The Draft is coming. We’re now five days out, and everything begins on Sunday, July 11th, commencing a three day process that wraps up on Tuesday, July 13th.
A lot has changed. The Draft is shorter – only 20 selection rounds this year – and it’s more than a month later in the year, coinciding with the MLB All Star game on July 13th, one week from today. Combine all that with the uncertainty coming out of the pandemic, inconsistent prep seasons across the country, typical amateur talent showcases postponed or canceled, and a significant Minor League Baseball contraction and realignment – and there are more question marks about this draft class and how teams will approach than any in some time. I’ve resisted writing about it here too much this summer, because I wanted to see if any consensus might emerge post College World Series, and as scouting teams and analysts gathered more data and reconnaissance about front office tendencies.
For the most part, there’s still not much clarity. The bigger prospect hounds for the major sports publications disagree pretty markedly on whether the Angels are going after mature collegians, upside prep athletes, or will take any of the top guys on the board that slide to them when deals are made elsewhere. Perry Minasian is a new GM who has been attached to some eccentric draft classes, whereas Matt Swanson (director of scouting and Eppler holdover) has himself presided over both young athlete selections (Adell, Adams, Marsh) and high-floor college bats (Thaiss, Will Wilson). Only twice has he expended top 50 pick selections on college hurlers (Detmers, Canning), but those two have probably been the most successful picks since he began his tenure in 2016.
This year the Angels’ first selections are at #9, #45, #80 and #110.
It’s a bit of a truism, but a directionally sound one, that 80-90% of the value in a draft class comes among the top 100 picks, roughly the first three draft rounds. So we typically place a lot of scrutiny on what baseball teams (especially ones like the Angels, with a very needy, imbalanced farm system) do in the first few rounds. Breakout late-round draftees like Jared Walsh are comparatively rare – though with an abbreviated draft and more talent harvesting from undrafted free agents, this may change going forward. That said, let’s focus on what may be available to the Angels at pick #9 this Sunday.
Will #9 be a revolution, or a dud? Andrew Heaney was a #9 pick in 2012. Jo Adell and Reid Detmers were #10 picks in 2017 and 2020 respectively. Javier Baez, Ian Happ, Matt Manning, Keston Hiura – all #9 picks in the last decade. There’s a lot of impact to be had if the front office doesn’t go off on a lark, and chooses from among the highest tier of talent.
THE TOP EIGHT: A CONSENSUS?
For much of the past two months, there’s been remarkable agreement among prospect analysts and the median rankings of mock drafts as to who the best eight talents of the draft are – a remarkable number, since it falls one short of the Angels’ number, suggesting if all goes to script, the Angels will be selecting from the next tier of A- talent once these names are off the board.
Of course, things rarely go by the numbers in the first round, and one or two teams could easily cut deals in hopes of allotting more of their pool money to difficult-to-sign high schoolers in later compensation rounds or round 2. In that case, one of the following eight could become available when the Angels step up to the podium at #9.
FOUR PREP SHORTSTOPS
Jordan Lawlar (Baseball America: #1, MLB Pipeline: #3)
Marcelo Mayer (BA: #2, MLB: #1)
Khalil Watson (BA: #6, MLB: #4)
ONE COLLEGE CATCHER
Henry Davis (BA #4, MLB: #5)
TWO VANDY COLLEGE ACES & ONE PREP STANDOUT ARM
Jack Leiter (BA: #3, MLB: #2)
Kumar Rocker (BA: #5, MLB: #6)
Jackson Jobe (BA: #8, MLB: #7)
Few think that Jack Leiter or Henry Davis will fall out of the top 5-6 picks – they are the safest pitcher and position player in the draft class, and are high probability impact players who will move fast and will add significant value to a club.
For a long while, it was thought that if any player might fall, it would be Jackson Jobe, due to the underwhelming track record of high school righties selected in the first round. But increasingly we’re seeing Jobe as high as #3 in several mock drafts, as some view him as the best pitcher in the draft at any level – a four pitch RHP with velocity, spin and shape and plus grades on all his offerings.
