Early Hits From The 2017 Draft
With the 2018 draft in the books, it’s an excellent time to take a look in the rear-view mirror at the early results from the 2017 draft. It’s obviously still early, but there’s been enough of a sample in many cases to point out successes.
Three top college arms have already reached Double-A, while three of the top 10 selections have scuffled in their full-season debuts. Player development is a marathon, so here’s how the race has been run over the first few miles.
Canning ranked 26th on the 2017 BA500 draft rankings but he fell to the second round after some teams had concerns with his medical report. If the draft were re-done today, Canning would be picked in the first round as was expected. His fastball has ticked up from 90-94 mph to 93-97, his slider and curveball are both flashing plus, and he was the second pitcher from the draft to reach Double-A. He recorded a 1.72 ERA through his first seven starts at Mobile, and he had been the starter in two combined no-hitters.
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Smith hit .301 in the Cape Cod League in 2016 (against a league average of .249) while leading the league with 12 doubles, but he turned in an underwhelming junior season at Maryland and fell to the fourth round. After watching video, Smith found a flaw in his swing against high fastballs that he worked to correct. The early results were outstanding. Through 46 games at low Class A Lansing, Smith hit .355/.407/.639 with seven home runs—while reducing his strikeout rate. That earned him a bump to high Class A Dunedin.
Canning was the second pitcher from the 2017 draft class to make it Double-A, and Stephan, a third-rounder out of Arkansas, wasn’t far behind. The righthander skipped over low Class A Charleston and dominated in his full-season debut at high Class A Tampa. With the Tarpons, Stephan struck out 49 in 41 innings while allowing just 23 hits. Stephan was a junior college reliever for two years before transferring to Arkansas, where he made 16 starts. He gets his outs primarily with a lively low-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss slider.
Mitchell was another consensus first-rounder who dropped to the second round. In his case, a poor first two months of his high school senior year sank him. Even though Mitchell rallied to finish strong, by that time evaluators had already moved on to scouting others for their first-round pick. Drafted 50th overall, Mitchell was outperforming many of the prep hitters taken in front of him, batting .324/.387/.535 through 45 games at low Class A West Virginia. With a beautiful, textbook swing from the left side and more power to come, Mitchell is in prime position to sustain his hot start and make teams regret skipping over him.
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On one hand, Varsho had bloodlines as the son of big league outfielder Gary Varsho, uncanny athleticism for a catcher and a potent lefthanded bat. On the other, he played against suspect competition at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and had a below-average arm. The knocks on Varsho dropped him outside of the top 60 picks, but he was showing that was a mistake. Varsho jumped straight to high Class A Visalia for his first full season and has flirted with a .900 OPS while stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. Perhaps most importantly, he’s posting pop times of sub-1.9 seconds on throws to second base—a plus arm—and had thrown out 40 percent of basestealers, eliminating concerns about his arm and showing he can stay behind the plate.
After being used primarily as a reliever at Texas A&M in his first two seasons, Martin saw ample rotation time in his draft year—and that’s the role the Astros are developing him in after taking him in the second round. He blitzed the competition at high Class A Buies Creek, where he allowed a stunning four hits in 19 innings before becoming the third pitcher from his draft to reach Double-A. Armed with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of quality breaking pitches, Martin adjusted to the Texas League after a rough opening outing.
Lowther doesn’t have premium velocity, which is why he slipped to the supplemental second round, but the Orioles liked his deception which allowed him to miss bats with an 88-92 mph fastball. He bullied hitters this year at low Class A Delmarva, racking up 51 strikeouts against nine walks through 31 innings as he went 3-1, 1.16 through late May.