Image credit: Cal 1B Andrew Vaughn (Photo by Bill Mitchell)
UPDATE (3/21): We have expanded to mock the entire first round.
While it’s still early in the draft season—there’s more than 100 days to go until the Orioles announce their selection with the No. 1 overall pick—the opening weekend of college baseball has finally brought us real news and real player movement on draft boards.
Though it’s an incredibly small sample and there’s plenty of time for many things to change, here at Baseball America we are already looking ahead at who could end up with what team on draft day. While scouting directors are still in the early stages of getting looks at high-priority players and won’t have a real idea of who they are going to have a shot at taking until much closer, there are a handful of prospects that make sense among the top 10 picks.
In conversations with area scouts, national crosscheckers and scouting directors this week, it’s safe to say the 2019 draft class will rely heavily on college hitters having big spring seasons. If the hitters don’t step forward, teams will be left to pick through a thin college pitching class, as well as a high school class that lacks the depth of 2018 and years past—or, take a risky shot on a tooled-up college position player with limited track record.
It’s almost cliche to say that college hitters move up draft boards in the spring, but it winds up happening year after year and that should be no different in 2019.
Without further delay, let’s go through teams one through 10 and see which players make sense and why.
1. Orioles — Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State
Surprised to see Rutschman’s name here? We didn’t think so. Through four games with the Beavers, the top prospect in the country is hitting .333/.579/.833 with seven walks to four strikeouts and two home runs. Rutschman has been safely entrenched in the No. 1 spot for months now, and there’s no reason to think that he’s anything but the favorite to go 1-1 this June.
2. Royals — Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Colleyville (Texas) Heritage
The top high school prospect in the country started his season yesterday, with many Texas schools opening up play this week. Witt still has arguably the best overall profile in the class when it comes to playing a premium position at a high level, with plus power and speed. If he hits at a high level this spring, he should be the pick here behind Rutschman.
3. White Sox — Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California
Vaughn is doing Golden Spikes sort of things early this season. After four games in the Angels College Classic in Arizona, Vaughn is hitting a whopping .455/.700/1.000 with a pair of home runs and an unseemly 1:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The short, right-right first base profile is a tough one that hasn’t historically been borne out with a lot of success, but Vaughn is such a complete hitter that he could become the highest-drafted college first baseman since 1998, when Pat Burrell was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Phillies. Brendan McKay’s No. 4 selection in 2017 is the mark to beat, though. If you don’t want to count McKay given his two-way nature, the next-best mark is No. 7. Virginia’s Pavin Smith (D-backs, 2017), Miami’s Yonder Alonso (Reds, 2008) and Florida’s Matt LaPorta (Brewers, 2007) were all selected with the seventh pick in their respective drafts. It would be surprising if Vaughn wasn’t selected before that.
4. Marlins — C.J. Abrams, SS, Blessed Trinity HS, Roswell, Ga.
Abrams could go higher than this, and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him selected as the first non-Rutschman player off the board given the way some scouts have been talking about him this spring. He’s a faster runner than Witt, and he hits from the left side with better bat-to-ball skills. If a team believes he’ll become a premium defender at either shortstop or centerfield and develop more power down the line, then it’s easy to dream on him. Even if he goes after Witt, it would be surprising for him to not get selected among the top five to six picks at this point. He’s gone 4-for-10 through three games, with three doubles and has yet to strikeout.
5. Tigers — Riley Greene, OF, Hagerty HS, Oviedo, Fla.
Witt and Abrams will likely both be off the board before Greene, given a huge edge in supplemental tools and position, but there are scouts who put 70-future grades on Green’s hit tool and that means he’s going off the board quickly, regardless of where he has to play defensively. The Tigers last four first-round picks have been righthanded pitchers, but given the way the class is shaping up and what we have in front of them in this mock, Greene makes plenty of sense here.
6. Padres — Daniel Espino, RHP, Georgia Premier Academy, Statesboro, Ga.
This is where things get tricky, not necessarily because it’s the Padres picking, but because the first five players are the easiest and most obvious to get off the board. This is the range where college hitters who perform could start to become more of a factor, though with San Diego it’s tempting to pair them with both a high school player and a pitcher. Lefthander Hunter Barco has taken huge strides with his body composition this spring and the early reports from scouts are exciting. It’s tempting to put a prep lefthander here, but we’ll hold off on Barco this high for now and instead lean towards the prep arm with the best pure stuff in the class.
7. Reds — Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech
Jung hasn’t tapped into his power through three games this season (a fourth against Oregon was canceled), but he is the best college hitter on the board at this point and has posted a .333/.429/.417 slash line with two walks and two strikeouts. The power will come. More interestingly for the Reds here, they have taken college third baseman in first round in two of the last three years (Nick Senzel in 2016 and Jonathan India in 2018).
8. Rangers — Corbin Carroll, OF, Lakeside HS, Seattle
Carroll doesn’t start playing games until early March, but the Rangers have taken a high school player with 11 of their last 13 first-round picks, dating back to 2009. Carroll isn’t as tooled-up as fellow prep outfielder Jerrion Ealy, but he challenges Greene for the title of best pure hitter in the prep class while also being among the best defenders in center field as well.
9. Braves — Will Wilson, SS, North Carolina State
Let’s get a bit weird. With Brian Bridges no longer calling the shots as scouting director for Atlanta, maybe this will be the first year since 2014 that they don’t take a pitcher in the first round. Nine of the Braves’ last 10 first-round pick have been pitchers, with Braxton Davidson in 2014 being the only exception. In this scenario, the Braves are going back to North Carolina, but to the college side with one of the best pure hitters in the college class in Wolfpack shortstop Will Wilson. Wilson has started the year strong through four games with a .333/.444/.867 slash line, a pair of home runs, a pair of doubles and two walks to two strikeouts. He also has a tremendous track record of hitting in college, and while teams don’t and shouldn’t draft for organizational need, he happens to fill that as a middle infielder, whether that’s at shortstop or second. A rising college bat makes sense in this 6-10 range, and so far in this young college season Wilson fits that profile better than many.
10. Giants — Graeme Stinson, LHP, Duke
San Francisco has a terrific track record of developing pitchers, so let’s give them the pitcher with the best pure stuff still on the board here at No. 10. Stinson was good in his debut against Lehigh, though he threw just three innings and will need to work deeper into games throughout the season as he gets stretched out. He struck out six batters and walked none, allowing just three hits while showcasing his typical stuff. A Graeme Stinson/Joey Bart battery would be exciting to watch throughout the minors, and in this scenario that becomes a possibility.