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2019 MLB Amateur Draft Preview


The 2019 Amateur Draft is upon us, and owners are either more excited to get more prospects or to finally get away from the creepy MLB Network nursery ad. While there is still some time for changes in terms of how the draft plays out, there are a few trends that owners should be looking at as they plan for the next wave of young prospects. For this article, the Rotoballer team previews some key names to watch. After the draft, a follow-up will appear to offer some feedback on the top names and their landing spots.

The first thing to watch this year is the surplus of hitting at the top of the board, with most of the key players being college bats. There is prep talent in the pool, but expect the first 12 picks or so to be college-aged players. There are some exceptions with Bobby Witt Jr. and Corbin Carroll, and those players will get some chatter below. At the very least, this is a year to own high picks in first-year player drafts in deep dynasty leagues, as the top talent is only a year or two away from the upper levels of the minors.

After scouring the web, reading reports from Baseball America and other scouts, and watching some film of my own, the following are draft prospects for fantasy owners to now. While league context always matters, fantasy owners should be targeting college bats this year, as they offer both the upside to play, and the development speed to help out in the next two years.

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Future Fantasy Studs

Andrew Vaughn (1B, CAL)

If this writer was directing the draft operation in Baltimore, Vaughn is the player that I would be targeting at the number one pick. While the Oregon State catcher is projected as the top pick, Vaughn has the most upside at the plate. While the track record for power-hitting, first base prospects is not great in the draft, Vaughn is the more polished bat in the class. Not only will Vaughn be a key contributor wherever he lands, but in terms of the direct fantasy value, Vaughn is the next top prospect. Expect Nick Swisher with a bit more consistent power, and Vaughn has an OF2 floor.

While college numbers can be a bit skewed based on competition, there is no lying about a 2:1 BB:K ratio over his career at California. Even more, a .318 ISO should get baseball fans excited. With no real flaws in the swing, Vaughn should be a quick mover. The bat to play in the corner, and the defensive upside to play in right, Vaughn is a player to root for on Monday.

 

Adley Ruschman (C, OSU)

Ruschman is the name getting the pre-draft buzz, and after leading Oregon State to success over the past few seasons, the hype is warranted. It's unusual for a catcher to get talked about with the first pick, but Rushman carries all the right skills to justify the selection. Projecting as one the better defenders in the draft, and boasting a switch-hitting, power approach at the plate, and Rushman is prime Buster Posey.

The rub for fantasy owners comes from the cap on playing time, as even if he hits his projections, owners are still only getting 400 ABs from the player due to the nature of the catching spot. And yet, catcher is so horrid in fantasy, that any upside at the spot will pay off. The other good news is that coming out of college,  Ruschman will be closer than others in this tier of prospects. This means that he will arrive sooner than Joey Bart, and might be in the bigs as soon as 2021. For now, the only reason he is not the top prospect is the skills from Vaughn, but still, Ruschman is a talent that should excite fantasy owners.

 

Bryson Stott (SS, UNLV)

Standing 6-foot-3, Stott is big for the position, but reports say that he can stick there with the glove. Not only should he move quickly in the draft, but he might be the best overall infielder to own entering 2020. After being named as an All-American Third Team member last year, Stott has been playing even better to date. Through 51 games he has a .369 batting average with 10 homers. Add in the 50 walks to only 37 Ks, and the total approach is there. There are some long-term questions on patience, but he had performed well enough to mitigate those concerns.

According to most of the reports, Stott’s best comp is Brandon Crawford, but there are some hopes that he might have a bit more power. A plus runner and plus glove, the question for fantasy will be the bat. If he can keep hitting at a top level, Stott could be the top shortstop in this draft. If not, the playing time floor still looks good with the overall profile. Stott has the floor of an upside MI, but also could be one of the next stats at short. Expect him to move to second or third, but even with that, the stock will be carried by the speed and hit tool.

 

Upside Picks

Hunter Bishop (OF, ASU)

Bishop was a player that I got to see play in person, and was impressed with the game he had back in March versus Michigan. Not only did he make two plays in the outfield, but threw out a runner at the plate. With the bat, he only had one hit, but make good contact, and turned in production plate appearances. One game does not tell the story, but that game served as a good illustration of his season.

Bishop, the brother of the current Seattle prospect, Braden Bishop, is the best center field option in the pool. Carried by an overall approach to the game, do not expect him to top leaderboards, but to play well-rounded games. With a stock that has moved up draft boards, Bishop offers a unique fantasy fit in the outfield. With the glove to play in center, Bishop also flashes 70 raw power and should be a solid bet to hit 25 in the Majors. The overall athleticism makes up for what scouts question in terms of the hit tool, but the power and speed will carry him at the spot. Bishop carries risk for the position, but is a name to watch on Monday.

 

Bobby Witt Jr. (SS, Heritage HS)

Of the talents in the 2019 draft, Witt might have the largest upside based on name value alone. Still, with an overall raw profile, he will take time to make it to Kansas City, his projected landing spot at second in the first round. The reason he does not appear in the top tier is the development lag time and with that comes more risk in terms of the tools and their projection. If he pans out, Witt could be a franchise cornerstone at short with the glove and hit tool to succeed. The weakest of the skills is the hit tool, with questions on the consistency of the contact to stay at short. While he has the glove, a move to second might be the best fit for the offensive profile.

