The two biggest stories of this MLB draft class are: (1) Whoa! That’s the son of [notable big leaguer]; and (2) the upside of the four prep position players at the top. These two issues overlap as the projected top two picks below are the sons of Andruw Jones and Matt Holliday. Also in the first-round projection are the sons of Carl Crawford, eight-year big league utilityman Lou Collier and 10-year NFL tight end Eric Green.
On the other hand, the college pitching crop is the worst it’s been in awhile, with no candidates to receive the full slot in the top 15 to 20 picks. Given the insatiable hunger teams have to create big-league-ready pitching depth, plenty of college pitchers will go in the first round, so that’s where the rules of the draft come into play. Teams have a suggested slot amount at each pick, which is where negotiations start, and those slots add up to the total pool amount the team has to spend in the draft. In the same way that the more analytically inclined clubs in the NFL trade down when given the chance, many MLB clubs take the option to go under slot and bank money for later picks.
So, if your goal with your first pick is get a quick-moving college pitcher and that will probably come with savings, then the competition for top high school players who slide into Round 2 becomes more intense. Add to that dynamic that the riskiest draft demographic, high school pitchers, is exceptionally deep this year and there are at least eight pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery who are top-two-round quality. Together this means that no matter how teams prefer to spend their savings from first-round picks, there will be more options than normal and more money floating around after the first round, likely lasting into the third and fourth rounds.
On the whole, this is seen as a bit of a down draft class because the college hitting crop doesn’t have All-Star upside and there might not be a pitcher taken in the top 10 picks after top prep Dylan Lesko underwent Tommy John surgery last month. These conditions seem perfect for total mayhem in the first round, particularly after the top 10 picks, with potentially multiple picks coming in seven figures below slot and a number of huge deals in Rounds 2, 3 and beyond. Handicapping rival clubs jockeying for over-slot positioning in later rounds is now the focus for many clubs.
Since I know people will ask, or just CTRL+F for their names, I didn’t accidentally leave Tennessee reliever Ben Joyce or former Vanderbilt righty Kumar Rocker off this projection. I think Rocker could land in the 40-60 range, or maybe over slot in the third round, but his independent league performance (which should begin soon) will have some bearing on that. I think Joyce will go in the 80 picks but is unlikely to sneak into the 41 picks I include in this projection. Most scouts think he belongs in the third round on talent, so he’d probably come in below slot when/if he goes in the second round.