With the draft coming up on Thursday, we wanted to take yet another look at how the first round might unfold, this time if four of our draft experts were making the picks. This isn’t our projection of how the first round will play out, but rather who editor John Manuel, executive editor Jim Callis and assistant editors Conor Glassey and Nathan Rode would take with picks 1-33. After the order of rotation was selected from the Baseball America candy bowl/random draft order generator, the four experts alternated choices, balancing their own preferences with each club’s needs and financial situation. Rode won the right to lead things off:
1. ASTROS (Nathan): There’s a certain level of pressure that comes with the first pick and despite the overall feeling that this is a down year in the draft, there are plenty of very good options at the top. I’m a big fan of the high school outfielders in Georgia—Clint Frazier and Austin Meadows—but I can’t pull the trigger on one of them over the college options here. I’m taking Oklahoma righthander Jonathan Gray. I like the size and stuff, with the fastball life being the ever-so-slight separator between him and Stanford righty Mark Appel. It would be fun to see San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant’s power in Minute Maid Park, but you can never have enough pitching. I don’t expect a Carlos Correa discount on Gray, but think I could get enough to give me some wiggle room on later picks: JONATHAN GRAY.
2. CUBS (Jim). You’re not going to draft for need at the top, but the Cubs’ biggest need dovetails nicely with the elite prospects in this year’s draft. They need pitching and there are two obvious frontline starters in this crop. I’m mildly tempted by Bryant, but the choice comes down to Gray and Appel, and the Astros have made it easy here by taking Gray off the board. I like Gray a little more because I think his stuff is more electric when he and Appel are at their best, but I’m happy with Appel at No. 2. He has more polish, a deeper repertoire and a longer track record, and he has dominated this season like scouts always hoped he would: MARK APPEL.
3. ROCKIES (Conor). If the first two picks off the board are the two power pitchers, the third pick becomes a slam dunk, in my opinion. Bryant has the best usable power in the draft and hit 31 home runs this season, the most in the college BBCOR era. He’s cut down on his strikeouts and can hit the ball out to all fields. While he has the athleticism to handle third base, I would stick him in right field and let him mash his way to the middle of the Rockies’ lineup. He has the potential to be their best power hitter since Matt Holliday: KRIS BRYANT.
4: TWINS (John). It’s my fate to have the fourth pick in a three-player draft. So be it; I’m not going off the board with this pick. Texas prep righthander Kohl Stewart is out of the region I report on, but that hasn’t stopped the buzz from spilling over to scouts and crosscheckers I’ve talked to. The consensus seems to be that Stewart has similar stuff to Appel and Gray with a bit more athleticism, and he seems to have dispelled some early reports of shaky makeup. The Twins need power arms, and Stewart gives them one: KOHL STEWART.
5. INDIANS (Nathan). Again, the high school hitters are tempting, as is North Carolina third baseman Colin Moran. However, I love the reports on Nevada righty Braden Shipley. He’s a competitor with two plus pitches and two more that could develop into average ones. Couple that with his relative freshness as a converted shortstop and athleticism and I see a premium arm: BRADEN SHIPLEY.
6. MARLINS (Jim). In real life, I think Miami will try to cut a deal here. In this scenario, my finalists for the pick would all be position players: Frazier, Moran and Meadows. Moran is the best pure hitter in the draft and the safest of these three players, though I don’t see a true plus tool beyond his very good bat. I go back and forth between the Loganville, Ga., rivals. Meadows might have the highest ceiling of these three, as a potential five-tool center fielder, though the downside is a left fielder with ordinary power. Give me Frazier and his explosive bat speed. If they both have to move to a corner, he profiles better there than Meadows: CLINT FRAZIER.
7. RED SOX (Conor). This is crushing. I was really hoping to get Frazier here with Boston’s highest first-round pick since the team took Trot Nixon in 1993. It’s not like the remaining options here are bad, I just think Frazier is special and would be a perfect fit in Boston. Instead, I’ll go with the other redhead in the draft and take Moran, as I give him a slight edge because of his defense and lefthanded bat over New Mexico third baseman D.J. Peterson: COLIN MORAN.
