Reviewing The 2019 MLB Draft First Round Three Years Later

Image credit: Adley Rutschman (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

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. 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 began our look with the 2018 first round yesterday. Today we’re examining 2019. We’ll look at 2020 and 2021 over the next couple of 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. Players who if the draft was redone would be picked significantly higher than where they went.

Alek Manoah, RHP, Blue Jays (Highest level: Majors) – As the durable ace of the Blue Jays staff, Manoah is one of the better young starters in the majors. It’s hard to do better than that with the 11th pick in a draft.

Corbin Carroll, OF, D-backs (AAA) – Carroll missed almost all of 2021 with a shoulder injury, but the D-backs so trusted his hitting ability that they fast-tracked him to Double-A Amarillo this year. He rewarded that faith with an excellent first half of 2022. He’s established himself as one of the best prospects in baseball.

George Kirby, RHP, Mariners (Majors) – When Kirby was at Elon, he was seen as a command-and-control pitcher with somewhat vanilla stuff. The Mariners have unlocked newfound velocity that has helped him turn into a rotation fixture for years to come for Seattle.

Daniel Espino, RHP, Guardians (AA) – Espino has been slowed this year by a knee injury. Before that injury flared up, he was showing arguably the best pure stuff in the minors.

Ethan Small, LHP, Brewers (Majors) – For the first time in his pro career, Small’s sometimes shaky control has started to haunt him a little this season. That doesn’t change the fact that Small looks like a steal at pick 28.

Michael Busch, 2B, Dodgers (AAA) – Busch was primarily a first baseman and left fielder in college. The Dodgers immediately made him a second baseman, believing he could develop further defensively while continuing to mash. It’s a bet that seems to be paying off, making for a very astute selection at pick 31.

Anthony Volpe, SS, Yankees (AA) – One of the breakout prospects of 2021, Volpe’s 2022 hasn’t been as loud, but he remains one of the best prospects in baseball and a better pick than many of the 29 players taken above him.


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.

Adley Rutschman, C, Orioles (Majors) – When you’re considered one of the best draft prospects in years, it’s hard to exceed expectations. But even with a slow start to his major league career, Rutschman appears right on track to meet the high hopes placed on him.

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Royals (Majors) – Witt moved through the minor leagues so quickly that by the end of this year, he’ll come close to having had as many MLB at-bats in his rookie season as he had career minor league at-bats before he reached Kansas City.

Andrew Vaughn, 1B, White Sox (Majors) – College first basemen rarely are picked in the top three picks. The White Sox bucked convention to get Vaughn’s bat. It’s proving a wise pick. He’s having a very solid second season in Chicago.

Riley Greene, OF, Tigers (Majors) – Detroit immediately began playing better when Greene arrived to take over in center field and the leadoff spot. In many drafts, he’d have been picked well before pick No. 5, but the 2019 draft was a loaded one at the top.

CJ Abrams, SS, Padres (Majors) – Abrams may not have the power of Greene or Witt, but he has athleticism, defensive versatility and the chance to be a .300 hitter with speed and gap power.

Nick Lodolo, LHP, Reds (Majors) – The first pitcher selected in the 2019 draft, Lodolo is a key part of the rebuilding Reds rotation of the future.

Quinn Priester, RHP, Pirates (AA) – A strained oblique meant Priester got a very late start to the 2022 season. He did get almost 100 innings of work last year, but between the pandemic and this year’s injury, he still has less than 160 pro innings in total. He’s flashed plus stuff, but is still working on consistency.

Brett Baty, 3B, Mets (AA) – Baty has lived up to expectations as a promising lefty bat who should be able to stay at third base. He’s yet to have the power breakout that is likely to come as he matures, but he’s established a sound foundation as a pure hitter.

Zack Thompson, LHP, Cardinals (Majors) – Thompson is an example of how these evaluations can change. At this time last year, his diminished velocity led to a nightmarish season at Triple-A. He’s bounced back this year and now appears on track to be a useful contributor for St. Louis.

Blake Walston, LHP, D-backs (AA) – Walston was cruising through the minors until he hit Double-A Amarillo. He’s really struggled this year, but it’s too soon to say that’s more than a pothole in his development plan.

