MLB Draft Primer 2019: The First Round

Draft Primer
Photo Credit: Oregon State University

It’s almost draft day, so here is my first round preference list. This isn’t a mock draft or where I expect these players to go, just my personal ranking of the top draft prospects. I’m working with more information on the college players who I’ve seen over dozens of at bats or innings pitched. So I may be a little low on some high school or JUCO guys who I’ve only seen clips of rather than substantial game video. Especially pop-up guys where the summer 2018 showcase video doesn’t quite reflect their improvements. I was low on Grayson Rodriguez last year for this reason.  These rankings are my own, so they will at times differ considerably (for better or worse) from Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, etc. If you like the videos I linked in this article I suggest you follow and support the creators of those videos on Youtube.

Check out my #35-100 draft prospects here.

1. Adley Rutschman

Oregon State___C___21.3
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 216 | B-T: B-R 

Ceiling and floor, tools and skills, talent and makeup, Rutschman checks all the boxes. A switch-hitting catcher who was one of the best hitters in college baseball last year, Rutschman has taken it to another level in 2019. He’s slashing .419/.580/.765 in one of the best conferences in the country. His OPS is tops in NCAA DI baseball this year and the best in PAC12 conference history. He pairs above average bat speed from both sides of the plate with excellent strike zone judgement and a powerful rotational swing. He lifts the ball very naturally, easily getting to his plus or better raw power in games. Defensively he’s a field general who has a strong, accurate arm and quick transfer. He’s a quiet receiver who frames well and is more agile than you’d expect given his frame.

2. Bobby Witt Jr.

Colleyville Heritage HS___SS___19.0
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 183 | B-T: R-R 

Speed and power while excelling at a premium defensive position is what earns Witt Jr. this spot. It’s plus power, plus run, plus arm, plus glove. The only question is the hit tool. While he has had plenty of success against high level competition, he has shown troubling swing and miss against mediocre velocity in the zone at times. That and playing as one of the older players in the high school class (19 years old on draft day) adds some risk to the profile. Let’s not overdo it though, Witt Jr is an excellent prospect with a sky high ceiling. His defensive ability at SS along with his speed and plus power that he gets to in game, he only needs to get to average hit in order to be a star.

3. CJ Abrams

Blessed Trinity HS___SS___18.7
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 185 | B-T: L-R

Maybe the highest ceiling in the class and that’s saying a lot consider the lofty potential of Witt Jr and Rutschman. Abrams is a double plus runner who is even faster underway. He has premium bat speed and good bat to ball skills, making tons of quality contact against high level pitching. Defensively, he has a shot to stick at SS, but his speed likely plays better in CF where it’s easy to project plus defense. Abrams came into the spring only lacking power, but added strength to his still projectable broad-shouldered frame and showed above average raw pop. He doesn’t get to that power in game yet, content to slash the ball around the field and use his game-changing speed. He’s going to get stronger as he continues to fill out and if he can change his swing to punish mistakes, he’s going to be a superstar.

4. JJ Bleday

Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 205 | B-T: L-L

Bleday is a case study on how getting stronger can improve one’s swing. I wasn’t particularly high on Bleday going into this spring, he was a high contact, lower impact left-handed corner outfield bat. Well that changed as he added strength and began pulling the ball with authority and staying through the ball better to produce all-fields power. Defensively he’s a future right-fielder who should add a little value there due to his athleticism and arm strength. The bat is the prize though and the team that drafts Bleday will get the best hitter in the SEC. He should move quickly through the minors and be a middle of the order staple.

5. Josh Jung

Texas Tech___3B___21.3
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 215 | B-T: R-R 

Jung fell in most draft rankings as he had a slow start this spring. That drop is complete unwarranted. He’s finished strong with a 1.151 OPS in Big 12 conference play. Texas Tech used Jung at shortstop this year, which was fun to watch given his imposing frame. He did surprisingly well, with reliable hands, good agility for his size, and plus arm strength. He’ll be a 3B in pro ball, but the acceptable SS play adds confidence that he’ll stick at 3B and perhaps add value there. At the plate, Jung hits the ball hard to all fields but doesn’t lift the ball or turn on pitches well enough for his plus raw power to play in game yet. I think that’ll be an easy riddle to solve for a player development team. Even if the game power doesn’t come along like I expect, he’d still be a high OBP 3B who should hit enough HRs and doubles to keep pitchers honest.

6. Andrew Vaughn

Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 214 | B-T: R-R

This is the best present day hitter in the class. His PAC12 track record over three years is unmatched. He hits, he hits for power, he walks more than he strikes out, he’s hit for power with wood bats. The bat is unquestioned by scouts. It’s a short swing with loft, plus raw power, elite approach and feel. It’s the rest of the profile that gives pause. He’s a sub-6′ right handed 1B. He’s acceptable there, but isn’t a particularly strong glove. Absolutely all the value is tied up with the bat, but the bat is excellent.

7. Corbin Carroll

Lakeside HS___CF___18.8
Ht: 5-10 | Wt: 170 | B-T: L-L 

The only thing that keeps Carroll from being up with Witt Jr and Abrams is his size. Other than that and it’s potential to limit his future power, it’s hard to find any holes in his game. He’s a speedy CF who will stick there with a strong arm. At the plate he has a compact left handed swing that has produced consistent hard content against top competition last summer. He has surprising pop for his size but uses a unique leg kick to help get to it. There is some risk of not having much impact with the bat at the major league level.

8. Seth Johnson

Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 200 | B-T: R-R 

From the first time I saw video of Johnson pitching, I was enthralled. Super athletic, efficient mechanics, he looked like a dude. Then I found out that he had only been pitching for a year or so. It’s a crazy story of a JUCO SS who couldn’t hit converting to pitching on a whim and getting scooped up by DI Campbell University. This spring he’s been up to 98 and routinely sits 92-96 with a high spin fastball. He also has three quality secondary pitches. A big breaking curveball, a changeup, and a slider. The slider is the best of the bunch and an easy future plus. He is learning how to pitch at the DI level and is understandably raw at this point, but the potential is tantalizing. For me, he’s the standout arm in a relatively thin class for pitchers.

9. Nick Lodolo

Ht: 6-6 | Wt: 180 | B-T: L-L 

Lodolo was a highly touted 1st round pick out of high school, but didn’t sign. After an uneven freshman and sophomore campaign, things clicked for Lodolo this spring. He’s a tall lefty with a prototypical pitcher’s frame. He repeats his delivery well with a 3/4 release. His fastball has been up to 95 mph this spring and he holds it well, sitting 93-94 some outings. The fastball plays a little below it’s velocity. It’ll get ground balls, but doesn’t miss many bats. He added a hard slider this spring which has helped him strike out more batters. It allows him to use the curveball for stealing strikes and getting ground balls. He handles right-handed batters with an above average changeup. Nothing plus, but good frame, strike thrower, and possibly four above average pitches.

10. Hunter Bishop

Arizona State___OF___21.0
Ht: 6-5 | Wt: 210 | B-T: L-R

Bishop is a big, athletic dude who runs fast and hits the ball harder than any in player in the draft. He has multiple confirmed 115 mph+ exit velocities this spring, something only a handful of MLB players have achieved. He has premium bat speed and a swing change allowed him to reduce his swing and miss and make consistent hard contact. He has the speed for CF, but his arm strength has regressed which could force him to LF. If he’s limited to LF, it puts more pressure on the bat and despite his big spring, he doesn’t have a long track record of production. There is some hit tool risk here, but the upside is George Springer

11. Alek Manoah

West Virginia___RHP___21.4
Ht: 6-6 | Wt: 260 | B-T: R-R

Manoah is an XXL frame righty with an excellent fastball/slider combo and a developing changeup. He’s gotten better as the spring has progressed and has shown improved command and pitchability. This has quieted most relief risk concerns. Manoah has faced stout competition this spring and turned in dominant performances against top offenses like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. He’s thrown 7+ innings in 2/3 of his starts with two complete games.

12. Bryson Stott

Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 200 | B-T: L-R

A big-bodied left handed hitting SS with the glove and arm to stick there. Stott has tapped into his power potential this spring and offers a well rounded suite of tools at a premium defensive position. It’s not the profile of a star player, but a relatively low risk college performer who could be an above average regular for years to come.

13. Shea Langeliers

Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 190 | B-T: R-R 

Langeliers missed a portion of the spring with a broken hamate bone. Those types of injuries often suppress a hitter’s ability to make hard contact and he did struggle initially upon return. But he got hot down the stretch finishing with a .310/367/.550 April/May. The bat is the only question for Langeliers, who is an elite defensive catcher. He does everything well behind the plate. He’s thrown out over 63% of attempted base stealers in 2018-2019, he’s an excellent framer, and he has plus agility for blocking pitches. He also has an ideal catcher’s frame. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t need an impact bat to be an impact contributor.

