Ranking the 10 Biggest Steals of the 2016 MLB Draft
Soon-to-be Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza wasn't drafted until the 62nd round of the 1988 MLB draft, when the Los Angeles Dodgers made him the 1,390th overall selection. Not only was he the biggest steal of that draft, but he stands as one of the biggest draft steals of all time.
We mention Piazza to tell you this: The biggest steal of the 2016 MLB draft may not be listed on the pages that follow, just as nobody pegged Piazza as a steal nearly 30 years ago. As noted Friday when we hit on the biggest winners and losers on Day 2, we simply lack the clairvoyance needed to see into the future.
All we can do is take what we know about the players drafted this year, what the scouting reports and prospect profiles tell us—mix it up with some gut instinct—and make our selections.
While a number of things, including a player's signability, were taken into consideration, our rankings primarily revolve around two criteria:
- Where the player was selected versus where he was expected to go, based on both mock drafts and Baseball America's Top 500 list. When you see a player's rank mentioned like this (No. 1), that's where it came from.
- How great a player's upside is thought to be. A position player with a chance to play everyday in the majors is more valuable than a solid-but-unspectacular No. 3 starter, for example.
That's it. There's no convoluted statistical formula involved that requires you to reach out to your eighth- grade calculus teacher on Facebook for assistance, and no inside information that's so well-guarded that not even WikiLeaks knows of its existence.
As we're limiting this to our top 10 steals, there were a few players who fell short of making the cut. So to Rice University's Jon Duplantier (selected by Arizona with the 89th overall pick) and, once again, to Mercer College slugger Kyle Lewis (Seattle, 11th overall, who didn't make our list of Day 1 steals), our apologies.
*Note: Players who would have been drafted before Day 3, were it not for their strong college commitments, were not considered steals, as there's no chance they'll sign. An example would be Florida State commit Drew Mendoza (No. 42), who was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 36th round.
10. LHP A.J. Puk, No. 6 to the Oakland Athletics
Oakland's draft room was so pumped to see A.J. Puk fall to them at No. 6, members of team's front office felt like dancing.
“I probably did a little jig, to be honest,” A's director of scouting Eric Kubota told SFGate.com's John Shea. “We started hearing this morning he was sliding for whatever reasons. We never thought we’d be able to talk about him with the sixth pick. We were pretty excited when he was there.”
Widely expected to be the first overall pick in mock drafts leading up to the Day 1 festivities, Puk (No. 1) has, as Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter wrote, "a three-pitch repertoire that can be overpowering at times" and, at 6'7", 230 pounds, the size to become a durable, innings-eating workhorse.
Should command issues or something else keep him from reaching his ceiling as a front-of-the-rotation arm, he could become, as Reuter notes, a dominant, Andrew Miller-like late-inning reliever.
9. LHP Jason Groome, No. 12 to the Boston Red Sox
According to the New York Post’s Zach Braziller, there were questions about 17-year-old Jason Groome's maturity and signability, and they appear to have been the primary reasons he was still available for Boston with the 12th overall pick. But all the Red Sox seem concerned with is developing a player who could become an impact starter.
"We're very excited," Red Sox general manager Mike Hazen told MLB.com's Ian Browne. "Our guys did such good work on this. We had him rated very high up our board. You know what it takes to compete in the American League East and the stuff that it takes. We feel, obviously, he's got a development path he's going to have to go through, but we saw the upside here of a guy that could pitch in this rotation someday."
Hazen should be excited, as the 6'5", 200-pound southpaw has three plus offerings, including a big-time fastball and knee-buckling curve that have an anonymous GM drawing comparisons to Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, per MLB Network's Jon Heyman.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan reported shortly after Groome (No. 3) was selected that he wants to be paid like a top-five pick, which carries an average slot value of roughly $6.5 million, per MLB.com. Not only is that nearly double the $3.2 million value of the 12th pick, but giving him what he wants would eat up nearly all of Boston's allotted $7 million pool for the draft's first 10 rounds.
But Groome insists he's not concerned with money—he just wants to pitch.
"That's something me and my advisor are going to discuss for the time being," Groome told reporters on a conference call, per Browne. "Money doesn't really matter to me. I'm just happy to start the next chapter of my life, and that's playing professional baseball."
8. RHP Dakota Hudson, No. 34 to the St. Louis Cardinals
While there are big concerns about Dakota Hudson's delivery, the Mississippi State right-hander was still a consensus top-20 prospect heading into the draft. As ESPN.com's Keith Law writes, there's good reason for that:
Hudson is a rare kind of pitching prospect. He has a poor changeup and very little changeup projection (because of his arm action and underwhelming athleticism), but still has a chance to start because he's found other ways to get lefties out. Primarily, Hudson uses his above average 87-91 mph cutter in on the hands of lefties to generate swings and misses and induce weak contact.
In other words, he's a project, one who carries more risk than some of the other pitchers taken on Day 1 of the draft. But even if he falters as a starter, Hudson (No. 14) has the stuff to develop into an excellent reliever.
A future as a reliever might knock Hudson out of our top 10, but St. Louis figures to try him out as a starter first. Either way, he has a good chance to be a useful piece of a big league pitching staff.
7. OF Blake Rutherford, No. 18 to the New York Yankees
It's been 26 years since the New York Yankees took a high school outfielder this early, selecting two-time All-Star Carl Everett 10th overall in the 1990 draft. The way Damon Oppenheimer, the team's vice president of amateur scouting puts it, they believe Blake Rutherford (No. 9) can be even better.
