2017 MLB Draft: Day 1 Thoughts
June 13, 2017
By Nathan Rode
The first day of the 2017 MLB Draft is in the books and it certainly delivered on excitement. Things started with a bang as the top three high school prospects went off the board in the first three picks. Reports were swirling all day that the Twins were choosing between LHP/1B Brendan McKay (Louisville) and SS Royce Lewis (JSerra HS, CA). Ultimately, they took Lewis, marking a second straight year that the top pick was a California prep. After Lewis, the next few picks went along with what most of the last-minute forecasts were—RHP/SS Hunter Greene (Notre Dame HS, CA) to the Reds, LHP MacKenzie Gore (Whiteville HS, NC) to the Padres, McKay to the Rays and RHP Kyle Wright (Vanderbilt) to the Braves.
The last time a four-year program didn’t produce a pick in the top three was 2010 when Bryce Harper (Nationals), Jameson Taillon (Pirates) and Manny Machado (Orioles) were selected. Harper famously was a junior college player after exiting high school early while Taillon and Machado were high school picks. This year was the first time the top three picks were all high schoolers since Chipper Jones (Braves), Tony Clark (Tigers) and Mike Lieberthal (Phillies) were taken in 1990. It’s just the third time that’s happened since 1971.
Here are a few topics or themes that stood out to me in the first 75 picks…
The Angels are under new direction in their scouting department and Matt Swanson came over from the Cardinals, an organization known for being more analytical. While OF Jordon Adell (Ballard HS, KY) certainly had been talked about in the top 10 picks, it still seems like a big gamble at 10th overall. Adell is one of the best athletes in the class with huge raw power and a ton of upside, but he definitely has a challenge ahead in polishing his game as he faces much tougher competition.
High school picks are automatically gambles given their lack of experience, but that’s magnified if you go heavy on preps like the Pirates did the first night. They jumped on RHP Shane Baz (Concordia Lutheran HS, TX), who could have easily snuck into the top 10 and then got another arm in RHP Steven Jennings (DeKalb County HS, TN) at 42. After that, it was two outfielders in Calvin Mitchell (Rancho Bernardo HS, CA) and Conner Uselton (Southmoore HS, OK). High school righties are inherently risky, though Baz was the top one not named Hunter Greene. Jennings carries more risk with his limited track record. He wasn’t on the national scene over the summer and tore his ACL playing football in the fall. He vaulted to the top of the state’s rankings with a low-90s fastball and sharp slider in the spring. Mitchell is known for his bat and though he’s certainly not a lock, he’s probably has one of the higher floors offensively among high school hitters. Uselton is an excellent athlete and his long frame will bring about swing-and-miss concerns, but he’s done a good job to alleviate those from last summer to now.
The Rangers have a pension for taking up-the-middle guys with upside and went to that well again. OF Bubba Thompson (McGill-Toolen HS, AL) isn’t polished, but he did show cast improvements to his game this spring. SS Chris Seise (West Orange HS, FL) saw his big tools come together from the fall through the spring and RHP Hans Crouse (Dana Hills HS, CA) has an electric arm to go with his electric personality.
Since 2012, when the new slotting system was put into place, players have generally been drafted in the range their talent warrants with a few exceptions. Every year there is a prospect or two that slips some because their signability scares teams off or others jump up boards to teams can save a little money to spread around with later picks. When those guys fall, some teams end up with players they didn’t think they had a shot at before. Those kinds of picks started to come about in the teens as Baz, LHP Trevor Rogers (Carlsbad HS, NM) and 1B Nick Pratto (Huntington Beach HS, CA) went to the Pirates (12), Marlins (13) and Royals (14). While they didn’t exactly fall, those are still good value picks, as they could have easily gone in the top 10.
The first real slide was by RHP J.B. Bukauskas (North Carolina). Some mock drafts had him going as high as sixth overall to the Athletics, but he made it to the Astros at 15. With two double-plusses in his fastball and slider, Bukauskas could easily zoom to the big leagues out of the bullpen and factor into the playoff race for Houston.
The next one was arguably OF Jeren Kendall (Vanderbilt), who could have gone in the top 15 picks. He made it to the Dodgers at 22. There are some swing-and-miss concerns with his bat, but he has a dynamic set of tools and tremendous upside if he can find consistency at the plate. RHP Sam Carlson (Burnsville HS, MN) was in the first-round mix, though the Mariners were able to get him in the second round at 55th overall. Lastly, OF Quentin Holmes (Monsignor McClancy Memorial HS, NY) was the Indians’ first pick at 64th overall. Having to wait that long for your first pick is tough for an organization, but to get a player with the upside of Holmes is great. He easily belongs in the same conversation as some of the other high school outfielders picked ahead of him.
The first pick to really get a surprised reaction out of me was the Yankees at 16. RHP Clarke Schmidt (South Carolina) was easily a first-round talent, but he was hurt late and had Tommy John surgery. Plenty of injured players have struck deals in the first round, so Schmidt getting one of his own wasn’t surprising, but it caught me off guard that the Yankees did it. They’ve had some tough luck with high picks and health the last few years so I didn’t expect them to go that direction.
I got good reports on RHP Michael Mercado (Westview HS, CA) throughout the spring so his talent warranted being an early-round pick, but Stanford recruits are rarely signable. Given the rate at which players in the top 10 rounds sign, I’d say it’s a lock he’ll go pro, but I would not have guessed that going into the draft.
RHP/3B Joe Perez (Archbishop McCarthy HS, FL) had a roller coaster of a spring. He came out of the gates hot, running his fastball into the high 90s while showing a wipeout slider. Then, at the National High School Invitational, he labored and was sidelined with an injury. He continued to hit, which he can definitely do at the next level, and tried to return the mound later in the season. He ultimately exited a scrimmage and had to have Tommy John surgery. I expected him to be more like RHP/SS Greg Veliz of 2016, who also had a limited history on the mound, threw hard and missed a chunk of the season, pushing him to Miami. The Astros rolled the dice in the second round. Not only did they draft him, but they announced him as a third baseman. I always liked him as a hitter a little more because it’s easy to fall back on pitching, but it didn’t feel like that was necessarily the industry consensus.
I don’t think any colleges were absolutely crushed after the first day, but Miami and Texas Christian both had three recruits from the PBR Draft 100 popped. Miami is likely to lose SS Mark Vientos (American Heritage HS, FL), SS Jeter Downs (Monsignor Pace HS, FL) and Perez while Texas Christian saw Baz, 3B Jacob Gonzalez (Chaparral HS, AZ) and SS Tyler Freeman (Etiwanda HS, CA) go in the first 75 picks. The Hurriances still have three other top 100 recruits on the board and the Horned Frogs have two, not to mention other prospects on the outside of that ranking that are likely to get to school anyway. Losing two recruits each were Florida International, Mississippi, Oklahoma State, Southern California and UCLA.
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