Now there’s sustained chatter that Rocker could fall to the 8-12 range, due to the inconsistency of his performances down the stretch and in the College World Series. Among the names here, Rocker and Brady House could be the likeliest to fall, and it’s anyone’s guess if the Angels scoop them up. House has the biggest power stroke of the quartet of shortstops – 70 grade power that had him as the top prep pick in the nation several months ago. But he sold out for that power on the showcase circuit, leading to some suboptimal outings, exhibiting a long, slow swing that needed adjustments as the spring went on. He gets Nolan Gorman comps, and like Gorman, he’s probably a third-baseman at the next level.
I’m a bit lukewarm on House, and feel the Angels have strong rookie depth at the shortstop level, without demonstrating much facility for trading up to benefit the Big League rotation, or facility for developing raw materials into superstars. Plus, the budget commitment just isn’t there from ownership to change that developmental picture too quickly. So catching a falling prep shortstop is simply adding to an already deep pool, whereas if Rocker or Jobe fell, despite the many risks with each, the Angels would have a potential frontline starter in hand, and that opportunity is fairly rare with this organization (one uniquely phobic to spend on good free agent pitching).
But if none of the top eight picks slide down the board, or if, as has often been the case, the Angels ignore those who do, the next class of players is who the club will likely be selecting from. I’ll list them according to player type, with a quick gloss on my perception of them (call it “Turk’s Take”).
THREE “MEDIUM COOL” COLLEGE BATS
I call them “medium cool” because they are medium-ceiling, medium risk guys – all probably quick to the show, all likely regular producers, none likely to be regular All Stars. My general takeaway from this group is: no harm, no foul if the Angels select from this trio. They’ll be likely getting an MLB regular, and maybe a little more if the upside cases play out.
Colton Cowser (BA: #11, MLB: #10)
Well-rounded lefty bat, has some speed and power, can likely play all three OF positions. Very safe, consistent college performer – probably a 20/20 guy (HRs, steals) at the MLB level, which he’s likely to reach soonish. In many ways, he’s the upside case for some of the prep outfield bats who might go higher than him. Some Bradley Zimmer comps.
Sal Frelick (BA: #9, MLB: #11)
Quintessential Mighty Mouse leadoff threat, short-levered, contact heavy, clean lefty stroke. Is a pest like David Fletcher, but has more sneaky power than Fletcher. Very athletic, 70-grade speed, could probably play anywhere, including on the dirt. Frelick is bound to hit, but whether he hits like Altuve, Hiura or Fletch is a bit up for grabs.
Matt McLain (BA: #10, MLB: #12)
Top college infielder on the board. The Will Wilson of this draft, but with greater speed and greater chance of keeping at short. High-floor, has hit consistently, with improving plate discipline. Probably not a big power guy, but has a strong enough glove to play all over the infield and maybe centerfield as well. Angels fans like to drag this guy, but the team’s SS crop is 4+ years away, whereas this guy is probably ready for the infield by 2023. Local UCLA ties. YMMV.
TWO HIGH-RISK, HIGH-CEILING COLLEGE FIREBALLERS
Ty Madden (BA: #9, MLB: #12)
Often a favorite of Angels’ fans, and one connected a bit to the Angels FO in draft scuttlebutt, Madden is a two-pitch pitcher (FB, slider is 95%+ of his repertoire) with a record of college success and mid-90s velocity that fits snugly into this decade’s starting pitcher tropes. When his fastball is sinking, it’s a plus MLB pitch. The effectiveness of the slider is self-evident, as with the video above. I think there is injury and relief risk here – maybe a 30% chance he overcomes and becomes a mid-rotation starter, 10% a frontline guy, but it’s red/black that he’s a high-octane late reliever, and a lot of teams can use that. Ideally he resurrects his curve and change, and becomes a full portfolio starter at the next level.
Sam Bachman (BA:#14 , MLB: #14)
Arguably the biggest fastball in the draft, touching triple digits at junctures, and a ‘wicked’ slider that gave college hitters fits. His command/control has been an issue earlier in his career, but was quite strong in 2021, though again, the velocity was often enough at the collegiate level. Smaller school, but successful program. He has a usable changeup that he shows more than Madden’s, but also has similar injury flags based on some violence in the delivery and some missed starts. Hard not to see this guy eventually dealing with TJ, but the stuff is tantalizing.