Oppenheimer told the New York Daily News' Zachary Ripple:
Blake’s a guy that we’ve scouted for a long time, and we couldn’t be happier with him falling to us. He’s hit at a high level, he can run, he’s a really good defender in center field, and he’s got power. He’s got a chance to have all the tools to profile. The fact that he’s performed on a big stage with Team USA, where he’s been a quality performer, makes it really exciting for us.
While he's older than your typical high school senior—he celebrated his 19th birthday in May—Rutherford is going to need a few years to develop. That said, his left-handed power and Yankee Stadium's short right field porch seem like a perfect match and could make him a bigger steal than we think he is.
6. LHP Joey Wentz, No. 40 to the Atlanta Braves
As Joey Wentz's velocity dropped during his senior year of high school, so did his draft stock. That was just fine with the Atlanta Braves—a team in search of a big-time prospect in the first of Day 1's two lottery rounds.
"This guy is what they [big-time prospects] look like," Braves scouting director Brian Bridges told MLB.com's Mark Bowman. "If you draw up a picture of what they look like, he's that guy."
At 6'5", 209 pounds, the 18-year-old Wentz (No. 26) 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 pitches that are still developing, 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 has all the tools to develop into a front-line starter, making this a fantastic pick for the Braves.
5. LHP Jesus Luzardo, No. 94 to the Washington Nationals
As Eric Longenhagen notes for ESPN.com, pitchers like Jesus Luzardo aren't usually available after Day 1:
The Nationals have shown a willingness to draft high-profile, injured pitchers in the past, and they get another one in Jesus Luzardo. The Florida prep player might have three above-average pitches and average control and command when all is said and done, and that kind of arm typically goes in the late first round.
The 18-year-old lefty had Tommy John surgery in March under the watchful eye of Dr. James Andrews, who, per Hudson Belinsky of Baseball America, predicted only "a short interruption in his baseball career." He joins a list of pitchers who have undergone the procedure Washington has drafted, including top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito.
While nobody's calling Luzardo (No. 50) the next Giolito, the 6'1", 205-pound southpaw is already physically mature and has a feel for pitching that can't be taught. So long as his elbow doesn't betray him again, Luzardo has front-of-the-rotation upside.
4. OF Conner Capel, No. 152 to the Cleveland Indians
The only legacy draft pick to rate as one of the 10 biggest steals of the 2016 draft, high school outfielder Conner Capel (No. 62), the son of former big league reliever Mike Capel, has a great chance to outshine his father's accomplishments on the diamond.
Baseball America compares Capel to current Cleveland center fielder Tyler Naquin, with the speed and approach at the plate to become a table-setter atop a lineup. He doesn't offer much power, but not everyone needs to be a slugger to have a successful big league career.
Capel could stick in center field, but he has a strong throwing arm and could handle a corner-outfield spot, though his lack of power makes him a less than ideal fit, especially in right field.
T2. 3B/SS Nolan Jones, No. 55 to the Cleveland Indians
From the looks and sounds* of things at Nolan Jones' draft party, questions about his signability (he's a University of Virginia commit) might be a bit overblown. And it wouldn't be surprising if that scene was similar to the one in Cleveland's draft room when he was still on the board in the second round.
"He's extremely talented," Holy Ghost Prep coach Jon Cross told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Rick O'Brien. "He's got a great work ethic, a powerful arm, great hands, unlimited power potential, and a very good eye for the strike zone."
One of the purest high school hitters in the country, Jones' bat will play at any position. That's a good thing, because he'll have to move off shortstop as he adds bulk to his 6'3", 195-pound frame, likely to third base, where he could develop into an excellent defender.
*Video courtesy of freelance sports writer Jarrad Saffren.
T2. SS Delvin Perez, No. 23 to the St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis raised some eyebrows on Day 1 of the draft when it made high school shortstop Delvin Perez, who failed an MLB-administered predraft drug test, the 23rd overall selection.
"Our takeaway on this is that we understand he made a mistake," Cardinals GM John Mozeliak told MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch. "We understand that he realizes that this cost him a lot. But he also realizes that at 17, his future is still ahead of him. What we tried to decide basically is, 'Are we willing to forgive?'"
Clearly, the organization buys into 18th-century English poet and author Alexander Pope's most well-known quote: "To err is human, but to forgive is divine." And divine is how we might view this pick years down the road, as Perez is the rare prep shortstop scouts believe can stick at the position.
"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."
Keep this in mind: Not only was Perez a lock to be a top-10 pick before news of his failed drug test broke, but he was in the conversation as a possibility to go first overall. While the failed test raises legitimate questions, Perez's upside is tremendous. He could develop into a perennial All-Star at a premium position.
1. OF Heath Quinn, No. 95 to the San Francisco Giants
It's not a perfect match—the first letters in their last names are off by one and the current big league outfielder is an inch taller—but there's a lot of Hunter Pence in San Francisco's third-round pick, Samford University outfielder Heath Quinn (No. 48).
He finished second in the nation this season in home runs (21), RBI (77) and total bases (165), and while Samford didn't play elite competition, Quinn's tools are real. "Last summer," writes MLB.com's Chris Haft, "[he] excelled in the wooden-bat Cape Cod League, where he ranked third with 14 extra-base hits and fourth with a .486 slugging percentage."
As with most sluggers, there's some swing and miss in his game (55 strikeouts in 242 at-bats). However, he drew 44 walks and could hit for both power and average as an everyday right fielder.
That sounds a whole lot like Pence, doesn't it?
Do you think there was a 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.