Less than 24 hours out from the Angels' first selection in the MLB First-Year Player Draft, we do have some indication of what the Angels might be after this year, and who might be available late in the first round of tomorrow's draft.
By all indications, including the front office's own admission, this year they are looking for "seasoned talent", with a focus on offense over pitching in aggregate. That means more college bats, selected earlier in the process – a forceful correction after two drafts focused on college pitching.
In Dipoto's words: "No longer are we going to go in and just take pitcher after pitcher after pitcher. We're still going to take pitchers, like we do every year, but there will be more of a premium placed on offensive players, in this Draft and as we move forward. Now we can be a little more balanced."
Over the last month, I've heard the same names again and again teased as possible first-round selections. Four college middle infielders: Kevin Newman, Blake Trahan, Scott Kingery and Richie Martin; two outfielders: D.J. Stewart and Donnie Dewees; and one prep catcher with significant power potential: Chris Betts. While some prospect prognosticators have suggested a couple high-upside prep arms in this slot, that feels more cold guess than cold genius, and if they go with pitching, it's likely to be of a safer, more developed variety. Closer to the show. Three names I've seen mentioned here are Cody Ponce, Nathan Kirby and Phil Bickford. (Thoughts to follow.)
I include each of these names in my Round One mocks, along with a loose ranking of players that I think could contribute most to the farm, ranked by likelihood to reach the MLB club and provide reasonable upside, plus address obvious gaps in the minor league mix. In each case, I leave out players who I think have less than an even bet of falling to the Angels at each slot. So while I'd love to see an Ian Happ or Andrew Benintendi make it to #26, that's really not going to happen, and if a promising prepster like Garrett Whitley were to fall that far, one would have to really worry about signability concerns with his commitment to Wake Forest.
These personal boards reflect the range of players around the slot projected by the Halos Heaven Consensus Draft Board. Some will already be gone by the time the Angels announce, but that's what a draft board is for: provide alternatives when the best are taken. I'd love to see four bats chosen among the first six selections, as this is typically where the real talent is. But first picks first. And here's how I would suggest to do it.
ROUND ONE, Pick #26
|D.J. Stewart||College OF|
|Donnie Dewees||College OF|
|Scott Kingery||College 2B|
|Kevin Newman||College SS|
|Nick Plummer||HS OF|
|Richie Martin||College SS|
|Jacob Nix||JC RHP|
|Blake Trahan||College SS|
|Alex Young||College LHP|
|Phil Bickford||JC RHP|
|Nathan Kirby||College LHP|
|Thomas Eshelman||College RHP|
Here my first pick has not changed. I hope D.J Stewart is still on the board at #26, and if he is, I think he represents the best package for the Angels given the state of the farm and the talent in this draft.
The kid only has two knocks: the lack of a plus arm and glove likely relegate him to left field, and some folks are disturbed by his unorthodox extreme squat at the plate, which has earned him the sobriquet "The Squat God of Walks" – reference to another OBP-empowered hulker with a weird batting stance, Kevin Youkilis. And Stewart is indeed a god in this department. In his junior year, he got on base exactly 50% of the time. In a recent FSU College World Series game I watched, he earned three free passes in the game. Advanced eyes like that hit pro pitchers, and I think Stewart is a guy who could be in the Majors in less than two years after drafting. Hit tool, some power, average footspeed and loads of patience. He's our guy.
Names #2-5 that follow on this list could really be in any order, and I could be satisfied with any of them, really.
Cody Ponce is an advanced righty with a clean delivery, a mid-90s fastball and a four pitch mix. His big knock is that he's a Division II pitcher (Cal Poly) playing against lesser competition, but his stuff is real, and while not likely a frontline pitcher, he's one of the safer bets to become a mid-rotation piece at the MLB level. Good write-up here at the SBN Astros site.
We've discussed Chris Betts before. He affords the best power option among prep picks, and I think it's not unrealistic to think there's a continuum between last year's third-rounder Bobby Bradley and monster Cubs prospect Kyle Schwarber that he fits into. Three issues with this kid, though. One, he might have already been picked at this point. (Many mocks have him going in the teens.) Two, he's been having some elbow issues that have prevented him from throwing this spring (and one never likes to hear that). If the kid has bad medicals, he might slide, and that would be a good reason to pass (hobbyists like me are not privy to medical reports). Lastly, he's a few years from the show, and there will be ups and downs along the way. High risk, high reward, and he's really the only prep name here that I would gamble on in the top five on my Round One board.