14. Jackson Rutledge

San Jacinto JC___RHP___20.2
Ht: 6-8 | Wt: 260 | B-T: R-R 

Rutledge is the top JUCO prospect in this class. He is an XXL frame righty who has touched triple digits with his fastball and will flash a plus curveball and slider. I’m not a comp guy and this is not an original thought, but he’s like a Nate Pearson clone. There are some consistency and strike-throwing concerns, but the stuff is so good.

15. Brennan Malone

IMG Academy___RHP___18.8
Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 210 | B-T: R-R 

Malone is the top HS pitcher in the draft class for me. He has a physical, durable frame. He uses his lower half well and generates velocity efficiently. His fastball has been up to 98 this spring and he regularly sits in the mid-90s. He has two distinct breaking balls, some feel for a changeup, and mixes in a two-seam fastball. The arm action is of moderate length and he repeats his mechanics well. He needs further sharpening of his offspeed pitches, but all the ingredients are here for a mid-rotation arm.

16. George Kirby

Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 205 | B-T: R-R 

Kirby is an elite strike-thrower, sporting an insane 17.5 K/BB ratio. His fastball velocity has ticked up as the spring has progressed and he sat 93-97 in a recent outing. The other pitches are just average, a slider, changeup and a curveball. He can throw them for strikes but he’ll need to sharpen one of them to miss bats in pro ball. Kirby hasn’t faced nearly the competition of most of the college arms on this list this spring. That concern is lessened by the fact he had a dominant Cape Cod League performance last summer.

17. Zach Thompson

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 225 | B-T: L-L

Thompson at his best is a lefty with three plus pitches (mid-90s fastball, curveball, and changeup). The problem is that the stuff comes and goes. There is also an injury history, dealing with shoulder and elbow soreness. There is more upside than fellow lefty Nick Lodolo but substantially more risk as well.

18. JJ Goss

Cypress Ranch HS___RHP___18.5
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 185 | B-T: R-R

Goss is my type of HS pitching prospect, athletic, fluid, projectable, and gets down the mound well. His fastball is usually 91-94, but plays up due to extension. His out pitch is a plus slider that he can land for strikes or bury for swings. He also shows feel for a changeup. He repeats well and there is more velocity in the tank as he adds weight to his projectable frame.

19. Brady McConnell

Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 185 | B-T: R-R 

McConnell was a top prospect out of HS, but went to school. He had a lost freshman year as a nerve issue in his wrist made it so he could hardly hold a bat. He remedied the issue with surgery and has broken out in his first full season in the SEC, with an OPS over 1.000. He is tooled up with plus raw power and speed. He has a good arm and while he needs to clean up his actions at SS, he should stick there. There is a lot of swing and miss in his game right now, but the bat speed is plus. He has a noisy pre-swing hand action which keeps him from consistently putting himself in a good hitting position. The fact he’s one of the best hitters in the SEC despite this flaw just speaks to the raw talent here. There is risk here, but rarely do you find an SEC performer with premium tools outside the top 10.

20. Noah Song

Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 195 | B-T: R-R 

Song is an older draft prospect and has a less than ideal arm action. Otherwise he’d be higher because he’s a dominant performer with a fastball that’s touched 99 and sits in the mid-90s. He also has a plus slider and a usable curveball/changeup. It’s control over command, but at the very least a premium fast-moving relief arm. The tricky part is his Navy service commitment, no one seems to be sure whether he’ll be able to get a elite athlete deferment.

21. Will Wilson

North Carolina State___SS___20.9
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 184 | B-T: R-R 

Wilson is a three year ACC performer who will stay up the middle in the dirt. There isn’t a carrying tool here, but he can hit and has solid power. He’s not overly quick or an average runner which may push him from SS to 2B, but he’ll be a steady fielder at one of those positions. The ceiling isn’t exciting, but good value at this point in the draft.

22. Riley Greene

Hagerty HS___OF___18.7
Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 190 | B-T: L-L 

This is the lowest you’ll see Greene ranked. I could be making a mistake and I admittedly have less to go on with these HS guys (see: Nolan Gorman in my 2018 draft preference list). But here is my reasoning, Greene is a corner outfield guy who isn’t particularly athletic outside the batter’s box. He has swing and miss in his game and doesn’t have huge raw power. The profile doesn’t do it for me, for elite HS bats, I want an up the middle player or a corner guy with plus or better power. That’s not Greene. He’s still a first round talent and he’ll hit, I just don’t think there is as much impact potential as is commonly believed.

