Image credit: Adley Rutschman (Scobel Wiggins/Oregon State)
Everyone agrees: Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman is the top player in the 2019 draft. Multiple scouts told Baseball America that Rutschman is the most talented No. 1 draft prospect since Bryce Harper in 2010.
Rutschman is a complete player who is a plus hitter with plus power, plus arm strength, plus receiving ability and outstanding makeup and leadership attributes that teams covet in catchers.
He should make the Orioles’ decision at No. 1 easy.
“Perennial all-star, man,” one crosschecker said of Rutschman. “He’s the best combination of tools and makeup I’ve ever scouted. He makes the toughest position look the easiest. His natural feel to nurture a staff is unbelievable. His aptitude is an 80 (on the 20-80 scouting scale). Makeup is an 80.”
Texas high school shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. has been famous in scouting circles for years thanks to a robust arsenal of plus or better tools, an innate feel for the game and major league bloodlines.
Extending the line of impact hitters is California’s Andrew Vaughn. His feel to hit and hit with power should help him transcend an atypical profile as a 6-foot, righthanded-hitting first baseman at a position where the average big leaguer is 6-foot-3 and often bats lefthanded or switch-hits.
While scouts endorse the talent at the top of the 2019 draft board, the overall depth of the class is down, providing a stark contrast to the deep 2018 class.
The shallow nature of the draft is most obvious in a lack of college pitchers. “Absolutely one of the worst college pitching classes that I’ve seen,” one scout said.
Even mid-rotation arms are tougher to find than usual. Many pitchers at the top of the class either lack prototype first-round stuff (Nick Lodolo, George Kirby) or have significant reliever risk (Alek Manoah, Jackson Rutledge) or injury concerns (Zack Thompson, Carter Stewart) or simply lack track record (Seth Johnson).
“It’s a good situation for these hitters that there is no pitching,” one AL scouting director said. “There’s not a lot of competition in the top five. You don’t have four Friday night guys you compare the hitters to.”
Draft history suggests that teams value college pitchers too much to completely ignore the demographic, which could artificially push a few arms up the board. The fewest number of college pitchers drafted in the first round in the last 20 years is six, which happened in 2015, when Dillon Tate, Tyler Jay and Carson Fulmer went fourth, sixth and eighth overall.
History also suggests that one team will reach for a pitcher because the first pitcher typically comes off the board in the top five picks. The only exception to that rule occurred in 2005, when the Blue Jays drafted Cal State Fullerton lefty Ricky Romero No. 6 overall.
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