There's the threat with Dewees and Kingery that each may only be bench or utility material at the MLB level, but the ceiling for each is as a legit leadoff weapon with terrific plate discipline and 30+ steal talent. I really want to believe the power Dewees displayed in his junior year is for real, and that Kingery is something more than Giavotella Jr (a top 50 pick himself).
Among the others, as I've previous mentioned in the profile on college hitters, Newman's, Martin's and Trahan's lack of power limit their appeal to me. If it were not for the persistent rumors of the Angels' attachment to Trahan, he profiles as a mid-second-rounder on nearly everyone's draft boards. This would be an overslot selection designed to spread money around, and it would be a rather disappointing one. When the Angels have tended to see something in young middle infielders that other's have missed, it has often been fool's gold. Most of the Angels' MIs have hit a hard ceiling around AA, and Baldoquin to this point has been a ghost. I'm skeptical of the Trahan fit, and if the Angels were to lose him in the second round to another team, I bet they find nearly comparable value in later rounds.
On the starting pitching front, there are two JuCo picks here (if you can consider IMG Academy a "JuCo") that are intriguing in Bickford and Nix. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I'm a bit higher on Nix, and worry that Bickford's inconsistency will be exploited at higher levels. Nathan Kirby's recent injury history might take him off the board, but Alex Young is one of the safer college picks, and he's likely to go by the end of the supplemental round.
Thomas Eshelman is a real honest-to-charlie unicorn. He has a lot of helium at the moment, and may go anywhere between rounds one and three. He lacks premium velocity, but has the greatest control of any player in this year's draft (and many drafts before this). A local product, he has 16 walks in 328 career IP! Read about him here.
ROUND TWO, Pick #70
|Christin Stewart||College OF/1B|
|Kyle Cody||College RHP|
|Josh Staumont||College RHP|
|Josh Naylor||HS 1B|
|Trey Cabbage||HS SS/3B|
|Andrew Stevenson||College CF|
|Austin Allen||College C|
|Taylor Ward||College C|
|Austin Rei||College C|
|David Hill||College RHP|
|Joe McCarthy||College OF|
|Andrew Suarez||College LHP|
|Bryce Denton||HS OF|
|David Hill||College RHP|
Round two feels like a good place for the Angels to select either a prep bat with a good hit tool and/or plus power potential; or a college catcher, of which there are many available between slots 60-100 that are worth notice. On the other hand, if the Angels go arm or prep in round one, there are some potential second round college bats here that are worth consideration.
If Stewart or Dewees are not available in round one, Christin Stewart is who I would look to in round two, if he's still on the board (and he very well might not be). This particular Stewart has a performant bat, plus power, but a questionable glove that again likely projects him for LF or, at worst, first base. If the Angels were to go in a completely separate direction, there's Andrew Stevenson, a defensive wizard and pure centerfielder whose speed suggests a lefty Peter Bourjos. But like Bourjos, will he hit?
I think it's highly likely that Josh Staumont and Kyle Cody will be off the board at this point, but both offer the same attractive feature: high, high right-handed heat. Triple digit heat at moments. Both have the potential to start, if each can address his command issues, but at worst, there's closer material here.
One of the prep kids I like here is Trey Cabbage, and while it might be the fourth-time-around for prep third basemen for an organization that has been less than successful at developing them, I feel optimistic about this kid. It might be a long developmental road, but he has nice tools and ceiling. He could make an excellent complement to a college bat in the first round. Jahmai Jones and Bryce Denton are two additional high-upside prep bats that carry more risk, but should be in the conversation.
The three catchers here aren't exactly interchangeable, but all three are clustered in the same area on the board, and all three are likely to be gone by end of round three. Ward is likely the best catch and throw guy, with limited bat upside. Allen has the highest potential with the bat, and is a lefty, but he's shown his skills primarily against Division II talent at this point. Rei might be the best mix of bat and glove among them, though his offensive ceiling may be a tad lower than Allen's. I like Allen incrementally more than the others, but I bias toward bats, and that's counter to the Angels' organizational biases with catchers. It's likely that one or two of these guys will be available in round three for the Angels as well.
Naylor and McCarthy are included here due to their plus power potential, though McCarthy has dealt with injuries requiring back surgery this year. Orange County born David Hill, along with Andrew Suarez, are reasonably safe college arms, both possible mid-rotation guys, though Hill needs to work on his secondary stuff, and Suarez has dealt with some injuries of late.
So what do you think? Y'all be down with Stewart and a prepster like Cabbage, Jones or Denton in the first two rounds? Double down on two Stewarts – college sluggers all the way? Or do you have other ideas? Let 'em fly in the comments, open a window, and let's hope a sweet draft comes our way!