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2019 MLB Draft Stock Watch For The Top 32 Prospects

Image credit: Two-sport star Jerrion Ealy (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

This list was compiled in consultation with MLB scouts. 

With the college and high school seasons starting soon, as well as the release of our Top 100 Draft Prospects list, it’s time for our 2019 first round to-do list. Started just last year, the goal of the first round to-do list is to identify specific areas of growth or certain weaknesses that potential first-round picks need to improve on this spring.

Doing so will either cement their prospect status or allow them to rise up draft boards as we get closer to the June draft. Righthander Carter Stewart and outfielder Griffin Conine serve as two prominent examples from the 2018 draft to-do lists who impacted their stock in opposite ways.

Teams noted prior to the season that Stewart (who then ranked No. 25) could dramatically improve his stock if he showed improved fastball velocity during the spring. After pitching mostly in the upper 80s and lower 90s during the summer, Stewart touched 97-98 mph multiple times during the spring and was eventually selected by the Braves with the No. 8 overall pick—though Stewart and the team did not agree to a signing bonus.

On the other side of the spectrum, Conine entered the season ranked No. 16, with evaluators pointing to his strikeout rate as an important figure to watch during the spring season. After striking out around 17 percent of the time during his first two seasons with Duke and 23 percent of the time in the Cape Cod League, teams hoped Conine would be able to cut down his whiff rate during his junior season. Instead, Conine’s strikeout rate ballooned to a career-worst 26 percent and he fell into the second round, where the Blue Jays signed him for $1.35 million with the No. 52 overall pick.

Those are just two examples, but the to-do list served as a strong starting point for watching the progress of 30 potential first-round picks last season. Currently, the first round stands at 32 picks, so we’ll conduct the same exercise with each player currently ranked in that range to see what scouting departments are keying in on this spring.

As a general rule, all pitchers need to stay healthy and all hitters need to hit, but we’ll dive down into the specifics for every player beyond that as well.

32. Kameron Misner, OF, Missouri
Areas To Improve: Health, contact ability

A broken foot limited Misner to just 34 games last spring and prevented him from playing this summer, so simply staying healthy could be enough to push Misner up the list by the time June rolls around. Because of his lost at-bats, scouts will be bearing down on Misner’s hit tool to get a better understanding of how it projects at the next level, though his track record in the SEC and in summer leagues is impressive.

31. Michael Busch, 1B, North Carolina
Areas To Improve: Defensive profile, athleticism, speed, arm

Busch is an undersized first baseman, but UNC plans to use him in the outfield this season. If he succeeds in that role, his value will increase given the added versatility. To do that, he’ll need to improve his running ability, athleticism and show a strong arm from the outfield.

30. Maurice Hampton, OF, Memphis University HS
Areas To Improve: Quality of at-bats, show he wants to play baseball, performance vs. weak competition

Like fellow two-sport star Jerrion Ealy, Hampton is also a highly regarded football recruit, and scouts would like to see a more consistent plate approach from him this spring. He had no problems putting the barrel on the baseball over the summer, but he would often expand the zone more than necessary. There’s some stiffness to Hampton’s arm path in the outfield and his swing at the plate, so loosening both of those up will help, as will destroying the relatively weak competition that he’ll face in western Tennessee.

29. J.J. Bleday, OF, Vanderbilt
Areas To Improve: Power, speed

After an impressive 2018 in both the SEC and Cape Cod League, Bleday could be one of the best hitters in the class. He’ll become even more enticing if he starts tapping into his plus raw power more frequently, which would help him profile better in an outfield corner.

28. Braden Shewmake, SS/3B, Texas A&M
Areas To Improve: Power, shortstop defense

Shewmake has shown a reliable hit tool over his first two seasons in the SEC, but with a 6-foot-4, 180-pound frame, teams expected to see more power from him in 2018. Gaining strength would go a long way for his offensive potential, and Shewmake doesn’t have an obvious defensive position at the next level, so handling shortstop with aplomb could also help.

