As the college season approaches the midway point, we’re beginning to get a handle on who may and may not find a home in the first round this June. There seems to be little that we know for certain, other than Hunter Greene will likely be the first player to hear his name called.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at our most recent projections for the first round.
Hunter Greene, RHP/SS, Notre Dame HS (CA)
Very little drama remains roughly two months before the draft. Greene is far and away the top prospect, and all teams inside the top-five are drooling over their chances to draft him, provided Minnesota goes against conventional wisdom. They won’t. It’s worth noting that since the last time they had the No. 1 overall pick, the Twins haven’t had much luck in the first round. Those 27 selections have accumulated 69 wins above replacement. Their last No. 1 overall pick, Joe Mauer, has racked up 50 by himself.
Jeren Kendall, OF, Vanderbilt
Over the past few years, the Reds first-round selections have skewed heavily towards position players. Considering the track record of some of the hitters they have drafted (Jay Bruce, Yasmani Grandal, Todd Frazier, Devin Mesoraco), it seems a wise path to trod down again. Kendall is arguably the safest player in this draft. His two best tools, speed and defense, are easily projectable to the next level, and if the pop he’s shown so far this year (10 HR in 129 AB) carries over, he’s a safe bet to become an everyday centerfielder hitting near the top of Cincinnati’s lineup for years to come.
San Diego Padres
Alex Faedo, RHP, Florida
Rumor has it the Padres would pay just about anything should Greene fall to them at No. 3. The chances of that happening are slim-to-none. Luckily, there are more than a few players that should be available that should add a nice infusion of talent to their system. Right-hander Alex Faedo is arguably the top pitcher in the 2017 class. He’s putting up phenomenal numbers (49/14 K/BB, .186 b/avg) while still shaking off the rust from having both knees operated on late last year. Great size, great stuff, great pick.
Tampa Bay Rays
Mark Vientos, SS/3B, American Heritage HS (FL)
The Rays have had more first round picks than just about anyone since 2000. Yet, thanks to trades, busts and poor decision-making, only three of those 29 picks are still on the big-league roster. That roster, mind you, is also one of the worst in baseball. Time to start beefing it up. Vientos likely won’t appear on the big-league roster for another four or five years, but he’s got all the tools to succeed Evan Longoria as the face of the Tampa franchise. There are doubts as to whether he can stick at shortstop, but his bat is so good he’ll be a perfect fit at the hot corner.
Brendan McKay, LHP/1B, Louisville
With the kind of season McKay is having, it would be shocking to see him slip out of the top-five. He’s hitting over .400. His ERA is currently sits under 1.20. He’s a shoe-in to win his third consecutive John Olerud Award as the nation’s best two-way player. Still, as impressive as he’s been, McKay can only do one thing at the next level. It seems likely that his future will be on the mound, where he flashes a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a strong curveball. The Braves seem to be a good landing place for McKay. After all, few teams have drafted as many southpaws in the first round over the past 20 years.
J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
Last year the A’s selected a pitcher (A.J. Puk) in the first round for the first time since tabbing Sonny Gray back in 2011. They doubled down with another pitcher (Daulton Jefferies) in the competitive balance portion of the first round. Will they revert to their position-player parsing ways in 2017? Doubtful. Oakland has always made it’s mark with pitching, and the best remaining player on the board is Bukauskas. After two average seasons, the right-hander has exploded this season. Batters are hitting .151 off of him, his 0.96 ERA is tops in the ACC, and he’s top-ten in the nation in K/9. If he falls out of the top-five, he won’t slip past Oakland at No. 6.
Royce Lewis, SS, JSerra Catholic HS (CA)
The D-Backs didn’t pick until very late in the first round last year thanks to the Zack Greinke signing, but they are making up for it with their second top-ten pick in three years. Two years ago they drafted Dansby Swanson, who many expected to be the shortstop of the future, as well as the face of the franchise. JK! Dansby is now the prohibitive favorite for N.L. Rookie of the Year honors in Atlanta, and Arizona is still running out Chris Owings. Owings is a fine player, but he lacks the explosiveness and high-ceiling that Lewis brings to the table. As good at the plate as he is in the field, Lewis might be the most complete position player from the prep class. He might not be Swanson good, but he’s a fine selection at No. 7.
