who’s difficult to gauge teams’ interest on, because he’s not very similar to most pitchers out there. He’s a lefty who spent the first couple of years in Texas Christian University’s bullpen, but he was moved to the rotation in 2015, and he’s looked quite good. His velocity is only average, sitting at 88-92, but he commands it well, and he’ll also bring a spike curve and a changeup with nice deception and movement that I feel is the better of his two offspeed offerings. As for the curve, he has good feel for an amateur pitcher throwing a spike curve, which is a very, very difficult pitch to command, but, that said, he will still bounce his fair share of them in the dirt. Mechanically, he has a quick tempo marred by a bit of a high elbow in the back of his delivery.
The fact that 2015 was Young’s first foray into the rotation and the fact that he doesn’t quite have the big, durable body starting pitchers usually have, and the fact that radar guns aren’t lighting up, and the fact that he relies on a knuckle-curve may push Young further down teams’ draft boards, into the Mets’ territory. If they like him, they may pounce.