I look forward to the MLB draft: It’s one of the very few occasions for which I will still stir myself to write about baseball. It’s my niche, and I treat the event like a holiday. I know it’s a niche—few people care about a bunch of players, the vast, vast majority of whom will never see the light of the majors. But I enjoy it.
So when the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer, forfeiting their first-round pick, which would have been 15th overall, they robbed me of a little bit of my moment. Actually, they robbed me of a big part of my moment. With one signature on a dotted line, the Mets lost the opportunity to draft a great young player, cut their draft pool allotment in half, and made my Monday, June 8 a lot less interesting. And all because they wanted to win now. The gall of them.
But I won’t let them totally ruin my day. I’ll be making a selection of my own right at the 15th spot. I thought it might be cathartic to share who I’d be looking at. And trust me when I say that I'm not trying to rub salt in anyone's wounds.
Who’ll be off the board
The number one player on my draft board is Brandon Rodgers, a kid I’ve seen a couple of times who projects as a power-hitting third baseman with a legitimate chance to stick at short for an organization married to the idea, at least for a few years. Also, I expect the best college shortstop to be off the board. Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson has a great name and a great chance at going first overall. He projects to be solid-average defensively at short while also fulfilling the role of a prototypical leadoff hitter, providing speed and on-base ability. Finally, I don’t see a scenario where Alex Bregman, the last of the three great shortstops available in the draft class, falls to 15th. Like Rodgers, he might not stick at short but has a legitimate chance to, and he brings a contact-oriented approach at the plate. Personally, I’m not in love with Bregman, but he’ll probably be off the board by 15.
I think we can also definitively write off three college arms: Vandy’s Carson Fulmer, UCSB’s Dillon Tate, and Illinois’ Tyler Jay. They are the three best pitchers that figure to be available in this year’s draft. It’s not a great draft for pitching by any means, so I think teams will pounce to take the best available arms with any kind of proximity to the majors. Of the three, Tate clearly has the highest ceiling, with Fulmer providing the most safety. Jay might be the most intriguing: Jay is a reliever for Illinois, but he should have the stamina to start, not to mention clean mechanics and four pitches with the chance to be average or better. He’s a little short of stature and he still needs to be stretched out some, but he’s interesting. And if a team does need relief help, he could be up in the majors before the end of the season.
I also think Tyler Stephenson, a prep catcher from Georgia, will be gone. High school catchers have been risky bets in the first round, but teams always need catchers, and any catcher with any sort of potential should go in the top 15 picks, especially in a middling draft.
I’d be shocked if Andrew Benintendi from Arkansas makes it out of the top 14. He’s short, but he’s athletic and he’s produced. In this draft, someone will snap him up.
And last but not least, I think Daz Cameron, Mike’s son, will definitely be off the board by the 15th pick. There are a bunch of good prep outfielders in this year’s draft, and I like almost all of them, but Cameron offers the most polish while still maintaining enough upside to keep him interesting.
Who will still be available at #15
With nine players almost definitely off the board, that still leaves another six guys who’ll be gone before pick 15. I have no idea which five those will be.
So we’ll start by looking at the prep outfielders, all of whom I like quite a bit. I mentioned that Cameron is off the board, but that still leaves Garret Whitley, Kyle Tucker, Trenton Clark, and Nick Plummer. Whitley is my favorite of the bunch: an outfielder with plus bat speed, plus foot speed, and a good chance at sticking in center. If he’s there at 15, I’m taking him and buying him out of his Wake Forest commitment. Tucker is a better player right now, with a lean, lanky frame that offers a little more projection, but his swing is a little soft on the back end, and there’s an overall stiffness to it. As he fills out, he figures to lose a step and move to left.
Clark is probably the speediest of the quartet, and I think he’ll stay in center. He has a great eye at the plate to go along with a smooth, simple swing that should generate some power thanks to a high hand setup. Plummer is somewhat similar to Clark with a little less speed. He too has a great approach, with a simple swing and a compact range. All four guys project as everyday outfielders; should any stay in center, they could be very good regulars.
There are also three shortstops in play at 15: Cornelius Randolph, Jalen Miller, and Kevin Newman. Or at least two that I’d consider taking--no interest in Richie Martin here. Newman is a guy you’ll hear a lot of different things about: some people love his contact-oriented approach that is nearly devoid of power and see a good shortstop, while others focus on the lack of upside and see a guy without the speed required to play short.
Randolph won’t stay at shortstop—his range is below average—but otherwise his tools are average across the board, and he figures to become a solid-hitting third baseman. A third option, Miller is in a similar spot to Randolph. I like Miller’s swing a little better but prefer Randolph’s approach at the plate. Miller could fall to the second round, but if he does it’ll be because teams don’t see a shortstop.
The only other college hitter I’d consider with the pick is Cincinnati’s Ian Happ. Happ plays second for the Bearcats, but I see him as a left fielder due to a mediocre arm and poor infield range and actions. At the plate, he has a line drive bat, mid-range power, and great approach, figuring to be a .270 hitter with some patience and power. It’s a low-upside play, especially since few teams see him as a second baseman. But he’s the closest to the majors.
As for college pitching, there are three worth considering. Michael Matuella is the easiest answer, a guy most people considered a good choice at first overall before he got injured. I’m a little worried that his injuries extend beyond just his elbow—he has a chronic back injury—which, along with a potentially high price tag, pushes him further down my draft board.
Kyle Funkhouser from Louisville has some fantastic stuff, but his command is flat-out awful. I’d steer clear. UCLA’s James Kapriellian has a 94 mile-per-hour fastball, an above average slider, and an average change and curve. He’s the safer option, though perhaps not as safe as Vanderbilt’s Walker Buehler, who is shorter but has a better fastball and better breaking stuff. There’s an excellent chance Buehler is off the board well before pick 15.
As for the prep pitchers, I think that if Kolby Allard is there, he’s the choice. He probably won’t be there, but he’s a southpaw who has a moving fastball he can run up to 96, a great downer curve, and he should take to a changeup. He needs to speed up his tempo a tad, but I think he’s a very enticing prospect. There’s some worry about a stress fracture in his back, but I think he’s good enough to ignore it.
Ashe Russell has some great stuff, with a fastball that hits 95 and a great slider, but he throws nearly sidearm, an arm angle that usually screams middle relief. I really have no idea where he slots in. After that, there’s Mike Nikorak, who might throw harder than anyone in the draft class but lacks much in the way of refinement and consistency. He’s a project with high upside.
Who I would take
So who would I take? My first choice would be Whitley, followed closely by Allard. Both men have high upside, and while there are risks, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were the two best players in the class in five years’ time. If both of them are taken, I’m grabbing Buehler, Tucker, Plummer, and Clark in that order, trusting Plummer’s hitting ability a touch more than Clark’s advantage in athleticism.
No matter what, whoever goes 15th will be a substantially better prospect, at least on the day of the draft, than the guy who goes 53rd.