The 2016 MLB Draft is just three weeks away, and with three of the first 36 picks, the Dodgers are primed to add some talent to an already stocked farm system. Despite my assumptions when starting this exercise, the 2016 Draft appears to be a bit of a down year in overall talent, with more depth in the middle-tier prospects than at the top. While the high school class is overall pretty solid, the college class has taken a hit from lackluster seasons by many of the bigger names thought to be near the top of the board.
The depth of the class can be found in high school infielders and left-handed pitching. Though many of the high school shortstops in this class will likely have to move off the position, the depth of the athleticism and potential of this group is impressive. Left-handed arms run the gamut of polished and pitchability to electric and projectable.
The college class is weak in both arms and bats in comparison to last year, and the outfield class in general doesn’t compare to last season. Teams might be more tempted to gamble less this year and instead pursue "likely big leaguers, " which has pushed players like Pittsburgh’s T.J. Zeuch (more on him later) and Miami’s Zak Collins higher up draft boards. With the Dodgers already strong on the farm, they could be poised to pounce on a few upside plays early in this draft.
I will cover more of my thoughts on the Dodgers’ draft direction in the coming weeks, but today I want to cover more of the general themes of this draft, and go over a few notable names to remember.
Don’t overthink at the top
I did not give any players an 80 grade last year. That’s probably more my pessimism than the talent, as Brendan Rodgers and Dansby Swanson have proven early that they probably deserved such grades. My first 80-grade player in doing this has been the consensus leader since last summer up until recently, as teams start to second guess themselves. Though I don’t have the ability to see Jason Groome pitch during the spring, I place a higher value on high schooler performances during the summer showcase circuit, and Groome was last year’s shining star.
There’s not much to dislike with Groome. He’s got polish and projection, command and plus stuff. I’ve read some teams worry about immaturity and inconsistent stuff this spring (he pitches in the Northeast, this should almost be expected), but this shouldn’t take away from the potential Groome brings. He has the upside of an ace, and the floor of a solid number-three arm.
Outside of Groome, it takes a bit of dreaming to justify the more frequently rumored names near the top. A.J. Puk has a fastball that is easy plus and probably double-plus when you factor in the movement and angle he throws the pitch at, but he doesn’t dominate like a first overall pick in college should and hasn’t shown consistency with his secondary pitches. Corey Ray is a high floor outfielder and has been highly productive in college, but I see his ceiling closer to Starling Marte of Pittsburgh, and many scouting reports question his ability to stick in center.
By draft day, I would be a little surprised if Groome isn’t ultimately the top pick of the draft. At worst, he likely doesn’t escape Atlanta at three, who is likely looking to take the best available player period.
Top college talent has struggled
Coming into the season, many outlets had projected Oklahoma pitcher Alec Hansen to go near the top of the draft. I had been critical of Hansen’s command and lack of development on twitter, as I saw him last year and suggested he might have 20-grade command. His stock free fall has still been somewhat surprising, but his performances have stabilized of late and when I saw him two weeks ago, the command was closer to fringe average. He’s still a huge project (literally, he’s 6’7 with the longest arm action in the draft), but if he’s picked in the thirties, he might be a worthwhile gamble for a team.
Almost as soon as I published a hopeful review of Oregon left-hander Matt Krook, he stopped throwing strikes. His struggles have been so great of late that he’s in need of some rehabilitation to find the prospect luster he showed from last summer’s Cape performance. I originally had him graded in my top 10 as a grade-65 arm, but have twice downgraded him, with him now ranking at number fifty. I do believe if you’ve shown the ability in the past, you could still have the ability in the future, so he too could be an upside gamble, but there’s a lot to unpack here.
I got the opportunity to see Arizona third baseman Bobby Dalbec put his 80-grade raw power on display in the Cape last season, and thought he might be the college version of Joey Gallo. His contact problems have been exacerbated this season and his performance has dipped. However, I was quite impressed with the video of him on the mound that I now see him as an upside pick as a starter. Dalbec has a quick arm and the chance for three pitches all grading at average or better. Most scouting reports suggest teams want to still tap into that power, but I’d rather see him explore pitching at the next level.
Kyle Funkhouser took a huge risk when he turned down the Dodgers’ money as a supplemental first round pick in 2015, and it almost assuredly looks to backfire on him in 2016. His performance has declined and reports are his stuff has as well. As a college senior, you really hoped to see him not only dominate, but improve his peripherals, and they have instead gone backward. He’s gone from a 65-grade player to a 50-grade player for me, and without improved command, is almost assuredly a pro reliever now. This doesn’t necessarily mean the Dodgers dodged a bullet — who knows what he might have been able to do with a full year under the development staff’s tutelage? What it does show is that turning down big money draft offers is almost always too severe a risk to take for players.
