D’Backs Plans For the First Overall Pick Come Into Focus

I’ve written many times in the past eight months that this draft class is pretty weak and that, combined with the bonus pools that limit each team’s draft spending, will make for an unpredictable draft day filled with below-slot deals. That talk has continued here and in other places but, in the last few weeks, teams’ plans have come into better focus and the question marks now start at the very top.

I called Orlando-area prep SS Brendan Rodgers the best prep player in the 2015 class a full two years ago and he’s held serve since then, standing today as the consensus top player in the whole draft for the industry and in my recent rankings.  The assumption for most of the spring was that the Diamondbacks would take Rodgers #1 as the consensus top player in a down class. Another reason this made sense is the embattled first seven months of the Dave Stewart/Tony La Russa regime in Arizona, which have gone about as bad as possible so far, so they don’t need another off-the-board, bucking-industry-consensus decision that could draw more bad PR.

I had heard in the last few weeks that Rodgers was out of the mix for the D’Backs at #1, but until I had heard who the target was, I didn’t feel comfortable reporting that, since it could just be misdirection for negotiating purposes. I had also heard the D’Backs weren’t at many of Rodgers’ games this spring, so that put more momentum behind that buzz being real.  hen, in the last few weeks, D’Backs GM Dave Stewart and VP of Baseball Ops DeJon Watson have been seen all over the country scouting amateur players, but not Rodgers.

Over the last week or so, sources have indicated that Rodgers is out of the D’Backs mix and the presumed backup option (my #2 prospect), RHP Dillon Tate of UC Santa Barbara, also isn’t necessarily Arizona’s top target, though some scouts think Stewart sees a lot of himself in Tate, which could influence the decision.

Stewart was in last week to see late-rising Georgia prep C Tyler Stephenson and a big crowd of high-level scouts saw him yesterday, including Phillies GM Ruben Amaro and five scouting directors. Stephenson caught both ends of a double-header playoff game and hit two homers in a hotly-contested playoff series that concludes with a rubber game today. Stephenson’s second bomb came after three intentional walks in a row and iced the game for his team. Stephenson was excited:

Stephenson is rising up boards after not being seen much over the summer, now looking like a lock to go somewhere in the top 15, though more likely in the 8-15 range than the top 7. The one exception is at #1 overall, as I’ve heard from multiple sources that the D’Backs have engaged Stephenson about a cut-rate deal as the top pick in the draft. The D’Backs are also on New York prep CF Garrett Whitley, who Stewart scouted again last night and is also believed to have been approached about a cut rate deal at #1 overall as well.

The industry speculation is that the D’Backs’ preference is Whitley over Stephenson as cut-rate options at #1 overall and Georgia prep CF Daz Cameron (son of Mike Cameron) is also rumored to be in the mix.  Watson went to Cameron’s game yesterday instead of Stephenson, but the heavy hitters for Arizona have seen all three players already. At this point, I’d call the three high school players the co-favorites to go #1 overall until more information comes in, with Tate and Vanderbilt SS Dansby Swanson both longshots. It sounds like Arizona wants a hitter, but it’s clear to the industry that Arizona doesn’t know what they’re going to do yet.

The math behind this preference means the that D’Backs could have a financial hammer with their later picks. The pool value for the top pick is about $8 million and the D’Backs full pool is $13.6 million. Rodgers would likely cost at least $6 million at 1-1 and Tate would probably be just below that, but since Whitley and Stephenson don’t have a clear home in the top 7 picks if Arizona passes, they may accept a deal of about $3.5 million. This would shave about $4.5 million off the top pick that could be spent on multiple other picks. Cameron has more interest in the top 10 and would probably ask for a price between Stephenson/Whitley and Tate.

Stewart and Watson have also been seen scouting other players projected to go lower in the draft, like Florida SS Richie Martin and Georgia prep IF Cornelius Randolph in the last week, who fit generally in the middle to late stages of round one. Having that much money available at their next picks (43 and 76) would allow Arizona to offer a player his highest possible bonus 20 picks or more before Arizona is actually on the clock. This, in effect, serves to “trade down” from the first overall pick to slide up their next couple picks a number of slots.  Since MLB doesn’t allow trading of picks, moving around finances like this is the only way to accomplish that effect.

