Ranking the 10 Biggest Steals of the 2015 MLB Draft

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2015

Ranking the 10 Biggest Steals of the 2015 MLB Draft

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    The 2015 MLB draft, all 40 rounds of it, is in the books. As is the case every year, we won't know which picks will shine and which will sink without the benefit of hindsight. In some cases, a lot of hindsight.

    More than any other major sport, baseball's draft is difficult to project and predict.

    But we can survey the landscape, sift through various experts' opinions and identify players who look like steals, which means they fell further than expected and wound up as found money for the clubs that snagged them.

    For ranking purposes, a big gap between predraft rankingsESPN, MLB.com and Baseball America, specificallyand where a player was actually drafted is a good starting point. But this isn't simply a look at the largest discrepancies between predraft rankings and actual draft positions.

    A player's potential ceiling relative to where he was drafted also factored into these rankings. In particular, players with impressive tools or pitchers with great stuff whose stock was hurt by injuries earn points here.

    And, of course, these rankings include a dash of old-fashioned gut feeling, because this is all guesswork in the end.

    One more caveat: Signability is also being taken into account, so players nabbed in the late, late rounds who have committed to colleges and almost certainly won't ink deals didn't make the cut.

10. Jalen Miller at No. 95 to San Francisco Giants

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    Each of the top three picks in the draft—Dansby Swanson, Alex Bregman and Brendan Rodgers—were shortstops.

    Jalen Miller isn't in their elite company, but the 18-year-old has "a chance to stick" at the position, per Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America

    In fact, MLB.com placed Miller at No. 41 in its predraft rankings, and Baseball America had him even higher at No. 35.

    By either measure, that means he tumbled more than 50 spots to land in the San Francisco Giants' lap.

9. Jon Harris at No. 29 to Toronto Blue Jays

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    The Toronto Blue Jays liked Jon Harris coming into the draft but didn't think they'd get a crack at him at No. 29.

    "We actually had [him] ranked significantly higher than where we picked," Jays amateur scouting director Brian Parker said Tuesday, per the National Post's John Lott. "He was one of those guys, as you're sitting there watching the draft, you're like, 'If this guy keeps falling, we had to take advantage of him.'"

    As for why Harris slipped so far, Parker said he had "no idea," per Lott.

    Not everyone is sky high on the 21-year-old Missouri State right-hander. ESPN's Keith Law noted that Harris "wasn't sharp in the MVC conference tournament, and there's concern that his solid numbers are the product of facing weak competition this spring."

    And yet even Law pegged Harris at No. 23, meaning Toronto got a draft-slot bargain regardless.

8. Kevin Newman at No. 19 to Pittsburgh Pirates

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    He may have slipped below the draft's top three shortstops, but Kevin Newman earned high praise from ESPN's Law, who handed the 21-year-old the No. 2 slot in his predraft rankings and called him "the second-toughest college hitter in the draft class to strike out."

    Newman didn't display much power at the University of Arizona, where he hit just two home runs over his three-year career. However, he did become the first player to win back-to-back Cape Cod League batting titles in 2013 and 2014, per Baseball America's Teddy Cahill

    "We like a lot of the things he does defensively," Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We like the athlete. We like the bat."

7. Nick Plummer at No. 23 to St. Louis Cardinals

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    Nick Plummer checked in at No. 14 in Law's rankings, and Baseball America had him even higher at No. 11.

    Accordingly, the St. Louis Cardinals had to be thrilled to find the high school outfielder still on the board at No. 23.

    Heading into Saturday's action, Plummer had hit .520 with 32 stolen bases, 23 RBI and 22 doubles in 41 games for Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, per the Cardinals' official Twitter feed.

    Prep players generally take time to develop, but he is in good hands with the Cards, who have a rich history of molding and harnessing young talent.

6. Walker Buehler at No. 24 to Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Walker Buehler was the third Vanderbilt player selected in the first round. The right-hander doesn't boast the hype profile of his college teammates, No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson and No. 8 pick Carson Fulmer, but he has "polish...control and command," according to MLB.com's Jim Callis, who said he "thought Buehler had a chance to go in the top 10."

    Buehler has battled elbow issues, but Los Angeles Dodgers scouting director Billy Gasparino felt he could afford to roll the dice with the team's top selection, per Greg Hadley of the Los Angeles Times.

