(Photo via Auburn Tigers website, seen here)
After months of preparing, it is almost time to find out where the next crop of talent will be drafted by major league clubs. Today, the Rule 4 Draft will take place with the Detroit Tigers holding the first pick. As always, there is a lot of speculation and many mock drafts to see who will be picked first overall.
MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo came out with a mock draft of the first round. He predicts that the first six overall picks will be out of college. If this does come to fruition, it will be the first time since 2006 that a high school player would not be selected in the first five picks. That year, the first high school player selected was Clayton Kershaw at the seventh pick.
Mayo predicted that the number one overall pick in this year’s draft would be Auburn right-handed pitcher Casey Mize. Mize is the clear front-runner in the draft according to one major league scout with whom I recently spoke to. “Pure talent it has to be Mize, it’s not even close compared to the other guys I’ve seen this year.” Mize has four pitches in his repertoire: a fastball, splitter, cutter, and slurve. Mize’s fastball typically runs in the low-to-mid 90s and has some running life. His splitter and cutter each typically are thrown in the upper 80s, with many sources calling his splitter the best in his arsenal. Mize typically gets good downward, tumbling movement on the splitter, allowing him to get a plethora of swings and misses. His final pitch, a slurve, is thrown in the low 80s and usually early in the count to keep hitters on their toes.
Even though Mize is known for having four plus pitches, he is probably most known for his exceptional command of the strike zone. As Joe Barbella, a scout for the Collegiate Baseball Scouting Network (CBBSN) explained, “At this point Casey Mize is the top pitcher. He has dominated the top conference and has [four] plus pitches.” Each year that Mize has pitched for Auburn, he has improved on his strikeout to walk ratio. This year, as of June 1, Mize has thrown an incredible 140 strikeouts to only 10 walks, good for a 14 K/BB rate. In comparison, the best K/BB rate in MLB history was in 2014 by Phil Hughes. Hughes threw 186 strikeouts and walked 16, which was the equivalent of an 11.6 K/BB rate.
(Video via 2080 Baseball)
Although there is unanimous agreement that Mize is the best pitcher in the upcoming draft, there are differing opinions on the top college hitter. In his mock draft, Mayo lists Joey Bart going second to the San Francisco Giants. The previously mentioned major league scout discusses how there seems to be more than one possibility for the top hitter. “Everyone seems to love [Nick] Madrigral. I saw [Alec] Bohm for two games. Wasn’t crazy amazing but still good.” In a poll taken of CBBSN scouts, three scouts listed Bart, a catcher out of Georgia Tech, and three listed Madrigal, a second baseman out of Oregon State as their top hitters.
Bart is a big, physical catcher that has plenty of pop to his bat and also has solid defensive tools. He has solid raw power that can translate to in game power. His major issue offensively is that he tends to overswing at times. According to 2080Baseball, Bart’s receiving is fundamentally sound and his pop time is flashing plus, coming in at 1.8 to 1.9.
The other top hitting prospect, Nick Madrigal, is already very polished. Madrigal makes up for his small frame with good feel for the strike zone. He is typically a gap-to-gap hitter and is able to make hard contact to all fields. Madrigal has an absurd .459 OBP this season and has actually walked more than he has struck out during his college career by a fair amount. Defensively, he has above average fielding actions and is able to take a quick first step and transfer to release.
(Video via Fangraphs)
Of course, there are always some sleepers in the draft that have the raw tools to make it to the majors, but are drafted later because of age, injury, recent performance, competition level, etc. The major league scout listed a few names that could potentially stand out in later rounds of the draft. “PJ Poulin for UConn; Small lefty reliever. I don’t know where he goes, but I liked him. Chase Cohen at Georgia Southern, but he may go pretty [early in the draft]. Andrew Cabezas at Miami. Almost always pitchers.”
