The 2017 MLB Draft is less than two months away, and the Dodgers enter this year’s event with fewer picks than they’ve had in the Billy Gasparino era, but arguably the deepest farm system in that same time that has few holes in need of filling. With fewer picks and a smaller budget, it remains to be seen how the strategy might change, and until more publications start releasing mock drafts, we have few indications which direction the Dodgers might go.
That being said, using the most recent draft rankings at Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, I wanted to highlight five players that bear watching as the draft evaluation season heats up that could be in play for the Dodgers at pick No. 23:
Tanner Houck, RHP, Missouri
It hasn’t been Gasparino’s MO to take a safer college arm this high in the draft, but Houck might represent solid value at pick twenty-three if his “slide” continues. Houck’s stock might be suffering from prospect fatigue, as he’s been a top 2017 candidate since his stellar freshman season. While MLB Pipeline still has Houck at number eight, Baseball America has slid Houck down to 17.
What Houck isn’t doing is struggling, as his junior numbers align closely to his sophomore stats. Houck is roughly a strikeout-per-inning college arm that throws strikes and eats innings. He leads Missouri in innings this year already with 50⅓ pitched. Should the Dodgers have the opportunity to draft Houck, they would be hoping for a bell cow arm that can anchor the center of a rotation.
Houck operates primarily with one of the heavier sinkers I’ve looked at from this year’s draft. He is long levered at a listed 6’5 and throws from a low three-quarters slot that comes in at a very difficult plane for right handed hitters. While Houck can run his fastball into the mid 90s, it’s the heavy arm side sink that makes it difficult for hitters to square.
Houck’s slider can be a solid putaway pitch, and when he doesn’t flatten out his arm, it has sharp 11-5 tilt. He primarily throws those two pitches, but he can mix in a change up, and given the arm slot, it has ample fade. Houck works to pepper the zone with fastballs and will work up in the zone with life.
College arms with solid track records tend to move up as the draft nears, so Houck’s slide on the Baseball America charts may not reach the Dodger’s range of picking. However, should he be available, Houck is a polished arm with a high floor that could move through the system in two years or less.
Brendon Little, LHP, State JC of Florida
A late riser in the 2015 draft, Little has made several adjustments since high school. Little played very sparingly and subsequently transferred from North Carolina after his freshman year. He’s now pitching regularly out of the state college rotation and has piled on the strikeouts, racking up ninety-six in sixty-two innings.
Little has also made several mechanical adjustments from his high school film to his juco ones. Formerly a high leg kick and herky-jerky left hander, Little has calmed his motion and employs a shorter, more conventional high arm slot.
The adjustments have led to high strikeouts, but Little’s control and consistency remain a work in progress. He can reach the mid nineties with his fastball, but his calling card is a big bending 12-6 curve that he throws with plus velocity. He’s well built physically and appears matured, and his frame, arm action and stuff look reminiscent to Cliff Lee.
Unlike Houck, Little will require more time in the lower minors to gain more comfort with his mechanics. He will just have this one season of college production to go off of, but the 13.94 strikeouts per nine innings will be tempting for the Dodgers at the back of round one. Little has more potential than Houck and fills an organizational need of left handed pitching. Ranked 26th at Baseball America and 34th at MLB Pipeline, Little is a very realistic target at the 23rd pick.
Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State
College right-handed power has increasingly become a scarcity in the MLB draft, but Jake Burger may be one of the better bets to come through in a few seasons. While questions remain about Burger’s eventual defensive position, he is not plagued with contact or bat speed issues that tend to trouble similar college sluggers. Ranked 22nd at Baseball America and 30th at MLB Pipeline, Burger’s stock is roughly in line with where the Dodgers select in first round, but he’s a player I currently see as undervalued.
What might be most attractive about Burger is the rate of contact he generates in addition to his power. Burger has only struck out 16 times in the Bears’ first 32 games, against 13 home runs. Burger’s bat speed and barrel control should allow him to hit for average as a professional, and he has the strength to hit 30 home runs a season at the next level.
I have yet to see Burger defensively to evaluate him, and though reviews are mixed, I’ve talked to people that have seen him play this year that think he has the arm and hands to stay at third base. Burger is a big framed player that will have to work to keep from outgrowing the left side of the infield, and he likely will be a below average runner at his peak.
The Dodgers have no pressing need for a quick-moving corner player with power, but given the demand for right-handed pop and the possibility Burger can stick at third base and Jake can be an asset that exceeds the value of the typical mid-20s selection. However, I feel Burger’s rankings are far too low at the moment, and I would be surprised if a college slugger with his well rounded offensive skill set would last as long as the 23rd pick.
Griffin Canning, RHP, UCLA
Should the Dodgers choose to stay in it’s backyard for their first round pick, Griffin Canning is ranked by Baseball America right around their pick at number 28 (39th at MLB Pipeline). Canning looks to have sharpened his stuff this season, going from a safe back of the rotation arm to something slightly more, though the gains have come with a setback to his command.
Canning entered the season with a reputation as a command specialist with a lower ceiling, but a jump in velocity and strikeouts might have teams seeing more. He’s whiffed 62 in over 52 innings, but his walk totals are already approaching last year’s number in a less than half the innings.
I’m not overly concerned with the jump in walks, as the raw stuff looks much more impressive. Canning’s fastball has arm-side run that gives it a rise effect, and he’s reportedly been pitching more in the mid 90s. He likes to throw his change-up and will use it early in counts, but he can’t always command the pitch in the zone due to its fade. Canning’s curveball looks much improved with big 11-5 break.
Canning’s profile as an undersized right hander with unorthodox mechanics (he breaks his hands very early in his delivery but it does not appear to hamper him in any way) suggests to me that he isn’t likely to climb much higher in draft rankings. I like his athleticism and feel he’s a good fit for a five to six inning rotation role that Los Angeles tends to favor outside Kershaw. His ceiling is still high as an impact reliever, and Canning could be a quick mover.
Garrett Mitchell, OF, Orange Lutheran High School
And now for some ceiling. Ranked 27th by Baseball America and 31st by MLB Pipeline, Mitchell is one of the toolsiest players in a draft long on prep athleticism. An athletically built outfielder that impressed with elite measurables at the Perfect Game National Showcase (namely a top-of-the-scale 6.3 sixty yard dash and a 94-mph arm from the outfield), Mitchell has the highest upside on this list.
From a physical standpoint, Mitchell shares many similarities with Dodger farmhand Mitchell Hansen. Garrett probably has the edge in speed and might have a better chance to stick in center, but like Hansen he will need more refinement at the plate to tap into his full potential.
Mitchell has a balanced set up at the plate with a short swing that’s quick to the ball. He has some feel for contact but can tie himself up with poor timing. Mitchell has the frame for power, but his swing lacks extension and he doesn’t make full use of his frame.
Though he runs presently to an elite timed speed, I would expect Mitchell to settle into above average territory as he matures. He still has all the tools of a potential plus base runner and should also be an asset in the field. As a prep player, Mitchell has the longest path to the majors from this group, and isn’t quite as polished as last year’s first-round pick Gavin Lux, though the ceiling is much higher.