27. Bryson Stott, SS, Nevada-Las Vegas
Areas To Improve: Power, speed, range, quickness

Stott has homered just five times in 113 games with Nevada-Las Vegas, and after showing a slap-heavy, light-impact approach last summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, scouts wonder how much impact he’ll ever make at the plate. Improving his quickness and lateral movement will also help convince teams that he can stick at shortstop in pro ball.

26. Spencer Jones, LHP, La Costa Canyon HS, Carlsbad, Calif.
Areas To Improve: Curveball, body, changeup development

Jones could be a two-way player in college as a tall lefthander with exceptional athleticism and surprising speed, but most teams like his upside on the mound and will scout him as a pitcher. He’s shown flashes of a plus curveball, and increasing the consistency of the pitch would only help. Jones needs to continuing adding strength to his 6-foot-7, 212-pound frame, which could allow him to rocket up draft lists if it coincides with added fastball velocity.

25. Ryne Nelson, RHP, Oregon
Areas To Improve: Show starter ability, changeup development

A two-way player for Oregon who has started just one game on the mound in his college career, Nelson will need prove he can handle a starter’s role this season. He’s got the raw stuff to turn over lineups, but he’ll need to lower his walk rate (4.66 per nine innings) and add a reliable changeup to a premium fastball and hard slider.

24. Rece Hinds, 3B, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Areas To Improve: Contact, all things defense

Hinds has the best raw power in the draft class and one of the strongest throwing arms as well, but he has significant work to do in the swing-and-miss and contact departments. Additionally, while he’s got more than enough arm for third base, he needs to improve his glovework, footwork and throwing accuracy and could slide to first base or a corner outfield spot if not.

23. Tyler Callihan, 3B/2B, Providence HS, Jacksonville
Areas To Improve: Body, third base defense

Callihan is another prep hitter who has routinely impressed with his hit and power combination at the plate, but he doesn’t have a solidified defensive position moving forward. Third base is the most likely spot, but he’ll need to improve defensively. With a 5-foot-11, 211-pound frame, scouts will also be watching to see how well he maintains his body during the year.

22. Alek Manoah, RHP, West Virginia
Areas To Improve: Body, work deep into games, control

Manoah is a big-bodied pitcher listed at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, and teams would like to see him improve his shape and show that he can pitch deep into games. If he does both of those things, it would allow teams to more safely project him as a starting pitcher at the next level. He’ll also need to lower the 5.01 walks per nine innings he’s posted in two years with West Virginia.

21. Brett Baty, 3B, Lake Travis HS, Austin
Areas To Improve: Body, third base defense

Baty has profile questions with a big, 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame and questionable defensive ability at third base. He has enough power to profile well as a first baseman, but his value is obviously higher if he can stick at third. Scouts will want to see improved mobility, glovework and footwork during the spring. Improved athleticism will also help tremendously.

20. Will Wilson, SS, North Carolina State
Areas To Improve: Speed, plate discipline, shortstop defense

There are questions surrounding Wilson’s defensive future, as his below-average running ability has scouts wondering if he’d be better suited for second base. If he can make strides with both his speed and quickness, teams will be more willing to let him play shortstop at the next level. He has plenty of power, but it comes with a decent amount of strikeouts that could cause concern.

19. Matthew Allan, RHP, Seminole (Fla.) HS
Areas To Improve: Consistent breaking ball, body, fastball control

Allan flashes one of the best curveballs among prep pitchers, but he’ll need to improve his consistency for scouts to be convinced its a true, plus, 12-to-6 breaking ball. With a thick, 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, Allan could turn into an innings eater, but teams are worried he could have a high-maintenance body, so he’ll need to show he can get into solid shape. His fastball control in particular was sporadic at times over the summer as well.

