MLB Draft 2016: Ranking the Biggest Steals of Day 1

Rick Weiner@RickWeinerNYFeatured ColumnistJune 10, 2016

MLB Draft 2016: Ranking the Biggest Steals of Day 1

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    University of Florida LHP A.J. Puk
    University of Florida LHP A.J. PukBrynn Anderson/Associated Press

    By the time 10 p.m. ET rolled around, three of the top five steals on Day 1 of the 2016 MLB draft—players taken lower than expected—were position players. A half-hour later, only one remained.

    So while the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees deserve credit for stealing outfielders Kyle Lewis (No. 11) and Blake Rutherford (No. 18), respectively, other picks were bigger steals—defined by key factors such as talent upside vs. draft position, and signability.

    Those thefts include a trio of prospects—two pitchers and the lone position player to crack our top five—who, at one point over the past few months, were in the discussion to be the draft's top overall selection.

    It's going to take a few years before we know who the real steals of the draft are, as there's a chance that at least one high school prospect who made the cut won't sign and could head to college.

    But with what we know—or at least what we think we know—about these prospects and how they project at the game's highest level, here are the biggest Day 1 steals of the 2016 MLB draft.

T5. LHP Jason Groome, No. 12 to the Boston Red Sox

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    If the Boston Red Sox can sign Jason Groome, he could emerge as the biggest steal of the 2016 draft. But those signability concerns are real.

    The 17-year-old wants to get paid like a top-five pick, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, who notes Boston has only a $7 million pool with which to sign its draft picks. That's not nearly enough to pay Groome what he wants and lock up the rest of its draft class.

    It was Groome, the Boston Herald's Jason Mastrodonato reminds us, whom Baseball America ranked as the No. 1 prospect heading into the spring. One general manager told MLB Network's Jon Heyman that Groome "might be the best high school pitching prospect since Clayton Kershaw."

    It's easy to understand why the Red Sox felt selecting the prep star was a risk worth taking.

T5. LHP A.J. Puk, No. 6 to the Oakland Athletics

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    Florida southpaw A.J. Puk was a popular selection in mock drafts to be the top overall pick, including those belonging to Bleacher Report's Joel ReuterSports Illustrated's Christopher Crawford and CBSSports.com's Mike Axisa.

    So it was a bit of a surprise to see him still available for the Oakland Athletics at No. 6 overall.

    Puk isn't a complete package, but the A's have a lengthy track record of success developing pitching. They can work out whatever mechanical issues may exist. But no team can teach size or velocity, and the 6'7" Gator has plenty of both.

    He works in the mid-90s, with Baseball America's Hudson Belinsky clocking his plus heater at 99 mph earlier this season. His sweeping slider is another above-average offering. His changeup needs work, but that should become at least an average third pitch.

    That he was a top-10 pick keeps Puk from consideration as a bigger steal. But the A's may have found their eventual replacement for Sonny Gray, who will become too expensive for the fiscally conservative club to keep in green, gold and white.

4. RHP Dakota Hudson, No. 34 to the St. Louis Cardinals

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    While there are big concerns about Dakota Hudson's delivery, they weren't big enough to knock him from the top 20 on most draft lists. Baseball America and Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter named the Mississippi State righty the 14th-best prospect heading into the draft.

    One of the best pitchers in the Southeastern Conference, Hudson has a plus-plus fastball and slider/cutter, depending on what you want to call it. He continues to get more comfortable with his secondary offerings, which should develop into at least average pitches.

    If he winds up making it to the big leagues as a reliever instead of a starter, this pick won't look like quite as much of a steal. But Hudson has the stuff to make an impact in the big leagues regardless of the role he fills on the St. Louis Cardinals pitching staff.

3. LHP Joey Wentz, No. 40 to the Atlanta Braves

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    As Joey Wentz's velocity dropped, so did his draft stock.

    "Wentz was hitting 96 mph earlier in the spring but didn't hold it, pitching more in the 88-90 range by the end of the season, dampening some of the top-10-overall expectations he generated in his first few starts," ESPN.com's Keith Law wrote.

    But he remained a top-25 prospect. At 6'5", 209 pounds, Wentz has a projectable frame and should be able to hold his velocity deeper into games as he gets stronger. With a pair of average secondary offerings that are still works in progress, Wentz could wind up with three plus offerings.

    Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan tweeted it'll cost the Braves about twice Wentz's slot value ($1.6 million) to get him signed. However, he's got all the tools to develop into a front-line starter, making this a fantastic pick for Atlanta.

2. 3B/SS Nolan Jones, No. 55 to the Cleveland Indians

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    Questions about Nolan Jones' commitment to the University of Virginia explain why a consensus top-20 prospect slid to No. 55. But the 18-year-old's bat was impossible for Cleveland to pass on late in the Day 1 proceedings.

    One of the purest high school hitters in the country, Jones has excellent bat speed and big-time raw power in his left-handed swing. As he continues to add bulk to his 6'3", 195-pound frame, Jones will have to move off shortstop, likely to third base, where he could become a plus defender.

    Like Boston with its selection of Jason Groome, the Indians won't have acquired anything but a compensatory draft pick if Jones doesn't sign. But if he does, the Tribe will have added a potential middle-of-the-order bat to the farm system at a position that has been an area of need for years.

1. SS Delvin Perez, No. 23 to the St. Louis Cardinals

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    Delvin Perez was a consensus top-10 pick until Tuesday, when MLB Network's Jon Heyman broke the news that he had failed a drug test. You can bet the St. Louis Cardinals were giddy to see him sitting there at No. 23.

    Perez is only 17 years old. While that doesn't excuse his failed test for a still-unknown banned substance, how many of us always made good decisions at that age?

    And it's not like Perez is the only recent high-profile prospect to test positive for a banned substance leading up to the draft.

    The San Francisco Giants' Phil Bickford tested positive for marijuana before last year's draft. Both Jon Gray of the Colorado Rockies and Aaron Blair, currently with the Atlanta Braves but drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, tested positive for Adderall before the 2013 draft.

    As Perez continues to mature, both emotionally and physically, he's only going to get better.

    "Perez is the most tooled-up player in the class, with lightning-quick hands, a plus arm, plus range and 70 running speed, and he won't even turn 18 until November," wrote ESPN.com's Keith Law in his final mock draft. "For a team with patience, he's the ideal high-ceiling selection."

    With Aledmys Diaz at shortstop, the Cardinals can be patient with Perez, who will still be in his early 20s by the time he's ready to contribute in the majors.

    Do you think there was a Day 1 steal we missed? Want to boast or complain about your favorite team's pick(s)? Let loose in the comments below and hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR.