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2018 MLB Draft, Day 1: Thoughts on the first two rounds

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Some information to get you started on today’s Rule 4 draft.

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The MLB Draft begins tonight. We’ll have an open thread tonight for the session. I’m taking time off work to be available for the draft, so look for a new post, Monday through Wednesday, as proceedings are ready to begin. With the value of “cost-controlled talent” at an all-time high, these 40 rounds are a prime chance to get quality talent at virtually no cost.

The MLB June Draft (officially the “Rule 4 Draft”) consists of 40 rounds. The Cubs will draft 42 players, and be represented on Opening Night by Andre Dawson and Keronn Walker, who is a first-year scout for the Cubs and Chicago-area native. Here’s an interesting story on how Walker got to where he is now. Selecting 24th in the first round, and having three picks in the second round, the Cubs will be engaged most of the night once selection 20 rolls around.

The natural question is, who will the Cubs select first tonight? I’ve seen mock drafts all across the board the last couple of weeks. Since 23 teams choose before the Cubs, it’s conjecture.

What I continue to be amused by is the two-step process that continues choice after choice on the first night. As soon as a team makes their selection official, the next team goes on the clock. However, MLB needs to interview some people, run a few ads, and the like. The next pick normally gets announced as the time limit expires.

However, within thirty seconds or a minute, the unofficial word pops on Twitter. “The next choice will be (insert name here),” and the accuracy is uncanny. Fans are left waiting for most of the time on the clock to expire to hear, what was already understood.

When it gets to the Cubs, though, nobody has any idea. It ends up being a waiting game. Perhaps, this year, a leak will have been sprung. I doubt it, though.

***

When the early mocks for this season sprung, the top 16 picks were about half preps. A shortstop. A bunch of pitchers. A slugging third baseman that might not hack it at third.

As the college season progressed, far more mocks tended toward having six college players in the top eight. Why would that be the trend? Are those six that much better long-term?

What seems to be happening is that teams want to avoid whiffing early. Which seems a bit basic, of course. However, strategy seems to be changing. For evidence, look back to the 2014 draft. (WAR below is from baseball-reference.com.)

2014 MLB draft

Number Player HS/College WAR
Number Player HS/College WAR
1 Brady Aiken HS 0.0
2 Tyler Kolek HS 0.0
3 Carlos Rodon College 4.6
4 Kyle Schwarber College 3.0
5 Nick Gordon HS 0.0
6 Alex Jackson HS 0.0
7 Aaron Nola College 9.6
8 Kyle Freeland College 5.4
9 Jeff Hoffman College -0.4
10 Michael Conforto College 7.0

Do you notice any trends? All the college players have debuted. Five have had positive WAR. Of the four preps selected, none have debuted. While Nick Gordon should, the other three prep selections may have been complete wastes.

The goal early in the draft seems to be to take the more relatively safe college player. Prep right-handed pitchers are being treated as near-toxic. Which means, players like Tyler Kolek from 2014 are dropping down boards noticably.

Teams want production from early choices. College options are more proven, and more likely to represent soon. As such, it’s very reasonable the top six names might all be college options.

As “college options” are the only ones that I can glean any valid information on during the amateur seasons, the guys that I’m more familiar with are going to go in the Top 15. Here are a few names that make sense at 1.24, and why.

Drafting 24th, the Cubs want a degree of value from who they select. Perhaps they greatly under-perform, but a key to getting something most years from a top draft selection is knowing what can be reasonably expected. A pitcher who has regularly gotten out good college hitters ought to continue in that fashion. A reliable hitter with good defense ought to be able to continue in that fashion.

Grabbing a prep might make sense. However, a player that is alien to three-game sets against quality college foes leaves a question, and leeway either way.

Now, to a list of players that seem to appear on Cubs mocks at 24 more than most.

Trevor Larnach, OF, Oregon State

One of the better bats in the draft, Larnach is a corner outfielder. While the bat plays, the defense is adequate, and should stick in right field. He has on-base skills as well as power. His speed is below average.

When top-five probable Nick Madrigal missed about half the season, Larnach stepped in and kept the Beavers on-target out west. I somewhat think of Paul O’Neill when I think of Larnach.

Anthony Seigler, C, HS (Georgia)

Seigler hits for average from both sides of the plate, and represents defensive skills, as well. Apparently entirely ambidextrous, he can pitch from both sides of the slab, as well. However, his attraction is as a backstop. His arm and general defensive abilities are similarly valued above average.

I’d be a bit more dismissive here, but the Cubs main scout in Georgia is Keith Lockhart, who the Cubs have relied on repeatedly, and with success. He seems a bit of a reach, but Seigler might make sense if the preferred college options are gone.

Jeremy Eierman, SS, Missouri State

Eierman’s season started very slowly. He followed with a hot streak, but he seems to be the guy everyone is saying about “I expected more.” Last season, he out-homered White Sox first-rounder Jake Burger, with whom he split the spotlight in Springfield, Missouri.

His contact lags some, and he hasn’t shown much power his season. However, the question tends to be “How will he do as a professional?” Nobody’s quite sure. However, his arm ought to be fine at third or second base if and when he’s run off of shortstop.

At some point, questions about contact are countered by expectations of power, and a decent enough glove. Will that point be around 24?