8. ROYALS (John). I’m also crushed because I hoped Moran would fall to me here. His patience and plate discipline could revolutionize a Royals franchise that doesn’t know how to draw walks. But with Moran gone, I’ll turn to Indiana prep lefthander Trey Ball. I’m not as high on Meadows as, say, Conor and Nathan are, and I like Ball’s athleticism, power lefthanded arm and plus fastball: TREY BALL.
9. PIRATES (Nathan). Had Ball been available, this pick would have come down to him or Meadows for me. When the Pirates took their gamble on Appel last year, they passed on outfielder David Dahl, so Meadows serves as a fine replacement. I would give him every chance to stick in center field and I’m definitely higher on him than most—I’m pretty sure I have a bruise on my backside from sitting on the fence between him and Frazier. I like Meadows’ bat, athleticism and size. I trust his power will develop enough to profile on a corner if he can’t stick up the middle: AUSTIN MEADOWS.
10. BLUE JAYS (Jim). The top nine players on the BA 500 have gone in our top nine picks, so no bargains for me here. There’s no obvious choice, either. My gut tells me to pick one of three players: Washington high schooler Reese McGuire, the best catcher in the draft; Arkansas righthander Ryne Stanek, who is clearly the best college pitcher left; and California prepster J.P. Crawford, the best shortstop in the draft. Give me the lefthanded-hitting catcher with power potential and sound defensive skills: REESE McGUIRE.
11. METS (Conor). For me, this pick came down to McGuire or Peterson, and Jim taking McGuire for the Blue Jays made it an easy choice. Peterson might fit better in an American League organization, as there are questions about his defensive value. But I think he’s the best player on the board here and he has arguably the best all-around bat in this year’s draft: D.J. PETERSON.
12. MARINERS (John). Pass the crackers; I’ve got my #personalcheeseball. I have enjoyed Mississippi State outfielder Hunter Renfroe’s work since the 2010 high school season, when he was an epic pop-up guy, and now he’s a legit pick at No. 12 overall. I don’t think he’ll go this high; in fact, Renfroe’s stock is falling after a poor May, including a rough Southeastern Conference tournament. But the Mariners do still need power bats, he’s got profile right-field tools, and I don’t see another obvious pick here: HUNTER RENFROE.
13. PADRES (Nathan). Stanek would be a fine choice here, but I’m looking at a group of Southern California high school players including Crawford, first baseman Dominic Smith and lefthander Ian Clarkin. The hometown southpaw is intriguing, but this is a tick high for him and I covet up-the-middle players, so give me Crawford. I like his ability to hit from the left side and potential to stay at shortstop, a position he has held down since his freshman year. Nobody else in Lakewood High’s long history can say that: J.P. CRAWFORD.
14. PIRATES (Jim). I deliberated between McGuire, Stanek and Crawford at No. 10, and now only Stanek remains. He could be a terrific value at No. 14 because when he’s on, he’s right behind Gray and Appel in the college pitching pecking order and looks like a top-five-overall talent. The control and command are inconsistent, but there’s a No. 2 starter in there. In real life, I think Pittsburgh looks for a college position player here. But with Peterson and Renfroe gone, I’m not sure the Pirates would push Ervin or Notre Dame third baseman Eric Jagielo up this high: RYNE STANEK.
15. DIAMONDBACKS (Conor). This is really where it starts to open up. I considered several players with this pick, including all three of the tooled-up college outfielders like Aaron Judge from Fresno State and Phillip Ervin from Samford, as well as SoCal high schoolers like Smith and Clarkin. Ultimately, though, it’s hard to ignore Oral Roberts righthander Alex Gonzalez. He profiles as a No. 3 starter, and I like his size, stuff and results. The only draft-eligible pitchers ranked in Baseball America’s Top 250 with more strikeouts are Gray and Appel: ALEX GONZALEZ.
16. PHILLIES (John). The Phillies scored with a SoCal prep first baseman in 2008, drafting Jonathan Singleton, who is now the best first baseman in the minors (albeit with the Astros). Smith is a purer hitter and better defender than Singleton, which is why he should go in the first round rather than the eighth, where Singleton went. Ryan Howard isn’t getting any younger or better; Smith fits and is the best player available anyway: DOMINIC SMITH.
