Whether it’s the lack of tradeable picks, the problems signing draftees, or the wait to see draftees help at the Major League level, the baseball Amateur Draft is the least accessible draft of any major sport. And every year, as more fans become interested in the draft, I always get questions from confused people that don’t understand why their team — that doesn’t have a viable third baseman in the organization — doesn’t take Joe Schmo, a solid third base prospect from College X.
In a sport that admirably sticks to Best Player Available more than any other, it is worth wondering what the draft might look like if a farm system’s strengths and weaknesses were considered. Because it’s a nice way to review these farms, and review potential top 10 prospects, I’ve looked into this alternate reality today. This is no projection of what will happen in one month, but a thought exercise on what could if teams took a more macro view in their draft rooms.
1. Washington Nationals. The most important need for the Nationals is identity and profit margin, and the only prospect in this draft that can effect either is Bryce Harper. Yes, they have Derek Norris behind the plate, but it’s not as if Harper’s value is tied to his position. It’s tied to his bat, and frankly, it’s also tied to his hype. Signing the two most hyped prospects of the decade will create real interest in this franchise. The pick: Bryce Harper.
2. Pittsburgh Pirates. A 6.79 team ERA doesn’t even tell the full story on how bad the Pirates need pitching in their system. There are some arms that have varying degrees of supporters (Morris, Lincoln, Owens, Locke) and some solid arms in Extended Spring Training, but not nearly enough to match an offense that should have Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen blossoming simultaneously. They need a pitcher that will be ready then. The pick: Deck McGuire.
3. Baltimore Orioles. While the offensive core of Matt Wieters, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis is more accomplished, I believe the young pitching that Baltimore has dedicated to developing is their real strength. You have Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta, followed by lots of depth from Zach Britton to Matt Hobgood. So I think this team could use some athleticism up the middle to pair with that offensive core, someone to pair with last year’s pick of Mychael Givens. The pick: Manny Machado.
4. Kansas City Royals. The Royals would be tempted to take Jameson Taillon, but for the purpose of this article, I think Mike Montgomery, Tim Melville, Tyler Sample and others meets KC’s quota for projectable prep pitchers. The breakouts of Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are encouraging, but search far and wide, and you don’t see outfielders anywhere in this system. This draft doesn’t line up perfectly for that type of player, but in this exercise, we have to fill the need. The pick: Michael Choice.
5. Cleveland Indians. The deepest farm system in baseball, so the most difficult to choose a weakness. But while I’ve praised the depth of pitchers in the organization, a lot of them are guys that might end up as relievers: Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, Alex White and others. You can never have too much pitching, and given the collection they have, someone set on the starter-or-bust path would fit well with the other arms. The pick: Karsten Whitson.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks. A lot of Arizona’s youth is in the Major Leagues, leaving the minor leagues lacking much talent. The team ERA nearing 6, and the lack of any discernible healthy pitching prospect means the Snakes should certainly head in that direction. They won’t have this Major League offensive core forever, so they might also prefer a college arm that will reach the Majors in time for Justin Upton‘s peak. The pick: Drew Pomeranz.
7. New York Mets. This has been praised as a pitching-heavy draft, and that’s good, because this is another team that needs more pitching. Jeurys Familia and Kyle Allen are struggling, Jennry Mejia is in the bullpen, and a guy like Brad Holt has not broke out like expected. This team also should show its fan base that they will spend in the draft, something they have not done in a few years. Landing the top high school arm fits both “needs”. The pick: Jameson Taillon.
8. Houston Astros. One of the Major League’s weakest farm systems, although if you want to get positive, Jordan Lyles and Tanner Bushue are a pair of recently drafted pitchers that turned in very good Aprils. You can’t say the same for any offensive prospect south of Koby Clemens, and even the highly touted players they do have (Jason Castro, Jio Mier) aren’t players that figure to fit in the middle of the order. They need power. The pick: Zack Cox.
9. San Diego Padres. I would guess that few organizations had a more discouraging April on the farm than the Padres. Yes, Drew Cumberland is finally healthy, and Simon Castro is capable of handling Double-A, but everywhere else you look, prospects are slumping. The outfield and third base are the two things that San Diego doesn’t need, but I still think building an offense should be the first priority. The pick: Christian Colon.
10. Oakland Athletics. Let’s run down the list. The catcher position has Suzuki in the Majors, Stassi’s investment in the minors. First base is a logjam led by Chris Carter. Second base should be held down by Jemile Weeks, although the team still has hopes for Eric Sogard. Shortstop is a mix between Cliff Pennington and Grant Green. Third base is a weakness, but Zack Cox is gone. There is a lot of depth in the outfield. So, given the adage that you can never have too much pitching, and because this draft supports that ideology, we’re going there. The pick: Chris Sale.