The MLB Draft is different from the others in North American professional sports because the results, even when they are good, are not immediate. Every single team’s scouting director can get out in front of the local reporters and talk about what a good draft they had. They probably all believe it. They are unlikely to all be right. There are always obstacles between teams and runaway draft success.
Orioles fans know this as well as any. Though Buck Showalter is fond of saying, “You can’t mess up the good ones,” things can get knocked off-kilter for a while or forever. Sometimes it’s Matt Wieters being good but not living up to the hype. Sometimes it’s Brian Matusz going from #4 overall pick to a reliever who can only face lefties and he can’t even do that in the playoffs. Sometimes it’s Hunter Harvey just getting injured over and over again.
There are no sure things, no matter how high you pick in the draft. What sets the teams that are successful and those that aren’t is not only hitting on the top picks but in finding unexpected value in the later rounds as well. Not that the Orioles have been the greatest at this, either, and so here they are right now, for that and a variety of other reasons.
We can’t know who has won a draft just yet. We can only guess based on how things look right now. How does this year’s Orioles draft compare to those of their AL East rivals? This look at the early returns features the MLB Pipeline top 200 prospect rankings.
- Total bonus pool: $8,754,400
- Top pick - #11 overall - RHP Grayson Rodriguez - Central Heights (TX) HS - #22 prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Rodriguez, Cadyn Grenier (#68), Blaine Knight (#87), Robert Neustrom (#147)
The Orioles had three top 100 picks and they picked three top 100 draft prospects. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to succeed, but it is a sign that they weren’t doing their own weird thing. Well... sort of. The pick of Rodriguez was a bit of an eyebrow-raiser in the sense that he rated as more of a teens or early 20s-level talent. The O’s insist that Rodriguez was the guy they wanted.
Time will tell if they were right. The O’s passed on a more consensus top-rated talent in Matthew Liberatore, eventually picked by their division rival Rays. Liberatore signed for $800,000 less than the O’s signed Rodriguez, so it doesn’t seem to have been a money thing.
The O’s took one more top 200 player in the later rounds of the draft, #63 prospect Slade Cecconi in the 38th round. From the Rodriguez signing, it’s not clear that there will be extra budget money for a tough sign.
Grenier is said to be a wizard in the field at shortstop with a bit more of a questionable bat. Knight needs to add some weight to improve his velocity and durability, according to Keith Law and his fellow baseball prospect writers. Hopefully as the years go by, these things add up to big league trajectories.
- Total bonus pool: $5,723,300
- Top pick - #26 overall - 3B Triston Casas - American Heritage School (FL) - #20 prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Casas, Nick Decker (#74), Durbin Feltmann (#70)
Only three teams had a smaller draft pool than the Red Sox. When you are picking at #26 overall, options for the top talented are limited to begin with, and when you don’t have extra money to throw at an overslot player, they’re more limited still.
Enter Casas, lured away from the University of Miami by a slot value signing bonus of about $2.5 million. Pipeline’s scouting report describes him as being “all about his bat and the power he can produce with it.” They see his future at first base, so he will need to hit and find that power.
Their second pick, Decker, is a New Jersey high school outfielder who had been said to have interested the Orioles as well. With no second round pick due to the signing of Alex Cobb, the Orioles couldn’t take him in his talent range, though, so now he’s in the Red Sox system, or will be once he signs. Law described Decker as a “tank” - he’s listed at 6’0” and 200 pounds - and he is also going to have to ride his power to the big leagues.
- Total bonus pool: $6,115,500
- Top pick - #23 overall - C Anthony Seigler - Cartersville (GA) HS - #46 prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Siegler, Josh Breaux (#71), Ryder Green (#82), Frank German (#191)
Much like the Red Sox who were just discussed, the Yankees were a good team last year and they did not have any compensation picks for departed free agents. That adds up to a small bonus pool, and when you’ve got a small bonus pool, there isn’t much room for creativity.
With their top two picks, the Yankees locked in on a couple of catchers they decided they liked: Siegler and Breaux. Siegler has the unique story that he is a switch-hitter who was also a switch-pitcher in high school, though he’ll focus on hitting in the pros. Pipeline’s scouting report on Siegler suggests he may even be able to profile at second base. Breaux has arm strength that should keep him behind the dish.
The Yankees took money-saving senior signs in rounds 7-10 and they did not draft any pitcher until their fourth round pick. When you are actually willing to sign the international amateur free agents, there is a less urgent need to get pitching through the draft.
Tampa Bay Rays
- Total bonus pool: $12,415,600
- Top pick - #16 overall - LHP Matthew Liberatore - Mountain Ridge (AZ) HS - #4 prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Liberatore, Shane McClanahan (#14), Nick Schnell (#38), Tyler Frank (#73), Tanner Dodson (#86), Ford Proctor (#123), Grant Witherspoon (#107), Taj Bradley (#172)
The Rays had the benefit of the second-largest draft bonus pool of all MLB teams, thanks to back-to-back picks in the compensation round as a result of the O’s signing Alex Cobb and the Rays not signing last year’s compensation pick, Drew Rasmussen.
They look like they are spreading this money around: They grabbed all of these top 200 prospects before the end of the fifth round. That’s loading up. No surprise that Pipeline’s Jim Callis proclaimed that the Rays had the best draft in MLB, although that’s based chiefly on those prospect rankings, so if those are wrong, the draft won’t look as great.
For instance, in his draft reviews, Law lays out some of the possible flaws of the players: McClanahan could be headed for a relief role, Schnell and Frank may have problems making contact, and so on. Every player has possible flaws. It’s going to be up to the Rays player development to polish them as much as they can.
- Total bonus pool: $7,982,100
- Top pick - #12 overall - SS Jordan Groshans - Magnolia (TX) HS - #31 prospect
- Top 200 prospects drafted: Groshans, Griffin Conine (#50), Adam Kloffenstein (#43), Sean Wymer (#85), Addison Barger (#143)
The sons of big leaguers always enjoy a certain popularity as prospects because you know they’ve got big leaguer genes and that they likely spent a lot of time growing up around clubhouses. They’re especially popular with the Blue Jays, who have the sons of Vladimir Guerrero, Dante Bichette, and Craig Biggio in the system. Add Griffin Conine, son of Jeff, recently a Duke outfielder, to the mix.
What the Jays have really staked this draft on is a pair of high school teammates: Groshans and Kloffenstein. They reached to pick Groshans where they did and this gave them the extra money against their slot to sign his teammate. That’s one heck of a baseball narrative that practically writes itself, as long as the two players develop and advance together.
It is also a lot of eggs in one basket. Surely out of all of the high school or college players the Jays could have drafted, the best pair were not playing on the same baseball fields in Texas. That’s a movie script, not real life. Still, the Jays got three top 50 prospects in the class and they only had two picks in the top 50. Maybe they “should” have taken a higher-rated talent with their top pick, but they’ve got something to hang their hats on, for now.
Which AL East team has the best-looking 2018 draft?
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