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Q:Which draftees will be their team’s No. 1 prospects?
BA: Probably a lot fewer than you would expect.
It’s actually much harder to become your team’s No. 1 prospect in your first pro year than it is to crack the Top 100 Prospects list.
In each of the past three drafts, 13 players from the draft class have ended up on the first Top 100 Prospects list for which they are eligible. But over those three years combined, only nine draftees have ranked No. 1 in their farm system that first year. There were three in the 2015 Prospect Handbook (Alex Jackson, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon), two in 2016 (Dansby Swanson and Taylor Ward) and four in the 2017 Prospect Handbook (Nick Senzel, Kyle Lewis, Matt Manning and Braxton Garrett).
To be a team’s No. 1 prospect has as much to do with the current depth of the farm system as it does how well-regarded the draftee is. Swanson was the Diamondbacks’ top prospect because he was considered the top prospect in his draft class, but the majority of these No. 1 prospects joined farm systems rated at the bottom of our farm system rankings.
It’s a safe bet a similar pattern will follow this upcoming offseason. We will for purposes of this exercise assume that all the picks will sign. Last year 99.4 percent of top 10-round picks did sign so it’s a safe assumption.
Obviously what players do in their first half of a pro season could significantly affect their chances of ranking No. 1 in their farm system. For example, at this time last year, Bo Bichette was just a second-round pick. After he drew raves in the Gulf Coast League, he ranked significantly higher in the offseason than he would have last June.
Of all the draftees, I think the safest bets to rank No. 1 in his team’s prospect rankings are a pair of prospects joining our two lowest-ranked farm systems in the offseason.
It’s likely Jordon Adell, the Angels’ first-rounder who went 10th overall, will top Matt Thaiss and Jahmai Jones to be the team’s top prospect. Adell ranked seventh in our pre-draft BA 500 rankings, and he joins a system that does not have a current Top 100 Prospect.
The Marlins had one Top 100 prospect coming into the season, but 2016 first-rounder Braxton Garrett is likely looking at surgery. With No. 2 prospect Tyler Kolek still recovering from TJ himself, first-round pick Trevor Rogers (No. 31 on the BA500) has a pretty clear path to being No. 1.
The Royals and Diamondbacks also finished in the bottom five of our talent rankings, making them candidates to have a new No. 1 as well. Royals first-rounder Nick Pratto (24th on the BA500) is a candidate to top Josh Staumont and Khalil Lee as the team’s top prospect with a strong pro debut, although in Pratto’s case, Lee is going to make it tough for him. The Diamondbacks’ first-rounder Pavin Smith has a decent chance to edge Anthony Banda at the top of the list.
But the top prospects in this year’s draft are going to find it tougher to rank No. 1. Hunter Greene was No. 1 on our BA 500 draft prospect rankings, but he’s joining a system that already has Top 10 overall prospect Nick Senzel.
Similarly, the first pick in this year’s draft, Royce Lewis, is more physically talented and toolsier than Twins’ current top prospect Nick Gordon, but Gordon is a shortstop who is producing in Double-A, so he’s going to be hard to top.
There are similar stories for MacKenzie Gore (joining a loaded Padres’ farm system), Brendan McKay (Willy Adames and Brent Honeywell lead the Rays system) and Kyle Wright (the Braves are our No. 1 farm system).
So the top prospects in the draft are likely to be in our Top 100 Prospects list next February, but they are less likely to be No. 1 on their teams, compared to some players taken later in the draft.