Tying the Evaluations Together

Whitley is a center fielder with 65 speed, 15-20 homer power and a linebacker build, but has a limited track record, popping up late in the summer (but performing well) and playing weak competition in upstate New York. Stephenson physically resembles Matt Wieters at 6’4/210, is a shockingly good receiver for someone his size, has a 70 arm, above average raw power and some feel to hit, but also wasn’t on the showcase circuit much and has a little too much swing-and-miss to his game for some scouts. Cameron is a polarizing prospect, hyped as a 1-1 candidate as a sophomore, but not improving much physically since then. He was just okay over the summer against top pitching and has been better in spurts this spring but hasn’t faced much good pitching. Cameron is an above average to plus runner that profiles in center field and has average raw power, above average bat speed and looseness to his swing, with multiple teams interested in him at picks 5-12, but many scouts think he’s more of a late first rounder. Tate also popped up this spring as a potential high first rounder, as he hasn’t started a college game until this spring and he’s shorter at 6’1, but has electric plus stuff, hitting 99 mph on his good days.

The connecting thread between these five players is largely ignoring the summer (Stephenson wasn’t there, Whitley showed up late, Cameron was so-so, Tate was a reliever, Rodgers was fantastic) while emphasizing the spring (Stephenson and Whitley are tool-sheds that have performed pretty well, Cameron will show you tools and performance on some days, Tate is awe-inspiring at times and Rodgers has been just okay). This may seem like an arbitrary fact to point out, but it’s something that runs counter to how most teams evaluate players these days.

Before high school showcases were so prevalent, teams mostly saw and identified high school players during the spring, using aluminum bats and facing poor competition. Now, you can identify kids years in advance and see 100 at bats against premium pitching with wood bats, playing everyday, mirroring pro baseball. There’s a reason every study shows that teams are getting better in the last 10-15 years at draft the best prep players with the top picks; teams have far more information about Brendan Rodgers, a high school player, facing top competition in his projected pro role than they do about Dillon Tate, a college player.

Stewart was hired in late September and hired his staff after that, months after summer showcase season had ended. Stewart and LaRussa are old school guys and seem to be leaning towards old school methods in all phases of how they run the Diamondbacks. That hasn’t gone well so far, but the draft is a crapshoot, particularly with a muddled class this year that lacks the multiple elite talents that teams like to see. Because of this, the industry will be more forgiving in their assessments of the D’Backs draft strategy, with a common refrain this year of “I won’t laugh at yours if you won’t laugh at mine.”



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Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates and has written for ESPN, among other outlets. Follow him on twitter for real-time thoughts on the players he’s seeing and hacky attempts at humor.


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Mac
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Mac
1 year 21 days ago

“I had heard in the last few weeks that Rodgers was out of the mix for the D’Backs at #1, but until I had heard who the target was, I didn’t feel comfortable reporting that, since it could just be misdirection for negotiating purpose”

Wow, actual journalism! Seriously, in the era of sound bite reporting, I love seeing the effort to actually analyze a story. Great stuff Kiley.

joser
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joser
1 year 21 days ago

It’s called “checking your sources” and a lot of real journalists do it; alas they get overshadowed by the media circus that rushes to air completely unsupported “facts” that vanish almost instantly, overtaken by the latest unsupported “facts.” And we, as media consumers, are largely to blame since our short attention spans allow them to get away with it without repercussion.

