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Draft | Story | 12/27/2018

Year in Review: MLB Draft

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Jarred Kelenic (Perfect Game)

Year in Review: PG Events High School College
 Top 300 MLB Draft Prospects 2018 MLB Draft Impressions

With the MLB Draft scouting season about to get back underway it’s time to take one last look at the bigger draft-related storylines from 2018.

Mize goes No. 1, as projected

Auburn righthanded pitcher Casey Mize entered the spring of 2018 as the No. 1 overall draft prospect, and while his production did drop off towards the end of the season, he more than lived up to the hype. That resulted in him going first overall to the Detroit Tigers, and while there were other players associated with the Tigers in the weeks leading up to the draft, Mize seemed to be their preferred target all along.

In the always-tough environment of playing in the SEC, Mize went 10-6 with a 3.30 ERA serving as Auburn’s Friday ace. He went the distance in three of his 17 games (all of which were starts), logging 114 2/3 innings while giving up just 84 hits and 16 walks as compared to 156 punchouts. He was twice named Perfect Game’s College Pitcher of the Week during the 2018 season, the first of which was a 13-strikeout, no-hit performance against Northeastern in mid-March and the second was another complete game effort, this time fanning 15 Commodores in a win against Vanderbilt in early May.

Mize’s stuff matched his performances, with a mid-90s fastball that routinely touched 97-99 mph, a slider, cutter and an upper-80s to low-90s splitter that made him especially unhittable. Given his power arsenal, his sterling control made his overall body of work even that much more impressive.

Rays load up on premium talent

The Rays gained three additional, early picks for the 2018 draft, all of which came before the beginning of the third round. Two of them were back-to-back selections, 31st and 32nd overall, for unsigned 2017 pick Drew Rasmussen and free agent Alex Cobb. The third was a Competitive Balance Lottery selection after the second round.

With those three extra picks, in addition to their own first and second round selections, the Rays had a large bonus pool to work with and were able to load up as a result. They selected two of the premium lefthanded pitchers available in Matthew Liberatore and Shane McClanahan and followed that up with five-tool prep outfielder Nick Schnell. Shortstop Tyler Frank and righthanded pitcher Tanner Dodson rounded out their first five selections, a group that collectively earned nearly $10 million in bonus money.

The reinforcements are a good sign for the Rays and their fans considering the organization went from 68-94 in 2016 to 80-82 in 2017 and 89-73 this past year, just missing the playoffs due to the presence of the Red Sox and Yankees in their own division.

Indians big haul

Similar to the Rays, the Indians had a pair of extra first round picks due to the departure of free agent Carlos Santana in addition to a Competitive Balance Lottery selection. They used those two picks, in addition to their own first round selection, on a trio of PG All-Americans: catcher Noah Naylor and righthanded pitchers Ethan Hankins and Lenny Torres.

While the stock of Naylor and Torres – both of whom hail from untraditional scouting locations of Ontario and New York, respectively – continued to rise all spring long, Ethan Hankins was an especially interesting prospect. He entered the spring ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect eligible for the draft, a near-perfect combination of size, stuff and command not often seen from a high school pitcher. A combination of factors, which included a commitment to Vanderbilt, caused him to fall and the Indians went above slot to sign Hankins for over $2.2 million.

However, it was the team’s second round pick, Nick Sandlin, that made the most noise after joining the system. Sandlin enjoyed a huge spring for Southern Miss, earning PG's College Pitcher of the Year honors while enjoying a significant spike in velocity despite being a closer-turned-starter. Sandlin moved back to the bullpen to begin his professional career, largely due to his heavy spring workload, and after opening at Cleveland’s Rookie-ball affiliate in Arizona, he was quickly moved up to A-ball, advanced A-ball and finally Double-A; he finished the summer with a gaudy 36-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24 innings of work.

College picks go early

It was a good year for college prospects, particularly position players, and the draft reflect that talent as the first five selections were taken from the college ranks. It started with the first overall pick Casey Mize before moving to a quartet of hitters: Joey Bart (2nd overall, Giants), Alec Bohm (3rd, Phillies), Nick Madrigal (4th, White Sox) and Jonathan India (5th, Reds).

Two more college hitters were taken within the top 10 overall picks in outfielders Kyler Murray (9th, Athletics) and Travis Swaggerty (10th, Pirates).

Bart enjoyed a breakout season, hitting .359-16-38 while regularly showcasing his exciting power bat/arm combo. Bohn paired with Greyson Jenista (2nd round, Braves) to give Wichita State a pair of sluggers taken on Day 1 of the draft. Madrigal entered the spring as a Player of the Year favorite but injuries kept him out of action for a month early in the season, a year that saw he and two of his National Championship teammates – Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier – also go in the first round of the draft. India was in the running for the Golden Spikes Award for his own breakout season.

Murray was one of the bigger overall stories from college athletics in 2018, signing with the A’s while returning to Oklahoma to pick up where Baker Mayfield left off as OU’s starting quarterback on his way to earning the Heisman Trophy. Swaggerty was one of the top pure hitters eligible in 2018 with a knack for working the count and getting on base.

Florida three-year rotation mates Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar along with Clemson slugger Seth Beer were among some of the more notable first round picks selected out of college.

Royals nab Gators duo

As noted, three Florida Gators were taken in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft: Jonathan India, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. The Royals, with three additional first round picks, selected two of those Gators, Singer and Kowar, with their first two choices.

