One of my favorite exercises I do every year since I started covering the MLB draft at True Blue LA is my 10-round mock draft. While this year is no different, the lack of depth in the class coupled with the smaller bonus allotment pool made this year a little more difficult to fill out. Like previous years, I use the latest Baseball America mock draft to simulate the first round of the draft, with the Baseball America top 500 rankings making the subsequent round picks for teams in “best available” style.
Like previous years, I use my top 200 as my draft big board, though after the fifth round, I made more picks this year outside typical “best available” strategy because of the likely bonus demands of players still on the board. This year, I came into the exercise with a handful of targets to land in the middle rounds that might not have the biggest ceilings, but have one or two carry tools and the performance track record to back them up.
With an already deep system of prospects that can meet seemingly any need the big league club might have, I don’t feel any pressure to augment any particular element of the system. The farm’s biggest weakness might be left handed pitching, but not so much so that left handers should be of any more emphasis.
Heading into round one, I’m leaning in the direction of a few collegian arms if they slide, but am open to taking a high upside prep so long as their bonus demands can fit the slot at pick 23.
Round 1, Pick 23
David Peterson, LHP, Oregon
Three players left on my big board ranked higher than Peterson, but given my concerns for the talent depth in the class, and the readiness of Peterson, I jumped for the safe pick. Both prep arms Sam Carlson and Blayne Enlow are highly appealing, but Carlson might require an above slot deal at this point, and Enlow doesn’t provide the immediate prospect currency that Peterson does.
The polished left-hander out of Oregon was one of this class’s strongest producers in terms of K and walk rates, and has a mix of four pitches he can use to get outs. His velocity has flashed plus before in shorter stints, but given his big frame he might produce a little more in his physical peak. Peterson’s eventual ceiling may be that of a number three starter, but given his command and pitchability he should provide 200+ innings a year with low walks and sufficient strikeouts.
Perhaps most importantly, Peterson should be ready to take on Double-A in 2018, making him close to the big leagues and far more attractive a trade asset than a high schooler that might not start in Low-A right out of the gate next season. I’m not making this pick with the intent to trade Peterson, but the added value of being a useable currency quickly could make a difference for a World Series caliber ball club. Additionally, Peterson was my 17th-ranked prospect and as a collegian, will likely take a deal around slot at this pick.
Round 2, Pick 62
Ryan Vilade, 3B, Stillwater HS
After going relatively safe with pick number one, I was hoping to go upside with the second-round selection and did just that with Vilade. I was a little surprised to find two 55-tier players left at this point, but chose to go the route of the left side infielder over outfielder Garrett Mitchell. Vilade is committed to Oklahoma State, where his father is an assistant coach, but with slot here over one million, he should be signable in the second round.
Vilade is one of the better offensive infielders in this draft class. Perfect Game has metrics suggesting that Vilade has some of the best bat speed and exit velocities from the summer circuit, and at 6’3 with a projectable body and loft in his swing, he should develop plus power. He might have some swing and miss issues given the overall length and timing mechanisms in his set up, but is young and athletic enough to make the necessary adjustments.
Vilade is a high school shortstop with decent quickness and infield actions, but his body profiles better at third base, where he could end up above average defensively. He runs well enough to also be tried in the outfield, but for now, he will spend time developing at the hot corner in this scenario.
Round 3, Pick 100
Trevor Stephan, RHP, Arkansas
Stephan finished ranked 14th in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings (first-rounder Peterson was sixth) which is an impressive feat coming out of the powerful Southeastern Conference. Unlike several names ranked ahead of him, Stephan has the stuff to translate that production to the pro level. Consideration was also given here to Xavier left-hander Zac Lowther, who has also features on this strikeout list at number four, although his stuff doesn’t profile quite as well.
A stoutly built pitcher, Stephan has a short and quick arm action that he uses whip tight, cutter-like sliders into the zone. His fastball has good riding life and he can reach the mid-90’s, but with more development he should sit more consistently around 93-94 mph. Stephan also flashes a change-up with fade to round out his starter repertoire.
Like Peterson, his ceiling is probably more mid rotation, but his strikeout production is enticing in the third round and the worst case scenario here is a move to relief, where his fastball-slider combo could tick even higher. For now, the hope is that Stephan develops into the prospect in the mold of Brock Stewart.
Round 4, Pick 130
Will Toffey, 3B, Vanderbilt
I have Toffey ranked considerably higher than both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline yet I still wouldn’t be surprised if he was drafted as early as the second round. Toffey is one of the more polished players in the college crop, with an advanced plate approach, better than average bat-to-ball skills and sound defense at third base.
Toffey has a smooth, line drive oriented left-handed swing that could produce fringe average pop at full maturity. He’s a thinnish 6’2 and 205 lbs., but he’s a better athlete than he’s given credit for. Toffey should be able to hit for average while suppressing strikeouts and if he doesn’t hit for enough power at third, could be tried at second or even left field.
I think Toffey’s acumen and plate approach should make him a solid major league third baseman and he could move quickly through the minors. I don’t worry about his development impacting second rounder Vilade, as Toffey should start and stay a level ahead of him developmentally.
Round 5, Pick 160
Jake Holmes, SS, Pinnacle HS
I haven’t done much thus far in this draft to shave bonus money for bigger upside plays later, so I wanted to go prep upside here before likely spending the remaining day two picks on collegians. Holmes fits the bill as a fluid and athletic infielder with a relatively high offensive ceiling.