Dark horse: Gavin Williams (BA: #30, MLB: #31)
Thought to be a supplemental rounder, Williams is my pick to go higher than expected this weekend. Another hulky righty, 6’6″, touches 100-101, curve and changeup read plus. Top five in strikeout rate in Division I ball. Issue is track record – he’s a converted reliever who just put all together last season. But what a season! 1.88 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 14.4 K/9. Increased spin rates, breakout profile. This is the sort of player you hope falls to you in the second round, and then some model-oriented team grabs him 20-25 and you weep for ten long years. (Maybe.)
TWO “MEDIUM COOL” COLLEGE ARMS
High-probability, medium risk, medium ceiling pitchers. I’m attracted to this group more than ever before, given the Angels’ success with previous draftees (and an org like Kansas City’s as well). Safe, college performers with strong command profiles and teachability. I see no shame, and a lot of potential ROI, in selecting either of these kids.
Jordan Wicks (BA: #13, MLB: #16)
The best college lefty in the draft – this year’s Reid Detmers with a much superior changeup. Probably the best change in the draft. He’s a legit four pitch guy with an improving slider and plus control. He bulked up in the past year, and shows the growth trajectory that could, like Detmers, boost his FB from a 91-93 utilitarian weapon to the 93-95 range we’ve seen Reid at this season. Progressively, pitchers can learn velocity, but not command – an inversion of the formula preached 10-20 years ago in the Bigs.
Michael McGreevy (BA: #16, MLB: #28)
I honestly don’t understand the drag on this guy. Maybe it’s the lesser visibility of the West Coast program (Santa Barbara), but he feels way too under the radar, and I think clubs are talking themselves out of good player here. Four MLB average or better pitches – FB, slider, curve, change – impeccable control, and velocity into the mid-90s this season. Command, not just control, and good fastball movement to both sides of the plate. Proven winner, ball stays in the park, BB9 less than one this season. Seems like a high-probability mid-rotation guy if nobody screws him up – the sort of George Kirby, Dakota Hudson, Griffin Canning pick that slides for little ostensible reason, then hits the MLB before anyone else from his draft class. (Can you tell that I like him a little?)
TWO BIG COLLEGE PERFORMERS – WITH CAVEATS
One was an expected top-ten pick who succumbed to Tommy John, one is a second or third rounders whose outstanding performance in the College World Series has him shooting up boards. Are we discounting the former due to recoverable injury? Are we overrating the latter due to recency bias? Whatever the caveat, these two guys are still likely sure first-rounders.
Will Bednar (BA: #18, MLB: #32)
This guy killed it in the CWS, driving MSU to its first every championship. Very durable frame with obviously outstanding makeup. Currently a three-pitch guy (FB, slider, curve) who could take a step forward if he develops his nascent change. He’s young for the draft, a plus, but he’s only got 101 IP across his college career. It’s a strong starter profile, with mid-rotation projection, but is the helium too much? Or is he simply a safe performer with few miles on his arm? Intriguing option.
Gunnar Hogland (BA: #19, MLB: #22)
Potential #2/3 rotation guy who could have been the second or third pitcher called at the podium if not for TJ this spring. He has a long track record and national profile, though it’s questionable if his upside is higher that, say, Bednar above him. This feels like a Dodgers or Yankees pick in the second half of the first round, because if you like him, you know he’s on a mid-2022 recovery schedule, and could still be in an MLB rotation by late 2023 or 2024, which is not very long to wait for a strong performer with mid-rotation projection.
THE BEST PREP PITCHER NOT NAMED JACKSON
Andrew Painter (BA:#15, MLB: #18)
He rivaled Jobe for the banner of best prep arm in the class, but a slow start notched him down a bit. Towering 6’6″ righty with a picture-perfect delivery, four pitches, including two (FB, change) that grade out at 60 already. Big velocity, advanced feel for pitching – already up to 96, he has more projection still and could add velocity in time. Good athlete. Everything to like in a prep pitcher, but can the Angels develop such a talent? There’s not a lot of evidence of it, and not a lot of appetite to try (at least with a top pick) among previous front office regimes.