Seth Romero, LHP, Houston
Aaron Nola (2014) is the first first-rounder the Phillies have seen graduate to the big-leagues since Joe Savery (2007). What’s the common link between those two? Both were drafted out of college, as opposed to the other nine first-round selections who all came from the high school ranks and have amounted to…not very much. As a result, the Phillies’ roster is a shell of what it was just a few years ago, filled with retreads like Tommy Joseph, Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. It might be tempting to dip back into the high-school well, but there are a few college players left that could make a major impact, including Romero. Long plagued by concerns about his conditioning, the lefty has gotten into fighting shape this year and the results have been impressive. A mid-90s fastball and two above-average secondary offerings should make him the top college lefty off the board.
Austin Beck, OF, North Davidson HS (NC)
To say that the majority of the Brewers recent first-round picks have struggled is an understatement. Nathan Kirby (2015) is still out rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Kodi Medeiros (2014) has a career 5.34 ERA, and Victor Roache (2012) has struck out in 31% of his at-bats while struggling to hit above .240. There have been a few bright spots, however, including Trent Clark (2014), who impressed scouts with his patients during a difficult year spent in A ball as a 19-year old. Beck is a similar player. Both are toolsy players who can mash, and while it hasn’t shown up in games for Clark, and there are doubts about Beck’s ability to make contact, both could be 30-HR guys at the big-league level.
Los Angeles Angels
Keston Hiura, 2B/OF, UC-Irvine
After drafting eight consecutive high-schoolers in the first round, the Angels have gone back-to-back-to-back with college players. While they likely won’t end up with a catcher for the third year in a row, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them go after an infielder, making Pavin Smith, Logan Warmouth and Jake Burger all solid options. It’s hard to overlook Hiura’s bat, however, despite the fact that he doesn’t appear to have a full-time position. It seems most likely that he’ll end up in the outfield.
Chicago White Sox
Jordon Adell, OF, Ballard HS (KY)
Fifteen of the White Sox last 17 first-round selections have come from the college ranks. Those two (Courtney Hawkins and Keon Barnum) have struggled mightily. Still, it’s probably time for the front office to dip their toes back into the water. Adell seems to fit the same profile as Hawkins and Barnum coming out of high school: toolsy, athletic and raw. On the plus side, Adell is much more polished, and his raw power is off the charts. If he can make consistent contact, he has the makings of a 30-35 HR slugger.
Nick Pratto, 1B/LHP, Huntington Beach HS (CA)
In any other year, Pratto would rank as the top two-way player, but in a class with Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay, he’ll have to settle for being the best of the bunch when it comes to a future at the plate. He’s easily the most seasoned hitter in this year’s high school crop, with plate discipline beyond his years, and power to boot. Pratto is as close as a high-schooler comes to being a safe bet.
Hans Crouse, RHP, Dana Hills HS (CA)
The last six years have seen the Marlins draft players from Alabama, Texas, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, North Carolina, California and Canada in the first round. It’s almost as if they’re playing a nation-wide game of bingo. The past three years have seen them go in big for elite talent, and Crouse fits that bill. Crouse seemingly has it all: great size, projection, mid-90s fastball, strong breaking ball. His mechanics have some doubting whether or not he’ll be much more than a reliever at the next level, but if he can figure things out, he could be the steal of the draft.
Kansas City Royals
MacKenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville HS (NC)
The Royals didn’t pick until No. 21 last year, and still managed to land arguably the top pitcher in the 2016 high school class. Picking seven slots earlier, they might be in position to get the second-best arm after Greene. Gore doesn’t have the best fastball, but there’s still plenty of projection left in the offering. What stands out most about Gore is his delivery, featuring an almost ridiculous leg kick. It works for him, however, creating plenty of deception that makes his secondary offerings play up.
Pavin Smith, 1B/OF, Virginia
Altuve, Correa, Springer and Bregman. The Astros may have the best young corps of hitters that doesn’t play in the Windy City. In keeping with that homegrown tradition, Smith would make an excellent addition. He’s hitting the cover off the ball and driving in runs at an unreal pace this season, solidifying the opinion that he’s one of the best pure bats in this draft. He’d probably have more versatility at first base, where he’s shown good footwork and solid picking ability, but a crowded Astros infield might force him to the outfield.
New York Yankees
Garrett Mitchell, OF, Orange Lutheran HS (CA)
It’s starting to look like one of the 2016 draft’s major coups that the Yankees were able to scoop up Blake Rutherford with the 18th overall pick, even though they had to shell out the 13th largest signing bonus. Rutherford was all-everything coming out of Chaminade College Prep. If you had to pick a comp for him in the 2017 class, it would no doubt be Mitchell. Both are five-tool talents who showed tremendous promise at the plate. If there was one thing that separated the two it would be Mitchell’s speed.
Alex Lange, RHP, Louisiana State
The Mariners have struck out on every single pitcher they’ve taken in the first round for the past 20 years, save for one (Taijuan Walker). Unfortunately, he’s now pitching in Arizona. To be fair, they haven’t attempted to remedy the situation, selecting position players with 13 of their last 18 picks. Time to mix things up. Fresh off a hyped matchup with Alex Faedo, Lange is riding a tidal wave of momentum that could carry him towards the top-ten. With a mid-90s fastball and one of the draft’s best breaking balls, he’s one of the safest and consistent starting pitchers available. He should be a mid-rotation inning eater for years to come.
Kyle Wright, RHP, Vanderbilt
Despite his trainwreck of a season (1-4, 4.81, .286 avg), somebody is going to take a chance on Wright in the first round. His mechanics have been out of whack, he’s getting behind in counts, he’s about as bad pitching from the stretch as anyone we’ve seen this year, and he can’t string together more than a few outs without giving up some timely hits. Still, Wright has tremendous potential. He’s built like a workhorse, and has one of the best fastballs in the college crop. He has three other pitches that, when he’s got command of them, grade out as at least average. Hopefully his junior campaign is an aberration, and if it is, whoever selects him could end up with the steal of the draft.
San Francisco Giants
Adam Haseley, OF, Virginia
The Giants didn’t have a first-round selection last year, but the performance of the two they did have in 2015 should give them great confidence about the future of this winning franchise. Few teams have done as well evaluating talent in the first round, and no team has had as impressive a success rate with college players. Continuing that trend, the Giants will probably take a long, hard look at Haseley. He’s done nothing but hit since landing in Charlottesville, and this season he’s been an absolute terror, hitting well over .400 with great power numbers. His plate discipline rivals any other college player in this draft class, and in centerfield he’s an above-average defender.
New York Mets
Heliot Ramos, OF, Leadership Christian Academy (PR)
While their ability to trade for and develop starting pitchers has gotten most of the attention, the Mets have quietly done an amazing job of drafting and developing high school hitters. Dominic Smith is one of the top young hitting prospects in the game, Gavin Cecchini has hit his way to Triple-A, and Brandon Nimmo looks like a star-in-the-making. If he’s still available this late in the first round, which he likely won’t be, there’s no way the Mets won’t pounce on Ramos. His speed is top-notch and his bat has shown flashes of immense raw power. He’s very similar in profile to Nimmo, who drew major concerns about his high-risk, high-reward tools, but if he puts it all together, he’ll make a major league impact just as quickly.
D.L. Hall, LHP, Valdosta HS (GA)
High-school pitchers have not been kind to the Orioles, at least not in the first round. Each of their last previous three selections from the prep ranks has been felled by major elbow/shoulder surgery, and while Dylan Bundy has finally arrived and Hunter Harvey is still one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game, it goes to show the risks associated with drafting high school arms. Still, with a prospect the caliber of Hall left on the board, it’s a relatively easy decision for the O’s front office. Diminutive in stature, Hall pitches much bigger. His fastball can reach the mid-90s and his curveball should be an above-average offering.
Toronto Blue Jays
Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State
The Jays have two first round selections and with just under $5.1 million to allocate between the two, they’ll likely end up taking a safer, more signable prospect with one of their picks. Burger would be perfect. He’s a solid pro prospect, but he doesn’t have the ceiling that makes you think he’d balk at an offer around $2.5 million. He’s been tearing the cover off the ball this season, and has arguably the best raw power of any college hitter available, but he’ll have a decent amount of doubters who question the level of competition he faces on a regular basis.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Shane Baz, RHP, Concordia Lutheran HS (TX)
The Dodgers have shown quite a proclivity towards pitchers in the first round. Of their last 23 first-rounders, 17 have made a home on the mound. Expect that trend to continue, with the majority of elite talent remaining being pitchers. Baz may have the highest ceiling of any prospect not named Hunter Greene. He owns a mid-90s fastball that has incredible sinking action on it, and a cutter that is a true swing-and-miss offering. More important, his mechanics are clean.
Boston Red Sox
Clarke Schmidt, RHP, South Carolina
Schmidt’s brother Clate was a three-time draftee, who turned pro for good last year. There’s no doubt Clarke will only require one selection, and it will likely come towards the end of the first round. Few college pitchers have improved as much since arriving on campus, and this year Schmidt has emerged as a true ace. His ERA has hovered around 1.00 most of the season and batters are hitting a paltry .193 off of him. His low-to-mid-90s fastball may be his best offering, but his curve and changeup grade out as average, giving him three big-league offerings.
M.J. Melendez, C, Westminster Christian School (FL)
There’s been at least one catcher selected in the first 26 picks in each of the last ten drafts. So who will be the lucky team that pulls the trigger on one this year? Don’t be surprised if it’s the Nationals, who haven’t splurged on a backstop in the first round since 1989. There aren’t many worth of a first-round selection this year, but the one with the highest ceiling is easily Melendez. He has all the tools to be a plus defender behind the plate, and he’s shown great raw power, despite doubts about his ability to make contact.
Logan Warmoth, SS, North Carolina
The Rangers have two of the last five picks in the first round, setting them up to nab some players that might fall early on day one. Warmouth might end up going inside the top-15 picks, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him fall this far. Such is the fate of unsexy, consistent performers without any one standout tool. Instead, Warmouth does everything “pretty well.” He should be able to stick at shortstop long-term, and his bat has as impressive as ever. He’s got the wheels to steal 15-20 bases a year. He reminds us a lot of fellow Tar Heel Levi Michael, who was also drafted towards the back of the first round.
Drew Waters, OF, Etowah HS (GA)
Ah, the Cubbies. Few teams have benefited as much from the draft, but gone are the days of picking inside the top-ten, something they did five times between 2011 and 2015. They always seem to prioritize hitting, so expect them to go hard after Waters. A switch-hitter, he shows the ability to hit for both power and average. He has shown other top-of-the-order skills, such as quality outfield defense and great speed. His bat will be his meal-ticket though.
Toronto Blue Jays
Brady McConnell, SS, Merritt Island HS (FL)
Going with Burger with their first pick gives the Jays some flexibility with their second. McConnell is a top-ten talent for us, but he has shown poorly so far this spring. He recouped some momentum at the National High School Invitational, but he has all the signs of a player that will likely slip on draft day. Still, we think he’s a potential All-Star. He’ll likely command a signing bonus somewhere around $3 million, especially if he does slip. Toronto should have enough resources to get a deal done.
Jacob Heatherly, LHP, Cullman HS (AL)
Heatherly often earns the moniker “crafty,” and in many regards he is the typical savvy southpaw. His fastball rarely tops out above 93-mph, but it plays up thanks to incredible command. His secondary offerings are all spotty at this point, but his curveball has tremendous promise. He’s got great size and should be a durable mid-rotation starter if everything comes together.
Hagen Danner, RHP/C, Huntington Beach HS (CA)
Teammates selected in the first round is a more common scenario than one would think, and if it happens this year it will likely be Pratto and Danner, stars of a loaded Huntington Beach squad. Danner has potential both at the plate, behind it and on the mound. On the mound, where he’ll likely find a home, he’s shown mid-90s heat and two potential offerings that could grade out as slightly above-average. At the plate, he’s shown good pop, but if he were to stick as a hitter, his real value would like as an above-average defender at catcher.