Holmes’ right hand swing is quick to the ball with good extension that should lead to plus power in the future. While he played in the previous year’s Area Codes games, he was not a main feature on the showcase circuit and for that might be a little under exposed for some teams, but his athleticism and sizes gives you plenty to dream on. Holmes is considered to be a solid shortstop and will likely start his career there, though with his athleticism and speed, a shift to the outfield and some point could be possible as well.
Round 6, Pick 190
Brett Netzer, 2B, UNC Charlotte
If Holmes was not available in round five, I might have just taken Netzer there, as he was something of a targeted pick. Netzer has one of the better hit tools in this year’s college class, with a smooth line drive stroke from the left side. He’s been highly productive throughout his college career and should profile as an offensive second baseman at the pro level.
Netzer’s power is more game power over raw, and his frame is not likely to fill out much more, though with his bat speed and swing plane, he could have 10-15 home runs annually. Netzer also won’t be much of a base stealing threat, but he could have enough athleticism and acumen to be tried as a multi-position utility player if not an everyday second baseman.
Round 7, Pick 220
Wills Montgomerie, RHP, UCONN
Like Netzer, I could have easily taken Montgomerie earlier as one of my targeted prospects. Montgomerie placed 17th on the NCAA strikeouts per nine inning list with 11.69 and reportedly has a high spin rate on his fastball.
Beyond the numbers, Montgomerie is a well built right hander that can pitch in the mid 90’s with his fastball. He also has a loopier slider that will flash above average with tighter spin. He doesn’t exhibit as good of control as the pitchers I’ve selected ahead of him, but even as an older junior prospect Montgomerie still has upside.
Montgomerie will continue to work as a starter, though he also has potential as a two pitch late inning reliever. Given the durable build and swing and miss stuff, the hope is that Montgomerie can develop into a first division caliber number three starter.
Round 8, Pick 280
Erich Uelman, RHP Cal Poly
Jumping from high spin to heavy sink, Uelman’s prospect profile is much different than the previous pick, but also gives the class a different type of arm that can still portend future success. Uelman’s best weapon is one of the heavier sinkers I have viewed from the 2017 class, and is a pitch he surprisingly controls quite well.
Uelman’s profile is more high floor than ceiling, but he still managed more than a strikeout per inning while allowing just one home run in over 98 innings. Uelman’s low 90’s sinkers is on the hard pitches to lift, and he balances it with a sharp cutter-like slider. He also shows the potential for an above average changeup to round out his starter’s repertoire.
Uelman’s upside is likely in the bottom half of a big league rotation, but if his velocity could tick up in the bullpen he could eventually make the switch to mid-late inning relief. His command and ability to work deep by keeping the ball on the ground might make him more valuable in the rotation, in the Trevor Oaks prospect mold.
Round 9, Pick 310
Noah Bremer, RHP, Washington
At this point in the draft, teams are more apt to scour for senior signs to cut deals to free up bonus money for early day-three gambles. While I won’t go that direction in this exercise, I will move off my Top 200 big board, as the remaining players are likely to be unsignable at this stage of the draft.
Bremer might ultimately be a better prospect as a senior sign next year, but his on field performance, versatility, and still projectable build made him an attractive target at this stage. Like every other pitching selection thus far, Bremer was a strikeout-per-inning producer, though his stuff might lag behind the rest of the class. Bremer’s fastball has some life up and down the zone, and he can control his solid average curve for strikes. Bremer also shows some feel for an above average changeup.
A bug allure for me on Bremer was his size and athleticism. He’s listed at 6’5 and 200 lbs. but has excellent control of his long levers and room to still fill out some. Should he be able to push his fastball up a tick or two, he could be something of a sleeper in this class. Additionally, Bremer had success as a multi-inning long reliever that could allow for some creativity in his development.
Round 10, Pick 350
Marshall Kasowski, RHP, West Texas A&M
The Division II leader in strikeouts per nine innings (over 15 per nine!) is a Houston transfer that really took off after being allowed to pitch out of the rotation every weekend at West Texas A&M. While several of the division II statistical leaders seemed to lack the stuff that might translate to pro ball (though much consideration was given to Minnesota State RHP Dalton Roach at this spot), Kasowski can reach the mid 90’s with plenty of deception.
Kasowski is a physical right hander that seemingly muscles the ball to home. He’s not particularly fluid, but does have a quick arm and keeps the ball close to his head making it hard to pick up from the plate. Grainy video of his 16-strikeout performance this spring suggests a fringy curveball, while his slot and arm speed suggest a switch to a slider might be more beneficial.
Kasowski might ultimately wind up as a pen arm, albeit one with serious strikeout potential. His physical attributes are hard to find at this stage of the draft and you can live with the rough edges on his delivery and command.
In a draft that I don’t consider especially deep and lacking the extra picks to play around with more bonus money, I still believe I’ve added a strong mix of polished college performers to an already stellar farm system. Both Peterson and Vilade have the chance to be top 10 organizational prospects by season’s end, and Holmes is another projectable prep that could easily see his 45 tier grade climb with a strong showing in the Arizona Summer League. The arms are all strong producers that could move quickly through the system but also have enough upside in their stuff to eventually grade out higher. This wasn’t a flashy year, but in a class that isn’t up to par with previous years, I’m pleased to land the two projectable prep bats, two college bats with capable carry tools at the plate, and six arms mix high floors and swing and miss potential.