Kumar Rocker, P, HS (Georgia)

A few options exist to toss off a prep arm example. Rocker is the son of former NFL lineman Tracy Rocker. At 6-5 and 250, he looks it. A Vanderbilt commit, Rocker was supposed to go in the top dozen. However, right-handed pitching options from the high school ranks aren’t popular this time around on uncertainty. Which means some quality will fall.

Rocker’s fastball gets a 70 grade from MLB.com, and his slider is a 60. If selected here, he’d represent a possible big-time arm. Or, a trade piece in 13 months.

Triston Casas, 1B, HS (Florida)

If the Cubs choose to go with Casas, it may be a case of hoping for Anthony Rizzo 2.0. Casas’ bat is largely tied up in his power. He’s played third in school, and has a glimmer of left field, as well. However, in reality, he’s a first baseman.

While Casas has popped at 24 in a few mocks, the Cubs had some heat at a recent match-up between Casas and P-C Mason Denaburg, who was better than Casas that day. Who were the scouts there to see? Did they see what they needed?

***

Tonight, there will be an open draft thread, but you’re also encouraged to chat about other games in the league, minor league stuff, or music that your listening to instead of the draft coverage. The players selected tonight, across the league, will be the main pieces pushing through systems the next few years. The two best ways to get healthy as a system are through the draft and through the international selection processes.

Those players are likely to be around for the better part of five years or more, at team-friendly rates. While the free-agency names will grab the headlines, the best way to make long-term, incremental improvement is by bringing in better talent every June. Colleges, universities, and high schools have talent ready to go at lower levels. By selecting and developing the proper talent, teams can turn a middling pipeline into something better. Or, the other way.

If you have questions, I’ll answer them as best as I can. However, I’m unlikely to have much data on a high school player who hasn’t had his games streamed. With a draft, successful or not, most things will eventually be revealed. Eventually.

Of the 25-32 draft choices the Cubs are likely to sign, most will start in Mesa or Eugene. Either way, it will be an arduous journey for most. Unlike the NBA and NFL Drafts, where a player will be playing in games for the big club before the year is out.

To make the draft a bit more amusing for you, I have a recommendation. Select one player that you want to follow a bit more closely than normal. Try to make it a “down-the-list” guy. Maybe from a college you have some tangential interest in. Or a guy with a cool sounding name.

Whether he succeeds at reaching the majors isn’t the point. The goal is to have one player that you actually care about in the pipeline. I’ve never enjoyed baseball more since I’ve taken the “longer view” of grasping the stories of the developing talent. It’s fun when a random-sounding reliever from the third day of the draft is all-of-a-sudden chucking it in the mid-90s, and is becoming an actual prospect.

***

Since the money that can be spent on the draft is tightly limited, some of the players selected won’t sign. Many of these will be high school players the teams select on the third day.

At some point, teams fatigue of drafting college seniors with high-80’s fast balls, and instead, start selecting preps with college commitments. These players will likely go to college, but the selection gives the pro outfit the chance to negotiate with the player.

Maybe the coach they agreed to play for has recently been fired. Maybe the perceived commitment to school wasn’t that solid. These will be the names that many will want the Cubs to “find a way to sign.” Most of the “late round preps” will go to school.

A large majority of owners don’t want the Rule 4 draft to be a case of “the rich always getting richer.” The also-rans don’t want the teams willing to spend $20 million on the draft to be able to do so every year. The Cubs will spend about $8 million on bonuses.

Look for the Cubs to sign all or most of their top 22 picks. After that point, they’ll cast a few lines to high school names with positive histories and college commitments. Those players likely won’t sign.

The Cubs will be more likely than some to grab “quality college juniors” and pay them high-five or low-six figure signing bonuses, without a penalty against the cap. Or you ever knowing what their signing number is. On the other hand, in those same rounds, some teams will be grabbing players with no place else to go, and offering bonuses of low-five figures or less. My name for this Cubs trend is “Draft 40.”

If you watch enough college games, every reasonably major D-1 Conference will have a few players that are legitimate 8-15 percent chance types to play well in MLB. They will be available on Day Three. Their ability to develop as a professional athlete will determine their career. David Bote was one. Matt Carpenter was another.

Grabbing the best of these players as juniors (Bote was signed after his junior season, Carpenter after his senior campaign) will cost a bit more than the more “roster filler” types. That the Cubs tend to “Draft 40” helps with depth, though it doesn’t necessarily translate to “Top 100 Prospect Talent.”

The more players the Cubs can effectively push through to being average talents in Advanced-A or Double-A means the more players other teams will want as minor pieces in trades. The more that push through as average or better in Triple-A Ball means more in-house emergency call-up opportunities.

On Twitter, I’m referencing the Mets/Cubs pennant race in 1969 more than before. Gil Hodges’ Mets won that year, in part, by using his depth more than Leo Durocher did. Depth comes from the draft, waiver wire pick-ups, and trade additions. Those are the players that can be toggled ingloriously between the parent club and Triple-A.

While many MLB players were early draft choices or big-money international signings, that player the Cubs select early in the afternoon on Wednesday might be a valid piece in 2024. While that’s a distance away, I’m guessing you’ll still be a Cubs fan then if you’re still upright. And 2024 will be as important then as 2018 is now.

Enjoy the draft. After these youngsters receive their signing bonus, they’ll make very little until they debut in MLB, if they do. I’ll talk to you this evening with some possible names for the Cubs first choice.