General manager Dave Stewart is in his first year in the job, having worked as an agent for more than a decade since being in a front office. Assistant GM De Jon Watson has worked primarily as a farm director, not having focused on amateurs since his days as the Reds’ scouting director in 2000.
Now they’re running the Diamondbacks, who pick No. 1 overall with Deric Ladnier hired as scouting director in December. Ladnier came in well after the showcase season had ended, so the Diamondbacks’ braintrust in many ways has been playing catch-up all spring.
In this draft class, that’s a challenging setup. As we’ve chronicled, the top of the draft class contains few players with the usual pedigree to be considered No. 1 overall picks, which was true coming into the year and is more true after a spate of injuries to the likes of Brady Aiken and Michael Matuella. That should turn the first round into an episode of “Let’s Make A Deal,” and a month out, those deals haven’t even reached the planning stages.
The Diamondbacks had scouting meetings in Phoenix this week, and industry sources report the takeaway includes Stewart hitting the road to evaluate as many as 30 candidates for the No. 1 overall pick. Other teams toward the top likely aren’t looking at quite as many players, but they can be forgiven if they are. It’s that kind of first round.
Let’s get this out of the way: Dillon Tate has No. 1 overall pick stuff. In last week’s start against UC Davis, he pitched at 93-95 mph before tiring a bit to the 90-93 range, with his slider dominating the Aggies, sitting 86-89 early. “Even at 82-83 later,” said one evaluator who was there, “it was still overpowering.”
Tate doesn’t have the usual track record of a No. 1 overall pick, so the Diamondbacks won’t take him if he demands the full $8,616,900 bonus value. But in this class, he makes sense for a franchise that has had many changes but has established a recent track record of success drafting power righthanders early, from Archie Bradley and Trevor Bauer (2011) to Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair (2013) to Touki Toussaint (2014).
Selection: Dillon Tate, rhp, UC Santa Barbara
This is the compensation pick for failing to sign Brady Aiken. In 2014, Houston selected the lefthanded Aiken No. 1, as well as righty Jacob Nix in the fifth round and Mac Marshall in the 21st. They made plays to sign all three but wound up with none; Aiken has since had Tommy John surgery, while Nix and Marshall—who left his last start with what sources have termed a minor nerve issue in his left elbow—have switched advisers. In other words, the aftermath of the ’14 Astros draft has not been particularly pretty.
This pick, and the $7,420,100 slot bonus that comes with it, will be the payoff for Houston’s patience. The bad part, of course, is there’s not a great pool of players at two and five. Expect Houston to sign a player below the bonus value, and a college performer with excellent athleticism, like Vanderbilt’s Dansby Swanson, makes sense.
Selection: Dansby Swanson, ss, Vanderbilt
The Rockies got a hometown discount last season from Evansville lefty Kyle Freeland. They have not drafted a high school infielder since Chris Nelson in 2004. If there’s not a major deal to be had. Brendan Rodgers would bring the organization a potential long-term successor to Troy Tulowitzki with a power bat and the potential to stick at shortstop.
Selection: Brendan Rodgers, ss, Lake Mary (Fla.) HS
A draft class filled with college shortstops does the Rangers no good, not for an organization so successful in Latin America in recent years. Texas has had more success with high-upside bats and sleeper college arms such as Alex Gonzalez. If Texas wants to go the college pitcher route, as it did with Gonzalez, a degree of physicality is required, eliminating Vandy righties Walker Buehler and Carson Fulmer but bringing 6-food-4 righties Jon Harris of Missouri State and UCLA’s James Kaprielian into the mix. Harris has been iffy recently, losing to Tennessee Martin, but when he’s on all four of his pitches grade as plus. It’s tempting to throw the Rangers a Georgia prep, a demographic they’ve hit hard. That could lead them to outfielder Daz Cameron or shortstop Cornelius Randolph.
Selection: Jon Harris, rhp, Missouri State
With their second pick, Houston can take one of the many high-ceiling prep outfielders in the lass, one of the draft’s few strong points (and riskier demographics). Cameron has a more complete set of tools, but the Astros may lean toward the power potential of Florida prep Kyle Tucker, whose older brother Preston made his big league debut Thursday with Houston.
Selection: Kyle Tucker, of, Plant HS, Tampa
Scouts often have compared Cameron to Nick Gordon, the Twins’ first-rounder last year, for having good but not great athleticism and the savvy that stems from being big league progeny. If Minnesota wants to go for an arm, Kaprielian may fit the bill best, as his velocity has improved this spring and he has the command of secondary pitches that Twins scouts have long prized in starting pitchers.
Selection: Daz Cameron, of, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, McDonough, Ga.
7. Red Sox
Alex Bregman served as a batboy for a 2004 Arizona State game when his favorite player, Dustin Pedroia, and the Sun Devils came to to his hometown of Albuquerque to play New Mexico. Bregman’s best friend Blake Swihart already has reached Boston, and the organization is looking for impact bats. Bregman provides one.
Selection: Alex Bregman, ss, LSU
8. White Sox
Louisville ace righty Kyle Funkhouser was losing a bit of steam, though he’s No. 4 on BA’s Top 100. The physical 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has the ability to pitch off the fastball that endears him to teams like the White Sox. The Oak Forest, Ill., native would welcome being a hometown pick.
Selection: Kyle Funkhouser, rhp, Louisville
The Cubs have zigged where others expected them to zag for the last two drafts, going for impact bats with Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. If Bregman were to slide here, expect Chicago to pounce, but there are few other impact bats available. Instead, a team looking to win sooner than later could gamble on Fulmer, who would fit at the back of a bullpen if he proved to have too much effort in his delivery to start over a 162-game schedule.