That Guy
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That Guy
1 year 21 days ago

Obviously, on a site like this, comments like that from Kiley above aren’t going to be ignored, but I thought the very same thing…

Gabes
Member
Gabes
1 year 21 days ago

Doesn’t the “Sign the 1-1 guy underslot and go over later in the draft” strategy only work if there are guys worth that extra $$ in the later rounds? If this class is as weak as reported, why not jump on the guy your scouts see as the #1?

tz
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tz
1 year 21 days ago

It’s probably more a matter of whether the “true” 1-1 guy is that much better than the alternatives that might take a cut-rate deal. If not, it might make some sense to do it.

jwise224
Member
1 year 21 days ago

Kiley, do you see there being enough talent in the later rounds to justify this strategy. To me, Tate is the clear 1.1 and it’s an impact arm that fits the team’s timeline for contention to a ‘T’. I know you don’t draft for need, but his talent is first pick worthy on it’s own and the fit is just a nice bonus. If they go prep athlete, is there enough in the later rounds to justify missing out on a guy like Tate? Are that many guys going to slip through the cracks that they can “buy” with the savings?

gnomez
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gnomez
1 year 21 days ago

I’m surprised Dansby Swanson hasn’t had much press as a possible #1 pick. He’s likely close to the majors with his SEC numbers, and almost sure to stick at SS – not to mention the fact that SS is an absolutely black hole for Arizona.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
1 year 21 days ago

J. Dansby Swanson is a surefire #1 pick in the Cool Name Draft.

(And yes, his first initial is J. Please, let’s all call him J. Dansby Swanson.)

Adam Doctolero
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Adam Doctolero
1 year 21 days ago

Great stuff Kiley! What are we giving Stephenson’s bat flip? I’ll say that’s about a 65 with 70 potential (or more) if he walks a bit more out of the box as opposed to breaking into a trot. Excellent height on the toss itself.

joser
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joser
1 year 21 days ago

It looked to me like he’s been coached properly to always break out of the box, and is only starting to appreciate his own power. Hence the reflex trot followed by the showboat bat flip.

mgoetze
Member
mgoetze
1 year 21 days ago

The D’Backs plan for the first overall pick is clear. They plan to have it again next year. ;)

Julio
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Julio
1 year 21 days ago

Good work but how is this comment substantiated?

“Another reason this made sense is the embattled first seven months of the Dave Stewart/Tony La Russa regime in Arizona, which have gone about as bad as possible so far, so they don’t need another off-the-board, bucking-industry-consensus decision that could draw more bad PR.”

They’re going with kids at every position and cut much of the dead weight of the Towers era (Cahill, Ross…); took fliers on Rubby De La Rosa and Robbie Ray that might actually pan out; Archie Bradley has looked stellar; looks like Shipley and Blair might get the call soon. Tomás is only at 3B right now because Lamb is hurt… and they’re out-performing last year’s disastrous pace while undergoing a necessary rebuild that could pay dividends as early as next season. Dumb “real baseball” comments aside, I don’t see how this regime is “embattled.”

Sean
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Sean
1 year 21 days ago

It absolutely blows my mind how hard FG has been pushing an anti-Diamondbacks narrative this past season. I don’t really accuse Kiley of it (he’s generally quite blunt and unbiased), but certain writers here are downright blatant of it.

I’d say so far the Diamondbacks are absolutely killing it, with regards to expectations. The Diamondbacks had absolutely terrible pitching last year. TLR/DS made a lot of moves to gather MLB-ready high-risk, high-upside SPs to mix in with Bradley, Shipley, and Blair. So far, I’d say the results are pretty good. De La Rosa has great strikeout numbers and a solid walk rate; he’s been unlucky with HRs so far but has shown flashes of that upside. Robbie Ray looked terrific in his first start (In Denver, even). SSS applies to their numbers, but the stuff they’re showing is what’s promising. They may not pan out, but it’s two more options that they didn’t have and so far, it’s been a good start.

Yasmany Tomas? Trashed on this site: terrible defense, terrible plate discipline. So far? Surprisingly better defense than expected at 3B (reminds me of Sandoval, honestly; by no means has he been unservicable there) with a 11% K% and 9% BB%.

Ross? Gone. Cashill? Gone. Inciarte has played more over Trumbo (as he should). The Diamondbacks sent Tomas to AAA to play Lamb (as was deserved). They trimmed a ton of payroll/deadweight and have been playing the young kids over signing old veterans.

The narrative is that the management is “old-school” and not with the times. But so far, the Dbacks have been doing exactly what any smart team would do: acquire as much young talent as possible without giving up your future, clear the deadweight, and play the young guys. Considering the weakness of the top of this draft class, the Diamondbacks’ decision to go under-slot at 1 is probably the right thing to do (KLaw agreed).

