Reviewing The 2018 MLB Draft First Round Four Years Later
Evaluators have long said that you can’t fully evaluate a draft class until many years have passed. There’s plenty of logic to that, because players do develop at different rates. A look at the 2012 first round seven years later in 2019 would have seen Kevin Gausman viewed as a well-traveled league-average starter. Now, he’s viewed as a front-of-the-rotation ace.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t get clues relatively quickly. Some players struggle to adapt to pro ball. Others seem even better than expected right away. When Mark Appel hit the minors, pro scouts quickly saw that he didn’t look like the No. 1 pick in a draft class. It wasn’t very long before evaluators were asking how Walker Buehler slipped to the back third of the 2015 first round.
So with that in mind, we’re taking a look at the past four first rounds this week, beginning with 2018. We’re not writing off any first-rounder’s potential completely this quickly (except for Kyler Murray since he’s playing football), but we can slot players into five categories: Better Than Expected, Do It All Over Again, Too Soon To Tell, Slight Concerns and Reasons To Worry.
We begin our look with the 2018 first round. We’ll look at 2019, 2020 and 2021 over the next few days, and then we’ll look at what we see from the totality of the past four first rounds in a wrap-up post.
Better Than Expected
Have performed at a level exceeding their draft slot/signing bonus. These are players who if the draft was redone would be picked higher than where they went.
Grayson Rodriguez, RHP, Orioles (Highest Level: AAA) - One of the best pitching prospects in baseball, Rodriguez has yet to reach the majors, but he has more trade value than almost anyone picked ahead of him in the 2018 draft.
Nolan Gorman, 2B, Cardinals (Majors) - Made the move to second base look easier than expected and has shown that he’s not just a slugger. He’s actually a pretty well-rounded player.
Shane McClanahan, LHP, Rays (Majors) - McClanahan was seen by many as a likely reliever coming out of college. Instead, he’s looking like maybe the best pitcher to come out of the 2018 first round.
Logan Gilbert, RHP, Mariners (Majors) - Has been excellent this year and looks to be a rotation fixture for Seattle for years to come.
Nico Hoerner, SS, Cubs (Majors) - Has been a young bright spot on a pretty woeful Cubs team.
Do It All Over Again
Players who so far have lived up to expectations. If a team had it to do all over again, they’d consider picking them again.
Casey Mize, RHP, Tigers (Majors) - Tommy John surgery will sideline him for a while, but his solid 2021 season for Detroit is a hint of things to come.
Jonathan India, 2B, Reds (Majors) - The 2021 National League Rookie of the Year had a slow start to his minor league career, but he’s rebounded quite well.
Cole Winn, RHP, Rangers - Injuries and the pandemic slowed his development. He emerged with an excellent 2021 season, but has struggled in Triple-A in 2022.
Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Rays (Majors) - Was traded to the Cardinals for Randy Arozarena, a great trade for the Rays. Liberatore has made it to St. Louis and should settle into the Cardinals rotation.
Brady Singer, RHP, Royals (Majors) - If he had been picked higher in the first round, he’d slot in the slight concerns group, but as the 18th pick, the fact that Singer has been a back-of-the-rotation starter is a reasonable result.
Brice Turang, SS, Brewers (AAA) - He’s more of a high floor than high ceiling player at this point, but Turang looks to be a useful big league middle infielder in the not-too-distant future.
Bo Naylor, C, Guardians - His work as a catcher means Naylor is on a slower developmental path, but he looks like potentially one of the better picks in the back third of the first round.
Triston Casas, 1B, Red Sox (AAA) - His 2022 season has not matched 2021 so far, but Casas does still show an advanced hit tool that should make him a solid regular.
Trevor Larnach, OF, Twins (Majors) - Larnach has yet to make much of an impact at the major league level, but if you look at the back third of the 2018 first round, there aren’t many players who the Twins would rather pick other than Nico Hoerner and Shane McClanahan.
The Reds Are On Pace To Be Historically Bad
While there is still a lot of season left to be played, the Reds are tracking to be every bit as bad as the 2003 Tigers and 1962 Mets, the two worst teams since integration.
Too Soon To Tell
Players who because of injuries or workload concerns have not had a chance to demonstrate enough to make a significant evaluation.
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Guardians (Low-A) - Hankins has thrown less than 70 innings as a pro and hasn’t thrown an official pitch since 2019. His 2021 Tommy John surgery, coming on the heels of the pandemic, has cost him two and a half years of development time. When he does return to the mound later this summer, he will likely head back to Class A. Even if he pitches in the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost innings, the Guardians will face a Rule 5 protection decision on him this offseason, which means they risk losing him or will have to start burning options to give him time to make up for lost development.
The initial returns are somewhat concerning, but it’s still early enough that you want to see how they make adjustments and respond to their struggles.
Joey Bart, C, Giants (Majors) - Bart was expected to be the Giants replacement for Buster Posey. He was demoted back to Triple-A Sacramento in June, although he’s just been brought back to San Francisco because of injuries. Bart still has a chance to be an everyday catcher, but the fact that he’s failed to clearly claim that job as a 25-year-old is discouraging.
