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SEE ALSO: 2016 Mock Drafts
Predicting the first round of the 2017 draft may prove a fool’s errand.
Not because the draft is unpredictable and teams have less consensus among the top picks than ever with more looks and more information available, though both of those are true. Not because the most predictable drafts are the loaded draft classes, especially the ones with deep college hitting and pitching classes.
This is not one of those years. It’s a year with depth of velocity in the prep class, like every draft since 2013 has been on the high school side. But it’s characteristically light on the college side in position players with athleticism, and it has two candidates to go No. 1 overall—a selection the Twins will make—who fit profiles that never have fit with that selection in more than 50 years of draft history.
One of course is Hunter Greene, the righthander and infielder out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif., who has earned some Dwight Gooden comparisons from scouts, hit 102 mph this spring and also has the power to be a legit hitting prospect. If the Twins draft Greene as a pitcher at No. 1, he’d be the first high school righthander ever to lead off a draft.
The other is more of a surprise, as Louisville’s Brendan McKay has gotten off to a ridiculous start and started to earn serious consideration as the top selection, even as a hitter. Earning comparisons to John Olerud, McKay is a lefthanded hitter and pitcher who entered the spring already acknowledged as the best pure hitter in the college class. After hitting 10 homers combined in 439 at-bats in his first two seasons, he’s hit four in 42 at-bats this year, albeit against a modest Louisville schedule.
If McKay keeps hitting for that kind of power, though, his combination of 70-grade hitting ability with plus power could land him in the No. 1 spot. No college first baseman has been drafted first overall; the last first baseman picked that high was Adrian Gonzalez out of a San Diego high school in 2000, and Gonzalez is another solid comparison point for McKay.
Other key points to remember for the Top 10 picks, in this initial Mock Draft of the 2017 draft season:
• Both Greene and McKay are two-way players, viable options both as hitters and as pitchers, leading a bumper crop of two-way talents. Greene has loud raw power, but most clubs prefer him on the mound because he has such easy velocity, with triple-digit radar-gun readings already this spring. Greene’s in the conversation for being the hardest-throwing high school player in draft history, joining the likes of Tyler Kolek and Riley Pint from recent drafts.
Scouts are quite split on McKay; four clubs’ national evaluators split down the middle on him as a hitter or pitcher, but agreed his hot start at the plate and on the mound—where he pitches inside effectively with his fastball at an advanced level—had pushed him to the top of the college board.
The other legit two-way option, Huntington Beach (Calif.) High’s Nick Pratto, has moved up boards offensively and almost assuredly will go out as a hitter. He’s one of the most polished bats available, high school or college, and compares favorably with McKay offensively, with some scouts considering him more likely to hit for power.
Other potential first-rounders who could go as pitchers or hitters include Pratto’s teammate Hagen Danner, a righthander/catcher; Louisville prep righthander/outfielder Jo Adell, who has elite tools in the outfield and one of the best breaking balls in the class on the mound; righthander/first baseman Joe Perez of Miami-area Archbishop McCarthy, who has hit 98 mph this spring; and Virginia lefthander/center fielder Adam Haseley, who has helium at the plate with a career-best seven homers already—six to the opposite field.
• The top of the draft should be unpredictable for two other reasons. The compressed bonus slots at the top of the draft leave less room for teams at the top to cut deals; the No. 1 pick bonus allotment is just $7.4 million, rather than $9.2 million, and the top three picks are compressed together, leaving less room for deal-cutting for teams and agents.
Second, many of the teams are under new management. Eight of the top 10 teams in the draft have changed general managers in the last three years, including Minnesota, picking No. 1, where Derek Falvey and Thad Levine have taken over the front office with Sean Johnson promoted from within as scouting director. Only the Reds (No. 2) and Athletics (No. 6) have any long patterns of behavior, though the Braves (No. 5) are essentially back under old management.
This is so early that It’s a total crap-shoot to assign players to teams this early, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still fun. So here’s an early look at what the first 10 picks could look like come June 12.