I’m not saying the Diamondbacks are a good team right now, but their future is much brighter and much closer than the FG’s narrative lets on. Their starters are 6th in the NL in fWAR with probably the best SP prospects as a whole in baseball (Bradley, Blair, Shipley, Touissant) coming up the next few years. They’re not as strong positionally, but Goldschmidt, Pollock, Inciarte, Lamb and (possibly) Tomas are a strong core to build upon.

Unless TLR/DS start trading away the farm and signing those pricy vets (cough, Kevin Tower), I’d say the Dbacks will be good within a year or two.

CrazyPants
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CrazyPants
1 year 21 days ago

Lotta truth here…

joser
Guest
joser
1 year 21 days ago

I always love how aggrieved fans can convert consensus head-shaking into a conspiratorial “narrative.”

Since this is about Arizona, I will indulge in an anecdote:
My junior year of college (Pac-10 school on the coast) I moved into a dorm that was reserved for upper classmen. Just down the hall from me was an AZ-raised girl who had just transferred from some college in Arizona on a volleyball scholarship. One Sunday that autumn she stuck her head in my doorway and asked why “the clocks were wrong.” Nonplussed, I reminded her that daylight savings time had just ended. She didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. “You know,” I said, “Spring forward, fall back?” She still looked at me blankly. This was a 20 year old woman with two years of higher education; granted, she had never experienced it directly, but somehow she had managed to get to that point in life without ever hearing about DST — or, more likely, hearing about it without comprehending it.

She thought I was kidding, and when a couple of other people in the hallway gave her the same explanation, she became convinced that the entire dorm had concocted an elaborate prank on the newbie. “You can’t do that,” I will always remember her insisting, “You can’t just change what time it is!” I don’t think she believed us until she was an hour early for all her classes the next day.

If everybody thinks what you’re doing is stupid, it’s possible there’s a widespread conspiracy against you. Or it’s possible you’re just stupid.

JaqueoffJones
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JaqueoffJones
1 year 20 days ago

The Phillies they are not…

Hutch
Member
Hutch
1 year 21 days ago

“some scouts think Stewart sees a lot of himself in Tate, which could influence the decision”

Sounds like rock solid organizational decision making.

Batman
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Batman
1 year 21 days ago

Any chance they try to draft Cody Ross?

wildcard09
Member
Member
1 year 21 days ago

Wow, Stephenson is already showing 80 grade bat-flip ability. Impressive.

Immanuel Kamment
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Immanuel Kamment
1 year 21 days ago

Arizona has been so crazy for so long that surely they won’t do another crazy thing. Sadly, that is not how either crazy people or induction work!

Rawson
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Rawson
1 year 21 days ago

” …so they don’t need another off-the-board, bucking-industry-consensus decision that could draw more bad PR.”

From my perspective, if there’s one thing Stewart/LaRussa don’t care about, it’s bad PR.

Ringo
Guest
1 year 21 days ago

When I first glanced at the title I assumed this was an article about Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and how signing him would guarantee them the 1st overall pick in the future.

McNulty
Guest
McNulty
1 year 21 days ago

Is there any chance that as it becomes more certain the DBacks go cheap at #1, and Tate goes #2, that the DBacks can sign Rodgers for a discounted price around the slot of #3-4?

McNulty
Guest
McNulty
1 year 21 days ago

so even if the DBacks aren’t planning on trying to gain leverage over Rodgers, as you were concerned, could Rodgers’ asking price drop enough that the DBacks will genuinely change course and go with him

Tom Cranker
Member
Tom Cranker
1 year 21 days ago

Garrett Whitley is a “toolshed” outfielder from a northern state without much exposure against top talent, eh?

Despite the fact that you refused to answer yesterday’s chat question about who the “Mike Trout of this draft” is, I think we have our answer.

Don’t try to argue with this logic. I have it written down already that Kiley McDaniel says Garrett Whitley is the Mike Trout of this draft.