Selection: Carson Fulmer, rhp, Vanderbilt
The industry expects Philadelphia to go for a raw, toolsy player both in keeping with its recent tradition and due to Johnny Almaraz, its new scouting director and former international director for the Braves. The Phillies are strong in Texas, which they have tapped repeatedly in drafts over the last decade and which is where Almaraz is from. The Phils were rumored to be the high team on Kyler Murray before he withdrew from the draft to focus on his Texas A&M commitment. With Murray out, Dallas area outfielder Trenton Clark checks both the Texas and toolsy boxes.
Selection: Trenton Clark, Richland HS, North Richland Hills, Texas
Cincinnati’s farm system is heavily slanted to pitching at this time, and the organization is scrutinizing Vandy’s righthanders closely, with Fulmer a possibility here. But the Reds rarely have a chance to get a hometown player, and Ian Happ is worthy of selection. The Cincinnati Bearcats junior has been banged up this spring but has the speed to give center field a try, has hit for two summers in the Cape Cod League and could even give second base another whirl.
Selection: Ian Happ, of, Cincinnati
Miami’s scouting department isn’t scared of high school arms. The best in this draft appears to be Pennsylvania’s Mike Nikorak, though the Marlins could be tempted by fast-closing Illinois lefty Tyler Jay, who had as much helium as any player in the first round.
Selection: Mike Nikorak, rhp, Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS
Tampa’s scouting roots are all pointing at Garrett Whitley, a toolsy Northeastern outfielder who has improved to the point that scouts are projecting him as a future plus hitter. His athleticism and ability to stay in center field fit the Rays’ profile well.
Selection: Garrett Whitley, of, Niskayuna (N.Y.) HS
Other than Jay, the player with the most helium in early May is Georgia prep catcher Tyler Stephenson. Could he fit the Braves any better? Atlanta has gotten many of its old scouts back together, including special assistant Roy Clark, who nailed two prep catchers when he was scouting director in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brian McCann.
Selection: Tyler Stephenson, c, Kennesaw Mountain (Ga.) HS
Milwaukee has scouts with long histories with Michigan prep outfielder Nick Plummer, who has shaken off a bout of mononucleosis this spring. If Plummer doesn’t finish strong and they get cold feet, the Brewers could audible to a college arm who performed well in the Cape Cod League last summer like Buehler, whose velocity has been fine this spring after a late start.
Selection: Nick Plummer, of, Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
The Yankees haven’t picked this high since 2005, when they whiffed on No. 17 overall pick C.J. Henry. It’s terrible timing, what with the plethora of injured players and New York’s recent history of injured first-rounders. A farm system bursting with toolsy young international products could use some polish, and the Yankees have had success drafting pitchers under scouting director Damon Oppenheimer.
Selection: James Kaprielian, rhp, UCLA
Selection: Ashe Russell, Cathedral Catholic HS, Indianapolis
San Francisco needs to replenish its pitching stable, and its front office has the stability (and three World Series rings) to take chances on injured arms. How else could the Giants get top-of-the-draft upside while picking 18th?
Selection: Brady Aiken, lhp, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Pittsburgh went off the board regularly in 2014, starting with Arizona prep shortstop Cole Tucker, and there’s little consensus to hold to in 2015. They aren’t afraid of high school talents, and if national scouting supervisor Jimmy Lester likes Cornelius Randolph’s bat, his overall tools will endear him to the rest of director Joe Delli Carri’s staff.
Selection: Cornelius Randolph, ss, Griffin (Ga.) HS
Oakland has not hesitated to take smallish starting pitchers, either as free agents (Scott Kazmir) or in the draft (Sonny Gray). This spot feels low for Jay, who has teams thinking he might start as a pro with success and firm stuff in extended outings.
Selection: Tyler Jay, lhp, Illinois
Kansas City was rumored to be considering Phil Bickford when he came out of high school in 2013, before gambling (successfully) on its Hunter Dozier/Sean Manaea gambit. This time, after a dominant year in junior college, Bickford is their man.
Selection: Phil Bickford, rhp, JC of Southern Nevada
Throws hard? Check. Pitches in Southeastern Conference? Check. Walker Buehler fits the Tigers’ pattern all too well. If Jay is still available, he could be pitching vital innings out of the Tigers’ pen in playoff games in October.
Selection: Walker Buehler, rhp, Vanderbilt
St. Louis could use a homegrown shortstop, and one of this crop’s players should suffice here. Arizona’s Kevin Newman has mixed reviews of his arm and defense at short, with consistent dings for his present power. But he can hit, which should make him the choice here over Florida’s Richie Martin and San Diego’s Kyle Holder.
Selection: Kevin Newman, ss, Arizona
A back injury knocked SoCal prep lefty Kolby Allard down some boards, but he had started working out earlier this week, according to a Los Angeles Times report. A healthy medical report on Allard would make him a fine value here for L.A.
Selection: Kolby Allard, lhp, San Clemente (Calif.) HS
Baltimore didn’t have a first- or second-round pick last year, and needs to inject some upside into a flagging farm system. It’s unlikely ownership would green-light taking a health risk, though, such as mid-Atlantic prep product Michael Matuella, who doesn’t have a first-round home here. The lat strain of Virginia ace Nathan Kirby carries less long-term risk.
Selection: Nathan Kirby, lhp, Virginia
The Angels are rebuilding their system via power arms and prefer a high level of present physicality. Matuella would fit if the Angels had seen enough of him, which is unlikely considering he never pitched in summer ball. If they want a prep arm, that would lead them to Tennessee’s 6-foot-2, 220-pound Donny Everett, who throws as hard as any prep in this year’s class. They also have been linked to Newman should he still be on the board here.
Selection: Donny Everett, Clarksville (Tenn.) HS