Alec Bohm, 3B, Phillies (Majors) - Bohm was expected to be a below-average defender at third base, but the hope was his bat would more than make up for the difference. A .384 slugging percentage over more than 900 MLB plate appearances is a clear sign that the 25-year-old may not hit enough.
Nick Madrigal, 2B, White Sox (Majors) - Since being drafted, Madrigal has been traded to the Cubs. Madrigal’s lack of any appreciable power has hindered his chance to make an impact at the plate despite outstanding bat-to-ball skills.
Jarred Kelenic, OF, Mets (Majors) - Traded to the Mariners in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz deal, Kelenic emerged as one of the top prospects in baseball. That success has not translated to the majors. His .173/.256/.338 slash line in almost 500 MLB plate appearances is indicative of real issues. Kelenic may bounce back, but his ceiling is likely lower than what we perceived a couple of years ago.
Jordan Groshans, SS/3B, Blue Jays (AAA) - He lost nearly two seasons due to injuries and the pandemic. Scouts like his bat, but he’s shown very little impact in 2022.
Ryan Weathers, LHP, Padres (Majors) - Weathers blitzed through the minors to make it to San Diego in 2021, but his career has hit a speed bump since then. He’s still young (22), but his struggles at Triple-A El Paso seem to indicate he has a good bit of work remaining.
Seth Beer, OF/1B, Astros (Majors) - The Astros traded Beer to Arizona, but even the adoption of the DH in the National League has yet to clear a path for Beer to be an MLB regular.
Daniel Lynch, LHP, Royals (Majors) - Of all the college pitchers the Royals drafted in 2018, Lynch had the highest ceiling. He’s been less productive so far than Singer, which is why he rates as a slight concern, but he is in Kansas City’s rotation and has been better as of late.
Ryan Rolison, LHP, Rockies (AAA) - Rolison rolled through the lower minors, but faced more challenges in his 2021 promotion to Triple-A Albuquerque. A shoulder injury has kept him off the mound all year in 2022.
Reasons To Worry
Players whose performance and tools had not lived up to their pre-draft expectations. Are not currently projected to have a significant big league role.
Kyler Murray, OF, Athletics (NFL) - We aren’t evaluating draftees who didn’t sign. In those cases, the players who the team drafted the next year with the compensatory pick are evaluated. But Murray did sign with Oakland before choosing to play football. He is a first-round pick who signed but never played a game, which means he’s a very costly lost first-round pick for Oakland.
Travis Swaggerty, OF, Pirates (Majors) - As we’ve noted in other cases, where a player is drafted plays a role in where they slot. If Swaggerty had been picked later in the first round, he may be among the Slight Concerns or Do It All Over Again groupings. He reached the big leagues this year. But as the 2018 draft’s 10th pick, it’s hard to say the Pirates would pick him again over Grayson Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert or Matthew Liberatore. Those are three of the next six players picked after Swaggerty.
Connor Scott, OF, Marlins (AA) - Scott is another example of why teams should be leery before picking a prep bat who didn’t get to be seen on the showcase circuit. Scott missed much of the summer before his senior year with appendicitis. He had a strong spring in his draft year, but has shown minimal impact at the plate as a pro. He has been traded to the Pirates.
Jordyn Adams, OF, Angels (AA) - See what we just said about Scott. Adams was not viewed as a first-round talent coming out of the summer of 2017. A strong spring vaulted him into the first round. Adams first reached High-A in 2019. Thanks to his struggles at the plate and the pandemic, he was still in High-A three years later. The Angels just promoted him to Double-A, but he was hitting .228/.308/.306 in High-A at the time of the promotion.
Anthony Seigler, C, Yankees - Catchers do develop more slowly, but Seigler hasn’t made it out of Class A in his five years in pro ball.
Mason Denaburg, RHP, Nationals (Low-A) - Shoulder surgery followed by Tommy John surgery means that Denaburg has barely pitched as a pro. When he has pitched, he’s walked over six batters per nine innings. The reason he doesn’t rank among too soon to tell like Hankins does is because Denaburg’s litany of injuries and his control troubles have combined to lower his ceiling.
Nick Schnell, OF, Rays (Low-A) - Schnell has played fewer than 150 games in five seasons, which explains why he has yet to make it out of Low-A. When he has played, he’s struggled to make contact. This year, he’s made improvements, but he’s a long way from the St. Petersburg.
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Royals (Majors) - He’s made the majors, but so far, Kowar’s been one of the worst major league pitchers of the 21st century. In fact, his 10.91 ERA is the second worst of the 21st century of any MLB pitcher with 30 or more innings. (Matt Hall ranks worst with a 11.47 ERA). He’s also among the 10 worst pitchers of the 21st century in opponent batting average (.351) and WHIP (2.18). Yes, he’s early in his MLB career, but it’s hard to find an example of a player being this bad in the majors and going on to have significant success.