St. Patty
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St. Patty
1 year 21 days ago

Bang

450footbombs
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450footbombs
1 year 14 days ago

Playing on a true “Big League” field (415ft to center) 5HR,30+SB,92-94mph from the outfield, power to all fields, Riverside,Ca Ramona HS centerfielder Dean Miller is the “Mike Trout” of 2015 MLB draft

nb
Guest
nb
1 year 21 days ago

Stewart I don’t know as much about, but I don’t entirely buy the description of TLR as “old school.” He tends to speak that language in the media, but this is also the same guy who popularized bullpen specialization.

I also think Tony should get at least a little slack on talent evaluation.

chuckb
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chuckb
1 year 21 days ago

TLR is also the guy who insisted Skip Schumaker was a second baseman.

nb
Guest
nb
1 year 21 days ago

And he also occasionally batted his pitcher eighth. The point is that to lump him in with the anti-saber reactionaries is to only tell part of the story. He’s not Joe Maddon, but he isn’t Joe Morgan either.

As for Schumaker….St. Louis was a wasteland organizationally at second base in 2009 when they made the switch. As I recall, the other options were Joe Thurston, Jarrett Hoffpauir, and Tyler Greene. None of the three of them are in the majors now (Greene was in fact DFA’d this past April by the freaking Phillies). Compare that to the outfield of Holliday, Rasmus, and Ludwick. None of this is to defend Schumaker, just to add context.

Mike13
Guest
1 year 21 days ago

If they really want to solidify the #1 pick, trading some players wouldn’t be a bad idea

Ian
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Ian
1 year 21 days ago

I’m a little late to this but have you heard rumors about the Twins and Allard?

highrent
Guest
highrent
1 year 21 days ago

Kiley you are awesome but I think some people are reacting to embattled and suggesting disaster when we don’t know the results. If you had just said headscratching or bucking industry consensus or laughingstock of the industry that is more appropriate. Arizona is super weird and they’ve done some puzzling or even idiotic things but I think its kind of early. Their results hasn’t really translated. A lot of people expected them to be terrible and they haven’t gotten their yet. Beane’s trade of Donaldson while inline with his thinking is just as puzzling with huge tear down of a very successful team (not the reasons but the execution). You can’t tell me the industry isn’t still wondering about that. The choice of collecting several projects to make a rotation in Boston. Padres massive all in. I’m not saying you wrong you aren’t right but it appears that Zona aint the only guys doing weird things or bucking industry expectations.

Grumpy Old Kirk Gibson
Member
Grumpy Old Kirk Gibson
1 year 21 days ago

Well Brendan Rodgers does not fit the bill of what the D-backs are all about. The D-backs want gritty players. No matter how much telnet you have, you’ll amount to nothing without grit. Needless to say, grit is kind of a big deal.

Rico Brogna
Guest
Rico Brogna
1 year 21 days ago

Great work as always Kiley. So if AZ goes the under-slot at #1 to spend later route, who are some names that fit with their next two picks? In theory I would assume they only do this if they have already identified over-slot, harder-to-sign guys who will be available at 43 and 76. Or is that the players they take at 43 and 76 could have gone much earlier (how much?), but teams don’t draft them because AZ has raised the price tag by negotiating a pre-draft deal?

Sooo rad
Guest
Sooo rad
1 year 21 days ago

Stewart was 2nd row behind the plate at the Carson Fulmer/Logan Shore duel on the Vanderbilt campus in Nashville, TN. Dansby Swanson the guy he was looking at?

Sean
Guest
Sean
1 year 20 days ago

I had heard and it seems to follow through that the Astros weren’t liking how old Rodgers is while being a high schooler. Perhaps the Diamondbacks are following a similar line of reasoning.

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
1 year 20 days ago

I really can’t tell if this article is calling the decision to cheap out on the 1-1 to get more talent later in the draft a good decision or not. I can see the merits of it I guess, but don’t you always want the best player you can have. Sure, you can have two 4 WAR players that give you the same production as say Mike Trout and Resident Flunky A (0 WAR player), but wouldn’t you rather have the guy with the higher ceiling and try to find an average player with that second player?

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