The MLB Draft is less than two months away. With that in mind, it’s time to put on my Draft Cap, act like Mel Kiper Jr. and make my predictions as to which prospects are going where. But rather than doing an entire mock draft, I’m splitting it into three posts. The first round, which includes the new compensation round and competitive balance lottery picks, is 39 picks long. It begins with the Houston Astros and ends with the Detroit Tigers. It has been said that this year’s class is considered weak compared to previous ones as aside from Stanford ace and former Pirates pick Mark Appel, nobody stands out as a consensus number one selection. Regardless, I relish the challenge and will take a shot at determining who goes where. The general idea here is that the picks will be either best player available or by weakest position in farm system. Here we go.
1. Houston Astros: Mark Appel, Pitcher, Stanford
Mark Appel and first overall draft choice are two phrases that have been used in the same sentence before. Last year, it was almost certain that the Astros were going for the big Stanford ace, but they ultimately decided that prep shortstop Carlos Correa would be a better investment as a top pick. That being said, Appel did not sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, the team that did draft him, and ultimately returned to Stanford. In a relatively weak class like this one, Appel is a certainty. He has top pick written all over him, especially with the mid 90’s fastball that scouts have continually gushed over. Appel seems to also be a top candidate for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to college baseball’s best player as well. If the Astros are willing to give Appel the money that he asks for, expect him to be an anchor in an up-and-coming rotation.
2. Chicago Cubs: Sean Manaea, Pitcher, Indiana State
The NFL Draft has Workout Warriors, the NBA Draft has Tournament Stars, and Major League Baseball has Cape Cod Kings. This is the name given to baseball players who play in summer leagues and excel, raising their draft stock for that sole reason. Sean Manaea became the latest CCK when he registered a 5-1 record and a 1.22 ERA. The Indiana State product had previously not garnered much attention, but with the Summer league and a high-90’s velocity on his fastball, the Cubs will likely abandon their latest draft tradition of drafting high ceiling high school position players in favor of Manaea, who draws a comparison to a left handed Matt Harvey.
3. Colorado Rockies: Austin Meadows, Outfield/First Baseman, Grayson High School, Georgia
Last year, the Rockies selected one of the biggest sleeper picks in Oak Mountain High School outfielder David Dahl. Expect them to do something similar this year with Grayson High School’s Austin Meadows. While Meadows’ primary position is outfield, Colorado could move him to first base and have him develop as an infielder throughout his minor league career. Meadows, like Dahl is a plus hitter with some speed. Whereas the humid Georgia air had a dampening effect on Meadows’ power, if drafted by the Rockies, Meadows could become one of the best hitters in baseball.
4. Minnesota Twins: Jon Denney, Catcher, Yukon High School, Oklahoma
The last time the Twins selected a high profile prep catcher in the first round, his name was Joe Mauer, and he soon became one of the best catchers in baseball. Minnesota’s catching depth behind Drew Butera is suspect, and unless the Twins are content with having him or Ryan Doumit serve as Mauer’s successor when he retires or moves to another position, Oklahoma’s Jon Denney will likely be the best choice for the Twins. Denney is like Mauer in a lot of ways. He has power in his bat, and is a defensive asset. He certainly will fit in with Minnesota’s recent philosophy of drafting high ceiling prep products, as evidenced by last year’s selections of Byron Buxton and J.O Berrios.
5. Cleveland Indians: Kris Bryant, Third Baseman, San Diego
College baseball players take less time to develop, and Cleveland has opted to go that route before, especially with last year’s pick of Tyler Naquin. In Bryant, the team not only gets a dependable third baseman but also a legitimate power threat, perfect for Progressive Field’s dimensions. While the team does already have a third baseman in Lonnie Chisenhall and a power threat in Mark Reynolds, Bryant is a better hitter than Chisenhall and doesn’t strike out as much as Reynolds. In addition, Chisenhall would be more valuable as a trade chip anyway. Bryant should be at the top of Cleveland’s board, especially since he is the fourth best player available.
6. Miami Marlins: DJ Peterson, First Baseman, New Mexico
Miami’s biggest weakness in their minor league system is first base, and the draft is relatively weak in that position. Fortunately, there is at least one college first baseman who could fit in the Marlin future. DJ Peterson may be a reach right now, but if he can repeat what he did in the summer leagues and Team USA, his stock should rise exponentially. Peterson also has power, as he was Team USA’s best hitter over the summer. That could translate well in the cavernous Marlins Park. It will certainly be interesting to see him, Christian Yelich, and Giancarlo Stanton in the same lineup.
