The first day of the MLB draft is over! And members of one of the most loaded classes in recent draft history now have new homes. The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Paul Skenes, one of the consensus best picks in the class, first overall, and his LSU teammate Dylan Crews followed to the Washington Nationals at No. 2. But from No. 3 on, we got plenty of surprising picks in the first two rounds.
ESPN baseball insiders Alden Gonzalez, Jesse Rogers and Dave Schoenfield are sharing their favorite and most head-scratching moves of the draft’s first night, as well as their picks for the players who’ll bring the most to their teams long-term. And Kiley McDaniel shares his best names available for the next 18 rounds, which will continue 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 mildly surprised, both because some of the latest rumors linked them to Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford and because of the attrition rate for pitchers in general — but I think they made the right choice. The draft is the best and perhaps the only chance for an organization like the Pirates to get an arm of this caliber, and looking back, it would have been foolish to pass up on the combination of winning the No. 1 overall pick in the lottery and having one of the best pitching prospects of this century available to them. Skenes’ stuff is nasty, as we all know by now, but he also has the athleticism and the work ethic for it to translate at the highest level. His workload has also been relatively light. Pitchers can often be a crapshoot, but this is as safe as it can get at that position.
Rogers: Yeah, they did. Some organizations don’t like taking pitchers this high considering the potential for injury, but Skenes isn’t exactly an unproven prospect in need of years of seasoning while the Pirates hold their breath that he stays healthy. More importantly, where else is Pittsburgh going to find an ace if not the draft? In the end, this might have been a no-brainer.
Schoenfield: OK, here’s the short list of best college pitching prospects ever: Stephen Strasburg, Mark Prior and Ben McDonald, and now Skenes — with Strasburg and Skenes the consensus top two. It’s worth noting that Strasburg, Prior and McDonald all had major league success — and all had injuries that ultimately shortened their careers. But if Strasburg’s career is merely a worst-case scenario; imagine what the best case might be for Skenes. Maybe he’s the next Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer. And, as an added bonus, he’s so advanced that he has a legitimate shot to win Rookie of the Year by next season, which would give the Pirates a bonus first-round pick. I think it was the right pick.
Outside of Skenes, what was your favorite pick of the night — and what was one that had you scratching your head?
Gonzalez: I’ll go with two favorites — a high-floor prospect and a high-ceiling one. The former is Jacob Gonzalez, who was ranked sixth in Kiley McDaniel’s latest rankings and fell to the Chicago White Sox at 15. He’s a 6-foot-2, left-handed-hitting shortstop who will be good enough defensively to stay at the position and makes a lot of contact. The pick I’m really intrigued by, though, came right after, when the Giants took 6-foot-7 aspiring two-way player Bryce Eldridge at 16. It’s a perfect fit.
My head-scratcher came a little later — the Los Angeles Dodgers selecting undersized high school outfielder Kendall George at No. 36, snagging him two to three rounds earlier than most projections expected him to go.
Rogers: The Oakland Athletics taking Jacob Wilson was a good one. He comes ready-made, with his dad, Jack (a former major leaguer), coaching him up throughout his young career so far — any rebuild the A’s undertake starts with Wilson at shortstop. He was also the toughest player in college baseball to strike out this season.
The Detroit Tigers passing up Langford for high schooler Max Clark was curious. Of course, it’ll be years before we know if it was the right or wrong pick, but it’s surprising Langford dropped out of the top three — especially since college bats are usually the most reliable picks.
Schoenfield: I actually love that the Tigers instead went with Clark. By all accounts, Clark is a 1-1 type of talent in another draft — one that wasn’t as top-loaded as this one — and I think the upside over Langford is clear: Clark has a more well-rounded game thanks to his blazing speed and defense in center field. That’s going to create a lot of added value that Langford, who is likely limited to an outfield corner, probably won’t possess. Langford has more raw power, but give me the complete player.
