The 2015 MLB Draft begins tonight, and while the Dodgers will be major players with four picks today, some of the prevailing themes from this year's draft might center on talent taken ahead of their first selection. While the injured arms are the biggest story tonight, here are some other storylines worth following as you watch the early selections tonight:
Hyperbole and the top draft picks
As you may have heard, this is a down year for draft talent in general, but especially in the top picks. Nevertheless, expect commentators to try and compare the top names to talent well beyond the likely ceiling of the players selected.
The best example of this will likely come once Alex Bregman comes off the board, possibly as early as the second overall selection. Someone on the draft dais is likely to throw out a Dustin Pedroia comparison and drive the selecting teams' fans wild. While Bregman plays with a similar energy and intensity level, there's just nothing in his profile to suggest he can hit for that type of power consistently, and does little to acknowledge the type of anomaly Pedroia is as a player.
Bregman's real value is as a safe selection that should put up .285/.345/.430 lines consistently, possibly still from the shortstop position. After I had the chance to see him this year, I thought he might have a Stephen Drew-Jed Lowrie type career, but with a higher energy level that will endear himself to managers.
That's not a bad consolation prize in a shallow draft, but not the type of talent you generally would see selected in the top ten picks. Expect similar hyperbole on players like Daz Cameron (a good athlete but lots of 55's and 60's, not 70's on tool grades) and Jon Harris (quick to the majors #3 or #4). That doesn't make them bad selections, they just won't be as high ceiling-ed as advertised.
The hardest player to rank in this year's class
That goes to Ian Happ, and I've really kicked myself for leaving him in the 55 tier and 20th ranking, but his upside is tied entirely to his position. If he stays at 2nd base, he's a 65 tier talent and a better prospect than Alex Bregman. Happ scores a tick higher in hit and power to Bregman, and is a more likely fit in the upper middle part of a lineup. As a second baseman, he could be a Jason Kipnis level talent.
However, reports are mixed on just how well he can play the infield, with other suggestions an outfield corner is more likely. Happ doesn't quite have the future power grade to profile as an All Star as much as he does at second base. He still has the solid hit tool and high level of production to suggest he's a safe selection, but the ceiling isn't near as high if he's playing left field.
At this point, while I have him ranked 20th, if I'm a team selection at the back half of the top ten picks and was wanting a college bat, I'd probably gamble on Happ to stick in the infield, and I think a team like the Cubs would be a great landing spot for Happ's offensive tools.
Vanderbilt is the story, but not for the reason you might think
Yes, Vanderbilt is likely to get three players selected early tonight in Dansby Swanson, Walker Buehler, and Carson Fulmer. That's impressive in and of itself, but what is more significant is the amount of pull they have in trying to land some of the top ranked high schoolers on campus. Vanderbilt boasts the most high profile commitments in this draft, including Donny Everett, Alonzo Jones, Chandler Day, Triston McKenzie, Patrick Sandoval, DJ Wilson, Bryce Denton, Nolan Watson, Julian Infante, and Reggie Pruitt in my Top 200 List.
While they won't get all of these players on campus, Vanderbilt has done a good job getting a handful of it's blue chip recruits on campus, and signability will be a large issue for a number of these players. Additionally, Vanderbilt is expect to lose Philip Pfiefer out in this draft, opening up all three spots in their weekend rotation. If a handful of these top prep talents start to slide, there are opportunities aplenty at the school that's becoming a factory for turning out high ranking draft talents ready to move quickly through the farm system.
Also keep an eye for UCLA and Virginia recruits reaching campus instead of signing with the team that drafts them. Signability is about to complicate this draft beyond the limited amount of talent available at the top.
It's a deep draft in college shortstops, but don't expect them all to hit
a common theme in draft evaluation this year has been the depth of middle infield talent that the colleges ranks have produced this year. While this is true, and Swanson and Bregman look like surefire starters, the bulk of the players behind them carry significant offensive concerns.
The top shortstop after the big two on my board is Kyle Hooper, who might be the best athlete and defender of all the collegiate shortstop prospects. His defensive should translate to major league plus, and his athleticism should translate to just enough offensive upside to be a solid contributor at the next level. Kevin Newman of Arizona gets more praise than Hooper on other draft lists, but with a 30 or worse power tool and a slumping hit tool in conference play, Newman carries as much risk as he does safety, and might wind up as a gap hitting second baseman.
The next two names that get brought up as potential first rounders have the biggest offensive concerns, and might profile better as future utilitymen. Blake Trahan of Louisiana Lafayette has a long track record for contact, but lacks power and projectability in his frame that will hamper him against better competition, he gets the most out of his tools but his arm is stretched at short and he might be a better fit at second. Richie Martin has shown various degrees of contact and pop while at Florida, but is similarly slight of frame and his approach can waiver too far toward attempting to hit for power that the rest of his offensive game can suffer. He's a better bet than Trahan and Newman to stick at shortstop, but his hands are just average as is his overall defensive upside.
Key Phrase to Remember while Watching the Draft
These players are just "molds of clay." I see this phrase mentioned most often by Kiley McDaniel at Fangraphs, and I feel it is most fitting for the draft. The team selecting the player has a considerable amount of influence over the type of pro the player becomes. It's simply not worth nitpicking between the strengths and weakness of similar talents like Nolan Watson or Nick Neidart (though if you must, advantage Watson on size and injury history), when the two players are likely to spend three or more years being developed in the minor leagues.
No team will be drafting a finished product tonight, and some teams have a considerable advantage in developing the type of talent they will select. conversely, poor development teams will draft better players and fail to get the most out of the player's talent (Looking at you Colorado and Tyler Jay). So don't read too much into the selections tonight beyond the quality of the "mold of clay" scouting directors will be giving the development staff.