You know, for this preview, I can’t say anything better than how MLB.com started their article about who are the candidates to go #1 overall in the draft.
If Pablo Sandoval hadn’t homered in the bottom of the ninth to win a seemingly meaningless game on the final day of last season, the Giants would own the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 Draft.
Instead, the Tigers will make the first selection on June 4. That’s an important distinction in an unusual year in which only one player has separated himself from the pack with barely a month to go before the Draft.
[*Point of parliamentary procedure! Pablo’s walkoff came in a tie game! So we can’t assume that the Giants would not have won that game, and lost that pick, without his homer. We now resume this draft preview as previously scheduled….]
Yep, this draft has ended up with one guy being the clear #1 pick (Casey Mize) and a bunch of possible #2 picks. That’s horrible for the Giants, as it means it’s not easy to choose. But it’s great for me, because I get to write about the many options for the Giants!
With that many options, it’s hard enough to make a prediction about who the Giants would take. But it’s made more confusing because it’s hard to bank on “trends” with the Giants. Generally, you break up possible draftees into four categories: college hitters, college pitchers, high school hitters and high school pitchers. Since 2010, the Giants have selected from all four, so there are no real “trends”, and with the recent shakeup in their player development, it doesn’t make sense to look to the past to predict the future.
So let’s start with a few truths about the baseball draft. Over the past decade or so there have been some constants in how the draft season plays out. In early spring, draft previews tend to be heavy with raw, high upside players. But as spring turns to summer and teams really start drilling down on their boards, ascertaining costs, assessing risks, and handing off the notes from regional scouts and cross-checkers to the decision makers in the org, a few trends can be reliably expected: high school players (particularly RHP and OF) start to drift down boards, and college players (particularly hitters) start moving up. College hitters have longer track records against better quality pitching which makes them a little less risky than any but the absolute best HS hitters off the showcase circuit.
The top college hitters of the past decade have shown themselves to be excellent ROI for their drafting team. Bats that have gone in the top 10 the last few years, include Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, Andrew Benitendi, Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Kris Bryant, Ian Happ, Michael Zunino, Anthony Rendon, and George Springer. That’s not cherry picking, either. To make it an absolutely comprehensive list of college bats in the top 10 this decade (other than the guys from the last two years still working their way up) I’d only have to add Christian Colon (a high overdraft pick based on signability), Colin Moran and Hunter Dozier.
Not only have those players developed to something near their high end expectations, but many of them have done so with tremendous speed. Benitendi, Schwarber, Bregman and Swanson all made their major league debut the year after being drafted. Bryant and Rendon, relative slowpokes, were in the majors within two years of their draft dates. The recent drafts show that guys who perform at elite levels in their college career — particularly from the power conferences — are likely to perform well and develop quickly.
Pitchers tell an even more dramatic tale. There have been big successes with arms at the top of the draft for sure (Steven Strasburg, Matt Harvey, even Drew Pomeranz, the #5 overall pick in 2010 offers good value). But the risk associated with arms is much higher. How’s this list for risky: Barrett Loux, Karsten Whitson, Danny Hultzen, Kyle Zimmer, Mark Appel (twice!), Kohl Stewart, Trey Ball, Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek, Dillon Tate, Tyler Jay. Remember these guys? They’ve all been top 10 picks in the last eight drafts. None have appeared in a major league game and most have little to no chance of ever doing so.
Particularly in drafts this deep in pitching, there is very likely to be a sweet spot late in the first and second rounds where pitchers every bit as dominant (or more so!) as the very top guys come off the board. A semi-recent example of this: The Blue Jays great 2010 draft, where they nabbed Aaron Sanchez with the 34th pick of the draft and then backed that up with Noah Syndergaard with the 38th pick. That pair were the 9th and 10th High School pitchers taken, and have been, thus far, the best major leaguers of that group. Only college pitchers Harvey, Pomeranz, and Chris Sale have provided more value among. Michael Fulmer came off the board at #44, Lance McCullers, Jr. at #41, Sean Manaea at #34. So, there are valuable arms to be found outside of the very highest draft picks.
So with that background, should we look at a few options?
Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn
Okay, there’s like a 5% chance that the Detroit Tigers don’t take Mize. But if they don’t, and it’s not for an injury reason, there’s no reason to think the Giants would skip that opportunity. Mize has separated himself from the pack with three plus pitches right now. His fastball is a legitimate mid-90’s, and his splitfinger fastball acts as his changeup with a lot of motion in the mid-80’s. The work he’s put on his slider has been a big part of his move up the draft boards. He’s got a clean delivery, has excellent control, and is one of the top pitchers in college baseball in one of the strongest leagues in college. If there is any downside on him, he was shut down last year with a tired arm and a flexor sprain, though that has not repeated itself. There’s almost no chance he gets past Detroit, but with the Draft, anything is possible.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Mountain Ridge HS, Glendale, AZ
The Giants have been rumored to be very present at Liberatore outings this spring, especially early on when he had some unsustained velocity bursts up to 97 MPH. But Liberatore’s calling cards are more projectability and feel for pitching. He was dominant on Team USA’s 18U championship squad last year, displaying an advanced feel for sequencing and mixing up his three pitch mix. At 6’5” the lefty is incredibly projectible and his fans believe he should add velocity as he grows into his body. There are those who feel drafting Liberatore would be a call back to the great Madison Bumgarner pick. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s incredibly competitive. He throws a gorgeous 12 to 6 curveball and has been mixing in a slider this spring as well, though it’s still a work in progress. But if the fastball adds ticks, he’ll already be working with three plus pitches (his changeup is also a sight to behold) and an advanced feel for pitching beyond his age.