    "At times maybe it can make you take on a little more risk because you know there are other ways to acquire talent," Gasparino said before the draft, per Hadley. "Maybe it's made us a little more aggressive but we're not like changing course in a big way."

5. Blake Hickman at No. 202 to Chicago White Sox

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    A local kid from Chicago's South Side, Blake Hickman fell to the White Sox at No. 202. That's due in part to a recent dip in velocity and concerns about his durability, per J.J. Stankevitz of CSN Chicago.

    But the Sox remain high on the 6'5" right-hander, as assistant scouting director Nick Hostetler told Stankevitz:

    We're excited about him. We think there is a huge projection there. ...We’ve known him forever and when we made the call when he was our pick it sounded like—you would never know he fell somewhat in the draft with his reaction. He was so excited to be here.

    Hickman was primarily a starter this past season at Iowa, but if the durability concerns persist, Chicago could convert him into a valuable bullpen arm.

4. Joe McCarthy at No. 148 to Tampa Bay Rays

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    Joe McCarthy battled a back injury in his junior year at Virginia and ultimately underwent surgery, which could explain why a player Baseball America ranked No. 46 and Law slotted at No. 42 dropped into the fifth round.

    It's possible he will elect to return for his senior year and try to raise his stock.

    If the Tampa Bay Rays are able to sign him, however, they'll be getting a disciplined hitter with power and "above-average offensive tools," per an ESPN.com scouting report.

3. Michael Matuella at No. 78 to Texas Rangers

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    Before he underwent Tommy John surgery in April, Michael Matuella looked like a surefire first-round pick and possibly even a No. 1 overall selection.

    Then the tall Duke right-hander had an exchange with a physician that's the stuff of every pitcher's nightmares, per Barry Svrluga of the Dallas Morning News:

    "Are you sure you didn't feel a pop?" the doctor asked.

    "I'm 100 percent sure," Matuella replied.

    "Well, your UCL is not attached to your ulna," Taylor said. "It's completely torn."

    That's when one of the best baseball prospects in the country lost it, sobbing for the next 10 minutes. A completely torn UCL meant Tommy John surgery. It meant the end of his Duke season. It meant . . . well, who knew what it meant for his draft status?

    What it meant was that Matuella tumbled into the third round, where the Texas Rangers scooped him up at No. 78. When he's right, he has electric stuff.

    "Anyone that has ever seen Michael pitch over the past year and a half would tell you he's not only a first-rounder, but he's a high first-rounder," Matuella's college coach, Chris Pollard, told Andrew Walsh of the Washington Times. "His ability to throw his fastball with exceptional velocity, but also to sink and command it, is as good as anybody I’ve ever seen at the college level."

2. Brady Aiken at No. 17 to Cleveland Indians

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    Brady Aiken, last year's No. 1 pick, could easily be dubbed the draft's top steal.

    But there's just too much uncertainty surrounding the left-hander, who was drafted first overall by the Houston Astros in 2014 but didn't sign by the July 18 deadline.

    Then, in March, he underwent Tommy John surgery.

    This time, he slipped to No. 17, where the Cleveland Indians gambled that he can return to form. It's not a crazy proposition; baseball is populated by pitchers who have come back strong from the procedure.

    "When I decided not to sign [in 2014], I knew injuries were always a possibility," Aiken wrote in an essay for the Players' Tribune. "Two other pitchers drafted after me in the first round last year were picked by their teams despite just having undergone Tommy John surgery. This is just a temporary setback."

1. Daz Cameron at No. 37 to Houston Astros

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    After taking LSU shortstop Alex Bregman and high school outfielder Kyle Tucker with two of the top five selections in the draft, the Houston Astros bolstered their bounty by swiping Daz Cameron with the 37th pick.

    Ranked as the No. 12 player in the draft by ESPN's Law and the No. 5 player by Baseball America, Cameron fell as far as he did, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, because of an asking price that could be in the vicinity of $5 million.

    That's feasible for the Astros, Heyman added, because of their $17.29 million draft allotment. 

    If Cameron signs at a reduced price, he'll be a true steal. But regardless of cost, if the speedy center fielder and son of former MLB outfielder Mike Cameron delivers on his pedigree, he could leave 29 other teams wishing they had bitten first. 

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