17. WHITE SOX (Nathan). There are several players in the mix at this point, like Jagielo, Clarkin and Indiana State lefthander Sean Manaea, but I’m popping South Carolina high school catcher Nick Ciuffo. I’ve heard him compared to A.J. Pierzynski, and I think his hard-nosed, high-energy style of play will fit in well with the Southsiders: NICK CIUFFO.
18. DODGERS (Jim). If it’s the Dodgers, we’re all thinking high school pitchers, but I’m doing the picking here. Ervin was the breakout player in the Cape Cod League last summer, and though he has been slowed by an ankle injury this spring, I think he’s the best all-around college player available. He doesn’t have Bryant’s power or Moran’s hitting ability, but Ervin could be an above-average hitter with above-average power who can stick in center field. In real life, if the Dodgers take a college hitter I think they might go for Jagielo, but I’ll take Ervin: PHILLIP ERVIN.
19. CARDINALS (Conor). I’m going with another breakout performer from the Cape Cod League in Manaea. Armed with a fastball that got as high as 98 mph last summer, he entered the spring as a surefire top-five pick but has slipped because of minor injuries and less electric stuff this spring. It almost doesn’t seem fair to add him to what is already the game’s best farm system, but I think it’s possible even with Scott Boras as his adviser. The Cardinals have extra money to play with after adding a first-round pick from the Brewers when Kyle Lohse left as a free agent: SEAN MANAEA.
20. TIGERS (John). Conor, you picked my pocket by taking Manaea. He was a natural fit as a top talent/Boras client falling to Detroit here. Bummer. We keep hearing the Tigers are one of the teams on Jagielo, and he’d be a fine selection at 20. That said, I know you can’t pick for need, but when you have Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, plus Nick Castellanos in the minors, I don’t think it makes sense to draft a college third baseman here. So I’m taking East Central (Miss.) CC shortstop Tim Anderson, believing the Tigers will develop an up-the-middle athlete who fits talent-wise and in terms of value at the 20th pick: TIM ANDERSON.
21. RAYS (Nathan). Conor picks John’s pocket, John picks mine. As I stated before, I love up-the-middle talent and I was targeting Anderson with this pick. The remaining choices offer something for everyone—hitters and pitchers at both the college and prep levels. Jagielo might be the best available talent according to the BA 500, but I’m going to go with Clarkin. I’ve loved his stuff from the first time I saw him last summer, and the Rays’ track record of developing pitching should help him iron out his command: IAN CLARKIN.
22. ORIOLES (Jim). I like Jagielo here. He was very good in the Cape Cod League last summer and has gotten better this spring, making improvements with his hitting and fielding while continuing to show one of the best power bats in his draft class. If the Orioles got Jagielo, he’d eventually allow Manny Machado to move back to shortstop. My other consideration here was California prep righthander Phil Bickford, who has one of the toughest fastballs available. Bickford won’t get to No. 37, Baltimore’s competitive-balance lottery pick, but there will be a lot more viable arms than desirable bats there, so I’m grabbing the position player now: ERIC JAGIELO.
23. RANGERS (Conor). Judge is a physical specimen who can hit balls to the moon. His long arms create holes in his swing but also give him tremendous leverage. He’s a profile right fielder, and it’s fun to envision a future Rangers lineup that includes Judge and third base prospect Joey Gallo. If they both make it, the two might combine for 80 home runs and 350 strikeouts: AARON JUDGE.
24. ATHLETICS (John). The A’s keep winning in the major leagues with several homegrown arms in the rotation. Neither Tommy Milone nor Dan Straily nor A.J. Griffin were as polished or as accomplished at the college level as Gonzaga lefthander Marco Gonzales, who should move quickly. Aaron Fitt, who functions as my national college crosschecker for this process, loves Gonzales’ pitchability and changeup, and he’s a good value here as well: MARCO GONZALES.
25. GIANTS (Nathan). While I considered Texas high school outfielder Billy McKinney and Oklahoma high school catcher Jonathan Denney with this pick, I targeted pitching and had to decide which young arm to turn over to Giants pitching guru Dick Tidrow. Give me Kentucky prep southpaw Hunter Green. He has a projectable frame and pitches with an average or better fastball that plays up because of its life. He’s shown feel for secondary stuff that I expect to get better under The Ninja’s tutelage: HUNTER GREEN.
