I was really excited to have the opportunity to participate in the First-Year Player Mock Draft. As a stats-first analyst, my strength tends to lie in retroactive analysis, using deductive reasoning after the fact to derive a conclusion about the present/future. Trying to take a skill set and scouting reports and project out the future is not something I have a ton of experience in, so I jumped at the opportunity to flex my inductive reason muscles and draft some first-year players and start myself a team.
That was sort of the name of the game for my approach as well. I wanted to try and draft the cornerstones of a brand new franchise, and I think I mostly succeeded at doing so.
Mock Draft Analysis will run from July 1-5 and July 8-12, with one release per day. Here is the Draft Board for reference.
|Brennen Gorman’s Analysis||Adam Lawler’s Analysis|
|Travis Sherer’s Analysis||Jamie Sayer’s Analysis|
|Paul Ghiglieri’s Analysis||Shelly Verougstraete’s Analysis|
|Andy Patton’s Analysis||Scott Chu’s Analysis|
|Daniel Port’s Analysis||Hunter Denison’s Analysis|
Pick #1: Adley Rustchman, C, Baltimore Orioles
Somehow I lucked into the No. 1 pick in the draft, and much like the Orioles, there was no way I could say no to a building my team around a generational talent at the catcher position. To get this level of talent at what I often consider one of the cornerstone positions is too good to be true. A catcher out of Oregon State, Rustchman was so impressive that MLB.com stated he would slot in as the 17th-best prospect in baseball TWO full years before he graduated college. An elite hitter with absurd defensive chops, it appears that Rustchman is the total package you want in a catcher prospect. After his freshman year, Rustchman made changes to his stance and swing that unlocked his offensive capabilities, including great power (and maybe great responsibility … ?) with 17 home runs last year without compromising his contact tool (his .411 average was fifth-best in the NCAA). He’s not just good when he swings the bat though, and his eye for the strike zone is top notch as well as he led all of college baseball in walks, and his 1.33 walks per game is at a nearly record-setting pace. He also led the league in OBP with a nearly unbelievable .575 OBP. He got on base nearly 60% of the time! It also seems like he checks all the leadership and work ethic boxes as well, which I love seeing in my catchers. I can’t imagine a better building block to act as the foundation for my future team.
Pick #20: Nick Lodolo, LHP, Cincinnati Reds
I didn’t expect the No. 7 pick in the MLB Draft to fall to me at pick No. 20, so I couldn’t say no when fate smiled upon me. According to MLB Pipeline’s scouting report on Lodolo, he sits around 94 mph with a fastball that sometimes touches 96, and he boasts a slider and changeup that have plus potential. At an apparently lean 6’6″, he has the frame for success as a left-handed pitcher and should add strength as he ages. Apparently, the last piece of the puzzle that set Lodolo free his junior year was finding more consistency in his three-quarters delivery, which led to greater control and consistency as evidenced by his 113:19 K/BB ratio and the 2.36 ERA (50th in NCAA) he put up over 103 innings (ninth). That’s the 10th-highest strikeout total in the NCAA and the 38th-best K:BB ratio. It’s hard to not be excited by all this when you consider he’s still improving his control, and if he can gain even more velocity as his frame fills in (imagine if as a lefty he can get his fastball consistently up to 96 mph!). With back-to-back picks, I’ve now got my catcher and his first batterymate in Lodolo.
Pick #21: Alek Manoah, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
Normally I wouldn’t take two pitchers with my first three picks (especially because they were back to back), but sometimes you have to go with the good ol’ best player available and I felt like this was Manoah. Coming in at 6’6″ (Do I have a thing for 6’6″ pitchers?),Manoah was incredible as a junior, his first full season as a starting pitcher. Over the course of the season, he struck out 144 batters (sixth-best in the NCAA) over 108 innings (seventh), which was good for the 34th-best K/BB ratio as well. His 2.08 ERA also ranked 28th in the NCAA. He boasts a solid three-pitch repertoire with a fastball, slider, changeup combo with a plus fastball that sits 94-97 mph and the slider showing plus potential as well. One thing that really caught my eye was the idea that, according to MLB Pipeline, because he shifted from reliever to starter this year, he has the rare upside of a high-schooler with the experience and repertoire of a college player, which I found very exciting. I’m nervous starting with so many pitchers early (curse you TINSNAPP!), but Manoah was the No. 11 prospect on the draft big board for this year so again the talent was too much to pass up.
Pick #40: Gunner Henderson, SS, Baltimore Orioles
Wanting to fill another cornerstone position, I wanted to try and lock down a shortstop even if there is the possibility that Henderson might make the move to third base as he fills in. MLB Pipline states Henderson has above-average gap-to-gap power that should translate to home run power as the 17-year-old gets older and gains size and strength. The Pipeline also states that he has above-average speed, while Last Word On Baseball gives him one of the best all-around hit tools in the draft and feels that he has the speed to be a stolen base threat and improve his power numbers through stretching out hits and taking extra bases. The sky is the limit for someone who is not even a legal adult yet. He’s a high-ceiling player who seems to have the potential to be a solid four-tool player once you factor in his defensive concerns and extremely strong arm. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the 27th-best prospect in the draft class, so to get him at pick No. 40 feels like really great value.
Pick #41: Brennan Malone, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks
I felt like I needed more high school upside with my last pick, and again, while I didn’t expect to come out of this draft with three pitchers, I feel like this was the right upside pick. If I were starting a team I would expect at least one of Lodolo, Manoah, and Malone to be my founding ace pitcher. His plus fastball already runs up to 96 mph (he’s barely 18!), and Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo projects it as a pitch that could top 100 mph. His slider also grades out as a plus pitch already. He also boasts an average curveball and a changeup that needs some consistency. MLB Pipeline says that he needs to improve his command (mainly that he needs to be consistent in his arm slot and speed), but he already made huge leaps in that department throughout his senior year of high school. Last Word on Baseball projects good potential for his changeup and curveball, especially because there’s good action to both pitches and he can already consistently throw them for strikes. It’s all really going to come down to his control, which already seems like it is on the upswing. Given all that, I feel like this pick was the steal of my draft given the clear upside. MLB Pipeline has him as the 20th-ranked prospect on its big board, so the crew there clearly agrees with me.
I would feel pretty good if this was my opening draft for a brand new franchise. I have my surefire star in Rustchman and will be set at catcher for years. I also picked up a solid shortstop/third base prospect who has the hit tool and above-average speed to be a solid table setter at the very least but could have the kind of power potential to be a middle-of-the-order hitter. I also picked up a stud left-hander who has high velocity on his fastball, and those pitchers don’t exactly grow on trees. If one of my other two high-upside pitchers pans out, I’m in really good shape when this class hits the majors.
Graphic by Michael Haas (@digitalHaas on Twitter)