18. Will Holland, SS, Auburn
Areas To Improve: Plate discipline, power, shortstop defense

Holland’s toolset is exciting, but he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and show improved pitch recognition this spring. He has struck out in 17 percent of plate appearances over two seasons with Auburn, and he posted even higher strikeout rates in summer leagues. He’ll also need to continue proving his power as a smaller-framed infielder and continue to polish his defensive play.

17. Matthew Thompson, RHP, Cypress Ranch HS, Houston
Areas To Improve: Control, changeup

Thompson has an exciting fastball-slider combination, but to take advantage of his one-two punch he’ll need to sharpen his control. He walked a few more batters than scouts would like to see during the showcase circuit, and a wrist wrap in the back of his arm stroke cause some of his control issues. Like other prep pitchers mentioned, he’ll need to showcase a changeup.

16. Nick Lodolo, LHP, Texas Christian
Areas To Improve: Breaking ball development, body, control

Lodolo offers plenty of projection with his lanky, 6-foot-6, 180-pound frame, and teams will be encouraged if he’s able to add more strength this spring. He needs to continue improving his curveball in order to miss a few more bats, as he’s allowed 156 hits in 155.2 innings at TCU. His 3.24 walks per nine innings is respectable, but scouts would also like to see improved control.

15. Carter Stewart, RHP, Eastern Florida State JC
Areas To Improve: Health

Stewart’s health could be more important than any other pitcher who’s currently projected for the first round, and most teams will take his situation with the Braves in the 2018 draft seriously. He’ll need to pitch consistently during this spring and prove that his wrist is healthy. After that, he’ll need to show that nothing has happened to the two-pitch mix that made him a top-10 selection in a much stronger pitching class a season ago.

14. Jerrion Ealy, OF, Jackson (Miss.) Prep HS
Areas To Improve: Quality of at-bats, show he wants to play baseball, power

It will be interesting to see how teams deal with multi-sport prospects in the wake of the Kyler Murray saga. But even without that looming over the 2019 draft, scouts will be bearing down on Ealy to gauge his dedication to baseball with football also a completely viable option. Because of his two-sport ability, teams will want to see him take strides at the plate, both in terms of a consistent approach and mechanically with his swing. He tends to drift and get out on his front foot at times.

13. Tyler Dyson, RHP, Florida
Areas To Improve: SEC performance, health, swing and miss stuff

Dyson dealt with shoulder issues that limited him last season, so he’ll need to show he’s healthy and can handle a full starter’s workload. He’ll also need to put up better numbers, as he can get inconsistent within starts and let an inning spoil an otherwise strong outing. Improving his command will help, as will sharpening a slider to create more whiffs.

12. Zack Thompson, LHP, Kentucky
Areas To Improve: Health, strike throwing, changeup

Thompson threw just 31 innings last season because of an elbow injury, and he’s completed just 106 total innings in his first two seasons at Kentucky. Teams will want to see him handle a full starter’s workload this spring. He’s also walked a worrisome 4.88 batters per nine innings in college, but teams are hopeful that he has the athleticism and delivery to iron out any control problems. Still, he’ll need to cut down his walks to show he can start at the next level.

11. Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy, Statesboro, Ga.
Areas To Improve: Delivery and arm action, changeup

Espino’s fastball is the best in the class in terms of velocity and has movement to both sides, but the one consistent criticism of him from scouts has been his arm stroke. It’s a long arm action, and some scouts wonder how much stress that will put on his elbow and shoulder moving forward. If that is tweaked, many teams would feel safer about him. He’s shown a firm changeup, but the pitch needs more refinement.

10. Brennan Malone, RHP, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla.
Areas To Improve: Control, breaking ball consistency, changeup

Malone has one of the best fastballs in the class, but his control wavered throughout the summer and into the fall. Additionally, he showed the potential for a plus breaking ball, but the pitch varied from outing to outing and will need more consistency. Like with most prep pitchers, scouts will focus on Malone’s changeup, which was rarely shown in short-outing showcase environments.

9. Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
Areas To Improve: Work deep into games, changeup, athleticism

Stinson has started just 15 of his 48 combined college games between Duke and in summer leagues, and teams won’t draft him inside the top 10 if they don’t think he has a chance to start in pro ball. He’ll need to show he can remain effective deep into games and also show a usable changeup that will allow him to help neutralize more talented righthanded hitters.

8. Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech
Areas To Improve: Looser body, defensive profile, use the whole field

Coaches have been impressed with Jung’s defensive ability at third base, but many scouts wonder whether he can handle the position at the next level with his athletic ability and lack of above-average quickness. Improving the fluidity of his defensive movements may ease some of those concerns. He’s previously had a backside-heavy approach at the plate, which isn’t concerning in itself, but teams would like to see him use the pull-side for more in-game power.

7. Corbin Carroll, OF, Lakeside HS, Seattle
Areas To Improve: Power and arm strength

Carroll rivals outfielder Riley Greene in terms of bat-to-ball skills among prep hitters, and he’s shown in-game power despite his smaller frame. Still, scouts are skeptical of his long-term power potential, so he’ll need to show the ability to drive the ball throughout the spring. While he projects as a plus defender in the outfield with standout speed and route running ability, his arm strength could be improved.

6. Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor
Areas To Improve: Hit tool and plate coverage

Langeliers is highly regarded for his all-around package of tools, but he doesn’t have the hitting track record that fellow college hitters Andrew Vaughn or Adley Rutschman boast. Questions were raised after Langeliers hit just .252/.351/.496 last season, so he’ll need another strong campaign reminiscent of his freshman year to show that 2018 was simply an outlier. An impressive summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team helped, but he will need to prove it with Baylor this season.

5. Riley Greene, OF, Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla.
Areas To Improve: Speed, defense, arm

Greene is in some ways the prep version of California first baseman Andrew Vaughn, as he possess arguably the best hit tool in the high school class along with usable power. All of his supplemental tools could use improvement, however, as he is a below-average runner with a below-average arm who presently projects as a bat-first corner outfielder. Improving in any of these categories would ease the risk factor if his bat—which will get him drafted high, regardless—doesn’t pan out.

4. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California
Areas To Improve: Continue hitting at exceptional rate, improve range and defensive profile

Vaughn is the safest bat in the entire draft class, so simply continuing to hit at the .374/.474/.681 level that he’s hit at over two seasons with California would be enough to see him go off the board in the top five picks. While no one is drafting Vaughn for his defensive ability at first base, improving in that area would only help his stock and ease the concerns of any scouting director wary of drafting a 5-foot-11, righthanded-hitting first baseman.

3. C.J. Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity HS, Roswell, Ga.
Areas To Improve: Shortstop defense, strength gains

Abrams has a chance to be a dynamic defender at either shortstop or center field because of his athleticism and natural quickness, but teams would prefer for him to stick at shortstop. To do so, he’ll need to improve his consistency in the infield. His future offensive impact is also a bit of a question mark thanks to a slender frame, so gaining muscle and filling out his 6-foot-2 frame would further raise an already high offensive ceiling.

2. Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville (Texas) Heritage HS
Areas To Improve: Contact ability, arm accuracy

Witt Jr. had some questions surrounding his hit tool during the summer, but he looked better much at the plate during the fall. Reducing the amount of swing and miss in his game could allow him to challenge Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman for the top spot in this year’s draft class. And while he’s seen as one of the best defensive shortstops in the class, some evaluators would like him to sharpen up the accuracy of an obviously strong throwing arm.

1. Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State:
Areas To Improve: Health, arm strength

There are fewer holes in Rutschman’s game than perhaps any prospect in the country, but he did experience some right shoulder soreness early in the 2018 season. Naturally, any sort of arm issue would be concerning for a catcher, so scouts would like to see his natural arm strength more consistently this season without any injury concerns to raise questions.

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