I realize that many people who read this are going to assume that this is a ranking of the best baseball players from the draft. It isn’t. This is a ranking of the best fantasy profiles in the draft for your keeper/dynasty league. For the most part, defense does not come into play unless the prospect has an iffy-enough evaluation at his current position to warrant a position change that would affect his value long-term.
When it comes to prospects, I generally value college players over high schoolers. They are closer to the majors and they likely to be more well-rounded. That said, if you’re looking for elite talent, there are arguments for both. Out of all the MVP winners since 2000 (if you win more than one, you are still only counted as one), 13 were drafted/signed out of high school, 11 were college or junior college players, and five were international signees. Cy Young Award winners are the opposite, with eight high schoolers winning the award, 17 college players, and four international signees.
Let’s get it on!
Probably the easiest decision about a top prospect since Carlos Correa in 2012, Adley Rutschman is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the field. He’s as close to a finished product as there is on this list. With elite defense/calling/leadership skills, an advanced bat, and a history of winning, whenever he signs his contract the Oregon State backstop will instantly be the best catching prospect in the minor leagues. But let’s not go overboard. Rutschman is as sure of a thing at catcher to come along since Posey, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be an MVP or a hall-of-famer-like Giants great. Still, it’s hard to ignore the similarities:
|Rutschman vs Posey (NCAA)||AVG||SLG||OPS||HR||BB||K|
|Buster Posey Sophomore Year (2007)||.382||.453||.973||3||32||27|
|Adley Rutschman Sophomore Year (2018)||.408||.628||1.133||9||53||40|
|Buster Posey Junior Year (2008)||.463||.566||1.445||26||57||29|
|Adley Rutschman Junior Year (2019)||.427||.772||1.356||16||69||36|
Both catchers, who were already elite in their sophomore years, took huge strides forward in power and plate discipline. Also, both catchers were a lock to stay behind the plate defensively. Rutschman’s skillset is so advanced that he will likely be one of those rare, fast-rising catchers that makes it into the majors in two years at the earliest but three years at the latest. I would be worried about almost any other prospect in this draft going to the Orioles, but in this case, Rutschman is so good it doesn’t matter.
What is Andrew Vaughn’s floor? An .800 OPS. With a 70 hit tool and a 60 power tool, Vaughn is going to be able to get on base enough to always be a threat offensively, and he provides enough pop hit in the middle of the order. What’s Vaughn’s ceiling? Joey Votto. Somewhere in the middle of those two is uber-professional hitter Mike Sweeney, who was also a short, right-handed first baseman. With Vaughn—who has had maybe the best college career ever at the dish—we are not just talking about an uncanny ability to put the bat on the ball. The Cal first baseman has maybe the best eye in the NCAA as well. There is just too much to like for him to fail. Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award in 2018 after his coming-out party as a sophomore, slashing .402/.531/.819 with 23 dingers and a 44:18 BB:K ratio. Playing in a power conference but not on for a power program, Vaughn saw fewer pitches to hit in 2019, but still posted elite numbers (.385/.539/.728 with 15 HR and a 53:30 BB:K ratio). This is a no-doubt bat, the only question about Vaughn is if he can play first or will be strictly a DH. He’s not just hindered by his right-handedness, which makes playing first more difficult, he’s also short, giving infielders a smaller target at the position that sees the most action on the field. Even with all of this against him defensively, Vaughn could be in the majors in late 2020.
The son of a journeyman pitcher with the same name, Bobby Witt Jr. is an athletic prep shortstop with plus power and plus speed. He could stay at SS for a while, but will need to generally improve his already projectable tools, most notably his plate approach. That said, Witt isn’t a boom-or-bust candidate in today’s MLB. There is a place for shortstops who don’t hit for average but are fast and can knock it out even if his development doesn’t quite go as planned. It if all comes together, you could see a Trevor Story/Javier Baez kind of guy. If not, there’s some Tim Anderson here. I doubt that will be the case, given his pedigree and the advancement of his already impressive tools.
For dynasty league purposes, owning Riley Greene is like having a war bond in your pocket. It won’t be worth much now, but in a few years, you will cash in. There is one thing that is for certain: wherever Greene is, he’s hitting. With plus power potential, Greene mashed Florida prep pitching, earning a spot in the 18U National Team, where he demolished international pitching. A popular comparison of Greene is Twins 1B Alex Kirilloff, who is also a hitting machine, but I’m more likely to go with Christian Yelich. There is a chance he turns into one of the best hitters in the league, but there is also a chance he’s a high-average, medium-power guy with some speed.