Two others to watch here are funky lefty with the big leg kick, Anthony Solometo, and undersized righty with the triple-digit fastball, Chase Petty. The risk in both profiles makes it hard for me to see Minasian reaching for this cupboard with a top-ten pick, but we just don’t know what he likes.
TOOLSY PREPSTERS FOR THE ANGELS SWEET TOOTH
Much more predictable would be the Halos, hewing to the pattern Swanson has irregularly established, grabbing a helium-filled flesh balloon with the intent of molding into an All Star on a five-year cycle, despite having little track record of felicitous development. If you think this is an organization that can’t learn / won’t learn, and outthinks the rest of us in some magisterial decades-long high-dimensional chess match, then there’s a good bet the draft room might be fixated on one of the following:
Will Taylor (BA: #21, MLB: #20)
One of the biggest helium names on the boards, and mocked to the Angels more than once already. Multi-sport athlete…sound familiar? Speed-first leadoff threat, right-handed bat, small of stature, likely centerfielder. Most don’t think he develops much power beyond 10-15 HRs per season, but is likely to make a lot of contact. Seems like an unusual long-term investment when a player like Sal Frelick is on the board and likely to represent the upside case for Taylor, hitting the MLB 2-3 years earlier.
Benny Montgomery (BA: #23, MLB: #15)
Another plus athlete with a strong speed/defense profile, Montgomery has more power than Taylor, but often struggles to find it. He needs a swing adjustment, and the Angels are an organization that loves to tinker. Comps on this guy from Jayson Werth to Donovan Tate. High, high risk profile. I have no clue why a team with a top ten pick and a shallow system would choose this guy over a player like Colton Cowser, but I’m only on the same page as the Angels front office every 3-4 years, so YMMV!
Harry Ford (BA: #17, MLB: #13)
Where have we heard this before? High-floor athletic catcher who is probably not a catcher, but toolsy enough to take at many positions due to several solid tools and off-the-charts makeup? Needs polish behind the plate, but has the athleticism to maybe do so? On the other hand, his strongest tool is his 60-grade speed, which isn’t like a catcher at all (see: “unicorn” above), and the track record with prep catchers is iffy, so why not make him a super-ute and look for opportunities as they come? Yep, sounds like an Angels pick. He’s been mentioned more than once.
Bubba Chandler (BA: #20, MLB: #21)
Two-way player on the Kaleb Cowart model. A development project on both sides of the game, but projectable in the right system. The Angels have been frequently connected to him, early and late, with rumors still persisting. Like Cowart, many scouts like him as a starting pitcher, but the Angels were said to prefer him, again like Cowart, on the dirt, as a switch-hitting SS/3B. On either count, he’s very athletic, but also very raw, and the choose-your-own-adventure route of two-way guys not named Shohei Ohtani just feels like organizational indecisiveness cloaked as portfolio diversification (though it’s still a single player, with uncertain ceilings on both sides of his game). Chances are the front office chooses the wrong path, and a kid with high expectations burns out at upper levels. There are stronger shortstops on the board at #9, and stronger prep pitchers as well. Two for one doesn’t seem like a bargain in this case. Call me a cynic, I guess.
Woosh – that’s fifteen players outside the top eight to consider. And I guess I’m tipping my pitches a little in terms of which way I’m leaning in this draft. Although, more than other years, I’m far more wide open in terms of what I’d find acceptable in an Angels pick.
I like the upside of Rocker, Jobe and Painter, despite the copious risks. But I’d find a pick of Wicks or McGreevy satisfying as well, and would not begrudge the team predictable value in Cowser and Frelick (the team has not generated the outfield after all that the trio of Adell, Marsh and Adams seemed to tease a year ago). The high-octane pitchers make me a little nervous, but Bednar and Williams intrigue.
I’m just not there for the 5+ year grail quest of prep guys up the middle this year. But I’m ready to hear one of their names called this Sunday, because this is the Angels after all and early round college pitching seems to be a once-in-every-third-year experiment for the club. Break my heart all over again, boys.
Or bust my expectations and let’s call #9 a revolution at last!