As mentioned previously, the Diamondbacks see no elite talent along the lines of a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper in the 2015 crop, and as such, they’re widely expected to try to cut a deal with a player who wouldn’t normally be considered one of the top prospects in this class.
The idea is to use the money they’ll save on drafting a lesser-known quantity (possibly as much as $4 million) to select higher profile player with their second and third picks, which are #43 and #76.
The Royals performed this maneuver to perfection two years ago, selecting shortstop Hunter Dozier with the eighth overall pick, and then used the savings from that pick ($917k) to select left-hander Sean Manaea with the 34th overall pick. Manaea was scouted as a top-five pick, but a hip injury, combined with concerns about his bonus demands, caused him to slip out of the first round. Dozier, on the other hand, was ranked around the 40-50 range on most draft prospect lists.
T.J. McNulty of The Sports Quotient laid out the possibilities for Arizona if this is indeed the route they choose to go. They could either select a player way off the radar, such as outfielder Garrett Whitley, and hope to retain $4-5 million to use on picks #43 and #76, or they could auction off the first overall pick to one of the top three projected picks (Brendan Rodgers, Dansby Swanson, Dillon Tate) and see which player would be willing to sign for the least amount of money. In that scenario, the Diamondbacks would retain less money in savings ($2-3 million), but they would get a player with a much higher ceiling.
We covered a few players who might be under consideration if Arizona is looking to make this under-slot deal, so now let’s take a look at some of the higher-end prospects Arizona might be interested in with their next two selections.
As it stands, it seems very unlikely that Aiken would be around by the time Arizona picks at #43, but you never know. Aiken was the first overall pick in last year’s draft, but was tossed back into the 2015 draft class when the Astros lowered their offer at the last minute. He was widely expected to be a top-five selection this year, before undergoing Tommy John surgery a little more than a month ago. Aiken should be ready to take the mound again by mid-2016 and he’ll likely be eased back into pitching, so whichever team selects him won’t get an immediate return, but make no mistake, his ceiling is as high as any player in this draft class, injury or not. Is there even the slightest chance that Aiken will be available when Arizona makes their second pick? The Washington Nationals selected right-hander Lucas Giolito 16th overall in 2012, months BEFORE he underwent Tommy John surgery. Aiken is widely regarded as a much more talented prospect than Giolito, so your answer is probably not.
Whereas Aiken is probably a long shot, at best, his rival for the #1 overall pick earlier this year might be. Matuella appeared to have a top-five selection sewn up, before being shut down a couple of months ago. He also underwent Tommy John surgery. Like Aiken, he’s an elite talent when he’s healthy. His fastball has been clocked in the mid-to-high-90s and his breaking ball has flashed plus. His command improved drastically this year, before going off the rails when his elbow trouble set in. Unfortunately, Matuella has rarely been healthy during his three years at Duke. He’s dealt with a laundry list of maladies, including arthritis of the spine. All of the questions surrounding his health might actually be good for Arizona, since the likelihood that he’s available at pick #43, or even #76 seems to be increasing on a daily basis.
Taking a look at McKenzie (all 6-5 and 160 pounds of him), it seems like he’d be better off honoring his commitment to Vanderbilt, packing on some pounds, honing his craft and making a run at the #1 overall pick in 2018. By then, you figure, he’d probably check in closer to 200 pounds, his fastball that currently sits 87-93 mph would probably sit closer to 93-97 mph, and his breaking ball and command would have three years of experience in arguably the toughest conference in college baseball. We have McKenzie ranked as the 39th overall prospect and #22 among high-schoolers. Will he be available when the Diamondbacks pick at #43? Teams don’t tend to draft pitchers who can’t crack 90-mph with regularity in the first-round that often, so chances are probably high he’s available.
McKay is one of the most physically mature high school pitchers in this class. He checks in at 6-5 and 230 pounds and more closely resembled a linebacker than a baseball player. He’s been clocked as high as 95-mph and his curveball has flashed plus. He also throws a slider and a changeup which have both looked very sharp on occasion. McKay has a commitment to LSU, where Paul Mainieri does a pretty good job of retaining high-school talent. He too could be a candidate to go #1 overall in 2018, but if the Diamondbacks were to throw a figure at him north of $2 million with the 43rd or 76th pick, he would have to at least consider it.
Wondering why you’re not as familiarized with Wakamatsu as a prospect? The majority of that has to do with his commitment to Rice. Not many prospects commit to Rice and then choose to forgo that commitment in favor of a big-league deal or a signing bonus. You might recognize the name though. Young Lucas is the son of former big-league manager Don Wakamatsu, although he’s going to make a name for himself one day. A legit five-tool talent, Wakamatsu has above-average arm strength and defensive ability. His bat has flashed above-average and he’s got impressive raw power. He also switch-hits. He could be a top-ten talent in three years, so it will likely take an extra $1-2 million to get him to sign here in 2015.
Hansen is almost a carbon-copy of Kyle Tucker, who many are projecting as a top-ten pick this year. Both players have lanky frames with plenty of room to grow, and while Tucker has the higher ceiling and the better bloodlines, Hansen is a damn fine prospect in his own right. If he continues to grow he’ll likely be forced to move to an outfield corner, but his above-average arm strength will play there. If he doesn’t pack on too much weight, though, things could get really interesting. He already shows amazing defensive instincts and he could be an elite defender in centerfield. At the plate, Hansen shows a good balance of hitting ability and power, although the power is a few years away from becoming a usable tool. He’ll likely be a doubles-machine early on in his career, with enough speed to leg out some triples as well. Hansen’s main stigma is his commitment to Stanford.