Unlike Cabezas, a high profile player potentially going to be picked in the first few rounds, Poulin and Cohen are a little more under the radar. Poulin, Connecticut’s closer, has 16 saves this season, and is seemingly striking out everyone. He has an 11.1 K/9. He does seem to have command issues as he has a 3.9 BB/9. However, the fact that he is a lefty reliever with a tendency to strike out hitters at a high rate bodes well for him.
Cohen is another high strikeout, high walk pitcher. A starter for Georgia Southern, Cohen strikes out batters at an even higher rate than Poulin, which is very impressive. However, he has control issues. He has an abnormally high walk rate at 5.6 this season, and has been rising each year. This is a major red flag for MLB clubs.
(Video via Jheremy Brown)
CBBSN scouts also weighed in on potential sleepers in the draft. Anthony Osnacz reported, “Tyler Cropley has a chance to produce despite his lowly draft status. He’s a C/OF from [Iowa] with a quick bat and track record. Robert Neustrom could be a sleeper bat, should he come back to early season form. Shows plus power when he’s on with an average hit tool. Started dropping his hands late in the year sapping away his game power. Neustrom is a round 3-6 guy. Cropley is likely a round 11-25 guy.”
After having a monstrous career in JUCO, Cropley is having a breakout season at Iowa. His .358 BABIP and 1.027 OPS are making him an offensive threat this season as he has hit nine home runs. Cropley has also been very patient at the plate and has walked more often than he has struck out.
Neustrom has been more consistent during his time at Iowa. He has hit over .300 both of his seasons and added some in-game power to go with his bat to ball skills. If he does indeed return to his early season form, he will be a legitimate prospect.
CBBSN’s Joe Barbella also explicated who he believed potential sleepers could be in the upcoming draft. “I am a big fan of Jeremy Pena, SS from Maine. […] Just looks like a ball player. Plus fielder, cannon arm. Shows lots of raw power. Seen him hit HRs to left field and centerfield during [batting practice]. Hit tool is the question. See him to be drafted in the third to fifth round. [Also] Brooks Wilson, right-handed pitcher from Stetson. Good athlete. Besides closing plays the field. […] Drafted by the Rangers last season, but came back for his senior year. I’ve seen him get up to 94 mph. Also had a good curveball and control. See him getting drafted in the 15-20th round.”
Pena, comes from a strong baseball bloodline. He is the son of former big leaguer Geronimo and cousin of former minor leaguer Ramses Pena. Jeremy has improved significantly this season on all of his offensive statistics including making almost a 200 point jump in OPS. This will definitely help him in the draft, especially if he already has plus fielding actions and arm strength.
Stetson uses Wilson as both a relief pitcher and also as an infielder. Wilson has excelled at both positions, although this is his first full season acting as a two-way player. He has pitched all four seasons for Stetson with elite strikeout numbers and a fringe average walk rate. This season is Wilson’s first in a relief role and his first in a utility infield role, where he is exhibiting his plus hit tool. He will more than likely be drafted as a pitcher because of his success in different roles and because he has only been hitting occasionally beginning this season.
(Video via 2080 Baseball)
Finally, Robert Frey of CBBSN found another sleeper in Ryan Campbell, a senior at Illinois-Chicago. “[He throws a] 91-93 mph fastball, have seen him touch 95 twice, a sinker-type pitch. Slider has a high spin rate, as he has large hands to better manipulate the ball. 11-20th round player.”
Campbell is in his first season starting after two seasons in relief, including spending one at Pittsburgh. This season, he is controlling the zone to get hitters out. He has been flashing plus-plus command as he only has a 1.8 BB/9 and has a 3.6 K/BB.
Even though prospect writers, major league scouts, and CBBSN scouts agree that Casey Mize should be considered the top selection, the picks after are nowhere near set in stone. There are a variety of good options of talented players that will be drafted in the later rounds that will have the raw tools. These types of players can make an impact for a farm system and potentially make it into the majors. This year there is a lot of intriguing talent, especially coming out of the college level, some of which are polished enough to quickly affect the major leagues.