Alec Bohm, 3b, Wichita State
It’s possible that nobody has lifted themselves further up the draft board (and made themselves more money) this spring than Bohm who has taken the mantle of the best college power hitter in the class. Bohm is a ginormous human being, at 6’5” and a listed weight of 240, and he’s always proven to be an exceptionally strong hitter who produced special in game power. But where he’s really elevated himself over the last year is in his plate discipline. Following an exceptional Cape Cod League last summer, where he was second in the league in hitting and made the All Star team, Bohm has had an even better spring season. He’s shown his typical power with 8 HRs and a .564 SLG. (as of 5/2) But at the same time he’s slashed his K rate and raised his walk rate to the point where he’s walking much more (29) than he’s striking out (19). Bohm doesn’t play in a power conference (though he has faced legit pitching prospects) and his size raises concerns that he’s ultimately headed for 1b, but it’s hard to find too many scouts who doubt the power/patience potential in his bat.
Joey Bart, C, Georgia Tech
Bart’s had as much helium as any player over the last month. He’s long held a distinction as the finest defensive Catcher in the draft class and he’s also an extreme iconoclast in the college game as a Catcher who calls his own game. He has a strong arm, soft hands, and excellent footwork. On the offensive side, his calling card is big power to all fields. With 12 HRs so far this year and a huge .626 SLG, Bart has slugged his way to top 10 relevance. He does tend to strike out and scouts are iffy on the hit tool being more than fringe average. Does it sound like I’m describing Mike Zunino? Because I feel like I’m describing Mike Zunino. But in (yet another) draft class that is extremely thin on Catching prospects, that’s a package that can get teams excited. There are some who think Bart can be the best Catcher coming into a draft since Posey, and so perhaps not surprisingly, the Giants are rumored to be in pretty heavy on this backstop too.
Brady Singer, RHP, Florida
At the start of the draft season, Brady Singer was the earliest guy to be considered the top overall pick. His ranking has dropped, but that is more about other players rising than a slow start for him. But he’s still in the discussion, especially after outdueling Mize in a matchup this weekend. He’s tall and lean, at 6’5” and 180 lbs, but he’s been able to stay injury free despite the lack of muscle. His fastball is 95-96 MPH consistently and he has a plus slider that he works off the fastball with. His changeup is developing, but should improve. Singer also impresses as a competitor and in terms of his makeup, which is definitely a quality the Giants have always valued. And he also has a 0.82 ERA in the Cape Cod League over the summer, part of his early top ranking. And, of course, Singer comes from one of the best college programs in baseball, which has produced Alex Faedo (#18 overall) last year and A.J. Puk (#6 overall) the year before. In Keith Law’s mock draft released this week, he predicts the Giants will take Singer.
Nick Madrigal, SS/2b, Oregon State
Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs have reported that the Giants aren’t interested in Madrigal, the 5’7” likely 2b who many scouts feel is the best hitter in this class. I don’t know how much faith to put in that rumor, but I’ll never forget that McDaniel was the guy who had the Christian Arroyo pick nailed weeks before the draft. Keith Law, in his mock draft, also indicated the Phillies and White Sox (Picks #3 and #4) are also out on Madrigal. As to whether or not they should be out on the Elk Grove native...well, Longenhagen has a good perspective here:
Kingery ascent, Albies doing his thing, Altuve, Gennett, Pedroia's career, Cesar Hernandez, Luis Urias killing Triple-A at age 20...how many is it gonna take before we stop caring that a guy is short if it's otherwise clear he's just good? https://t.co/3RiMcmvlyG— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) May 2, 2018
I'm saying if you're not on him only because of his size, you're gonna look like a schmuck in eighteen months. Also, how's 5-foot-8 Shed Long doing at Pensacola right now? https://t.co/EIKZ4IthOH— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) May 2, 2018
I wouldn't include him in a general population, he's one of a kind. It's becoming clear guys like ALtuve, Pedroia, etc. are the best of a previously ignored population of players, not unicorns themselves.— Eric Longenhagen (@longenhagen) May 2, 2018
The downsides on Madrigal? He’s 5’7”, he’s very likely a 2b, and he hasn’t played much this spring due to a broken wrist. The upsides? He may have the best hit tool in the class. He has elite speed and athleticism. And though he’s not a left-side of the infield player, he’s a plus defensive player. So basically, he really is Mookie Betts. Would YOU like to have Mookie Betts playing for you favorite baseball club? Ok, then.