Drey Jameson, RHP, D-backs (AA) – Jameson was excellent early this season at Double-A Amarillo. He’s been awful since he arrived at Triple-A Reno, but the pitching environment of Reno is so challenging that it’s fair to give him a mulligan. A number of scouts see him developing into an effective late-inning reliever.

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.

Josh Jung, 3B, Rangers (AA) – A shoulder injury that cost Jung the 2022 season will delay his arrival in Texas to 2023 or later. Pre-injury, Jung was considered one of the better hitting prospects in the minors, but now it’s a waiting game to see how he bounces back from a significant injury.

Brennan Malone, RHP, Pirates (LoA) – An undisclosed illness and a shoulder issue have kept Malone off the mound for much of the 2022 season. That means he’s still yet to log any significant innings (he had 27 career innings) as a pro. He was pulled from his most recent outing (June 15) after he failed to retire any of the three batters he faced and couldn’t touch 90 mph. He then went back on the injured list.

Slight Concerns

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.

Braden Shewmake, SS, Braves (AAA) – Shewmake’s defense has been every bit what the Braves hoped for when they selected him with the 20th pick in the 2019 draft. Offensively, there are more concerns. Shewmake has generally shown a light, bottom-of-the-order bat.

Greg Jones, SS, Rays (AA) – Jones seemed to have taken a step towards tapping into his significant potential when he dominated at High-A Bowling Green last year. Double-A has proven to be much more challenging for him, and his performance there leads to concerns that he’s never going to hit enough to fully unleash his power-speed combo.

Will Wilson, SS/2B, Giants (AAA) – The optimistic assessment is that Wilson is a player who needs a second shot at a level to figure it out. He struggled at Double-A Richmond last year, but did better in his return this season, earning a recent promotion to Triple-A Sacramento. He’s improved his strikeout-to-walk rate and tapped into a little more power.

Logan Davidson, SS, Athletics (AA) – The A’s are still hopeful that Davidson’s steady improvement in how hard he’s hitting the ball will see him blossom into a multi-position infielder. He’s repeating the level at Double-A Midland, but he has shown solid improvement at the plate this year.

Ryan Jensen, RHP, Cubs (AA) – So far, Jensen has had a troubling combination of high walk rates and modest strikeout rates since he was promoted to Double-A. But the Cubs have shortened his arm stroke and it’s helped his stuff improve, so there’s still hope that the best is yet to come.

Korey Lee, C, Astros (Majors) – Lee reached the majors this year, and he still has a path to a lengthy MLB career thanks to a strong arm and above-average power. But he hasn’t shown he’s close to being a big league regular, and he is in danger of being passed as the Astros in-house candidate to be the catcher of the future.


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.

Hunter Bishop, OF, Giants (HiA) – The pandemic didn’t help and a shoulder injury short-circuited his 2021 season, but Bishop’s pro career has been far less than expected. Of the 12 college players picked in the top 20 picks, seven have reached the majors. Bishop is the only one who is yet to reach Double-A. 

Keoni Cavaco, SS/3B, Twins (LoA) – Cavaco was moved from shortstop to third base this year and sent back to Low-A Fort Myers. He’s yet to post an on-base percentage above .300 in a pro season and has a roughly .600 career OPS.

Michael Toglia, 1B, Rockies (AA) – The 23rd pick in the 2019 draft, Toglia was going to have to mash thanks to his first base/corner outfield profile. So far he has a sub-.450 career slugging percentage and a .226 career batting average. There are concerns he won’t hit enough to be an MLB regular.

Jackson Rutledge, RHP, Nationals (HiA) – The Nationals have reworked Rutledge’s approach and arsenal this year in hopes of getting him rolling. There have been flashes of success, but the fact remains that he’s a 23-year-old who’s back in Low-A, a level he first reached in 2019.

Kody Hoese, 3B, Dodgers (AA) – When Hoese was at Tulane, he turned himself into a first-round pick with 23 home runs in his junior season. That power hasn’t carried over to pro ball so far. He’ll best it this year, but so far, his career high in homers in pro ball is five. As a defensively limited third baseman, that and a sub-.300 on-base percentage are issues.


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