Another concern is that he tends to be a bit pull-happy, which does add some power but also saw him lose contact at times. The context is excellent, with scouts loving the upside and makeup for the young star. Even if the hit tool does not come around, Witt is a plus glove at a critical position, but still might not be the best fantasy prospect. Pass on him high in drafts, but know there is value if he slips.

 

Zack Thompson (P, UK)

Perhaps the best college arm in the draft, Thompson will be one of the first pitchers off the board in the draft. With a lack of other options, Thompson will be a sought after prospect for teams in need of pitchers. And yet, the question will be when he goes, as with so many hitters, Thompson might last until the late teens.

Listed as 6’2’’ and 225 lbs, Thompson has the size to be a front of the line starter but has dealt with injuries over the past two years. In 2018, he was only able to make three starts due to an elbow issue; so there are some red flags with the medicals. The pitching concerns are tied to the command, with three or more walks on average from each of his starts. This stems in part from the delivery, which scouts worry might have some repeatability issues. Still, the highest floor of the starters in the draft, but lacking the elite skills to push him up boards. For dynasty teams with a need for pitching, Thompson should be the prime target.

 

Corbin Carroll (OF, Lakeside HS)

Carroll sits in an exciting part of the draft, as by the time he enters consideration, most of the top college bats will be off the board. From there, teams will have their choice of prep bats or college arms. Carroll is one of the first that should appear in draft conversations. Perhaps the most polished bat out of the prep class, Carroll compares to last year’s Trevor Larnach in terms of scout grades. Add in the ability to play all outfield positions, Carroll offers one of the safer options for fantasy owners willing to wait a bit for value. Another comparison would be Christian Pache, as Carroll has the glove to carry him up the ladder quicker if the hit tool develops.

The carrying skill is the hit tool, with an approach that takes the ball to all fields. The lack of loft in the swing will limit the power upside, but the contact rate can still drive later changes to boost the production. The other piece is that he has a closed stance, leading to potential issues with inside pitches. The skills are all there, and with some added power, Carroll might have the highest floor in the draft, outside the first two or three bats.

 

Shaw Langeliers (C, Baylor)

If this were any other year, Langeliers would be the top option at catcher. And yet, even without the top rank in the draft, the Baylor prospect offers a Gold Glove defensive upside. With a cannon behind the plate, runners will be scared and with the framing and pitch-calling he is showing already, Langeliers will be a quick mover.

The concern was a .250 batting line two seasons ago, which hinted at a below-average bat. This year, he has turned it around to slash .322/.366/.494, and he put up similar marks with Team USA. With catching being a weak position in general, this is the type of stock to buy. The floor is a defensive starter, or bench catcher, with the upside to change a team. If owners are currently in competition mode, this is the player that could make an impact at a weak spot in 2021.

 

Late-Round Values

Michael Busch (OF, UNC)

Listed as both a first baseman and outfielder by different scouts, Busch has the hit tool to play either. Looking to his 2019 batting line, the overall production is down. After starting his collegiate career off well, with two seasons of a .300 batting average and 13 homers, Busch has struggled in 2019. Still projected to go in the first round, Busch might land in a good spot, that will help his long-term value. While Seth Beer has not excelled, as of this article, Houston is a good option to fix a college hitter with tools.

The issue this year is that the average is down to .215, but owners should also consider the sub-.300 BABIP. Scouts still like the hit tool, but as the adjustments have been made, there are real questions on a top prospect. With two years of production on his record, Busch will be a risk entering the draft but has all the skills to make it work in the long-run. While he is lower on the list that he was to start the year, owners late in the draft can add Busch as an undervalued hitting prospect.

 

Josh Jung (3B, Texas Tech)

No prospect in the draft seems to divide scouts as much as Jung. Some view him as the prototypical third baseman with a reliable hit tool, good glove, and the speed to be top at the position. And yet, there are others with real concerns on the bat speed and worry that he has a 50 cap with the hit tool. If that is the case, then the power will need to emerge, as right now, it is not enough to carry Jung at the position. Jung compares well to Ke'Brayan Hayes, and might have the better glove. Hayes had the same lack of power in the draft, but has developed that over his time with the Pirates.

Texas Tech played him at a bit shortstop this year, and while he does not appear to have the glove to play, that might be the better fit for the bat. IF he can keep the average up, but also add in some power production, Jung could be the next Marcus Semien. With a lower ceiling that many would have thought to start the year, Jung will be a pick to wait on this year.

 

Graeme Stinson (P, Duke)

With a name that might come out of a Roger Kuhn book, Stinson offers plenty to dream on for Major League teams. While he might not be one of the top prospects at starting pitcher, Stinson will be a prospect with helium as he develops in pro ball. A tall lefty who throws in the upper 90s, Stinson also has a plus slider that sits in the mid-80s. Both of these helped his underlying K numbers, and the command was there to push down the WHIP.

The concern for fantasy is that without a clear third pitch, he will struggle to stay in the Major League rotation. He also lacks the 80 grade stuff to make him a top option in the pen, so owners will hope that the pitching options develop over time. As he is starting to move back in mock drafts, fantasy owners can target Stinson as an upside arm deeper in drafts.

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