MLB Draft 2018: Ranking the Biggest Steals of Day 1
The MLB draft is a crapshoot. Highly rated names often don't make a big league impact or reach The Show at all, while late-round picks sometimes blossom into stars.
That won't stop us from speculating.
Day 1 of the 2018 amateur draft concluded Monday, and 78 players came off the board. Of those, here are a ranked half-dozen who look like the biggest steals, based on their slot, stats, projectability and a dollop of old-fashioned gut feeling.
No. 6: LHP Shane McClanahan, Tampa Bay Rays
Pre-draft ranking (via B/R's Joel Reuter): No. 21
Actual draft position: No. 31
A left-hander with a high-90s fastball and plus changeup, Shane McClanahan fell to the Tampa Bay Rays with the No. 31 overall pick in the compensatory round.
His command is a work in progress. The 21-year-old averaged 5.7 walks per nine innings in 2018 with South Florida.
That said, he possesses some of the best pure stuff of any arm in the draft, and his ceiling is as a top-of-the-rotation arm.
A bonus for Tampa Bay fans and a tease for later on this list: McClanahan isn't even the Rays' biggest steal.
No. 5: RHP Ethan Hankins, Cleveland Indians
Pre-draft ranking: N/A
Actual draft position: No. 35
Every MLB draft features multiple lottery tickets, and Ethan Hankins fits the bill.
A 6'6" righty out of Georgia's Forsyth Central High School, Hankins profiled as a top-five and possible No. 1 overall pick before shoulder soreness nudged his stock southward.
Regardless, he boasts a crackling fastball and a slider, curveball and changeup that all profile as MLB-quality offerings.
Assuming the Indians sign him, they might have found one of the draft's most sparkling diamonds in the rough.
No. 4: 3B Nolan Gorman, St. Louis Cardinals
Pre-draft ranking: No. 8
Actual draft position: No. 19
A lefty swinger with impressive raw power, Nolan Gorman is a bundle of potential at age 18.
Projected to go in the top 10 by Reuter, he fell to the Cardinals at No. 19. Given St. Louis' track record of developing MiLB talent, that could be a decidedly good thing for Gorman.
Like many high school hitters, he needs to refine his grasp of the strike zone and cut down on his swings and misses. If he accomplishes those goals, he could be a future force for the Redbirds.
No. 3: LF/CF/RF Alek Thomas, Arizona Diamondbacks
Pre-draft ranking: No. 29
Actual draft position: No. 63
A two-way athlete with the skills to play both football and baseball for TCU—to which he committed—Alek Thomas fell to the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 63rd pick.
Assuming the D-backs are able to sign him, Thomas will become arguably the most toolsy player in Arizona's system with an enviable combination of speed, power and athleticism.
A below-average arm is the biggest knock against Thomas, but the Snakes appear to have snared an intriguing fast riser.
No. 2: LHP Matt Liberatore, Tampa Bay Rays
Pre-draft ranking: No. 5
Actual draft position: No. 16
High school pitchers with a quality four-pitch repertoire who tease high-90s velocity don't grow on trees.
Matt Liberatore is one such pitcher, and he easily could have tumbled off the board within the top five picks on Monday. MLB Network's Greg Amsinger called him "probably the top pitcher in the draft," per Daniel Russell of DRaysBay.
Instead, the 18-year-old dropped to the Rays, who snagged another pitcher with tantalizing stuff and top-of-the-rotation potential.
"Matthew Liberatore is a bulldog," rival prep coach Jeff Baumgartner said, per Richard Obert of AZCentral.com. "Filthy four pitches and the kind of swagger to use it in any count. Best high school pitcher I have ever seen, and I'm happy to see him graduate."
No. 1: RHP Brady Singer, Kansas City Royals
Pre-draft ranking: No. 3
Actual draft position: No. 18
Rated the No. 2 name in the draft by MLB.com and projected to go at No. 3 by Reuter, right-hander Brady Singer fell into the the Kansas City Royals' lap at No. 18.
The Florida hurler finished his junior year with a 2.25 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 88 frames. He augments his mid-90s heater with a plus slider and emerging changeup, and he has the makings of an ace.
"I'm not sure what happened here, but Kansas City got a nearly MLB-ready pitcher who has a lively fastball and tremendous feel for his slider," MLB.com's Jim Callis said. "I really like the way Singer attacks hitters, and his competitiveness is off the charts."
For a Royals squad on the precipice of an overdue rebuild, Singer could be a significant piece for the future.