As for my least favorite, hard to believe, but it’s the Kansas City Royals. Taking a prep catcher in the top 10? No, thank you. Blake Mitchell is the first one taken that high since Kyle Skipworth in 2008. Never heard of Skipworth? That’s because he never reached the majors. There’s a reason teams rarely select high school catchers that high anymore: History says most of them don’t pan out. No matter the scouting grades, it’s an extremely risky selection.
Which player drafted tonight has the best chance to win an MVP or Cy Young award someday?
Gonzalez: I’ll go with Crews, the guy who slashed .380/.498/.689 in three seasons in the nation’s best baseball conference. He’s the best, most complete hitter in this draft and he brings plus defense, the type that could have him debut in the major leagues as a center fielder. He won’t run a ton — though his speed has improved since high school — but he could win multiple Silver Sluggers when his career is set and done … and perhaps an MVP or two.
Rogers: I’ll take the easy route and say Skenes. I don’t care in what level you’re pitching, when you record 209 strikeouts in 122.2 innings, you have my vote for most likely to win a Cy Young. Cy Young candidates lead their teams and dominate to the point they can’t be denied — Skenes has that written all over him. Talent evaluators don’t deny the elite talent — so now it’s about staying healthy and having that big year in the majors to garner him an award someday.
Schoenfield: Skenes is the easy call there — although of the 18 previous pitchers to go No. 1 overall, only David Price has won a Cy Young Award (Gerrit Cole has finished second twice and Strasburg had a third-place result). My sleeper: Hurston Waldrep, the Braves’ selection. Big-time stuff and the Braves have certainly had some success in developing pitchers. For MVP, Crews makes sense, but I’ll toss out Clark here as well — I’m getting Corbin Carroll vibes with his hit/power/speed skill set, and Carroll already looks like a potential MVP candidate as a rookie.
What’s your biggest overall takeaway from Day 1 of this draft?
Gonzalez: How clearly defined the first tier was, consistent with basically every projection coming in. Skenes, Crews, Langford, Clark and Walker Jenkins were so obviously the five best players available — in whatever order you wanted to rank them — but we knew everything beyond them was pretty unpredictable. It played out precisely that way, with Kyle Teel in particular going a little lower than I would have expected (14th to the Boston Red Sox) given the relative lack of talent at catcher in this draft. Gonzalez went lower, too, as I noted, but shortstop was a major strength this year; 14 of the 39 picks that encompassed Round 1 and Competitive Balance Round A were shortstops.
Rogers: When in doubt, take an OF or a SS. Teams love athleticism and flexibility. Shortstops, in particular, automatically qualify in those departments. For example, the Chicago Cubs passed on a positional need at third base in order to take shortstop Matt Shaw from Maryland. If he stays in their organization, it won’t be at shortstop, where Dansby Swanson just signed a seven-year deal. But bottom line, middle-infield guys and outfielders can play anywhere. Shaw said as much after being drafted.
Schoenfield: Only one high school pitcher went in the first round (the first 28 picks). This more or less follows recent trends as high school pitchers — like high school catchers — are viewed as risky selections. It also speaks not just to the reliance on draft models but the importance of all the pitch-tracking and hitting data now available at the college level. Scouting departments can better analyze college players than ever before — and thus have a better level of confidence when drafting them. But it might also mean teams are underrating high school players, so there could be some hidden gems selected in the comp or second/third rounds when we look back at this draft in four or five years.
Kiley McDaniel’s best available players for Day 2
(Listed by top 300 draft prospects ranking)
32. Roch Cholowsky, SS, Hamilton (Ariz.) HS, UCLA commit
36. Jack Hurley, CF, Virginia Tech
39. Trent Caraway, 3B, JSerra Catholic (Calif.) HS, Oregon State commit
40. Drew Burress, CF, Houston County (Ga.) HS, Georgia Tech commit
46. Steven Echavarria, RHP, Millburn (N.J.) HS, Florida commit
55. Paul Wilson, LHP, Lake Ridge (Ore.) HS, Oregon State commit
59. Jace Bohrofen, RF, Arkansas
60. Juaron Watts-Brown, RHP, Oklahoma State
61. Cameron Johnson, LHP, IMG Academy (Fla.) HS, LSU commit
62. Michael Carico, C, Davidson