Carter Stewart, RHP, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, FL
This spring has had a lot of movement among the high school prospects, and while some of the top names have dropped out of top contention, Stewart is one of the names that has seen a rise. Stewart has the big body that scouts like, 6’6” and 200 lbs as listed currently, but his rise has been thanks to a jump in his velocity. He sits 92-94 and can get up to 98 MPH. This compliments what was one of the best breaking balls in the class, a big mid-80’s curveball. He’s still working on other pitches, particularly his changeup. The biggest concern for Stewart (because, of course, he’s a pitcher) is health. He has a lot of arm action that worries scouts. Stewart recently peaked on the MLB Draft Prospect list at #2, and Keith Law has connected the Giants with Stewart as well.
Travis Swaggerty, CF, South Alabama
Swaggerty springboarded off an impressive summer performance with Team USA last year to jump into top of the draft consideration in 2018. He was undrafted out of high school, and failed to land at a power conference school, but Swaggerty possesses one of the most athletic toolsets in the college class. A true CF with top of the line speed, a strong arm and big game power, Swaggerty is close to being a five-tool player, though he strikes out enough to give some slight pause on the hit tool (in that he somewhat resembles former Giants’ draft pick Bryan Reynolds). If the Giants are looking to get more athletic, Swaggerty could well be the path they choose.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: That name alone sells jerseys.]
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Waukesha West High school
Kelenic may be the single biggest wild card. A tremendous star on last summer’s 18U Team USA, some scouts see Kelenic as the best pure hitter in the high school class. He might have the speed to stick in CF, and he adds to that great instincts, good routes, and a very strong arm. Sign me up! So what’s the problem here? Well, as the ultra rare Wisconsin High School player, Kelenic’s been close to unseen since the showcase circuit ended last fall. He isn’t even playing on his High School team (which is just now getting the snow off the field) and has instead been giving scouts a few indoor workouts, and playing some with a local travel team. Nobody really doubts his abilities, but it’s hard to get management to sign off on a multi-million dollar contract for a player nobody’s seen play in 9 months. There were some rumors that the Tigers might take Kelenic at 1-1 to a below slot deal (though those have mostly gone away) and maybe that’s something the Giants are considering, too. The biggest problem with that idea is that the Giants (like the Tigers) don’t draft again for 40 picks, and there are multiple teams that have more bonus pool money. So the payoff for such a strategy is extremely risky. With teams like Kansas City and Tampa Bay picking three times between the Giants’ first and second rounders, hoping that somebody special is going to fall could be a sucker’s game. It’s much more important to get #2 right than to set up #45. Of course, who’s to say that Kelenic might not be the guy to get #2 right? Personally, I feel a strong Christian Yelich vibe watching Kelenic play the game, and that’s not a bad vibe to have at all.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, University of South Florida
McClanahan has emerged as the top college left-handed pitcher in the draft, and has potentially the strongest college arm. He throws 97-100 MPH consistently on the fastball, and has an excellent changeup with a lot of movement to pair it with. His slider at the moment ranks as an average pitch. McClanahan is a redshirt sophomore that is draft eligible, because he had Tommy John surgery that wiped out his freshman year. Other than the health history, McClanahan’s other issue is his control. He has a high walk rate, and will need to reel that in as a pro. He may end up as a reliever long-term if he can’t improve in his rougher areas, but that hasn’t stopped him form being ranked as high as #6 on MLB’s rankings. This is another guy that Keith Law says the Giants are looking at.
Jonathan India, 3b, University of Florida
Ok, I’m going off the range a bit here. India is another college hitter who has had huge helium this spring, but #2 helium? Baseball America’s most recent ranking still rated him at #20 in the draft. That said, we still have about four weeks to go, and as a member of Florida’s College World Series bound squad (and defending champion), India is going to be playing up to the very end. Every time he steps on a baseball field, India is moving himself up boards. He currently boasts an unearthly 1.388 OPS, playing for the best team in the best conference in the country. He’s showing far better power than he ever has (14 HRs after hitting just 10 in his first two seasons) and it’s coming against premium pitching. In last week’s marquee matchup of two of the best pitchers in the country (Casey Mize and Brady Singer), India touched Mize up for a HR, thus moving himself on up every draft board in the game. He’s also certain to be an asset at 3B. You want to know how gifted a defensive player he is — and toss in a Giants connection at the same time? It was India who prevented Lucius Fox from playing SS in high school at American Heritage HS, prior to Fox moving back to his home in the Bahamas. We know that the Giants had scouted Fox in high school in Florida, which was part of the reason they went so big on him in the International Market. Could that history stir them to grab this high riser in 2018?