Singer and Kowar seemed to be tied at the hip since they arrived on campus in Gainesville during the fall of 2015. They both served swing roles as freshmen before being inserted into the weekend rotation for their sophomore and junior seasons. Both played key roles in the Gators’ first-ever National Championship in 2017, and they finished their careers with eerily similar numbers, combining for a 48-16 record and a 3.37 ERA.

The Royals added three more accomplish college hurlers with their next three picks, Daniel Lynch of Virginia, Kris Bubic of Stanford and Jonathan Bowlan out of Memphis. All five hurlers had recorded over 100 strikeouts during the spring, pointing to each one’s ability to miss bats while significantly improving the Royals’ organizational pitching depth.

High school picks-a-plenty in first round

Although the 2018 draft had a college-heavy feel initially, after the first five picks high school players were predominantly taken. In total, 19 of the 35 players taken in the first round were selected out of high school, with another four (out of eight) picked in the supplemental first round.

The first high school player selected was five-tool outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who became the highest drafted player out of the state of Wisconsin when the Mets took him with the sixth overall pick. Kelenic was recently traded to the Mariners as part of a blockbuster offseason trade involving Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz.

Fellow PG All-Americans Ryan Weathers and Carter Stewart were taken right after Kelenic, and 14 more 2017 PG All-American honorees (Jordan Groshans, Connor Scott, Matthew Liberatore, Nolan Gorman, Brice Turang, Anthony Seigler, Triston Casas, Mason Denaburg, Noah Naylor, JT Ginn, Nick Schnell, Ethan Hankins, Xavier Edwards, Lenny Torres) were taken before the second round began.

Eventual Heisman winner goes 9th overall

Kyler Murray emerged as not only one of the more intriguing draft stories but also as one of the more compelling stories from the world of sports during 2018. He offered a unique situation leading up to the draft considering everyone knew of his football talents, and everyone also knew that Oklahoma’s starting quarterback job was his for the taking with Baker Mayfield moving on to the NFL as the first overall selection of the Cleveland Browns.

Murray, of course, is a game-changing athlete, one that baseball doesn’t see all that often, drawing comparisons to one of the all-time two-way greats, Bo Jackson. But for as much as Bo Knows, he never played under center.

As part of a dynamic overall OU offense, Murray enjoyed a big season at the plate, hitting .296-10-47 with 10 stolen bases. He was the best overall athlete available for the draft, but it was still hard to project whether or not he had interest in signing to play baseball. The Oakland A’s did their homework and selected Murray ninth overall, signing him to a $4.66 million contract that allowed him to continue to play football.

And that Murray did, throwing for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdown passes while adding another 1,006 yards on the ground with 11 rushing scores on his way to earning the Heisman Trophy. Oklahoma went 12-1, avenging their only regular season loss with a victory over Texas in the Big 12 Championship while earning the opportunity to play for a National Championship, starting with a matchup against No. 1 Alabama this Saturday in the Orange Bowl.

Unsigned stars

Four players selected among the top 36 overall selection from the 2018 MLB Draft ended up not signing with the team that selected them: Carter Stewart (8th overall, Braves), Matt McLain (25th, D-backs), JT Ginn (30th, Dodgers) and Gunnar Hoglund (36th, Pirates). All four teams will receive a compensatory pick one pick after their 2018 draft slot in the 2019 draft.

Stewart became the highest unsigned draft pick since Brady Aiken, the first overall selection in 2014. Stewart, who originally committed to play at Mississippi State, is expected to play during the spring of 2019 at Eastern Florida State, a junior college, and will re-enter the 2019 draft as a premium pick.

Ginn will bolster an already deep Mississippi State pitching staff, and he could chip in on the offensive side of things given his two-way prowess, while Hoglund will play for MSU’s in-state, SEC rival Ole Miss. McLain will fight for playing time at UCLA as part of a deep and talented everyday lineup.

In addition to the unsigned players there were a few notable draft-eligible prospects, also from the high school ranks, that informed big league teams that they intended to honor their college commitments. Mike Vasil and Brandon Neeck, both participants of the 2017 PG All-American Classic, were among these players and both are currently at Virginia.

PG’s impression on the draft

Perfect Game continues to play a role in scouting and player development considering most of the top players in the country that are drafted by Major League teams have participated in PG events while in high school. The 2018 draft put an exclamation point on this fact as all 43 first and supplemental first round picks had previously attended a Perfect Game showcase and/or tournament event. Expand the picks to all of those taken on the first day (the top two rounds) and 77 of 78 players were PG alumni.

Thirty-seven of those 78 players had previously attended a National Showcase, held annually in mid-June while serving as the unofficial kickoff to the summer showcase circuit. Twenty-seven of the 78 had previously played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic, 24 of which did so in 2017, which has served as an annual, televised preview to the draft 10 months in advance since 2003.

The first PG All-American to be selected in 2018 was Jonathan India, who went fifth overall to the Cincinnati Reds and enjoyed a huge season at the plate for Florida and helped propel them to Omaha. The second PG All-American taken, and the first high school player to be selected in the 2018 MLB Draft, was outfielder Jarred Kelenic out of Waukesha West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Casey Mize, the first overall pick, had attended 14 Perfect Game tournament events before attending Auburn. He was ranked 351st in the nation coming out of high school in the class of 2015, regularly sitting in the 87-91 mph range, peaking at 92 mph, before his velocity spiked while in college.

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