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Big League Talent Harder To Find In 2017

An area scout was discussing his region. But based on conversations with scouts around the country, he may as well have been talking about the whole 2017 draft class.

“I feel like a beachcomber with a metal detector,” he said, “and all I keep finding is a broken earring here or there.”

Scouts do not expect to look back at the 2017 draft with fondness. But they will look back and find big leaguers, even impact big leaguers, who came out of this class.

They’re just harder to find, and a bit less obvious.

That’s the consensus of opinion as the draft hurdles toward its three-day peak, with the first two rounds (and competitive balance rounds) held June 12, followed by Rounds 3-40 on June 13-14.

The Twins select first, in a year without the kind of dominant college pitcher or hitter that makes picking No. 1 overall easy. The Reds, Padres, Rays and Braves round out the first five teams making selections.

Derek Falvey, in his first year as Minnesota’s chief baseball officer, and new general manager Thad Levine have three scouting directors, past and present, on the staff helping make the 1-1 pick. Player personnel vice president Mike Radcliff, senior advisor Deron Johnson and first-year scouting director Sean Johnson give Minnesota an enviable group of decision-makers for the process, and Radcliff hit a home run for the Twins when the club last picked at No. 1 overall, in 2001. Minnesota drafted Joe Mauer, taking him over Mark Prior.

This class’ top talents include Southern California two-way prep phenom Hunter Greene, a spectacular talent vying to become the first-ever prep rightander picked No. 1 overall; Louisville’s two-way star Brendan McKay, a unique prospect with a virtually unblemished amateur track record but modest fastball velocity by today’s standards; and the top college pitcher on the board, Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright.

McKay and Greene are legitimate first-round talents both as a hitter and as a pitcher. McKay could be picked in the first five picks either way, while the industry values Greene as a potential first-rounder as a power-hitting shortstop but not as highly as he’s regarded as a pitcher. As one scout put it early in the spring, “He’s got big raw power, he’s got a nice easy swing . . . but it’s hard to walk away from 100 (mph) with that low-effort delivery.”

McKay’s fastball velocity had dropped into the 88-91 mph range down the stretch as he added a cut fastball and seemed to wear down under his two-way workload. However, he ranked 10th in the country with 116 strikeouts and had hit 15 home runs. Meanwhile, Wright was surging down the stretch, showing four plus pitches after a slow start and striking out 62 while allowing just 17 hits in his final six regular season starts, posting a 1.16 ERA over 46.2 innings.

McKay and Wright are part of a group of college pitchers that was expected to be a strength of the draft class, but the rest of the group—including righthanders such as North Carolina’s J.B. Bukauskas, UCLA’s Griffin Canning, Florida’s Alex Faedo, Missouri’s Tanner Houck, LSU’s Alex Lange—has had solid rather than spectacular returns. Oregon lefthander David Peterson was among the small group of college arms that had taken a step forward, but a larger, injury-riddled collection had taken steps back, a clutch of arms including South Carolina righthander Clarke Schmidt (elbow surgery) and Stanford righty Tristan Beck (back). Another top college arm, Houston’s Seth Romero, joined the wild-card group by getting suspended and then kicked off the Cougars’ roster for a pair of incidents.

Scouts have panned the college hitter class regularly since the outset of the spring, with the movers including rare middle-of-the-diamond performers such as Virginia center fielder Adam Haseley and North Carolina shortstop Logan Warmoth and corner bats such as Kentucky first baseman Evan White, Louisville third baseman Drew Ellis and Arizona first baseman J.J. Matijevic.

That leaves riskier preps, especially pitchers and tooled-up outfielders, who are expected to flood the draft roughly from picks 20-75. North Carolina prep lefty MacKenzie Gore and Texas righty Shane Baz might have played their way into the top 10, and outfielders Jordon Adell (Louisville, Ky.) and Austin Beck (Lexington, N.C.) might have done so as well.

But there might not be much separation between Adell, Beck and athletic high school outfielders such as Alabama’s Bubba Thompson, Puerto Rico’s Heliot Ramos, Georgia’s Drew Waters and New York’s Quentin Holmes. Each offers high risk but also high rewards, so most top evaluators expected those players to start hearing their name called in the supplemental round, when teams start having their second and third selections.

The old Paul Snyder axiom rules the prep pitching class; the former Braves scouting director used to tell his scouts, “You need 10 to get two (to the majors).” This class has that kind of depth, with lefthanders D.L. Hall (Alabama) and Trevor Rogers (New Mexico) heading a solid crew of lefthanders. The pool of prep righthanders includes pitchers of various stripes, from hard-throwing Minnesotan Sam Carlson to Californians such as Matt Sauer and Hans Crouse to projection plays such as Louisiana’s Blayne Enlow and Alabama’s Tanner Burns.

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