The first day of the MLB draft is over! And members of one of the most stressed classes in recent draft history now have a new home. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked Paul Skenes, universally acknowledged as one of the best picks in his class, for first overall, and his LSU teammate Dylan Crews trailed the Washington Nationals for second. But we got plenty of surprising picks starting at #3 in the top two Round.
ESPN baseball insiders Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers and Dave Schoenfield share their favorite and most amazing plays from the first night of the draft, as well as their picks of the players who will bring the most to their teams over the long term. And Kiley McDaniel reveals his best available names for the next 18 rounds, which continue on Monday and Tuesday.
There were three clear favorites at the top of this draft – did the Pirates make the right decision in drafting Paul Skenes?
gonzalez I’m a little surprised, both by some of the recent rumors linking them to Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford and by the turnover rate among pitchers in general – but I think they made the right choice. The draft is the best, and perhaps only, chance for an organization like the Pirates to get an arm of this caliber, and in hindsight it would have been foolish not to have the combination of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery and they have one of the best pitching prospects available this century. As we all know by now, Skenes’ material is gross, but he also has the athleticism and work ethic to execute it at the highest level. His workload was also relatively light. Pitchers can often be a crapshoot, but that’s the safest thing in this position.
Rogers: Yes they have. Some organizations don’t like putting pitchers that high considering the risk of injury, but Skenes isn’t exactly an unproven candidate who will need years of experience while the Pirates hold their breath to keep him sane. More importantly, where else will Pittsburgh find an ace if not in the draft? In the end, that might have been a matter of course.
Schoenfield: OK, here’s the short list of the best college pitchers of all time: Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior and Ben McDonald, and now Skenes – with Strasburg and Skenes being the top two. It’s worth noting that Strasburg, Prior and McDonald all found success in the major leagues — and all had injuries that ultimately cut short their careers. But if Strasburg’s career is just a worst-case scenario; Imagine what that is In the best case could be for Skenes. Maybe he’s the next Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer. And as an added bonus, he’s advanced enough to have a legitimate shot at Rookie of the Year by next season, which would give the Pirates a first-round bonus. I think it was the right choice.
Besides Skenes, what was your favorite track of the night – and which one gave you a headache?
gonzalez I decide on two favorites – one with a high floor and one with a high ceiling. The former is Jacob Gonzalez, who ranked sixth in Kiley McDaniel’s most recent rankings, falling to the Chicago White Sox at number 15. He’s a 1.90m left-handed shortstop who will be good enough defensively to stay in that position and is making lots of contacts. The choice that really intrigues me, however, came right after that, when the Giants signed 6-foot-2, aspiring two-wayer Bryce Eldridge at the age of 16. This fits perfectly.
My headache came a little later — the Los Angeles Dodgers picked undersized high school outfielder Kendall George at number 36, nabbing him two to three rounds earlier than most forecasts were expecting.
Rogers: The Oakland Athletics acquisition of Jacob Wilson was a good thing. He’s ready as Papa Jack (a former major league player) has coached him throughout his young career so far – any rebuild the A’s undertake starts with Wilson as shortstop. He was also college baseball’s toughest player to strike out that season.
The Detroit Tigers, who ceded Langford for high school student Max Clark, were curious. Of course, it’ll be years before we know if it was the right or wrong pick, but it’s surprising that Langford dropped out of the top three — especially since collegiate bats are usually the most reliable picks.
Schoenfield: I think it’s really great that the Tigers chose Clark instead. By all appearances, Clark is a 1-1 talent in another draft – one that wasn’t as high quality as this one – and I think the advantage over Langford is obvious: Clark has a more versatile game thanks to his blistering speed and defense in midfield. That will add a lot of value that Langford, likely limited to an outfield corner, is unlikely to have. Langford has more raw power but give me the complete player.