Hunter Greene, rhp, Notre Dame High, Sherman Oaks, Calif. | | Greene’s a legit prospect as a hitter, with graceful infield actions that could play at short or fit well at third to go with his power. But he’s on another level on the mound.
Brendan McKay, 1b/lhp, Louisville. | | The Reds are said to prefer McKay as a pitcher. As one scout outside the organization put it, “Typically, the hitters at the top of draft have more explosive athleticism than McKay does. He’s a really good hitter, but he’s not super explosive. With those kinds of guys, there’s usually no margin for error, though with him there is the pitching.”
Royce Lewis, ss/of, JSerra High, San Juan Capistrano, Calif. | | Everyone expects the Padres and GM A.J. Preller to try to do what it takes to push Greene down to them at No. 3, but Lewis is an athletic bonanza and one hell of a consolation prize. In his first game of the season on Saturday, Lewis reached base via a walk when facing Danner in a game this week and was hit by a pitch by Pratto.
J.B. Bukauskas, rhp, North Carolina. | | Bukauskas has come out of the gates much stronger than Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright (stuff sound, command and performance below-par) and Florida’s Alex Faedo (performing, more modest fastball velocity). Bukauskas has sizzled with a plus fastball, 70-grade slider and improved changeup that he threw effectively and frequently against Virginia. “I’m not worried about the changeup,” one evaluator said. “He had it in high school, we’ve seen it. It’s the command and delivery you want to see, and those are better too.”
Austin Beck, of, North Davidson High, Lexington, N.C. | | It’s a banner year in North Carolina with lefty McKenzie Gore and Bukauskas drawing in cross checkers and scouting directors by the dozen, but they’ve been wowed by Beck, who has returned from a torn ACL to show premium tools, with potential 70 power, speed and defense with a plus arm. Beck has had a couple of “Roy Hobbs” performances where he’s made the game look ridiculously easy, and the Rays are in heavy at No. 4 as well. Beck is the draft’s fastest riser but also could slide back down the draft as teams fret about his lack of wood-bat track record, after missing last summer and fall with his knee injury. That casts some doubts on his true hitting grade.
Jeren Kendall, of, Vanderbilt. | | Kendall remains the top athlete on the college side but appears to have fallen behind McKay for most teams as the top college position player—at least for those teams that consider McKay a hitter. Kendall’s swing-and-miss problems have not abated as a junior, but he’s still extremely fast, has enough power and is a force at the top of a lineup or defensively in center field.
Alex Faedo, rhp, Florida. | | Fall knee surgery has put Faedo behind schedule a bit this year, and while he’s pitched well and still has a double-plus slider, his fastball velocity has dipped. “It’s not the 93-96 we’ve seen in the past,” one director said. “It’s more 88-92. But he has time to get it back.”
Kyle Wright, rhp, Vanderbilt. | | While Wright’s thrown hard enough, the projectable presumed next Commodores ace was off to a slow start (0-2, 5.40, 20 IP, 24 H, 24-6 K-BB ratio) due to spotty command, of both his fastball and his secondary stuff.
DL Hall, lhp, Valdosta (Ga.) High. | | Hall entered the year as the top prep lefthander and remains there for most clubs, though Gore, out of Whiteville (N.C.) High, is moving up as he continues to pitch well. Teams toward the back of the first round don’t expect Hall or Gore to be available, which is new for Gore.
Keston Hiura, dh, UC Irvine. | | The toughest player to peg in the first round is Hiura, who played outfield, third base and second over his amateur career but who has not played the field this spring due to a lingering elbow injury that also limited him to DH last summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. However, Hiura rakes, with many scouts projecting him as a future plus hitter with plus power.
The general consensus of scouts is to run him out as a second baseman as a pro (after a presumed elbow surgery) to see if he can make the different throws from different angles necessary to play infield. Otherwise, he could just settle in as a left fielder, as he has enough speed to play the outfield. One veteran scout likened his situation to that of Stanford’s Carlos Quentin in 2003; Quentin played the whole year with a damaged elbow, went in the first round to the Diamondbacks and had Tommy John surgery after signing before embarking on a successful big league career.