Not everybody agrees that Witt is a better prospect than C.J. Abrams. Personally, I’m on the fence, but leaning Witt because of the power potential. Still, Abrams has considerably more speed—he’s just about the fastest prospect taken in early rounds—and he’s just as gifted an athlete. A good comparison for Abrams is Jean Segura, who throughout his career has been a solid fielding SS, and at times capable of both hitting 20+ bombs and swiping 40+ bases. Like Witt, there are swing-and-miss issues with Abrams. How much he improves on that front will likely be the most pivotal determination of how good he is.
J.J. Bleday is a bit of a late bloomer. It’s easy to think Bleday should be more valuable than Greene in dynasty leagues—after all, he is closer to the majors. The junior from Vanderbilt has not been outshined by the bright lights of one of college baseball’s top programs, coming out of almost nowhere in 2019 to lead the NCAA in homers with 25, all the while slashing .346/.748/1.209 with a BB:K ratio of 45:45. Any hitter that can dominate like this in college’s premier conference is worth a first-round pick. Bleday went in the top five because of the power potential his 6-3, 205-pound frame promises. I’m a little more skeptical of his ability to make contact enough to be a difference maker on a dynasty roster. In fact, he kind of reminds me of Jay Bruce. The talent is there to be an all-star, but it’s also possible that he hits .226.
If Alek Manoah were a lefty, or he played in the SEC, he’d probably be the first pitcher taken in the draft. As it stands now, he could be the third. Manoah has one of the top three fastballs in the draft, topping out just south of triple digits. He combines the gas with a plus slider and an unimpressive changeup to a 1.91 ERA with 125 Ks in 94.0 IP in 2019. His control is average for a college pitcher, but he should be able to rise through the first few levels of the minors without incident. When you combine his velocity, slider, and size (6’6″, 260 lbs), I think he has the best starting point of any prospect in this year’s draft. Manoah is more of a physical specimen than his comp, Chris Archer, but I see a similar repertoire to Archer’s early days when he was sitting 95-96 mph and not 93 as he does now. I’d say as it stands now, look at the highs and lows of Archer’s career, and somewhere in there is Manoah.
A relative unknown at the beginning of 2019, Keoni Cavaco has rocketed up draft boards after dominating the California prep season. He’s also impressed organizations with a series of private workouts. What can this kid do? Well, it is hard to say because it’s hard to find much about him. What I know is the speed/power combo is real and might be the best in the draft. His swing looks a little clunky, but that isn’t a reason to knock a high schooler, especially when he’s a potential five-tool talent. I’m not sure about his defense yet, so the David Wright comp might not be all the way accurate, but the offensive profile fits the bill.
9. Daniel Espino, RHP, Cleveland Indians, Age: 18
Best-Case Comp: Luis Severino
With Daniel Espino, we’ve officially entered the big tools/big deficits portion of the draft class. For fantasy purposes, Espino is the kind of non-elite pitching prospect I look for: He brings the heat. Reaching 100 mph with the heater as a high schooler is no longer an anomaly, but it is still valuable, especially when there is a plus slider and at least the remnant of a pro-level curveball. There are definitely pitchers closer to the majors and more developed in general, but I’m looking for potential all-stars when I draft prospects. I’ll be honest, Espino is one of those prospects that, depending on which organization they go, it would affect their spot on this list. Now that he’s in the Indians system, which has maybe the best track record the last decade of developing pitchers, I’m ecstatic. Sure, Espino’s wild, as any high schooler flashing triple digits will be, but the upside is obvious.
He’s undersized and he’s a cold-weather prep prospect, I get it, but Corbin Carroll is the type of sweet-swinging, blazing-fast prospect that seemingly comes out of nowhere to appear in all-star games. He’s one of those prep athletes that with enough development might be able to play any position on the field, but will probably stick at center. It’s not just Carroll’s tools that are impressive, it’s his performance. Like Greene, Carroll hits everywhere he goes, including the 18U National Team, where he was consistently either in first or second in almost every offensive category. The power production is a question mark, given his stature (5’10”, 165 lbs) but even that isn’t a red flag anymore, just look at Andrew Benintendi/Mookie Betts/Dustin Pedroia.