As for me, who I like least, hard to believe, but it’s the Kansas City Royals. Getting a prep catcher in the top 10? No thank you. Blake Mitchell is the first to climb that high since Kyle Skipworth in 2008. Never heard of Skipworth? That’s because he never made the majors. There’s a reason teams rarely pick high school catchers that high anymore: History has it that most of them don’t succeed. Regardless of scouting level, it is an extremely risky choice.
Which player drafted tonight has the best chance of someday winning an MVP or Cy Young award?
gonzalez I vote for Crews, the man who batted .380/.498/.689 in three seasons at the nation’s top baseball conference. He’s the best and most complete hitter this draft and has a strong defense, the type that could get him his major league debut as a midfielder. He won’t run much — although his speed has improved since high school — but once his career is settled, he could win several Silver Sluggers… and maybe an MVP or two.
Rogers: I’ll take the easy route and tell Skenes. I don’t care what level you pitch at, if you’re posting 209 strikeouts in 122.2 innings you have my vote for Cy Young being the most likely to win. Cy Young contestants lead their teams and dominate to the point where they can’t be denied – Skenes wrote that all over his face. Talent evaluators don’t deny elite talent – so now it’s a matter of staying healthy and having the big year in the majors to one day secure him an award.
Schoenfield: Skenes is the easiest pick there – although of the 18 previous pitchers to make it to No. 1 overall, only David Price has won a Cy Young Award (Gerrit Cole was second twice and Strasburg was third). My sleeper: Hurston Waldrep, the Braves’ pick. The Bigs and the Braves have certainly had some success developing pitchers. For MVP, Crews makes sense, but I’ll kick Clark out of here too – I’m getting Corbin-Carroll vibes with his punch/strength/speed skills, and Carroll already looks like a potential MVP candidate as a rookie.
What’s your biggest takeaway from day one of this draft?
Gonzalez: How clearly the first stage was defined matched virtually every incoming forecast. Skenes, Crews, Langford, Clark and Walker Jenkins were obviously the top five players available – whatever order you wanted to rank them in – but we knew anything beyond that was pretty unpredictable. It played out that way, with Kyle Teel in particular doing a little worse than I expected (14th for the Boston Red Sox) given the relative lack of catching talent in this draft. Gonzalez also declined, I noticed, but shortstop has been a major strength this year; 14 of the 39 picks that comprised Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A were shortstops.
Rogers: If in doubt, take off an OF or an SS. Teams love athleticism and flexibility. In particular, shortstops automatically qualify for these divisions. For example, the Chicago Cubs passed a position requirement at third base to bring in shortstop Matt Shaw from Maryland. If he stays with their organization it won’t be at Shortstop, where Dansby Swanson has just signed a seven-year deal. But the bottom line is that midfielders and outfielders can play anywhere. That’s what Shaw said after his draft.
Schoenfield: Only one high school pitcher went to the first round (the first 28 picks). This more or less follows recent trends as high school pitchers — just like high school catchers — are viewed as risky decisions. It also shows not only the dependency on draft models, but also the importance of all the pitch tracking and shot data now available at the college level. Scouting departments can analyze collegiate players better than ever before – and therefore have a higher level of confidence in their player selection. But it could also mean that teams underestimate high school players. So when we look back at this draft in four or five years, there could be some hidden gems picked in the competition or in the second/third round.
Kiley McDaniel’s Best Available Players for Day 2
(Ranked by top 300 draft prospect rankings)
32. Roch Cholowsky, SS, Hamilton (Ariz.) HS, UCLA commit
36. Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech
39. Trent Caraway, 3B, JSerra Catholic (California) HS, Oregon State Commitment
40. Drew Burress, CF, Houston County (Ga.) HS, Georgia Tech is committed
46. Steven Echavarria, RHP, Millburn (NJ) HS, Fla. commits
55. Paul Wilson, LHP, Lake Ridge (Ore.) HS, Oregon State Commitment
59. Jace Bohrofen, RF, Arkansas
60. Juaron Watts-Brown, RHP, Oklahoma State
61. Commit Cameron Johnson, LHP, IMG Academy (Florida) HS, LSU
62. Michael Carico, C, Davidson