Image credit: Jackson Rutledge (Photo by Tom DiPace)
Every year at the conclusion of the regular season, Baseball America revisits each teams’ most recent draft class. Each class has its no-doubt, high-profile names to keep an eye on, but our annual draft report cards highlight the best tools, best debuts, late-round steals and more. Here are the names you need to know from every organization’s 2019 draft.
Best Pure Hitter: The Nationals had another draft heavy on pitching, but they still spent their second-round pick on 3B Drew Mendoza, who hit .304/.447/.549 over a three-year career at Florida State. Mendoza will need to cut down his strikeout rate (23.8 percent at low Class A Hagerstown) and get a bit more aggressive in hitter’s counts, but he has a solid understanding of the strike zone and good feel to hit.
Best Power Hitter: Mendoza currently has a power-over-hit profile, with at least 60-grade power that some scouts would describe as double-plus. He never had an issue tapping into that juice in college with a metal bat, but he might need some further refinement to get the most out of his power with wood.
Fastest Runner: After a two-year church mission, SS Jackson Cluff (6) returned to Brigham Young, where he stole 12 bases without getting caught. He’s a plus runner, which should allow him to be a distraction on the bases and cover a good amount of ground defensively.
Best Defensive Player: The Nationals got aggressive with Cluff’s initial pro assignment because of his age—he will turn 23 in December—and his current defensive polish. He has solid hands and good footwork and can play both middle infield positions, though almost all of his professional innings were spent at shortstop, where he managed a .971 fielding percentage.
Best Athlete: Cluff is a solid athlete, as is OF Jeremy Ydens (8), who missed time during the spring at UCLA thanks to a broken finger. Ydens has advanced feel to hit due to a loose, athletic swing that’s consistently on time.
Best Fastball: The Nationals made RHP Jackson Rutledge (1) the highest-drafted junior college pitcher this century when they took him with the 17th overall pick. Rutledge had the best pure stuff of any pitcher in the 2019 class, including a fastball that has touched as high as 102 mph and sits in the upper 90s deep into starts. It’s an 80-grade offering.
Best Secondary Pitch: LHP Matt Cronin (4) improved his curveball significantly during his junior season with Arkansas, to the point where his 12-to-6 curve is an easy plus offering. Rutledge will show a plus slider at times and also has a plus curveball.
Best Pro Debut: In 17 games and 22 innings in Class A Hagerstown, Cronin struck out 41 batters (16.8 strikeouts per nine innings) to just 11 walks while posting a 0.82 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .153 batting average.
Most Intriguing Background: While on his mission trip, Cluff was only allowed to work out for an hour a day to stay in shape for baseball. He made the most of that allotted time, and he didn’t skip a beat once he returned to BYU. His added strength allowed him to hit for significantly more extra-base hits. OF Jake Randa (13) is the son of 12-year major leaguer Joe Randa, who played third and second base for the Royals, Pirates, Padres, Reds and Tigers.
Closest To The Majors: Cronin was identified prior to the draft as the sort of power reliever who could move quickly through the minors thanks to a fast arm, above-average fastball and plus curveball. In Washington’s system, he should be able to move quickly to help a competitive major league team in the bullpen.
Best Late-Round Pick: Washington signed SS Junior Martina (16) for $100,000 early on Day 3, and he went to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League where he finished 10th in batting with a .338/.461/.515 slash line before earning a late-season promotion to the New York-Penn League. A solid defender who was born in Curacao, Martina doesn’t have eye-popping tools but is a solid runner and a solid-average defender with an above-average arm. The Nationals were also excited to get Randa—who has a solid bat with above-average power—in the 13th round.
The One Who Got Away: Washington signed each of its first picks through 25 rounds, but really liked RHP Bryce Osmond (35) and C Tyler LaRue (38). Osmond has legitimate two-way talent but most scouts prefer his upside on the mound.