Kameron Misner or Greg Jones? That is the question. They don’t play similar positions, but their power/speed combinations make them intriguing dynasty prospects. On the one hand, both players have had one incredible season each in their college career. On the other hand, Jones’ career season was 2019 in a weak conference and Misner’s was 2018 in a power conference. So who would I rather own? I’m was leaning toward Jones before he went to the Rays system—now I’m all in. Typically I would covet the more powerful hitter, which in this case is Misner, but since it’s hard to ignore Jones’ 70-grade speed to go along with his 50-grade power potential. The Rays have done more in their system with guys who have had worse tools. This is a smart pick. He reminds me of Jacoby Ellsbury. Once again Jones is not an outfielder, but the speed/power combo matches—and so would the bat if Jones’ .343/.551/1.042 breakout is real and not a product of playing lesser competition.
I am impressed with Brett Baty’s bat/power potential, along with how far along he is already. He’s one of the older high school prospects in the draft, which often is a red flag. There is usually just too much body development that goes on in your late teens to trust an increase in skills as not just being a man playing against boys. Baty’s profile doesn’t fit this trend. He has a sweet, level swing that is perfect for producing high exit velocities. High schoolers do not usually go through the minors very fast, but Baty has the chance to be one of the quicker preps to reach the majors, given his bat.
After going on a tear to start his junior season, Hunter Bishop has cooled of late. This might be a sign of things to come, though, as streaky could be used to best describe the potential five-tool corner infielder. Before 2019, Bishop might not have even been drafted, but his name shot up boards as he slashed .356/.792/1.274 with 22 bombs and 11 SB. At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, he’s the ideal size and his speed will play in the majors if his plate approach is good enough to get him there. The problem is his BB:K rate, which went from 16:11 before conference play to 42:56 to end the season. It’s possible he’s having issues with breaking balls. Still, A.J. Pollock is a pretty good comp. Bishop might have a little more power, but Pollock is probably better at getting on base.
Put Tulane product Kody Hoese in the SEC and in the OF and you’ve got Bleday. Not to say that the two are completely comparable, but Hoese’s rise up draft boards is based on a similar power surge to the Vanderbilt slugger:
I think Hoese and Bleday almost the exact same profile, just one played in the SEC and that makes his breakout more believable than the other. Meanwhile, Hoese played in the American Conference so it will take more to be convinced. That might not be fair but most of the time; I fall in that camp generally, but not with Hoese.
If Zack Thompson didn’t have elbow concerns, he’d be a few spots higher. It’s hard to ignore a pitcher who might have to miss significant time within a year of drafting him—especially when the warning signs were there when you picked him. The difference between Thompson and Nick Lodolo is simple: They have similar repertoires (fastball/slider/changeup) but Thompson has a curveball and Lodolo doesn’t. Sitting around 93-94 mph, Thompson has a little more velocity to his fastball and he’s also got a better change. Thompson also pitched in the SEC, which history tells us that success there (2.40 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 13 K/9) is a good prerequisite for MLB success.
Lodolo embodies the 2019 pitching draft class. He’s viewed by many as the top pitcher in the draft without possessing an elite pitch. With an ability to better command his arsenal than most college pitchers (19 walks in 91 IP), Lodolo isn’t the kind of lefty who will blow you away. With a 91-94 mph fastball, there is potential to add velocity in the near future due to his frame… or lack of it. At 6’5″ and 175 pounds, he looks like Chris Sale walking to the mound… and Andrew Miller once he starts throwing on it… before he became a reliever. A change from an inconsistent curveball to a hard slider can be one of the reasons for a dramatic improvement in 2019, so there is room to wonder what else he can do to get better. It also is possible he becomes the next starter converted to an elite reliever.
If you read the Espino entry, you know how I feel about big upside prospects. That’s Misner. If you can’t get Greene, Bleday, or Bishop, Misner might be your next best bet. A potential top-10 pick at the beginning of the season, Misner lost all of the gains he showed in 2018 with a 2019 that was closer to his freshman year:
Make no mistake, Misner possesses big power and big speed. The peak of his potential is a 30/30 world beater, but his floor is never making it to the majors. You’re playing with fire here, and it’s easy to be mesmerized by the flames.