23. Greg Jones

Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 190 | B-T: B-R 

Jones has game changing speed and above average raw power. He has a chance to stick at SS, but like Abrams his skill set might play better in CF. Jones has a ton of bat speed but he’s not lifting the ball in game yet. There is some swing and miss in his game but he’s improved greatly in this respect from his freshman to sophomore years. If he learns to lift the ball, watch out.

24. Drey Jameson

Ball State___RHP___21.8
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 165 | B-T: R-R 

Jameson is an undersized righty who makes up for his smaller stature with fast-twitch athleticism and moxie. He’s a fierce competitor on the mound and both his slider and changeup flash plus. The secondaries are inconsistent though and while he holds his stuff well, the delivery is high effort. Plenty of relief risk, but I’ll bet on the arm speed and athleticism.

25. Quinn Preister

Cary-Grove HS___RHP___18.7
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 190 | B-T: R-R 

Priester is a mature-bodied cold-weather arm with average to above average stuff across the board and a really easy delivery. Big time strike-thrower who should have quality command in the future.

26. Matthew Allan

Seminole HS___RHP___18.1
Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 210 | B-T: R-R 

Allan has been up to 97 this spring and has a curveball that’s flashed double plus. It’s a good pitcher’s frame and the arm action works, but the command is below average and the fastball is straight.

27. Michael Busch

North Carolina___1B___21.6
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 207 | B-T: L-L

Busch offers an advanced lefty bat with plus raw power and a patient approach. He is a multi-year ACC performer and should move quickly in pro ball. A team could try him in an outfield corner, but he’s probably a better fit at first where he adds value with his glove. This puts some pressure on the bat, but he should hit enough that it won’t be a problem.

28. Daniel Espino

Georgia Premier Academy___RHP___18.4
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 196 | B-T: R-R 

Espino is one of the more polarizing arms in the draft. He’s touched 100 in the past and regularly works in the mid-90s. The stuff is similar to Brennan Malone with perhaps a half grade more on the slider presently. Espino lacks ideal size and has a long, looping arm action. To his credit he does have an athletic delivery, but there is more relief risk here than most of the arms in front of him.

29. Kody Hoese

Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 200 | B-T: R-R 

Pop up college bat who got a lot stronger and proceeded to hit 23 HRs (2nd in NCAA DI). Hoese has a big league 3B body and should be able to be an average defender there. He uses a leveraged swing and an aggressive early count approach to hit for power and also limit strikeouts. He’s face limited competition and doesn’t have any real track record which adds risk to the profile.

30. Nasim Nunez

Collins Hill HS___SS___18.8
Ht: 5-9 | Wt: 160 | B-T: B-R 

Nunez is the best defensive shortstop in the class, premium glove with a plus arm. He’s a switch hitter with above average bat speed and a track record of hitting. He’s a small guy and there are questions of how much impact his bat will have. He reminds me of a more physical Nick Allen, who got first round money in 2017.

31. Maurice Hampton

Memphis University HS ___CF___17.9
Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 210 | B-T: R-R 

An athletic outfielder who has a nice combination of elite speed, a strong arm, and above average raw power. The swing works but his approach and pitch recognition are raw. He has present physicality which is good because his body is already mature and filled out. If the hit tool comes along, it’s a strong CF profile.

32. Hunter Barco

Bolles HS___LHP___18.5
Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 212 | B-T: L-L 

An early candidate to be near the top of the 2019 class, Barco has seen his stuff come and go. After a rough summer, he was 90-95 this spring from his low 3/4 slot. He has a solid slider and a really good changeup. He also has a prototypical pitcher’s build. The profile is a lot like a HS version of Nick Lodolo, slightly lower slot, better changeup, lessor breaking ball.

33. Jack Leiter

Delbarton HS___RHP___19.1
Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 191 | B-T: R-R 

Bloodlines, a fastball the touches 97, and a plus curveball are the selling points for Leiter. He’s a bit undersized and doesn’t hold his stuff well yet. He also is rumored to be a tough sign away from his Vanderbilt commitment.

34. Kameron Misner

Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 213 | B-T: L-L

Super toolsy guy, huge power and speed combo comparable to Hunter Bishop, but with a better throwing arm. The problem is when he’s faced SEC competition this year, he’s struggled. There has been a ton of swing and miss. He’s looked badly fooled on mediocre breaking balls at times, which raises the question whether he’ll hit in pro ball.

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Luke Siler
Luke graduated from Drexel University and is a former Division I athlete. He now resides in NOVA and watches an obscene amount of minor league baseball. In addition to baseball, he enjoys good coffee, good beer, weightlifting, and spending quality time with his wife and daughter.