2018 Draft: Day One Analysis
SECAUCUS, N.J.—There are a million different ways to tackle breaking down the first night of the MLB Draft, but it only makes sense to start with the No. 1 pick—and in this year’s case, that also means the No. 1 player.
In the weeks, days and even minutes leading up to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announcing the Tigers’ first overall selection Monday night, rumors floated around that Detroit was thinking about other options. When the pick was finally announced though, the best player in the 2018 class—Auburn righthander Casey Mize—heard his name called.
"You never really know until you hear your name called," Mize said in a conference call after he was picked. "That’s what I believed until the last second. I honestly don’t think I ever bought into the fact that I could possibly even go 1-1. I think I kind of kept telling myself, ‘No, it’s not going to happen, just keep working, get as high as you can, but that’s not going to happen.’
"So I think I was kind of in denial a little bit for the longest time. I don’t know. I think that was a strategy that I needed to do for it to work. I don’t think there was an actual point where I realized that this was pretty possible, that I could go 1-1."
The selection rewards an incredible spring for Mize, as he showed the best pure stuff and pitchability of any player in the class en route to a 9-5, 3.07 season with Auburn, with 140 strikeouts to just 10 walks. Mize will have a real shot to break the current CBA bonus record for the draft, as the consensus No. 1 player taken in a slot that’s valued at $8,096,300. It’s unlikely that Mize will get the full amount, but he has plenty of arguments to come close to that mark.
With the selection, Mize became the first pitcher taken 1-1 since 2014, when Brady Aiken was selected by the Astros (though he didn’t sign) and the first righthander taken with the first pick since 2013, when the Astros selected Stanford righthander Mark Appel. Mize will hope that his professional career gets off to a better start than either of the aforementioned players, but before he thinks about that Mize will have to worry about finishing his collegiate career.
Auburn advanced through the Raleigh Regional this past weekend in the NCAA Tournament and will match up against the presumptive College World Series favorite Florida Gators in the super regionals. Mize will have a shot at redemption after losing a regular season meeting against Florida ace righthander Brady Singer and the rest of the Gators during SEC play.
"It is a relief to kind of have it out the way, I’m not going to lie to you," Mize said. "It definitely is a relief. I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time. I’m very happy with how everything turned out. But the past month or so, or the past few weeks, have been really fun honestly. I’ve tried to enjoy it as much as I can. It’s definitely been stressful a little bit, but I’ve tried to enjoy it as much as I can and just try to soak up the last month or so that I have here at Auburn University playing with my teammates. I’ve had a lot of fun, tried to enjoy it as much as I can and I think I did."
Out of the Pocket at No. 9
As Baseball America attempted to gather information on players and teams for mock drafts leading up to Monday’s first round, the Athletics proved to be one of the more difficult teams to gauge. Understandably so, as Oakland shook the draft up in a big way with the No. 9 selection, taking Oklahoma center fielder Kyler Murray—who ranked as the No. 77 player on the BA 500.
Coming out of high school, Murray could have been a first-round talent if teams thought he was signable, but as an elite athlete on the football field Murray told teams not to select him and he made his way to Texas A&M. Since then, Murray has transferred to Oklahoma, where he appears to be the starting quarterback in waiting and has improved his game on the diamond tremendously.
His routes and instincts in the outfield have improved, allowing his plus speed to make him a potential impact defender in the grass, with an improved approach at the plate and potential for 20-25 home runs down the line. Murray's arm plays well below-average on the baseball field now, though he has the arm strength that should allow it to tick up once he starts to focus on baseball and his throwing mechanics on the diamond full-time.
Which leads to the most interesting aspect of this Murray selection at No. 9. The Athletics are going to let Murray go back to school and play football during his redshirt junior season. Playing a contact sport will open himself up to more injury risk than any other first-round position player.
It's certainly a high-risk, high-reward pick for the Athletics for a number of reasons, but they seemed to mitigate that somewhat when they picked Dallas Baptist outfielder Jameson Hannah and Missouri State shortstop Jeremy Eierman with their other Day 1 picks. Eierman entered the year with a chance to go in the middle of the first round, but slipped a bit when he underperformed compared to his excellent sophomore season.
Once the top five picks came and went, it seemed that Florida righthander Brady Singer was sliding more than expected. Once the top ten picks came and went, it seemed like Singer and prep lefthander Matthew Liberatore were sliding more than expected.
The two were still on the board after the first 15 picks of the first round, only for Liberatore—the No. 2 player on the BA 500—to get selected with the first of five Day 1 picks with the Rays at No. 16. Two selections later, Singer heard his name called with the first pick of the Royals, who have the highest bonus pool of any team in this draft and also had five Day 1 selections.
While it has become more difficult to slide players under the current CBA, both the Rays and the Royals were able to secure top-five talents despite picking outside of the top-15.
Each team continued to take players later than their talent would have seemed to suggest, with the Rays nabbing a sliding Shane McClanahan at pick No. 31 to secure the top two lefthanded pitches in the 2018 draft class. Tampa Bay rounded out its day one selections with prep outfielder Nick Schnell (No. 32), Florida Atlantic shortstop Tyler Frank (No. 73) and California righthanded pitcher/outfielder Tanner Dodson (No. 86).
The Royals opted to go all-in on college pitchers after struggling with high school arms in recent years, taking Singer's Florida roommate, Jackson Kowar, with their second pick at No. 33 and Vriginia lefthander Daniel Lynch at No. 34. Kowar has long been considered a first-round talent and Lynch got first-round buzz late this spring when his stuff started to tick up. Following Lynch, Kansas City grabbed another college lefthander in Stanford's Kris Bubic (No. 40) and rounded out the evening with Memphis righthander Jonathan Bowlan at No. 58.
Both teams managed to draft a significant amount of talent with their first five picks and would seem to be favorites to start taking college seniors early and often on Day 2.
Big Wins For Vanderbilt, TCU and Georgia?
Righthanders Kumar Rocker, Adam Kloffenstein and Cole Wilcox are still on the board after 78 picks on Day 1, and while each player still has a shot of getting an overslot deal early on Day 2, the most likely scenario for each of these pitchers is that they now wind up on campus.
That means Vanderbilt (Rocker), TCU (Kloffenstein) and Georgia (Wilcox) could be getting massive talents to impact their respective programs this fall. Rocker and Kloffenstein were both thought to be tough signs prior to the draft, while Wilcox did exceedingly well for himself this spring and figured to be a potential target in the middle or back of the first round.
How teams would deal with the incredible depth of prep pitchers was one of the storylines to watch throughout this draft—and will continue to be worth watching as rounds 3-10 unfold Tuesday—but as of right now, these three pitchers look to be early casualties of the class.
Rocker is ranked as the No. 13 prospect on the BA 500, while Kloffenstein checks in at No. 35 and Wilcox at No. 37. Additionally for Vanderbilt, Ohio righthander Austin Becker (ranked No. 65) wasn't one of the names called on Day 1 and it sounds like he could be headed to Nashville along with Rocker, potentially giving coach Tim Corbin the most talented incoming pitching class in the nation.