High school 3B/RHP Josh Lowe
Players linked to the Dodgers in mock drafts
I’ve seen enough rankings by other media outlets to suggest that my lofty ranking of Josh Lowe is likely an outlier, but I just can’t find it in myself to downgrade a player with measurables and tools this loud. Despite being 6’4, Lowe has easy plus grades in speed, arm strength, and raw power, with the arm and power likely reaching double-plus territory. His infield actions and hands aren’t the smoothest, but he has the athleticism to improve at the hot corner and with work I believe he can be a plus defender. Likewise, the swing is more conducive to power and shows some swing and miss, but that too can be developed. Of all players linked to the Dodgers, none have the upside of Lowe.
If there is one glaring hole in the Dodgers’ system, it’s at the shortstop position, where they currently have no answer internally should they need to switch Corey Seager over to third base in the next few years. Gavin Lux might be the best bet in this year’s draft to change that. Lux stands out despite no one standout tool, but instead being a more complete package for a high school prospect. He shows a high baseball aptitude and flashes the ability to hit for average and could still grow into a little power. Outside of Nolan Jones, who I previously profiled, Lux is probably my favorite realistic target that has been tied to the Dodgers.
The college arms that have been linked are all less exciting prospects. I discussed Hansen earlier and with a ranking of thirty-nine, he would not be much of a reach in the supplemental first round. Justin Dunn of Boston College is the next best arm, and he offers more upside than the typical college arm. Dunn has an easy arm action and produces an easy plus fastball. I haven’t however, seen any video that would suggest better than average secondaries. Dunn is on the smaller side and has primarily been a reliever in college. Additionally, he hasn’t dominated college hitters the way you would think a first-round college arm should. The ERA is low, but Dunn’s 9.34 K/9 is not as impressive compared to other college arms, especially when you consider he’s spent most his time this year in the bullpen. In comparison, a pitcher I grade ahead of consensus (and Dunn), Rice’s Jon Duplantier also has an easy, electric arm but a 2016 strikeouts-per-nine-innings of 11.47, in almost twice as many innings.
Pittsburgh’s T. J. Zeuch might be the least-inspiring first-round name linked to the Dodgers. Zeuch’s 6’7 height and downward plane on his sinking fastball might seem intriguing, but that’s about where the intrigue ends. Zeuch’s secondaries look less impressive than Dunn’s, and his 2016 stat line looks more like what you would expect from a middle-rotation prospect, which coincidentally, is just what Zeuch is. His command of the fastball is good enough that he’s probably a big leaguer, and in a down draft, that might be enough for some teams, but Zeuch’s upside doesn’t quite fit with how Billy Gasparino drafted last season, and certainly doesn’t fit with Los Angeles’ lofty expectations for their team year in and year out.
Names to watch
He’s just my 13th-ranked player, but prep righty Matt Manning is my favorite player in this draft. The highly athletic 6’6 Manning comes at hitters from a wide angle and shows heavy life with a well commanded fastball. He won’t likely reach the Dodgers’ first pick, but Manning will be a player I enjoy following as he starts his career.
He carries the stigma of "Rice pitcher that has already had an arm injury," but Jon Duplantier checks off almost every box on the prototype chart. Outstanding size, athleticism, and stuff pair with good production and improving command.
Prep left-hander Kyle Muller may not have the most imposing stuff, but he has an outstanding present frame and an advanced feel for pitching amongst his peers. I see some Mark Mulder in him and wouldn’t be surprised to see him land in the first round.
He’s received more buzz of late, but Corbin Burnes is starting to look pretty interesting as a supplemental or late first-round pick. Burnes has three pitches, plus arm speed, and a bulldog mentality on the mound.
Carter Kieboom is not the athlete that many of his peers are in the high school infield crop, but he might have the best feel for hitting. He’ll get the chance to stick at shortstop, but might have to move to third. He should still have starter upside as a Bill Mueller high contact hitter type.
I was excited about the possibilities of a team like Los Angeles developing a live arm like Tyler Baum, but he seems intent on attending North Carolina next year. As a fan of big sink on fastball’s, Baum’s video is fun to watch.
If you miss out on the top high school infielders, Tyler Fitzgerald offers many of the measurables and physical tools to develop in rounds two to four. Fitzgerald shows more stiffness at the plate, but has a chance to stick at short despite his big 6’3 frame.
He just missed my top 100, but prep outfielder Trevyne Carter is the ultimate tools/upside play in this draft. Carter needs both physical development and skill refinement and might be a little raw for the pro game, but he has 6.5 speed in the sixty, a plus outfield arm and some of the best bat speed in this class.
The Top 100
This is still a fluid list, with players still being evaluated and added with the hope of being at two hundred names by draft day. To create this list, I sourced names from similar lists by Baseball America, Perfect Game, and MLB Pipelineto serve as a guide for which players to evaluate, but the grades and comments are my own opinions. The format is similar to my prospect rankings list and grades represent what a player would enter into the system at tier-wise. Like last season, the comments are to provide a snapshot of the player, and many comparisons are made to players relative to age and prospect grade level. Feel free to ask me for any clarifications or questions in the comments.