Do you like what you read about Espino? How about a two-year-older version who is a little better at everything? I know what you’re thinking: If that is true, why isn’t Jackson Rutledge ranked higher than Espino? It’s simple: He might have slightly better velocity and command right now, but will it be better than Espino’s in two years? That’s the question. If you think it will be, then Rutledge should be higher. I’m not as convinced. Prep pitchers can improve very quickly with new pitches and mechanic tweaks taught by professionals. Back to Rutledge, who sits 95+ mph with a heater that reaches 100, he’s got a plus slider, a not-so-plus curveball, and a lackluster change. He’s also had a complicated history with lower-body injuries, maturity issues but also an intense work ethic.
When it comes to prep pitching prospects, Quinn Priester is like a breath of fresh air. Fastball/sliders are all the rage for potential starting candidates. Priester, on the other hand, does it with low-90s heat and probably the second-best high school curveball in the draft. At 6’3″ and nearly 200 pounds, he’s got the size and athleticism to repeat his delivery and develop command quicker than most teenagers. He’s also got room to add weight and probably velocity, which could dramatically change his outlook.
Bryson Stott is one of the few players in this draft who could end up with a plus-plus hit tool. If that doesn’t pan out, he’s likely to be one of those shortstops who could be above average at everything without a real strong tool. Stott might be the only prospect in this list to meet that profile, but it can still be valuable—just look at Brandon Phillips or Whit Merrifield.
So far the only sin that George Kirby has committed is playing for Elon. I’ll admit, playing in a mid-major conference does make it more difficult to believe his consistently great pitching performance (sub-3.00 ERA, 9.5+ K/9) the last two years is real. I believe Kirby will be a middle of the rotation starter—his floor is just too high. With a plus fastball (velocity sits 94 mph), a plus curveball, and a respectable changeup, Kirby could be a fast riser in the Mariners’ system. He’s also got the size to stick around as a starter.
22. Graeme Stinson, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays, Age: 21
Best-Case Comp: Carlos Rodon
Unlike most people, I’m not willing to give up on Graeme Stinson just yet. Yes, he had a difficult time in 2019, and his velocity has fluctuated, but it’s still one of the better fastballs in college—and his slider might be the best in the draft. Any improvement in control, mechanics, or expanding his repertoire would pay exponential dividends. It’s a good thing the Rays snatched him up in the fourth round. Although taller and thinner than Carlos Rodon, I’d say the repertoire is similar.
23. Maurice Hampton, CF, High School, Age: 17
Best-Case Comp: Bo Jackson
Alright, you’ve missed out on Witt, Abrams, Cavaco, Carroll and to a lesser extent, Misner. There is still one prospect with five-tool potential remaining: Maurice Hampton. There is a chance he doesn’t play baseball at all, as he’s a top prospect in football as well and committed to LSU. He’s turned down large signing bonuses and rumors are teams will have to go significantly over slot to lure him away from being a two-sport athlete in the SEC. That said, the tools are first-round worthy. The bat has serious issues, but there’s plus power, potentially plus-plus speed, and a star defensive centerfielder here. If a team can get him to commit to playing baseball, he’s one to watch. I see him has Bo Jackson lite—literally. He’s a very well built guy who looks like a football player, but even at 6’0″ and 200 pounds, he’s 20 or so pounds lighter than Mr. Jackson when he took his first steps on Auburn’s campus.
24. Shae Langeliers, C, Atlanta Braves, Age: 21
Best-Case Comp: Salvador Perez
In most other years, Shae Langeliers would have been the top catcher in the draft. Unfortunately for him, he had an all-world backstop ahead of him. I’m not going to say that offensively he’s as good as Joey Bart either, because he doesn’t have quite the power, but his defense is elite. Langeliers’ defense is near major league ready so how quickly the bat comes around will determine when he gets to the show.
25. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Rangers, Age: 21
Best-Case Comp: Aaron Boone
While many of the names on this list benefited from notable 2019 seasons, Josh Jung’s regression begged more questions about his future. What is most concerning to me is actually isn’t his bat, it’s his glove. Since he doesn’t have an elite arm, Jung might not be able to play the hot corner if his glove doesn’t get better. That means he’s going to first base or left field, where the bar for his bat will have to get higher to be worth rostering. Most compare Jung to Colin Moran, but I’m not sure that is right. Jung is less of a contact hitter. I think he’s more like Aaron Boone.
(Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire)