The 2013 MLB Rule IV Draft is set to begin Thursday night, but the ongoing uncertainty about who will be the No. 1 pick has led to widespread speculation as to how the first round will unfold.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with MLB.com’s prospect guru Jonathan Mayo, who was kind enough to shed some light on where some of this year’s top prospects stand with less than one week until the draft.
We ultimately decided to take a stab at answering the same questions with the hope of providing readers with firsthand insight into the draft—or at least offer everyone a temporary fix in anticipation of Thursday, June 6.
1. How does the 2013 class compare to recent years? Is it top-heavy or is there more value later in the first round?
Jonathan Mayo (MLB.com): I think it doesn’t compare favorably to some of the previous drafts. Every year you’ll talk to scouts—because it’s their job to nitpick—who have critical things to say, but I think people generally have not been thrilled with this class, especially at the top where there’s not a ton of separation.
There have been a couple guys who’ve separated themselves from the rest, and as a result, I do think there’s probably more value to be found later in the first round and beyond.
Mike Rosenbaum (Bleacher Report): It seems that the 2011 draft was so unbelievably good that every subsequent class has seemed inferior by comparison. However, the truth is that this year’s collection of talent is especially weak, with roughly a handful of guys who have the potential to be impact players.
Outside of the likely top picks, where a player is selected will come down to the their perceived ceiling and signability. So, in theory, the value in this year’s class lies in the eye of the beholder.
2. What positions are deepest? Shallowest?
Mayo: There’s a good amount of college pitching with a couple guys at the top and more filtering in the middle of the first round, and then a lot of guys who should go in the compensatory and second rounds.
Oddly, there’s a good amount of high school catching, which is a bizarre place for there to be strength due to the level of risk. But Reese McGuire, Nick Ciuffo and Jonathan Denney probably will all go in the first round this year.
In terms of weaknesses, there’s not a lot up the middle. There are very few shortstops, especially college shortstops.
The only player who’ll probably be selected with the top 15 picks is J.P. Crawford. After him, the next guy on the list is Tim Anderson, who’s had a good year and benefits from the lack of shortstops in this year’s class. I think he’s the kind of guy you send out as a shortstop and let him play his way off.
Beyond that, there are a lot of players who may play shortstop now, but will probably have to move to third base as a pro. A perfect example is Hunter Dozier. He’s really moved up the board because he can hit, but I’ve yet to talk to anyone who thinks he can stay at shortstop.
Rosenbaum: Considering that the last two drafts yielded a host of potential All-Star shortstops such as Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Addison Russell, the lack of depth in this year’s class is astounding. Beyond J.P. Crawford, there are maybe one or two guys who project favorably at the position long-term.
The lack of college shortstops is also surprising and is highlighted by the fact that the highest-ranked player from a four-year program is Hunter Dozier, who isn’t even expected to stick at the position.
The number of high-ceiling college outfielders makes this class unique. Just to be clear, I’m talking about players who are loaded with potential but have yet to tap into it or are just beginning to find it.
This year’s list is led by Hunter Renfroe, who has showcased three plus tools and improved his baseball skills to the point where he could be selected within the top 15 picks. After that, there are players such as Austin Wilson, the monstrous Aaron Judge and even Phil Ervin to a lesser extent.
3. Who will have the better MLB career, Jonathan Gray or Mark Appel?
Rosenbaum: I really don’t know at this point. Gray’s a beast and is more polished than people realize, but I’m going with Appel. The combination of his stuff, consistency and years of success against good competition should help him reach the majors quickly. I also like that he eliminated some of the noted flaws in his game from last season, especially the unnecessary overuse of his changeup.
He’ll have to adjust his approach as a professional after years of dominating college hitters, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be pitching at the front of the Astros or Cubs starting rotation by 2015.
Mayo: I would give the slight edge to Appel. I think that his track record and resume, and pitchability with the potential for four pitches that he can throw for strikes, gives him a very slim edge over who will be the better big league starter.
4. What potential top-10 pick is the biggest risk?
Rosenbaum: Personally, Austin Meadows has never done it for me. While I love the all-around package, quiet tools and consistency, I’d consider him a borderline top-15 talent in a stronger class. He’ll be selected within the first 12 picks this year, probably in the top 10, and get a flattering signing bonus as a result. However, it’ll take him some time to develop in the minors.
Mayo: I’m going to have to say Kohl Stewart, especially considering that high school pitching is the biggest risk as is. He’s somewhat raw with the two-sport thing, but it’s believed he’ll develop quickly by only concentrating on baseball.
5. What Day 2 sleeper has the best chance of becoming an MLB All-Star? What do you see to suggest that?
Mayo: I may be completely biased because I’ve seen him play a few times, but I’m going with Ryan McMahon. First of all, he’s a tremendous third baseman; I like his actions and he’ll only keep getting better if he’s not playing football. He’s a left-handed hitter who has a sense for average and power, and one of those high school guys I think could sign as a second- or third-rounder.
Rosenbaum: Yeah—Mayo’s dead-on with that one. McMahon has really grown into his 6’3” frame over the last year, and there’s a lot to love in his left-handed bat.
But for the sake of throwing another name out there, I’ll go with Andy McGuire. He’s gradually dropped in the rankings due to the understandable concern about a previous hip injury for which he had surgery in the fall, as well as the likelihood of him moving from shortstop to either second or third base at the next level. The latter doesn’t really bother me; he has a smooth right-handed swing and, in my opinion, is one of the better prep bats in the class.
It’s difficult to envision him being selected on Day 1, but he could be an over-slot sign early on Day 2 for a team with several early-round picks.
6. Which second- or third-generation star has the best shot at making his own name in MLB?
Rosenbaum: Hunter Harvey is definitely the safest bet among players with baseball bloodlines in this year’s class. The only other player worthy of consideration is Cavan Biggio, who has a projectable left-handed bat with barrel control.
However, the knock on him is that he lacks a true defensive position; some like him more as a third baseman, while others believe his future is at second. My guess is that it’ll come down to whether he develops enough power for a corner position at the next level.
Mayo: Hunter Harvey. He has a ton of upside, and because of Dad’s experience, he’s been handled very well. He’s also very eager to sign—actually, about as signable as a player can be. Plus, he’s got all the tools you want in a high school right-hander, including more knowledge than the average young upside guy.
7. Who are the biggest "signability" concerns in the draft, and do you think dual-sport star Kohl Stewart will choose college or MLB?
Mayo: Sean Manaea is not going to sign at a discount just because he battled a sore hip this spring. He’s also a Scott Boras client like Mark Appel and Kris Bryant and will be presented as a franchise left-hander who dealt with a temporary hip issue this spring.
In terms of high school players, Phil Bickford is a guy I’ve heard has thrown out a fairly high price tag and will go to Cal State Fullerton if he doesn’t get the amount.
I think Kohl Stewart is going to sign. My sense of it is that it’s more of a negotiating leverage thing than anything else. He got banged up in football and has been so good this spring in baseball, and I don’t think he’s going to want to sit on the bench behind a Heisman Trophy winner for the next couple years.
Rosenbaum: Headed into the spring, Manaea had the potential to be the first overall pick in the draft. But after battling a lingering hip injury, he now represents the biggest wild card in this year’s class. As Jonathan already mentioned, he’s certainly not going to settle for a lesser signing bonus if he falls in or out of the first round, especially as a Boras client.
Among the high school ranks, there are several young, promising arms who may be a tough sign. In addition to Bickford, right-hander Kyle Serrano comes to mind, as he has a strong commitment to play for his father (head coach) at the University of Tennessee next season. Both players will need to go early in the first round and won’t be willing to cut a deal with a team with multiple picks.
I predict that Stewart will definitely sign. Had he not been so active on the showcase circuit last summer, I might think otherwise, but he seems destined for a career on the mound. At this point, the dual-sport scholarship to Texas A&M is more of a bargaining tool, one that should earn him the tasty signing bonus he deserves.
8. Which prospect is most likely to achieve a 30-30 season in MLB?
Rosenbaum: A case can be made for Austin Meadows, though I’m not sure he’ll ever hit for enough power to post a 30-home run season. A few of the high-ceiling college guys are solid candidates, but that’s assuming everything goes as planned in their respective developments. Renfroe probably has the best chance, as he already boasts the necessary plus speed and power.
Beyond that, I think that both Phil Ervin and Michael Lorenzen are sleeper candidates, and maybe even Austin Wilson if he ditches that handsy Stanford swing.
Mayo: If you want to dream on it then it could be Meadows—perhaps. But to be honest with you, there isn’t a guy who jumps out to me as that type of player. If I had to pick, it’d be Renfroe, who’s had a tremendous season in a good conference and only improved his stock over the course of the spring.
9. Which 2013 draft prospects will debut in MLB first?
Mayo: Appel. If he had signed last year with whoever, and went out and pitched as he’s capable of, we’d be talking about him along with Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha. He might be in the big leagues right now. So there’s not a whole lot left for him to do before he’s ready to play in the majors.
Rosenbaum: Among the pitchers, Appel should and probably will be the first to debut in the major leagues.
As for hitters, I think D.J. Peterson will be the first to arrive. Not only is his track record outstanding—he’s hit everywhere and improved with every season—but his bat-to-ball ability and professional approach are both advanced enough to possibly warrant an assignment to Double-A after signing.
That being said, if he’s drafted by an organization such as the Marlins or Pirates who need long-term corner infielders, it’s conceivable that he could move very, very quickly.
10. Forget the projections, what do you look for most in a hitting prospect to know if he’s the real deal? Pitching prospect?
Rosenbaum: With a young hitter, it’s all about the hit tool projection, which is an evaluation process with multiple layers. First of all, does the player have the bat speed, sound mechanics and physical strength to hit at the next level? The focus then turns to his barrel control, which gives a sense of whether he’ll be able to use the entire field and adjust to advanced secondary pitches.
And last but certainly not least, there’s plate discipline, which can be a challenge in itself to evaluate at the amateur level due to varying levels of competition. A consistent approach is what separates a potential top pick from the field, as evidenced by Colin Moran in this year’s class.
As for pitchers, pure arm strength will always turn heads, especially from a player with a projectable frame and relatively consistent delivery. Having a feel for a genuine breaking ball also goes a long way, but it isn’t as vital for a high school prospect as it is a college player. It’s important to consider their prior workload, which, once again, is a more significant concern among college pitchers.
For example, one of the main reasons that Braden Shipley is so highly regarded and will go in the top 10 picks is the lack of mileage on his arm as a shortstop-turned-pitcher.
Mayo: For hitters, bat speed is key probably more than anything else. You’d like to see some ability to recognize pitches and things like that, which is hard to evaluate in high school guys because they don’t always face quality pitching. I think that can be taught to an extent, but when there’s a player with bat speed and a sound approach, that’s special. I think that’s why people like Clint Frazier so much, because he has both the bat speed and aggressive approach.
In terms of pitching, arm strength is still the king, especially with a clean delivery because that gives a team something to work with. Some aptitude as to spinning a breaking ball is big too, and then you’re talking about a guy who’s going to do very well on draft day.
If a guy has decent but not great command but repeats his delivery fairly well without a lot of effort, then I think a lot of teams will believe the command will improve. The opposite would be a pitcher who has command issues and his delivery is a complete mess, but he can throw the ball through a brick wall—there will be interest but also concern about his ability to throw strikes consistently at the next level.