Four Storylines From Day 1 Of The 2019 MLB Draft
With the first day of the draft in the books, here are four draft day storylines that stood out.
1. As Expected Up Top
There were rumors and rumors and more rumors leading up to the draft that the Orioles were considering someone other than Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman with the No. 1 overall pick.
Like last year, when there were similar rumors about the Tigers taking someone not named Casey Mize (the consensus top talent) with the first pick, all of those rumors proved to be just noise. The Orioles did what teams have been expecting for the entire spring, and they took the consensus top talent in the class.
"We spent as much time as possible analyzing every angle of this and we landed at Rutschman,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said. "We’re thrilled with the decision, but it’s not a decision we came to easily.”
After that, the top 10 went largely as expected, with Baseball America nailing nine of the first 10 picks in its final mock. Kansas City had long been thought to covet prep shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., and the White Sox continued their recent college-bat trend with California first baseman Andrew Vaughn—getting the top three ranked players off the board in the same order they appear in the BA 500.
"(Witt) went out and earned this spot in the draft based on how he performed,” said Royals general manager Dayton Moore. "We had a scout, sometimes several, at all his games. We saw every inning he played this season. We saw him in preseason, workouts . . . It was an easy, natural decision for us.”
J.J. Bleday going to the Marlins, Riley Greene going to the Tigers, C.J. Abrams going to the Padres and Nick Lodolo going to the Reds was all somewhat expected, and they were the exact names that had been rumored most heavily to each team in the weeks leading up to the draft.
There were less obvious signs about what Texas was looking to do, and No. 8 was the pick where many sources expected to draft to take a turn. But there was no Kyler Murray scenario in the 2019 draft, where a top-10 team took a player significantly down the board. The Rangers were linked with Jung, the Braves were tied with Baylor catcher Shea Langeliers and the Giants were also tied with Arizona State outfielder Hunter Bishop.
With those 10 players off the board, nine of the top-10 ranked players on the BA 500, plus Jung (ranked No. 17), came off the board with the top 10 picks.
It was as close to chalk as a draft could really get.
2. A New Low For Pitching
While Lodolo did go off the board where we were expecting, the 2019 class now becomes the first ever June draft that didn’t have a pitcher—high school or college—come off the board in one of the first six selections.
Prior to 2019, the lowest the first pitcher in the draft was selected was in 2005, when the Blue Jays took Cal State Fullerton righthander Ricky Romero with the sixth pick of the draft.
We wondered throughout the spring if teams would not be able to resist and simply push an arm up the board, but for the most part the industry took the top college pitchers right in line with where we perceived their talent to fit—or later.
Lodolo was the No. 8 ranked prospect and went to the Reds at No. 7, West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah was ranked No. 13 and went with the 11th pick to the Blue Jays. Kentucky lefthander Zack Thompson was ranked No. 11 and went No. 19 to the Cardinals, while Elon righthander George Kirby (ranked No. 20) went with the 20th pick to the Mariners. San Jacinto (Texas) JC righthander Jackson Rutledge went 17th to the Nationals and was ranked as the 14th-best prospect in the country.
"I think in any class I could be a top pitcher,” said Lodolo, whose decision to not sign out of high school three years ago with the Pirates (pick No. 41) paid off in a big way. "I believe in myself and my stuff . . . I was pretty much set on [school] to begin with. I knew that if I signed out of high school, I was not going to go back to do four years of education and education was really important to me and my family.”
Of the 34 first-round picks, only 12 were pitchers, making the first round just as hitter heavy as we expected it to be, given the strength of the class.
3. The High-Upside Prep Arms Who Slid
We’ve been saying this for a while now, but teams are skeptical of high school pitchers due to a scary track record, historically. The 2019 draft was similar to the 2018 class in which a handful of first-round prep pitching talents are still available after the completion of Day 1.
A year ago, Vanderbilt commit Kumar Rocker was the highest rated player still available after Day 1, and while he was drafted late on Day 3, he wound up on campus. This year, that player seems to be Matthew Allan, who was the top-rated high school pitcher of the class and is committed to Florida.
With signing bonus demands that are rumored to be around $4 million, it is unlikely that a team—even one as loaded with picks and bonus pool space as the D-backs—will be able to buy Allan out of his commitment to Florida.
Similarly, Vanderbilt commit Jack Leiter was rumored to have a high price tag, and he went undrafted, though that was more expected than Allan’s absence from Day 1. Along with the two, high-upside righthanders, the top lefthander in the class, Hunter Barco (also a Florida commit) was another notable prep pitcher who didn’t have his name called.
There’s a chance that Florida could now wind up getting two arms to campus who are ranked among the 32 best players in the 2019 draft class. That would be a huge addition for the Gators, but it speaks once again to the fact that you can count on some high school pitchers to slide on draft day.
Last year, Rocker, Cole Wilcox and Adam Kloffenstein were the notable Day 1 omissions, and while Kloffenstein did wind up getting an overslot bonus in the third round, both Rocker and Wilcox ended up in college at Vanderbilt and Georgia, respectively.
Minor League Top 10s Paved The Way For BA Prospect Rankings
While other prospect rankings would surpass them in popularity, the Minor League Top 10s helped BA gain early credibility in the baseball industry.
4. Texas Talent
One of the strengths of the 2019 class was expected to be the enormous amount of talent out of Texas. We wrote earlier this spring about how there was a chance for the Lone Star State to produce more first-round picks than ever before this century, and with seven players drafted out of the state before the start of the supplemental first round, the 2019 Texas class will now be seen as one of the strongest ever.
Prior to this year, the most first-round picks Texas has produced was six, back in 2006. During each of the last three years, only two first-round players came out of the state.
Two of the most exciting high school bats came from Texas in the first round this year, in Witt Jr. and Lake Travis (Austin) High third baseman Brett Baty, as well as the first pitcher off the board (Lodolo), the highest-rated and first drafted junior college player (Rutledge) and three college hitters with extensive track records in Jung, Langeliers and Texas A&M shortstop Braden Shewmake, who went No. 21 to the Braves.
The Texas trend continued in the second round as well. While teams are proving reluctant to take prep arms in the first round, they were more than happy to take them in the second. Three Lone Star State prep pitchers were picked in the second and supplemental second rounds (Matthew Thompson, Josh Wolf and Jimmy Lewis) in addition to three college pitchers (Matt Canterino, Brandon Williamson and John Doxakis).
All together, Texas accounted for 16 Day 1 selections, with the runner-up (California) tallying just nine Day 1 picks and North Carolina coming in third with seven selections.