26. YANKEES (Jim). I thought about Bickford at 18 and almost took him at 22, so I’m not passing him up at 26. His 90-96 mph fastball has tons of life, and along with his tall, lean frame earns him comparisons to Jered Weaver. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he goes about 10 picks higher than this on June 6: PHIL BICKFORD.
27. REDS (Conor). This is a tough choice, as there are several directions I could go here. I considered college players like San Francisco righthander Alex Balog or Stanford outfielder Austin Wilson, and high school players like McKinney or projectable righthanders Hunter Harvey or Kyle Serrano. I also considered high school slugger Rowdy Tellez, as I believe he has the best lefthanded power in this year’s draft, he can really hit and Reds manager Dusty Baker is already familiar with him as a Sacramento native. In the end, it was too tough to pass up an up-the-middle power bat like Oklahoma prep catcher Jonathan Denney: JONATHAN DENNEY.
28. CARDINALS (John). I’m sure I’m picking the Yankees’ pocket here, though that’s not why I made this pick. I just like New Jersey prep lefthander Rob Kaminsky’s combination of strength, now stuff and lefthanded-ness. If he’s getting Gio Gonzalez comparisons, sign me up: ROB KAMINSKY.
29. RAYS (Nathan). Maybe I’m getting loopy, but I considered two off-the-board picks here in hometown prep shortstop Oscar Mercado and the “unsignable” Connor Jones, a prep righthander committed to Virginia. Jones is a #personalcheeseball of mine and if I had extra picks I’d strongly consider making a run at him in the bottom of the first round. However, since I snagged Clarkin with the Rays’ last pick, I’m inclined to look for a bat here, so I’m going to take McKinney. I like the hitting ability and am fine with him playing a corner despite modest projections on his power: BILLY MCKINNEY.
30. RANGERS (Jim). Texas almost certainly will take a high-ceiling athlete or up-the-middle-guy here, maybe someone along the lines of Florida high school outfielder/quarterback Cord Sandberg, Arizona prep shortstop Riley Unroe or Georgia high school outfielder Josh Hart. I’m going the college route with Stephen F. Austin State shortstop Hunter Dozier, who probably moves to second or third base and has the upside of a Jeff Kent. I like the bat and power, I like the athleticism for a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder and I like the arm strength: HUNTER DOZIER.
31. BRAVES (Conor). A player named Hunter has never gone in the first round, but in this draft Harvey would be the fourth. I contemplated taking Harvey at 27, and I’m not going to pass on his upside here. The Braves area scout in North Carolina, Billy Best, also drafted Harvey’s older brother Kris out of high school, though he decided to head to Clemson. Hunter hasn’t made a college commitment because he wants to go play professionally. With his bloodlines (his father Bryan was an all-star reliever) and projection (Hunter is very thin with a baby face and has already touched 97 mph), I really like Harvey’s potential: HUNTER HARVEY.
32. YANKEES (John). I didn’t think I’d be picking my own pocket when I took Kaminsky with my last pick, but I do think the Yankees would love a shot at the New Jersey prep lefty. Having taken Bickford with the first of the Yankees’ three selections, I’ll stick with the pitching theme and choose Mississippi righthander Bobby Wahl over Florida righthander Jonathon Crawford. I like Crawford’s live arm and the fact that he’s fairly fresh, and his stuff has been firmer than Wahl’s this season. I’ll take Wahl because he has performed without having his best stuff this year and he showed good makeup last summer as the closer for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team: BOBBY WAHL.
33. YANKEES (Nathan). With the Bickford and Wahl picks, I’d love to get a bat here, and I think there’s enough pitching available in the next couple of rounds that I can afford to go a little off the board to close out the first round. I like Mercado’s glove, but the reports on his bat are a little worrisome. I like Sandberg’s athleticism, but I’m going to go for a player that has a better chance to stay in the middle of the field. For me, that’s Hart. He has wiry strength, good speed and polish, having played for a nationally ranked program at Parkview High (Lilburn, Ga.). Power isn’t a big part of his game, but he’ll wear out the gaps and provide good defense: JOSH HART.