7. Boston Red Sox: Ryne Stanek, Pitcher, Arkansas
The MLB Draft has its fair share of tumblers, players that are projected to go high but fall down. Usually, its money, sometimes its injury related, sometimes it’s both. Ryne Stanek is a tumbler because of injuries and possible demands of a high contract. Stanek is projected as the top pitcher in some drafts, and in some cases, he could go as high as first overall. While he does have the talent, the teams that do pick before Boston are usually not at a luxury to spend high on draft picks. Boston is an ideal destination as the Red Sox have a top rotation in the making with Matt Barnes and Henry Owens coming up. Expect Stanek to be a solid second or third starter in Boston’s rotation.
8. Kansas City Royals: Jonathan Gray, Pitcher, Oklahoma
Like Sean Manaea, Jonathan Gray has risen quickly up draft boards. Kansas City should take a look at him because of his ability to throw 100+ miles per hour. While the Royals do have a solid cache of pitchers in their arsenal already, Gray could be used in any aspect. Prospects2pros envisions Gray as a closer for the Royals, especially with his speed and his pitch arsenal. In addition, with the Wil Myers trade taking away two of the Royals’ top pitching prospects, Gray could become Kansas City’s first big pitching star since Zach Greinke.
9. Pittsburgh Pirates (Compensation for inability to sign Mark Appel): Chris Anderson, Pitcher, Jacksonville University
The Pirates are not big on selecting small school prospects, (see Alvarez, Pedro, Cole, Gerrit, Appel, Mark, Taillon, Jameson) but in Chris Anderson, the team may just have to go around that bias and take a hard look. Anderson compares to fellow draftmate Jonathon Crawford in size, pitch speed, and athletic ability, but unlike the University of Florida ace, Anderson has a lot more to gain, especially after facing stiffer competition. Considering the last small-school Florida college star (Chris Sale) has done a lot for himself since being drafted, getting a guy like Anderson could catapult the Pirates pitching rotation to the top.
10: Toronto Blue Jays: Clint Frazier, Outfield, Loganville High School, Georgia
If Austin Meadows were to lose two inches and ten pounds, curl his hair and dye it orange, learn to bat and throw righthanded, and transfer to Loganville High School, then people would probably say that the two were separated at birth. Frazier is a bit undersized for an outfielder, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in ability. As previously mentioned, Frazier and Meadows are similar talents, and in a hitters park like the Rogers Centre, Frazier could make the most out of Toronto.
11. New York Mets: Phillip Ervin, Outfield, Samford
Even if the Mets’ outfield is performing better than expected, Sandy Alderson should seriously use the 11th pick on a college outfielder with a high ceiling, especially since the team still lacks a true leadoff man. In Phillip Ervin, the Mets are getting some of the fastest legs in the draft, as well as a bat that can hit ten to fifteen home runs in a good year. Like Clint Frazier, however, he is undersized, and like Chris Anderson, he hasn’t had the benefit of playing for a major college program, but in a place like Citi Field, Ervin will certainly thrive for years to come.
12. Seattle Mariners: Colin Moran, Third Baseman, North Carolina
Seattle has made plenty of investments in SEC and ACC players in the past few years, like Josh Fields, Dustin Ackley, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and most recently, Mike Zunino. Don’t expect them to buck the trend this year, especially if Colin Moran is still on the board. Moran, the nephew of former first overall pick BJ Surhoff, has the ability to spray hits around the park and his defensive capability make him an ideal candidate to play in Seattle’s infield with fellow Tar Heels alum Ackley. His power would be ideal for the newly shifted Safeco Field, and he would be a solid fast track developer.
13. San Diego Padres: JP Crawford, Shortstop, Lakewood High School, California
San Diego’s recent trend of drafting long term projects could suit them here, especially with a premier talent like JP Crawford still on the board. Crawford is similar to current shortstop Everth Cabrera, but he has more offensive capability. Crawford garnered nation attention in the Under Armour Showcases during the summer, and scouts feel that he will develop into a Jeter-like shortstop. If the Padres get Crawford and he matures correctly, they could have one of the top left infields in baseball by the end of the decade.